Friday, October 30, 2020

Bahrain pledges to educate against antisemitism and anti-Zionism

Bahrain has signed an agreement with the US State Department, represented by the US antisemitism 'tsar' Elan Carrand his deputy, Ellie Cohanim,  to combat antisemitism, anti-Zionism and delegitimisation of Israel. JTA reports:  

Elan Carr and a representative of the al-Khalifa institute signing the agreement

The agreement signed Thursday is well short of the legislative adoption of the IHRA definition that the Trump administration has sought from countries, and that has been adopted by a number of US state governments, with the backing of some pro-Israel organizations. The Bahrain memorandum outlines only educational programs and does not include enforcement language.

 The institute that al Khalifa runs, which mostly builds goodwill with other faiths and nations, does not appear to be connected to any Bahraini body that would enforce the definition. Still, the significance of a Muslim Arab country that not long ago would not formally recognize Israel now signaling its willingness to educate its population about the value of a Jewish state was not lost on Carr, who is of Iraqi Jewish origin, or his deputy, Ellie Cohanim, who was born in Iran. 

 “As a child, I had to flee my homeland of Iran with my family to escape the Islamic revolution of 1979 that brought into power this despotic regime which to this day oppresses the people of Iran with the most appalling human rights record,” Cohanim said at the signing ceremony.

 “My story is the story of almost 1 million Jews, all indigenous to the Middle East, all who love their homelands.” Carr also described the longing Jews for Arab lands feel for their homelands. “I come from a heritage that lived for millennia, with Arabs and with Muslims and flourished in the Middle East,” he said. 
“We who come from that region, understand that there were wonderful periods, not only of tolerance but of true affection.” 

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Why Morocco will not be Israel's next peace partner

Will Morocco be next to sign a peace agreement with Israel? Niger Innis, writing in JNS News, thinks not. While the king of Morocco likes to say that one in five Israelis has familial links with Morocco, a powerful coalition of Islamist and progressive organisations have recently declared their radical, even antisemitic, opposition to 'normalisation' with Israel.

Mohamed V1: pays for upkeep of Jewish cemeteries

 There are good reasons to believe that Morocco could be the next Arab land to make a formal peace agreement with the Jewish state. Its current king, Mohammed VI, ensured that the rights of Moroccan Jews (and other religious minorities) were safeguarded in the kingdom’s 2011 constitution. Jewish schools and synagogues operate freely. The king also personally pays for the upkeep of Jewish cemeteries, following the 1969 exodus of many Jews from Morocco, and publicly dines with Hollywood stars attending the Marrakech International Film Festival every year. 

 The king likes to point out that nearly one in five Israelis has a familial tie to his kingdom. Morocco, going back to the days of former King Hassan II, has called for peace and normalization of trade ties with Israel, following certain humanitarian guarantees for Palestinian Arabs. Finally, every nation after Egypt’s 1978 peace agreement with Israel (Jordan in 1994, UAE this past month and now Bahrain) is a monarchy; lands where leaders are less likely to face removal by taking unpopular stands such as making peace with Israel. Morocco is a moderate Arab nation, run by a constitutional monarch.

 Yet a closer look at Morocco’s current elected leaders and the Western-funded non-governmental organizations that influence them reveals that Morocco will likely not follow its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council members into making a peace deal with Israel. Indeed, this shows the dangers that American and European donors face when they fund groups with lofty-sounding goals tied to radical, even anti-Semitic, views. 

 Consider the Moroccan Democratic Network for Solidarity with Peoples, a national symposium that was held on Sept. 2 in Rabat. The organizations brought together student, cultural and human-rights groups alongside political and union organizations to map out, in the words of its official statement, the “ways of solidarity with the Palestinian people, especially with regard to anti-normalization with the Zionist entity.” 

The official declaration, signed by a large cross-section of Islamist and progressive organizations, reads like an anti-Israel screed from the 1970s. The participants signed their names to certain affirmations, including that “Zionism is a form of racism,” that the modern-day settlement of the land of Israel “constituted a crime against the Palestinian people,” and that any peace or normalization “aims to undermine the spirit of solidarity that inhabits the conscience of the peoples, especially the peoples of our Arab and Maghreb regions, and annihilate the historical balance of the national liberation and democracy movement in the region in an attempt to write off the Palestinian cause and subjugate these peoples and to extend imperial and Zionist hegemony over them by means of tyrannical reactionary regimes.”

 It calls the UAE’s peace efforts “a treacherous step,” and demands that Morocco cease any efforts to normalize relations with Israel. It even faults the Moroccan government’s official recognition of “the Hebrew component of the Moroccan identity” contained in the kingdom’s constitution. Jews, as well as Berbers with a Jewish identity, have lived in Morocco for nearly 1,000 years. This rejection of a shared history of Jews and Muslims in Morocco is both sweeping and shocking.

Finally, the declaration demands an economic boycott of any government body or business that advocates for peace with Israel.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Bahraini princess set off peace process with Israel

The Druze minister Ayoob Kara, who has special responsibility  for relations between Israel and Arab countries,  has revealed  to the Jerusalem Post that a Bahraini princess' treatment in an Israeli hospital set the ball rolling towards 'normalisation' between Bahrain and Israel ten years later (with thanks: Lily):

King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa

Israel’s treatment of Bahraini princess Fatima bint Khalifa in 2010 helped pave the way for the normalization deal between the two countries a decade later, former communications Minister Ayoub Kara said on Tuesday. “I believed in 2010 that we had an opportunity to [have] good relations with the Gulf states,” Kara said.

He spoke at the second annual Israeli-Palestinian Economic Forum, which was held last year in Jerusalem and was transformed this year into a virtual event. Kara recalled how ten years ago he had helped facilitate the Bahraini princess’ treatment at Haifa’s Rambam Hospital, with an eye to creating an opening for formalized Israeli-Bahraini ties.

“This was the beginning of the process,” he said. The entire incident was “very discreet” known only to the princess, her husband, himself and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Kara said. “She was very sick” and believed that she could be treated in Israel, Kara said.

Then upon her release from the hospital Kara helped the couple settle in an Israeli hotel for a month.​ ​Prior to their return to Bahrain, they asked how they could help Israel.​ ​Kara suggested they improve the treatment of the Jewish community in Bahrain. He also asked them to support a new vision of expanded Israeli relations with the Gulf, given that it was impossible to come to a resolution with the Palestinian Authority, Kara recalled. “No way that we will find a solution with them. We need a new policy,” Kara told them.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Libyan Jews fleeing after WW2 not recognised as refugees

 It is a fact that 90 percent of the Jewish community of Libya emigrated to Israel after the end of WW2, but how many know that, until emigration became legal,  hundreds of Libyan Jews passed through Italian Displaced Persons (DP)  camps,  intending to make it to Israel?

These Jews, some mere teenagers, had suffered through privation and even internment during WW2. They were the survivors of labour camps such as the notorious Giado camp, south west of Tripoli, where 600 Jews died of typhus or starvation. They had also survived pogroms - some 130 Jews died  in the November 1945 Tripoli pogrom. To add insult to injury, another pogrom was to break out in June 1948.

Libyan Jews, most young, receiving food ratons from the Joint Distribution Committee in Tripoli, Libya (Photot: JDC Archives)

An Anglo-Arab regime controlled Libya  until independence in 1951. The administration would not let Jews leave.  Emigration was only legalised in January 1949. Those desperate enough were smuggled across the Mediterranean in overcrowded boats from September 1948. Some  1,300 made it to Israel via Italy between 1947 and 1949.

According to Danielle Willard-Kyle (21.30 into the video) who has made a study of the inmates of the DP camps, an additional complication is that many fleeing Libyan Jews did not have citizenship, or had been stripped of their citizenship. Arriving in the DP camps, some pretended to have Eastern European citizenship.

The international community, in the shape of the International Refugee Organisation (IRO), which had been set up to deal with the massive postwar refugee crisis,  callously refused to recognise  Libyan escapees as refugees. The IRO  went so far as to claim that they were economic migrants. They would therefore not be eligible for asylum benefits.

The American Joint Distribution Committee, which cared for the humanitarian needs of Jews,  insisted that those who had made it to Italy were bona fide refugees. But the IRO argued that if they helped the Jews, they would have to help the Arab refugees fleeing from Palestine. If the Joint had not intervened, these Jews would have been repatriated to Libya, not allowed to continue their journey to Palestine.

The Arab problem was soon dealt with by the creation of UNWRA, dedicated to this day, to helping Palestnian 'refugees. The case of the Libyan Jews in DP camps seems to be the perfect example of an international double standard when it comes to Jewish refugees.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Mass kaddish to be said again for Jews buried in Arab lands

For the third year running, prayers will be recited in  synagogues across the world in remembrance of Jews buried in inaccessible cemeteries in Arab lands.

Graves in the Baghdad Jewish cemetery

This year the mass Hashkaba (kaddish) will take place on 28 November, the nearest Shabbat to the  official day to commemorate the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran, 30 November.

The mass Kaddish is the initiative of  a Montreal resident of Iraqi origin, Sass Peress. For decades, families have been prevented from reciting prayers at the gravestones of their loved ones buried in Arab lands.

Inspired by a Facebook post by a Muslim friend in the UK referring to Miss Israel's selfie with Miss Iraq in 2017, Peress embarked on a project to locate and clean up his grandfather's grave in the Sadr City Jewish cemetery in Baghdad. This was done in secrecy in case of official interference.

 "While some Iraqi Muslims stepped up and saw the positive in helping me discover my grandfather’s grave, some tried to get in the way, to the point of threats against the lives of those who sought to help me, "Peress recalls.

Before long the clean-up was extended to 150 graves.Their inscriptions were photographed and translated into English by Sami Sourani, a historian of the Iraqi-Jewish community based in Montreal. Peress hopes to obtain a photographic record of all 3,000 graves in the Sadr City cemetery.

 Last year,  some 50 groups in Canada, the US, the UK, Mexico and Germany recited the prayers.  

In 2020, due to the worldwide pandemic, the event has also gone "virtual". Refer to to join the prayer  in remembrance of those who cannot be visited. The joint prayer may be dowloaded and and recited  from the comfort of your own home, or if possible, in those synagogues which are open for services.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Jews are forgotten factor in Israel-Sudan 'normalisation'

The media are full of the news, at President Trump's prompting,  that Israel and the Sudan are to make peace. But it is not yet a done deal and there is still considerable political and popular opposition to 'normalisation' in Sudan itself. 

Jews enjoying the good life before they
 were forced to leave Sudan

It is unlikely that the former Jews of Sudan were on President Trump's radar, but this seems a fitting moment to remind readers that Sudan once had a thriving community of almost 1,000 In September 2019, the Sudanese government invited Jews to return, promising them full citizens' rights. 

Daisy Abboudi, whose grandparents came from the Sudan and who collects information about the Jewish community, says:    I believe the recent moves towards normalisation between Sudan and Israel are a positive step. I had the opportunity to visit Sudan in January 2020, and had a wonderful experience. I hope this normalisation process means that in the future, other members of the former Jewish community of Sudan, and their descendants, will have the same opportunity to visit. "

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

Prominent figures like Nessim Gaon, who was president of the World Sephardi Federation and his brother- in-law Leon  Tamman, co-chairman of WOJAC, were active in representing the rights of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews. 

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

Friday, October 23, 2020

Lebanese 'Zionist' was compensated for Israeli property

This is the amazing story of Lady Yvonne Sursock Cochrane, a Lebanese-Italian aristocrat married to an Irish diplomat. Lady Cochrane died aged 98 in the August 2020 Beirut port explosion. Her family owned 200,000 acres in Israel and willingly sold land to the Zionsts from the 1880s on.  For that reason, Lady Cochrane was one of the few absentee landowners to be compensated by Israel - albeit the sum was quite small. See my comment below. (with thanks Melvyn)

Lady Cochrane: patriotic

Lady Cochrane was born in Naples in 1922. Her father, Alfred Bey Sursock, was a member of one of the great property-owning families in the Middle East, and her mother, Donna Maria Teresa Serra di Cassano, was a member of Italy’s aristocratic Serra di Cassano family, a Papal dynasty. 
 Her family inheritance included hundreds of thousands of acres of land in the Jezreel Valley, the Western Galilee, the Hefer Valley, Haifa and Jaffa. The land in Haifa, on which the Bahai Faith’s Shrine of the Báb now stands, was owned by the family, as were major streets in Jaffa and hundreds of acres around what is now Eilat Street in Tel Aviv. These acquisitions began in in 1870, when the Turkish government sold land in Israel to subjects of the Ottoman Empire. The wealthy Sursock family (also spelled Sursuq), purchased no less than 200,000 acres throughout Palestine, including about 50,000 acres in the Jezreel Valley. 

In 1891, Zionist activists entered into negotiations with the Sursock family for land purchases. Bit by bit, plot by plot, properties were purchased by Zionist movement leaders Yehoshua Hankin, Laurence Oliphant, Arthur Ruppin, the Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayement Le’Israel, and the World Zionist Organization (WZO). Around 1925, the Sursock family made a long list of the transactions: areas in the lower city of Haifa, 2,500 acres in the Beit She'an Valley, 7,500 acres in the Hefer Valley. Merhavia, Mizra, Tel Adashim, Nahalal, Kfar Yehezkel, Tel Yosef, Yokneam, Ramat Yohanan and Ein Harod - all were established on land bought from the Sursock family. Her father did business with Yehoshua Hankin, the ‘land redeemer’ responsible for most of the major WZO purchases, when the latter came to Beirut for meetings for this purpose. Hankin's niece, Tzila Shoham-Feinberg, later documented this business trip to Beirut; she accompanied her uncle and watched him sign an additional land deal. 

Shoham-Feinberg, who was the younger sister of Avshalom Feinberg of the NILI underground network (the Jewish espionage enterprise that assisted the British against the Ottomans in 1915-1917), wrote: "Despite strong opposition from extremist and nationalist elements in the Arab world and despite threats to his life. I personally have no doubt that without the great help that Yehoshua Hankin received from the Sursock family in various ways, in addition to the sale of land by them, he would not have redeemed the valley at the time." In 1946, Lady Cochrane married Sir Desmond Cochrane, an Irish nobleman who served in Beirut as Ireland's Consul General, and traveled between Beirut and London. Their four children attended a school in London.

 In 1948, when the State of Israel was established, she still held title to multiple properties, especially in the area of Eilat Street in Jaffa and the city of Haifa. But under the Absentees' Property Law, 5710- 1950, she was declared absent and the Development Authority took control of her assets. That same year, Lady Cochrane turned to the Israeli authorities, requesting to release the land, but was rejected. In 1966, she applied again, and this claim, too, was rejected. For years, she continued this action through her London-based lawyers, even enlisting the British Jewish community support in telling how her family had helped Jews redeem lands, set up the Zionist enterprise, in the hope that perhaps that would rescue her properties. But even that did not help. The fledgling State of Israel was unwilling to set a precedent for a case in which a Lebanese citizen, with a proven Ottoman land registration, would receive recognition from the state and even compensation. And so, in the late 1960s, Cochrane, through British legal mediation, turned to lawyer Chaim Herzog, who would later become the sixth president of the State of Israel. 
When Herzog founded his now-famous firm, Herzog Fox & Neeman in 1972, he brought with him the Lady Cochrane case. He decided to focus attention on her being a citizen of several countries with diplomatic status, as well as on the undeniable fact: the Sursock family willingly helped the Zionist enterprise to stand on its own two feet in the decades before the establishment of the state. 

The search for the case in question brought us to the archives of Herzog Fox & Neeman on Weizmann Street in Tel Aviv. By request of "Globes", we were permitted to rummage through the old documents of the Cochrane file; an old brown box, laden with yellowing pages, was pulled off the shelf and brought respectfully up to the luxurious meeting room floor. 

Adv. Meir Linzen, today the firm’s managing partner, was a young intern during the relevant years when this box was placed on his desk. He recalled this special case, perhaps his first international-geopolitical one. "Chaim Herzog was, of course, a well-known international personage, and they [Cochrane’s lawyers] addressed him as 'General Herzog'. Although most legal work is dull gray, many times, unusual cases with exotic stories like this would come in to our office. 

Reporter: What do you remember from your firm’s discussions about the case? 

"I remember a partner meeting with Fox, Neeman and, of course, Herzog. Our office was small then, they invited me to the meeting as an intern. The partners told Herzog that it was a lost cause, and there was nothing to do about it. But Herzog believed in young people's opinions, and I thought it was a special case. There is no story more exceptional than this one. This is a family of historic circumstance: it opposed the PLO, it opposed the Syrians. This is one of the few Arab families who spoke with and supported the Zionist enterprise. 

"Under the Absentees' Property Law, 5710- 1950, there is a special committee authorized to approve exceptional cases. Lady Cochrane has approached the committee since 1950 and her appeals were denied." 

 When Herzog got the case and started working, he wrote a letter to then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Abba Eban. "It should be remembered that Abba Eban was Chaim Herzog's brother-in-law and they would correspond. Today, that sort of thing would probably be prohibited." 

We leaf through the old documents in the file and find the correspondence: Herzog asks Eban to instruct his representative on the Custodian of Absentee Property special committee to support the release of the Lady's assets, noting that the British Jewish leaders support her. Eban consents. 

In a letter dated April 28, 1969, Herzog wrote to Eban, "Dear Abba, I spoke with you at the time about my handling, at the request of Sir Isaac Wolfson and others, matters related to the property in Jaffa of Lady Cochrane who is the wife of Desmond Cochrane who is, among other things, Honorary Consul-General of Ireland for the Lebanon. Lady Cochrane comes from an Arab family that is well-known here, however she married Sir Desmond before 1948. As you will see from the attached, the Irish Foreign Minister is personally interested in this affair and, along with him, other good Jews such as Marcus Sieff, etc. The issue must be approved by the inter-ministerial committee however this apparently requires support from the representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Migdal. In light of this, I am handing this issue on to you so that you can instruct Dr. Migdal accordingly. Yours, C. Herzog. " 

 On May 30, 1969, Eban replied: "Dear Chaim, I hereby acknowledge receipt of your letter of April 28, 1969 regarding Lady Cochrane. I learned from the Director of the Claims Department, Dr. Migdal, that Mrs. Cochrane's request was brought before the inter-ministerial committee in 1967, and at the initiative of my office. However, all members of the committee - with the exception of the representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - voted against the request. To the best of my knowledge, there are no precedents for releasing absentee assets to 'enemy subjects’ and also residents of an Arab state. I am therefore afraid that even if there is a re-hearing of Ms. Cochrane's claim, it is doubtful whether her request will be approved. However, I have instructed Dr. Migdal to support Mrs. Cochrane's request, should her request come up for discussion, in view of the special interest shown in the fate of the claim by Wolfson and Sieff and the Ireland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. Regards, Abba" 
But then, a changeover takes place at the Israeli government. The Foreign Minister departs his post, and the new Foreign Minister, Moshe Dayan, decides not to take a position on the matter, thus dropping it.

Following the negative response from the Custodian of Absentee Property special committee, Adv. Herzog decided to appeal to the High Court of Justice. He asked for help from his son, Michael "Mike" Herzog, then 26 and an intelligence officer. Subsequent to that request, Mike plunged into the history books and located citations of the Sursock family. "Before the High Court hearing, I provided him with about ten books," he says. "He wanted to show the High Court justices that this was not a regular absentee property case, and my part was to research the family history for the hearing." 
 "It was also important for him not to set a precedent in the area of properties, because it could have been a slippery slope. I remember him deliberating whether to go to the High Court or not, out of fear for setting a legal precedent. Everyone told him, you're going to lose the case, there's no way. But he studied the material, considered the positive attitude of Lady Cochrane's family towards Zionism and Zionist settlement, and decided that her case was different. I remember preparing a brown bag for him, a kind of suitcase, and putting the books with their bookmarks inside. " 
 The brown storage box contains many other documents. The folders are removed and spread out on the wood table. Out of a matt blue folder emerges a letter with an original signature; former President of Lebanon Camille Nimr Chamoun wrote on May 8, 1980: "To whom it may concern: Lady Cochrane and her whole family are well known to me. Her father Alfred Sursock, was a man of great political influence, and Lady Cochrane has always followed a decidedly patriotic line, to her own peril. She always fought against the occupation of Lebanon, whether by the PLO or by Syrian forces. She did so through the press and the mass media, despite the insufficient means at her disposal." "This is an amazing story. When did the President of Lebanon and the Israeli Foreign Minister ever cooperate on a legal case?" says Isaac Herzog, former chairman of the opposition, now chairman of the Jewish Agency - and son of Chaim Herzog. 

But of all the amazing details in the story, it seems, the fact that Lady Cochrane's claim was eventually accepted is perhaps the most amazing. "Herzog presented the High Court the argument of effective nationality, when a person holds several citizenships," Linzen says in explaining Herzog's winning legal argument. "Lady Cochrane's husband was an Irish diplomat. He convinced the High Court that her stay in Lebanon was out of diplomatic necessity, and the High Court ruled that the special committee must reconsider. Following the ruling, Herzog reached an agreement with the committee to sign a monetary compensation agreement. All contact with her took place through a law firm in London. 

Reporter: How much was she eventually paid? 

"If I remember correctly, the amount paid to her was quite small. These were huge areas in Jaffa and Haifa, but the decision was about reverting to the committee for discussion; the financial agreement was signed with the Development Authority." 

Reporter: why  did the Sursock family support the Zionist enterprise?

"I assume they had business considerations. But it should be remembered that this was the period prior to Palestinian nationalism. There were Palestinian farmers inhabiting and working the land, and they thought that the Jewish people coming to Israel would be good for the region." If so, then an aristocratic daughter from Lebanon managed - using money that enabled her to hire the best lawyers - to obtain a letter from the President of Lebanon and the approval of an Israeli foreign minister to release valuable properties. But we can assume that the simple poor will never be able to reclaim what was theirs. 
"The rule in 99.99% of absentee property cases is that people will not receive the property unless there is a peace agreement. There will be no return of property, at most there will be monetary compensation. Return of property cannot stand.

My comment: Lady Cochrane is one very few Lebanese who have been compensated for their property by the Israeli government: it did not want to set a precedent for other claims until there was a peace settlement. However, according to the Israel Lands Administration Report of1993, 14,692 Arabs claimed compensation under the Absentee Property Law and the Validation and Compensation Law. Claims were settled with respect to 200,905 dunams of land, a total of NIS 9,956,828 had been paid as compensation, and 54,481 dunams of land had been given in compensation. Perhaps this applies to 'internally displaced' claimants, not Arabs living outside Israel.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

One hundred and fifty years since the Crémieux Decree

It is 150 years since the Crémieux decree, named after the French-Jewish politician and philanthropist Adolphe Crémieux, imposed French nationality on the Jews of Algeria in October 1870, giving them equal rights with the white settlers. The decree freed the Jews from their second class status as dhimmis under Islam but wrought a growing cultural and linguistic gulf with the Arabs. Less well-known, however, is that the Crémieux decree generated a fierce antisemitic backlash. Here is an extract from his book Les Dix Commandements, by Didier Nebot (with thanks: Leon):

In  their very long history, Jewish people have lived for more than two thousand years in Africa. They had been there since the time of the Phoenicians. Some came from  Cyrenaica, others from Judea or Spain.

While a number converted to Islam  when the Arabs arrived in the 7th century, others remained what they still are today, Jews.

They rubbed shoulders with the Berbers, they had moments of happiness, doubt or distress. They have bowed their heads to the dhimmi laws -  they endured humiliation and annoyance with dignity, but they never went under.

Then France arrived, granting them  in 1870 French nationality through the Crémieux decree. The Jews emerged from the state of submission they had been in for centuries, joining the civilization of nascent freedoms, the homeland of human rights. 

Another decree was promulgated at the same time putting an end to the military administration in Algeria: It became French, was split into three departments and transferred to civilian rule. the European population rejoiced: the land they cultivated finally belonged to them! France now extended south, across the seas. A merry madness shook the country, but the Muslims did not participate in the celebrations.

 Nothing was planned for them. Of course, Napoleon III had offered them French nationality in the senatus-consulte of 1865, but they would have had to accept French laws instead of Sharia. Very few Muslims dared to take the plunge. They were considered renegades by their co-religionists.

Shocked by this denial of their identity, the Muslims cried out in contempt: stripped of their property, they were nothing. They also found it difficult to accept France's granting French nationality to Jews. It was an injustice to them, the Jews who had lived there as dhimmis for centuries, suddenly had more rights than the Arabs. It was crazy! The revolt was brewing and in 1871, the Kabyles rose up. They attacked cities and burned farms. In Palestro, they massacred thirty-one colonists. The Crémieux decree was not the trigger for this strong Muslim reaction, but it contributed to it. Their leader, Bachaga Mokrani said:

"I am willing to put myself under a sabre, even ifit chopped off my head, but under a Jew, never! Never ! "

 The Jews themselves, rooted in the contempt they were generously accorded, did not know whether they should rejoice or fear new threats: The looks they met did not bode well. The many Spanish emigrants, who had inherited the same privileges, retained an ancestral contempt for this "cursed race" which had helped crucify Jesus.The French,  parading their obvious superiority,  did not rate this "cowardly, hypocritical and thieving" people. The  newspaper L’Antijuif, was sold in cafes, where people would vilify anyone but Europeans.

Adolphe Crémieux, architect of the decree giving equal rights to the Jews in Algeria

It was at the time of the Dreyfus affair that everything nearly changed. Zola's "J'accuse" article in L'aurore ignited the fuse. There were violent anti-Semitic reactions, both from the Muslim and the Christian side. Led by Max Régis, the son of an Italian immigrant, the anti-Jewish forces in Algiers assembled, spreading horrible incitement against the Jews: "They are upstarts, they are bloodsuckers, they are ruining us,  they are liars. "

And what was to happen happened. On Saturday January 22, 1898, hatred led to attacks throughout the country against the Jews.

 During the following days, the situation remained precarious. Although the protests had lessened, calm did not return. Extremists were everywhere, feelings ran  high.The newspaper L’Antijuif used words of unprecedented  violence: “We will water the tree of our freedom with their blood [...] This rot must be eliminated so that our homeland can be glorified. "Only the Jews could be guilty of the  difficulties faced  in developing the country, bad blood with the natives, the agricultural slump, the failure to establish a real democracy here , In the cafes discussions were lively and  brawls frequent. A few  'fanatics'  dared to defend the ' parasites', in the name of  sacrosanct democracy.

Unfortunately, matters got out of hand and extremists took control of Algiers. Max Régis, their leader, was elected mayor. Their only objective was to repeal the Crémieux decree which had allowed the Israelites to become French  - and  to  expel them from Algeria.

After deliverance and the unheard-of hope of emancipation, should the Jews bow their heads again? Business went bad - few Europeans entered Jewish shops. Life became difficult. So the "cursed race" as it was called tried to adapt, as discreetly as possible, while waiting for God to remember His people.

Four years passed. The Jews submitted  without admitting defeat. The racists were grumbling, threatening Paris with secession if the Crémieux decree was not repealed, but their  voices were lost in the immensity of the waves separating the two continents. Their sterile discussions, their clan struggles, the persistent economic slump deprived them of all credibility, so much so that in the elections of 1902 the Republican candidates won over the nationalists. It was the triumph of common sense; Algerian anti-Semitism had failed.

Joy exploded in the Jewish community. Business was given a kick start. Despite an inhospitable climate, the Jews continued their march towards modernity. They  benefited  fully from the laws of the Republic and their social and cultural level rose rapidly. The rapprochement with France, which had passed a law separating Church and State , emphasised  the distance from traditional worship practices. Thus the younger generations, particularly in the big cities, received an increasingly basic religious education. We no longer said bar mitzvah but communion, we often  used  the word Temple instead of synagogue. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

How Moroccan Jews ended up in a remote Atlantic island

Thanks to an American academic, the descendants of Moroccan Jews living in the Cape Verde islands in the middle of the Atlantic since the mid-19th century  are returning to their roots and are seeking recognition. Fascinating Facebook post by Omer Keinan. (With thanks: Judith)

Cape Verde is an island state in the African Union, and is 480 km west of Senegal.

 Carol Castiel, Jewish-American, was a lecturer in the United States African American Institute in 
the 80 s, and was responsible for Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa: Angola, Cape Verde, Mozambique, etc. 

 When Castiel lectured students from Cape Verde, she noticed a very strange thing that was repeated - some students had last names such as Ben-Harush, Cohen, Levi, Ben-Tolila and other Jewish-Moroccan family names. Castiel, Jewish-American as stated, wondered in her head - why do students from Cape Verde have Moroccan Jewish family names? 

 Confused by the issue, Castiel just approached the students and asked them to interpret their last names. And they, as stated, knew how to reply to her clearly - ′′ Our roots are Jewish from Morocco ′′ (I'm absolutely serious). 

 Now I'm about to add a punch that further boosted my curiosity on the matter: The national singer of Cape Verde is of Jewish-Moroccan origin. The former minister of education is of Jewish-Moroccan origin. The Prime Minister (! ) is of Jewish-Moroccan origin, and so is a significant part of the elite of this beautiful country. 

 In order to understand how the above thing happens, you need to go back almost 200 years. In 1842, Portugal and the UK signed an important agreement on trade and navigation. As a result, many Jews from Morocco, who traded through Gibraltar, and therefore held British passports, began to discover interest in the Portuguese colony located 480 km from the beaches of Senegal, as stated. The same Moroccan Jews, mainly from the cities of Tetuan, Tangier, and Mogador began to emigrate in large quantities to Cape Verde from the mid-19 th century. Most immigrants were mainly dealing with coal and fur trade, because at that time it yielded large amounts of money to those practitioners in these fields. Most of the immigrants were men, and as a result, we married indigenous African women who gave birth to children. 

 This is how a strange situation was created today: in the country you can find Jewish-Moroccan family names, at least four cemeteries, but on the other hand there isn't an active Jewish community or synagogue in the country. 

 Nevertheless - a considerable part of them Jewish descendants want to come back. I mean, not necessarily to return to the Jewish religion or to go to Israel, but they do discover interest in their roots. For example, the singer Gardenia Ben-Ross (Ben-Harush originally) sings in the Ladino language, visited Morocco and even visits synagogues frequently. 

 And she's not the only one. In recent years more and more young people are asking to return to their roots. They even set up a website, an active Facebook page with over 3,200 followers, a YouTube channel with dozens of videos on the subject, and more.

Carol Castiel, whom I mentioned at the beginning, is now one of the most prominent characters in the process of returning them to their roots, and is as chairman of the Association for the Conservation of Jewish Heritage Cape. As stated, the prime minister of Cape Verde between 1991 and 2000, and the first democratically elected was Carlos Viga, whose second name is  Wahnon, and his roots come from Tetuan in Northern Morocco. 

 The same descendants of Jews did not start their Facebook page for nothing. They want recognition, they want to learn more about their roots, so it's very important that Jews from around the world cooperate with them on the above significant issue. Here is a link to the project website: And here is a link to their Facebook page:

 It's important to say well done to the wonderful Carol Castiel, who does holy craft in preserving this wonderful Jewish community. In the picture below: Jewish descendants from Cape Verde celebrate the Jewish Rosh Hashana in 2020.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Synagogue at Ezekiel's tomb dismantled

Recent photos taken at Ezekiel's tomb at Kifl, south of Baghdad, reveal further changes designed to alter its Jewish character. In the last five years, major works have been undertaken by the Wakf to transform the site into a huge Shi'ite mosque. Now the synagogue adjoining the burial chamber is being redeveloped. (With thanks: Kobi)

This old photo of the synagogue adjoining the burial chamber shows the raised reading platform (Teba) and the gallery, now dismantled. The Teba was unusually located on the eastern side of the synagogue and not in the centre of the hall or next to the ark, as was customary in synagogues in Iraq.

 The photos below show that the balustrade around the Teba, or reading platform, has been removed. 

The columns holding up the women's gallery have also been taken down, as well as the guard rail around the gallery.

 The iron stud doors in the northern wall  leading to the burial chamber have also been removed.

Israeli journalist Tsur Shezaf visited Ezekiel's tomb in 2010, when it was still intact. At 5:15 you can see shots of the synagogue. The ark and prayer books have long ago vanished from the synagogue.

According to 'Tombs of saints and synagogues in Babylonia' by Zvi Yehuda, the synagogue beside Ezekiel's tomb was the only synagogue serving the local community of Kifl, which numbered about 300 people. Daily services were held and during the Days of Awe between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur a hazan (cantor) from Baghdad was hired to lead the serivces. 

During the 1930s, Rabbi Ishaq Salih Mukammal attended from Baghdad. He was given a place at the teba alongside the community notables. At the time of the pilgrimage during Shavu'oth, the synagogue was filled with celebrating worshippers. The pilgrims passed through the synagogue on their way to visit the 'inner yard' to prostrate themselves on the prophet's tomb. Pilgrims lit candles to commemorate the souls of the departed in the synagogue.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Bahraini peace with Israel stops short of full relations

Flying into Bahrain on an El Al jet, an  Israeli diplomatic team signed several historic agreements with Bahraini officials. But for domestic political reasons, the Bahrainis stopped short of a full peace treaty, unlike the UAE.

A joint Israeli-US delegation flew to Bahrain yesterday for the signing of a joint communique between Israel and Bahrain on establishing diplomatic relations. 

The Israeli delegation was led by National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Foreign Ministry director general Alon Ushpiz. They were joined by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the White House envoy to the peace process, Avi Berkowitz.

Ben-Shabbat and Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani signed a “Joint Communiqué on the establishment of diplomatic, peaceful, and friendly relations.” The two countries promised not to take hostile actions against one another and to act against hostile actions by third countries. The two countries also signed eight separate Memorandum of Understandings in economic cooperation, civil aviation, cooperation between the ministries of finance, communications and post, agriculture, cooperation between the ministries of foreign affairs, exemption of visa requirements for diplomats and cooperation between their respective Chambers of Commerce. 

 At the welcoming ceremony at the airport, Bahraini Foreign Minister Al Zayani said: “Today we start implementing the peace declaration which we signed in Washington. This approach is the most efficient one to achieve peace in the Middle East. This morning, the first commercial flight from the UAE, a Boeing 787 from Etihad Airlines landed in Israel.Bahrain requested that it only sign an interim agreement and not a fully-fledged peace treaty with Israel, like the UAE did earlier this month. 

 Bahraini foreign ministry official said: “In contrast to the UAE we prefer to take more measured steps and to sign a framework agreement at this stage, rather than a full peace treaty. We have seen the criticism that has emerged in Bahrain and other Arab countries as a result of the normalisation agreements with Israel and we are taking them into account. 

But we will not derail the process of establishing relations between the countries ahead of a full peace treaty that will include full diplomatic relations, exchange of ambassadors, opening embassies and a range of diplomatic, economic, business and tourism agreements with Israel.” Israeli officials have also noted the opposition to normalisation within Bahrain, which has a Shi’ite Muslim majority but ruled by a Sunni monarchy. 

Azerbaijan Jews pray for the motherland'

As the conflict rages between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno- Karabakh, the Chabad emissary to Azerbaijan, Shneur Segal, has been praying for the victory of the 'motherland'. David Ian Klein in The Forward filed this report: 

Azeri Jewish girls before marriage, 1950s (photo: Bet Hatefutsot)

Azeris consider Shusha, in the north of the region, to be a city of national and historical importance, as it was a center of Azeri culture before the area was conquered by the Russian Empire. 

 “I believe we’ll hold our next sermon at Shusha,” Segal said during his synagogue’s service, according to Turkey’s Anadolu Agency. Though most countries haven’t taken a side in the current conflict, the international community has largely recognized Azerbaijan’s claim to the region since the 1990s. 

The current conflict has led to the most intense fighting that Nagorno-Karabakh has seen since the early 1990s. Following a few clashes over the summer, it began in earnest in late September. Both sides claim the other struck first, both have seen heavy casualties, and both have seen their civilian populations, even outside of the conflict zone, targeted.

 It’s further complicated by each side’s allies. Azerbaijan has received significant arm sales from Israel in recent years, as one of their few allied Muslim nations. Armenians have reported Israeli made-weapons being used on Armenian villages in Nagorno-Karabakh, prompting the country to recall its ambassador from Israel in early October. 

However, far more troubling for Armenians is Azerbaijan’s biggest backer, Turkey. The memory of the Armenian genocide — perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century, as it transitioned into the Turkish Republic — is fresh in the minds of Armenians, and war with Turkish backed enemy has led some Armenians to say that the conflict is an existential threat. Armenia, on the other hand, is backed by both Russia and Iran. 

 When Rabbi Segal said he would give his next sermon in Shusha, he was speaking to the desire of Azeris to reconquer a region they feel was stolen from them 30 years ago. “We prayed for every soldier and our army, which fights for our motherland,” he said at the service. Across the battle lines though, in a Sukkah in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, Armenian Jews prayed too. 

 “I sat there with my mask on to protect against COVID-19, next to a Lubavitcher rabbi, praying that Israeli bombs won’t fall on Armenian lives,” an Armenian Jew named Rachel told Haaretz. Unlike Armenia, which has only about 500 Jews, 

Azerbaijan has a large and diverse Jewish community, estimated by its members at around 30,000. Azerbaijan is the only place outside of Israel and New York state to contain an all-Jewish town. Qirimizi Qeseba, sometimes known by its Russian name, Krasnaya Sloboda, is an enclave of Azerbaijan’s “Mountain Jews,” who have been present in the Caucasus Mountains since as early as the 8th century BCE.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

US pressures Sudan to 'normalise' relations with Israel

Washington has given Sudanese leaders a 24-hour deadline to decide whether they agree to a deal that will see the country normalize relations with Israel in exchange for financial aid and removal from a US blacklist of state sponsors of terror, according to several reports in Arabic-language media. The Times of Israel takes up the story: 

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok: opposed to normalisation

 CNN Arabic and Dubai-based Asharq News both reported the American deadline, citing unnamed high-ranking Sudanese government officials, and said government leaders met for long hours to weigh the offer. The veracity of the reports could not be immediately confirmed. 

 According to Asharq, Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok remained opposed to linking normalization with the American deal. 

There have been consistent reports of a serious split between the military and civilian players in Sudan’s fragile transitional government, with Hamdok against normalization at this time, while military head of state Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan favors it.

 Hamdok has said that the transitional government did not have a mandate to normalize with Israel. The US has led efforts to pressure Sudan into normalizing ties with Israel. Khartoum’s position on the terror blacklist subjects it to crippling economic sanctions.

Friday, October 16, 2020

JJAC president Rabbi Abadie to relocate to Dubai from NYC

The appointment  as full-time rabbi in Dubai of Rabbi Elie Abadie, who was forced to leave his native Lebanon as a refugee, shows that the UAE is serious in its intent to 'grow' the local Jewish community, now estimated to have up to 1,500 members. But does his departure  leave vacant the post of President of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, which advocates for the rights of Jews driven from the Middle East and North Africa?

Rabbi Elie Abadie

The small but growing Jewish community of Dubai is getting its second full-time rabbi, the Jewish Council of the Emirates (JCE), one of two Orthodox congregations in the country, announced Friday.

 Beirut-born Elie Abadie, a prominent rabbi and scholar of Sephardic Judaism currently living in New York City, will relocate to the Gulf metropolis to serve as the community’s senior rabbi. The JCE is the country’s oldest congregation and the only one recognized by local authorities. 

 "I feel like I’m coming home to my roots, to the region where I was born, to the language that I first spoke, and to the beautiful traditions and customs with which I grew up,” Abadie said in a statement.

The struggle to preserve Afghanistan's Jewish heritage

This Ghandara article gives an interesting overview of Afghanistan's remaining Jewish heritage, whose ownership it claims was largely transferred to the government (more likely, the government took over abandoned property). Although only one Jew remains, officials seem to think that the restoration of Jewish sites will be a testament to 'religious tolerance'. As is usual with such articles, the flight of the Jews is attributed to Afghanistan's wars and generalised conflicts, although almost all but a few hundred Jews left the country for Israel and the US after a period of antisemitic persecution in the 1930s.

Several synagogues, a cemetery, and a bathhouse remain, according to Herat’s cultural officials. But existing regulations make it difficult to determine who owns or is responsible for the properties. One Herat resident claims he is the owner of the public bathhouse. He says he had the 250-year-old property partially demolished. Herat's Jewish bathhouse is more than 250 years old and has been partially demolished -- without legal permission. Zalmai Safa, Herat's director of historical monuments, says the man is the legal owner but was not given permission to tear down the site. “He wanted to acquire and reconstruct the bathhouse,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “But due to its antiquity, construction method, and significance to Herat’s Jewish history, we did not permit its demolition.” 

The revolutions, large-scale displacement, and horrific violence of the past half-century have left a legacy of conflicts at all levels across Afghanistan. Disputes over land and property ownership are the most common kind of conflict between individuals and communities. The fact that Herat’s Jewish community left decades ago has encouraged some to take over the dilapidated communal properties. Safa says these properties are relics of the Jewish community and have immense value for Afghans wishing to remember their legacy. His hope is for Afghans to preserve the remaining monuments so that they will exist for future generations as a testament to religious tolerance. “These monuments are important because of their historic heritage. They showcase the tolerance our society had for the adherents of various faiths,” he noted. “It is our duty to preserve them for future generations just as our ancestors preserved them for us.” 

Herat officials say that before they fled the country Jews transferred the ownership of synagogues, cemeteries, and other properties to the Afghan government. Others sold them outright. This alley in Herat was once home to Jewish families. Herat resident Younis, who like many Afghans goes by one name only, fondly remembers living next door to a Jewish family in the 1970s. He says in those days religious differences were never a topic of discussion. 

"There were probably 70 to 80 Jewish families in the area we were living in. We had a good relationship with them,” he said. “We went to their shops, and they came to our homes. But then the revolution came, and everyone fled; they all moved to Israel,” he said of the last few families. Gul Ahmad, another Herat resident, says Jewish history is a staple of Afghan history. “On one side lived the Jews; on the other side was us,” he said. “Both sides tolerated and respected each other. Our faith was never contentious between us, so it was not discussed,” he said. 

Following Their Ancestors' Footsteps Today, Jews travel to Herat’s old city to see where their ancestors lived for generations and what they left behind. "Jewish families send their children to come back and visit these sites, to meet us and revisit their roots,” Ahmad said. But many are afraid that the monuments are deteriorating due to neglect and without the proper care will erase the memory of a once-vibrant community. (It is very doubtful if these visits take place - ed)

The synagogue of Yu Aw in Herat, one of the few Jewish sites to have been restored and declared a historic site

 The synagogues of Yu Aw, Mulla Ashur, Shamail, Golkia, and Georgia, the bathhouse, cemetery, and many mud dwellings are all hanging by a thread. In the old city, three out of the five remaining synagogues have undergone some sort of preservation. Yu Aw, the largest synagogue in Herat and the only synagogue to undergo proper preservation of its original characteristics, has been declared a historic site.

 Shamail was turned into a school after repairs. The Mulla Ashur synagogue has remained in shambles without any repairs in sight because of the government’s lack of a restoration budget. And Golkia, a former place of worship for the Jewish community, has been turned into a mosque, though its architecture remains the same. Some of the graves in the Jewish cemetery have been restored with financial assistance from the Jewish diaspora.

 Like most Afghans and especially ethnic minorities in the country, Herat’s Jews were multilingual, speaking their own tongue along with the local language. They could read Hebrew and speak their version of Judeo-Persian, a dialect of the lingua franca of Afghanistan. Homayoun Ahmadi, a cultural expert in Herat, stresses the need to rebuild and restore the remnants of the Jewish community in order to better attract foreign tourists. "The existence of synagogues in Herat represents a degree of religious tolerance in Afghanistan,” he said. “It showcases that the Jews in Herat lived in harmony during many different periods in Afghanistan.


Thursday, October 15, 2020

Wanted: an Egyptian-Jewish actress to play Cleopatra

The casting of ‘Wonderwoman’ Israeli actress Gal Gadot in the role of Cleopatra in a forthcoming biopic has caused a furore on social media: some would like to see an ‘Arab’ actress play the part, or even a European one, given that Cleopatra was actually of Macedonian-Greek descent. But a Jew? Never. Lyn Julius recalls the period when Jewish actresses were hoysehold names in Egypt in Jewish News: 

Gal Gadot (Jewish News)

Politics are such nowadays that Jews have had their identities recast as privileged whites with no roots in the Middle East. It’s an irony that Jews paid with their lives in World War II for not belonging to the Aryan race, and have been murdered by white supremacists in the US for not being white enough. But the current orthodoxy on campus and in the media puts Jews firmly in the white camp despite their Levantine origins. 

We have now reached the point, Seth Frantzman writes, where no Jewish actress would be acceptable, not even an Egyptian-Jewish one. Maybe, he concedes, an Egyptian-Jewish actress who had converted to Islam. Yet there was a time when Egyptian-Jewish actresses were household names. Egypt was the Hollywood of the Middle East, and their fame spread far and wide. 

There was Nagwa Salem, whose real name was Nazira Mousa Shehata. She was born in Cairo to a Lebanese-Jewish father and a Sephardi mother.

 Nijma Ibrahim was born in 1914 as Pollini Odeon. She was famous for playing female villains. She played the role of Rayya in the famous movie ‘Rayya and Sakina’. She acted in more than 40 movies, and the most significant ones were ‘The Lady of the Camellias’ and ‘I am the Past’. She passed away in 1976, and was buried in Cairo. 

There was Camelia, real name Liliane Levy Cohen, who made 18 films in the space of three years in the 1940s. Her life was tragically cut short when she was killed in a plane crash aged 31. Rumour had it that she was King Farouk’s mistress and that he engineered her death.

There was Rakia Ibrahim, real name Rachel Abraham Levy, who started life as a seamstress in Cairo’s Jewish quarter. She was known for ‘A Bullet in the Heart’ (1944), ‘The Final Solution’ (1937) and ‘Wings of the Desert ‘(1940). 

But the queen of them all was singer and film star, Leila Mourad. 

She was trained by her father, a ‘hazan’, and Dawood Hosni, also Jewish, the composer of the first operetta in the Arabic language.  He wrote two songs for Leila. Further success came when the prominent Egyptian composer Mohammed Abdel Wahab gave her a role in his film ‘Yahia el Hob’ (Viva Love!) in 1938. In the six years following the success of Y’ahia el Hob’ she made five box office hits with Jewish director Togo Mizrahi, becoming Egypt’s top actress. In 1945 she made ‘Layla Bint al-Fuqara’ (“Layla, daughter of the poor”) directed by Anwar Wagdi, whom she married shortly afterwards. She went on to make a further 20 films. 

She was selected, over the iconic singer Umm Kulthum, as the official singer of the Egyptian Revolution of 1952. But as soon as the conflict erupted with Israel in 1948, all the Jewish actresses were accused of disloyalty to Egypt. According to Al-Arabiya, In the last few years prior to her death, Nijma Ibrahim suffered from mental illness, thinking that someone was seeking to assassinate her because of her Jewish origins. Rakia Ibrahim left Egypt in 1954 for the US, but she was dogged by accusations that she was a Mossad agent who had played a part in the assassination of Egyptian nuclear scientist Samira Moussa. As recently as 2014, an  Arabic newspaper carried allegations of her complicity in Moussa’s death. 
Leila Mourad

Leila Mourad converted to islam, but even she was not immune. In the 1950s a rumour surfaced that the actress and singer had visited Israel, where she had relatives, and donated money to its military. Arab radio stations boycotted her. The Egyptian government investigated but found that the charges against her were without foundation. She retired aged 38, ostensibly because Umm Kalthum had overtaken her in popularity. But one cannot discount the fact that she had never managed to shake off suspicions of her as a spy. 

Only Nagwa Salem seemed to have managed to have a successful film career into the 1960s. The price she paid was to convert to Islam. 

Not being a Muslim was a definite handicap – hence the Syrian Christian Michel Shelhoub converted to Islam – and became Omar Sharif.

 Have things changed for the better In Egypt? Hardly any Jews remain. In 2016, two actors ‘came out’, admitting to their Jewish ancestry: Basma Darwish, whose grandfather was Youssef Darwish, an anti-Zionist Communist, and Karim Kassem, who turned out to be the nephew of the present Jewish community leader, Magda Haroun.

 Could an Egyptian-Jewish actress be cast as Cleopatra today? We should put Basma Darwish forward for consideration. She would make an interesting test case.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Return of Ba'ath archives raises fears for Jewish archives

The return to Iraq from the US of the Ba'ath Party archives raises fears that the Iraqi-Jewish archive will also be returned, but the two cases are not at all similar, argues Lyn Julius in JNS News.

(October 12, 2020 / JNS) On Aug. 31, 2020, a stash of documents belonging to the era of dictator Saddam Hussein was quietly returned to Iraq. They were the Ba’ath party archives, comprising up to eight million documents and weighing 48 tons.

 The stash was first discovered shortly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The documents contained the highly sensitive list of names of thousands of officials of the Ba’ath party, the ultra-nationalists governing Iraq since the 1960s; party apparatchiks who were responsible for oiling the wheels of Iraq’s ruthless regime and “disappearing” dissidents. 

Soon after their discovery the documents were stored in the Baghdad home of opposition figure Kanan Makiya. But security threats made it so difficult to ensure their preservation that in 2005 Makiya persuaded the Americans to ship the archive to the United States. The files were stored at the Hoover Institute, the Conservative think tank housed at Stanford University. They were digitized and made available to U.S. researchers. 

The return of the Ba’ath party archives has raised fears among U.S. Jewish groups that it sets a bad precedent for the Iraqi Jewish archive (IJA). This collection of thousands of Jewish documents, religious books and Torah scrolls, together with random communal and personal correspondence, was seized by Saddam’s henchmen from a Baghdad synagogue in the 1980s. It was miraculously rediscovered in 2003 and sent for restoration to the United States. 

But the U.S. government signed an agreement at the time promising its return to Iraq, without stopping to inquire to whom the archive belonged or how it came to be languishing in the flooded basement of the secret police headquarters. Following a series of postponements and extensions—the latest till 2021—the U.S. State Department appears determined to return the IJA to Iraq, come what may. 

One of the oldest artefacts from the Iraqi Jewish Archive

 The whereabouts of the Ba’ath party archives have not been disclosed, as there is a risk that access to the files might result in attacks or ugly personal vendettas. Nevertheless, there is a general consensus that the Ba’ath documents constitute Iraq’s national heritage and belong in Iraq, where they might be consulted by Iraqi researchers. A first batch was returned to Iraq in 2013.

 In contrast, the Iraqi-Jewish archive is of primary interest to Iraqi Jews. It is the stolen property of a community that was persecuted and driven into exile. Indeed only four Iraqi Jews remain in the country. With most Iraqi Jews and their descendants now living in Israel, Iraq’s sworn enemy, the archive would be inaccessible to Israeli visitors or researchers. Neither, despite official assurances, would Iraq be able to guarantee the archive’s proper preservation and security. 

Not all the thousands of documents and fragments have been digitized, and it is doubtful, had they been shipped to Iraq, if recently-deciphered handwritten notes of famous 19th century rabbi the Ben Ish Hai, would have been found, transcribed and printed in two volumes of sermons or drashot. 

The difference between the Ba’ath papers and the Jewish archives is well noted by Gina Waldman, president of the California-based organization Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA:).”We, the Iraqi Jews, are glad to see that the archives of the Ba’ath party have been returned to their rightful owners: The people of Iraq. They are an essential part of their heritage and history, even the darkest chapters—this is why the Iraqi Jewish archives need to also be returned to their rightful owners: the Jews of Iraq, who no longer live in Iraq. ” 

The Hague Convention of 1954 protects the cultural property of peoples rather than states or territories, but nonetheless, the zeitgeist treats postcolonial states as the custodians of their cultural heritage, without paying much heed to the rights of persecuted minorities. Indeed the U.S. State Department has been signing dozens of Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with Arab states, legitimizing the seizure of cultural property from exiled Jews and others—a trend which JIMENA is fighting with vigor. 

Jewish groups have gained the bilateral support of congressmen in their campaign to keep the Iraqi Jewish archive in the United States. Nonetheless, their options are limited. The U.S. government’s credibility could be undermined if the claimants went to law. That’s why Carole Basri, whose family has a private claim to hundreds of IJA documents, prefers a more subtle approach: she has recently made a film explaining why the archive matters to Iraqi Jews personally, to their children and grandchildren.

 If the archive is shipped back to Iraq, she declares, “There will be little hard evidence for the community to prove they ever existed in Iraq and certainly nothing to cling to for future generations.” 

Moreover, Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that no individual or community should be arbitrarily deprived of their property. It would be a travesty indeed if the injustice of the Jewish community’s ethnic cleansing from Iraq were compounded by a second injustice, dispossessing it of what rightfully belongs to it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Jews must cease to be Jews to be considered for acting roles

The casting of Israeli actress Gal Gadot in the role of Cleopatra in a forthcoming biopic has caused a furore. An array of actresses has been suggested in her place. What do they have in common? None of them can be Jews, not even Egyptian Jews, writes Seth Frantzman in the Jerusalem Post. It's a new Inquisition.

Gal Gadot: 'too white'

Even The National in the UAE critiqued the choice of Gadot. In an article about five actresses of Arab descent who could play Cleopatra, the author notes that she was actually of “Macedonia-Greek heritage.” The author notes “it also raises the theoretical question: If Gadot wasn’t in the frame, does the Arab world have stars of its own with sufficient stature to be considered for such an ambitious project?” 

 The article admits that since Cleopatra was of Greek background “the casting call could have been spread far and wide.” So why does “far and wide” never include any Jews? How about Jews from Ethiopia, from Egypt, Iraq, Kurdistan, Yemen, Morocco, Libya or Syria? 

There are millions of Jews whose ancestors were from the Middle East just one or two generations ago and who live in Israel. Why are they neglected? The message is: No Jews allowed, not those from the Middle East recently, nor those from the Middle East 1,500 years ago, nor those from southern Europe. 

Jews, alone among the world’s peoples, are basically the only people who are told they can’t play Cleopatra. Arabs? Yes. Greeks? Yes. Jews? No. Not any Jews. Not Greek Jews. Not Egyptian Jews. 

 Jews lived in Egypt long before the Arab invasion of Egypt. Nevertheless, they still can’t be considered. Jews lived in southern Europe, like some of my ancestors who lived in Odessa and would have known and even intermarried with Greeks. But still, they can’t be considered. 

They can only be considered for the role of Cleopatra if they convert to Christianity or Islam. That is the message. An Egyptian Jewish family that converted to Islam would be considered for the role. A Greek Jewish family that converted to Christianity would also be allowed to have the role. But not Jews who remain Jews. 

What does that remind us of? The Inquisition. The new Inquisition is apparently to always police the Jews. Jews are “white” when white means “privileged.” They are non-white when non-white means being sent to gas chambers. Wherever Jews are, except in Israel, they are policed for how they look, and they are always told to be the “wrong” look. Not Arab enough to be a Greek Egyptian queen from two thousand years ago. But also not Greek enough to be an Egyptian queen and also not Egyptian enough, even if their ancestors have been in Egypt 2,000 years. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Jews have always lived in the Gulf, but in small numbers

With more and more Arabs interested in the history of local Jews in the wake of the historic peace deals between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain, Dr Nimrod Rafaeli  at MEMRI has compiled this useful summary,  based on a book by the Kuwaiti scholar Yusuf Ali Al-Mutairi titled A-yahud fi al-khaleej. (With thanks: Lily)

The Origins Of The Jews In The Gulf: Most of the Jews who settled in the Gulf countries, primarily in Kuwait and Bahrain, were of Iraqi origin, and many of them were seeking either to escape military conscription under the Ottoman Empire or to explore economic opportunities. Of these Jews, only a few have remained, likely only in Bahrain where the Jewish population numbers around 70. (Current estimates put the number at no more than 25 - ed)

A member of that community, Huda Nonoo, was her country's ambassador to the U.S. from 2008 to 2013 – making her the first ambassador of the Jewish faith to represent an Arab country. 

According to Al-Mutairi, Jews held important positions in Ahsaa (currently in eastern Saudi Arabia), notably the post of treasurer of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the area through WWI. The post was held by three successive Jews – Yacoub Efendi, 1878-1879; Daoud bin Shintob ("Shintob" being an Arabicization of the Hebrew "Shemtov"), 1879-1894; and Haroun Efendi, 1895-96.[5] During their tenure, many of the entries in the financial books were in Hebrew (most likely in Arabic transliterated in Rashi script, which was commonly used by old-generation Iraqi Jews). 

Al-Mutairi suggested that keeping the financial records in Hebrew may have been aimed at preventing an audit of the accounts, possibly to protect their Ottoman superiors. But perhaps the most significant post held by a Jew was that of Director of Customs for the whole province – a highly desirable position sought after by many both inside and outside Ahsaa because of the potential it offered for illicit income. 

 The Jewish Cemetery In Ahsaa: Not long ago, a Saudi friend of the author of this article mentioned the existence of a Jewish cemetery in Ahsaa. According to this information, the land on which the cemetery was located is largely deserted, and no one has claimed it, although locals continue to refer to it as maqbarat al-yehud – "the Jewish cemetery." Given that only a few Jews lived and died in the area, the cemetery itself could not have been large. 

 The Jews In Kuwait: The Jews in Kuwait numbered between 100 and 200; they had their own synagogue, called a kanisah. A British diplomat, John Gordon Lorimer, hinted at tensions with the local authorities "chiefly for the distillation of spirituous liquors which some of the Mohammadan [Muslim] population consume secretly in dread of the Sheikh."

A Jewish Official In Muscat, Oman: Jews had been living in Muscat since at least 1625. In 1673, according to one traveler, a synagogue was being built, implying permanence. British officer James Wellsted also noted the existence of a Jewish community when he visited in the 1830s. 

The British had a letter addressed to a Jewish agent in the Gulf translated into Hebrew - presumably so that Arabs would not be able to read it (Photo: British Library)

A fascinating discovery was made not long ago in the British Library: a letter written in 1859 by a British naval officer in the Gulf, Griffith Jenkins, to a subordinate in Muscat named Hezkel ben Yosef, to whom Jenkins refers in the letter as "Agent of British Monarchy." In the letter, Jenkins refers obliquely to the Imam who held sway in Oman's interior and concludes by asking Hezkel to explain the matter in private – and then, interestingly, had the letter translated into Hebrew.