Thursday, December 31, 2020
Tuesday, December 29, 2020
It's that time of the year again - time to review the highlights and lowlights of 2020.
In the 15 years since Point of No Return has been collecting information on Jews from Arab and Muslim countries, there have been 5,940 posts. This year achieved 426,000 views.
This year will be remembered as the year of COVID-19. It was certainly not the first time that plagues have swept through the Middle East. This year's plague took a heavy toll of Jewish communities (see here and here).
This year gave Iraqi Jews an excuse to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their airlift to Israel.
But the highpoint of 2020 must be surely the historic peace accords achieved with four Arab countries: the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. This is a teachable moment - to educate about Jewish refugees from the Arab world and Iran. (Some Arabs have already absorbed the lesson. )
For the first time, the rights of Jewish refugees were explicitly mentioned in the Trump Middle East peace plan announced in January. Unfortunately, the media still refuse to give the issue the coverage it deserves.
Numbers of Jews continued to dwindle in Arab countries, except in Dubai, which holds out the promise of an expanding Jewish community, serviced by three rabbis. It was a good year for one particular Jewish family from Yemen, who were given refuge in the UAE.
As for Jewish heritage, Morocco led the way in memorialising Jewish culture and history `at Bayt Dhakira, a converted Essaouira synagogue. It was a bad year for Jewish memory in Aden, where the cemetery has been razed for urban development. As for Ezekiel's shrine, we received reports of the ongoing erosion of its Jewish character, with a trellis being erected around the prophet's tomb and the adjoining synagogue dismantled. It was not a good year for the shrine of Rabbi Abuhatseira at Damanhour in the Nile Delta, which was stripped of its protected status. An Egyptian court banned Jewish pilgrims from visiting it.
However, for 180 Jewish visitors, the high point of the year was the February inauguration of the Nebi Daniel synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt, restored at a cost of $4 million. Sadly, the community in Egypt is on the verge of extinction and the synagogue will not be more than a tourist attraction.
Deaths: the Iraqi-Jewish community went down to four with the passing of Sitt Marcelle, who administered the community's assets. Lebanese-born banker Joseph Safra passed away in Brazil. Egyptian-born Esther Webman of Tel Aviv University is mourned by researchers into Middle East politics. Leftwing Tunisian-born lawyer Gisèle Halimi passed away in France. But the greatest loss to the Sephardi/Mizrahi community was arguably the death of the great thinker and author Albert Memmi, six months short of his 100th birthday.
Best articles of the year:
Reviews of Past Years
WISHING ALL BLOG READERS A VERY HAPPY and HEALTHY NEW YEAR!
The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has become a household name as a manufacturer of the COVID-19 vaccine. But how many know that its CEO is a Sephardi Jew, Albert Bourla? The Jewish Voice reports (with thanks: Ambrosine):
Albert BourlaAs the announcement of a vaccine that is 90% effective in preventing the novel coronavirus has dominated the headlines and given hope to people in every corner of the globe, we pause at this juncture to pay tribute to Albert Bourla, the chairman and CEO of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.
Founded in 1849 in New York City by Charles Pfizer, the eponymously named pharmaceutical company is one of the world’s largest of its kind and it ranked 57 on the 2018 Fortune 500 list of the largest United States corporations by total revenue. Pfizer develops and produces medicines and vaccines for a wide range of medical disciplines, including immunology, oncology, cardiology, endocrinology, and neurology. Its products include the blockbuster drug Lipitor (atorvastatin), used to lower LDL blood cholesterol; Lyrica (pregabalin) for neuropathic pain and fibromyalgia; Diflucan (fluconazole), an oral antifungal medication; Zithromax (azithromycin), an antibiotic; Viagra (sildenafil) for erectile dysfunction; and Celebrex (also Celebra, celecoxib), an anti-inflammatory drug.
Currently, Pfizer is under the dynamic and innovative leadership of a man who came from humble beginnings and who rose to prominence in the medical field through his remarkable diligence and his tireless desire to help people.
Born in October of 1961 in Thessaloniki, Greece, Albert Bourla was raised in a Sephardic Jewish family. Bourla is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and holds a Ph.D. in the Biotechnology of Reproduction from the Veterinary School of Aristotle University. He left Greece with his wife when he was 34 and since then he has lived in seven different cities, in four different countries.
In 2020, he was ranked as America’s top CEO in the Pharmaceuticals sector by Institutional Investor magazine. He is on the executive committee of The Partnership for New York City, a director on multiple boards – Pfizer, Inc., The Pfizer Foundation, PhRMA, and Catalyst – and a Trustee of the United States Council for International Business. In addition, Bourla is a member of the Business Roundtable and the Business Council.
Bourla began his career at Pfizer in 1993 in the Animal Health Division as Technical Director of Greece. He held positions of increasing responsibility within Animal Health across Europe, before moving to Pfizer’s New York Global Headquarters in 2001. From there, Bourla went on to assume a succession of leadership roles within the Animal Health Division, including US Group Marketing Director (2001-2004), Vice President of Business Development and New Products Marketing (2004-2006), and Area President of Animal Health Europe, Africa and the Middle East (2006-2009). In 2009, he assumed additional responsibilities for the Asia and Pacific regions.
From 2010-2013, Bourla was President and General Manager of Pfizer’s Established Products business from 2010-2013, leading the development and implementation of strategies and tactics related to Pfizer’s off-patent portfolio, (including legacy brands and generics).
From January 2014 to January 2016, Bourla served as Group President of Pfizer’s Global Vaccines, Oncology, and Consumer Healthcare business, where he was instrumental in building a strong and competitive position in oncology and expanding the Company’s leadership in vaccines.
Previously, from February 2016 to December 2017, Bourla served as Group President of Pfizer Innovative Health, which comprised the Consumer Healthcare, Inflammation & Immunology, Internal Medicine, Oncology, Rare Disease and Vaccines business groups. In addition, he created the Patient and Health Impact Group, dedicated to developing solutions for increasing patient access, demonstrating the value of Pfizer’s medicines, and ensuring broader business model innovation.
Bourla became Pfizer’s chief operating officer (COO) on January 1, 2018, overseeing the company’s drug development, manufacturing, sales, and strategy, as stated in a Wikipedia profile. He restructured Pfizer and spun-off the consumer health care business during his tenure as COO. He was promoted to the chief executive officer (CEO) role in October 2018, effective January 1, 2019, succeeding Ian Read.
Moderna's chief medical officer Tal Zaks is Jewish too (Atlanta Jewish Times)
Monday, December 28, 2020
Sunday, December 27, 2020
Friday, December 25, 2020
Thursday, December 24, 2020
Wednesday, December 23, 2020
'Morocco has never persecuted the Jews'. This revisionist bombshell was dropped by the Moroccan UN ambassador to his Israeli counterpart at a joint candle-lighting ceremony. Lyn Julius sets the record straight in JNS News.
Moroccan Jews at prayer (Photo courtesy Paul Dahan)
The news that Israel and Morocco are about to 'normalise'
their relations has been met with jubilation in Israel - and
in the Moroccan diaspora. The first direct flight has taken
off for Rabat from Tel Aviv; and liaison offices will be
opened in both countries, to be upgraded to embassies in
A wave of nostalgic affection has swept over Jews born in Morocco. 'Morocco has a special place in my heart' gushes Casablanca-born columnist David Suissa, who now lives in California.
On the diplomatic front, the UN ambassadors from Morocco
and Israel marked the beginning of their new era with a
Hanucah candle-lighting ceremony. Then Rabat's ambassador
Omar Hilale dropped a bombshell: he said that Morocco had
never persecuted its Jews.
As far as we know, Israel's ambassador, not wishing to spoil the love-in, said nothing in response.
Morocco is the first of the four countries which have agreed to a peace deal to have had a substantial Jewish population - its 300,000-member community was the largest in the Arab world. But this community is now one percent of its previous size. If Morocco was such a hospitable place for its Jews, why did almost all leave?
One can point to the Oujda and Djerrada riots of 1948, in which 48 Jews died. Spasmodic violence in the 1950s was directed against the wedge group caught between the French colonials and the Muslims - the Jews. One can point to the fact that Morocco forbade her Jews from emigrating for five years, provoking increasingly desperate attempts to flee.
Zionism became a crime and a pretext for imprisonment once Morocco became a member of the Arab League. Jews in mixed areas were frequently harassed and threatened.
Mob violence erupted so frequently that the troubles were hardly worth recording. One Jewish woman asked her neighbours for assurance that an anti-Jewish riot was not being planned for the date of her daughter's wedding.
Then there was the ever-present threat of abduction of
Jewish girls and forced conversion.
But Moroccan Jews themselves often deny that they left
through persecution. The main reason - their loyalty to the
king. 'The king loves us,' David Suissa declares. Jews
believe that the wartime sultan saved the Jews from the
Nazis and even wore the yellow star.
But historians have debunked this myth.
Deportation was never a realistic possibility. The king may have prevaricated, but he rubber-stamped every single anti-Jewish decree promulgated by the Vichy authorities, the real 'power behind the throne'.
Morocco's record has been muddied by a decades-long
campaign, spearheaded by the king's Jewish royal adviser,
André Azoulay, to project an idealised image through the
preservation of Jewish heritage, music festivals and other
demonstrations of interfaith coexistence.
Historically, the Moroccan monarchy generally did show
benign tolerance towards its Jewish subjects, who lived in
a quarter, or mellah, adjoining the royal palace. An
attack on minorities was seen as an attack on the sultan's
Dhimmi Jews, routinely subject to restrictions and
humiliations, paid for his protection with hard cash. After
the post-Inquisition influx of Jews from Spain, sultans
appointed Jews to be their advisers and imtermediaries with
the European powers.
But not all sultans were benevolent. At the end of the 18th
century Moulay Lyazid ordered Jews in Oujda who dared to dress like Muslim to have
one ear cut off. He planned to exterminate the Jews of his
kingdom and incited a pogrom against the Jews of
No persecution there.
The Jews were left without protection at times of
instablility or in the interregnum between rulers. Take the
Fez pogrom of 1033, where 6,000 Jews Jews were reputedly
murdered. At other times, fanatical preachers whipped the mob into
anti-Jewish frenzy, as happened in Touat in 1492, when the
entire Jewish population was massacred.
In contrast, a well-intentioned sultan might have wished to
protect his Jews but could be powerless to do so. In 1863
Sir Moses Montefiore persuaded the sultan to issue an edict
granting equal rights for Jews, but local governors failed
to apply it.
The nineteenth century was replete with riots against the usual scapegoats - the Jews - as Morocco became a cauldron of tribal and international conflict.
As a new era dawns between Morocco and Israel, let honesty and transparency prevail. Morocco broke new ground recently, promising to teach Jewish history and culture in schools. Let's hope that the children are not taught that Morocco never persecuted its Jews.
Tuesday, December 22, 2020
According to Mizrachi, values and identity—and the security issues related to them in the Jewish state—all make it nearly impossible for the left to make progress with a demographic group that now forms the majority of Jewish Israelis. It’s not that, as American liberals complain, people vote against their interests or that they are too backward to understand or appreciate liberal values. On the contrary, Mizrahim view the liberal vision of the Israeli left—in which the Jewish nature of the state is downgraded or shunted aside as being less important than a belief in universalism and democracy—with horror. As Mizrahi has written, Mizrahim came to Israel to be in a Jewish state where their rights and security would be protected. They don’t view themselves as an oppressed minority group or desire “inclusion.” They just want Israel to be a Jewish state whose security is defended without compromise. Hence comes their natural support for Netanyahu, Likud and other right-wing parties—just as they supported Menachem Begin in the past—and their utter disdain for the Israeli left, even if it seeks to portray itself as the champion of the oppressed.
Monday, December 21, 2020
Sunday, December 20, 2020
Friday, December 18, 2020
Thursday, December 17, 2020
To mark the 30 November Day of Commemoration of the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran, Gilad Erdan, Israel's UN ambassador, pledged to press for a UN resolution for the recognition and compensation of Jewish refugees.
Enter Joseph Massad into the fray to call out 'Israel's outrageous fabrications'. Massad is Associate Professor of Arab Politics at Columbia University. Erdan's campaign, he alleges in Middle East Eye, is designed to exonerate Israel from the 'original sin' of expelling the Palestinians and other 'criminal actions'.
Dismissing all the ''push' factors, he argues that Jews coming to the Jewish homeland cannot possibly be refugees. They can't be said to have been expelled either, because Yemen defied an Arab League ban and 'allowed' the Jews to leave. Israel 'removed' 'Arab Jews', as he calls them, to face institutionalised Ashkenazi discrimination in Israel' and the abduction of hundreds of children'. Massad obviously knows better than three Israeli Commissions of Inquiry, who could find no evidence of an abduction racket.
Ignoring the mass violence and state-sanctioned persecution confronting 'Arab Jews', Massad resurrects the old chestnuts favoured by Palestinian propagandists of the 1950 'Mossad' bombs in Iraq and the 1954 Lavon Affair bombings in Egypt to infer that Jews had to be made to leave 'the paradise 'of Arab countries by the Zionists. Then comes a curious inference : because most Jews in Egypt did not have Egyptian nationality, one could not blame Egypt for expelling them as foreigners. In other words, Jews in Egypt were a mini-settler colony. It does not cross Massad's mind that Jews in Egypt could have been denied Egyptian nationality by racist laws. Of 1,000 Jews detained by Nasser after the Suez crisis of 1956, only half were of Egyptian nationality. (A negligible number, so that's alright then.)
Calling mainly on sources such as Tom Segev's The First Israelis, articles in Haaretz, Joel Beinin's The dispersion of tEgyptian Jewry and writings by Ella Shohat, Massad passes over massive evidence that Jews were stripped of their rights as Jews . He claims that there was no population swap between Jewish refugees and Palestinians, as Israel argues : while Jews were given Palestinian homes and land, Palestinians were not given Jewish property in return (Not true: some Palestinians in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq were housed in Jewish property, and it was Arab League policy neither to complete the exchange, nor resettle the refugees - ed). Massad inflates Palestinian losses to $300 bn, so that they dwarf Jewish losses.
According to Massad the PLO got wise to Israel's trickery and all the Arab countries issued invitations for the'Arab Jews' to return in the 1970s. Massad does not provide any explanation for why they did not go back, choosing to stay and 'face Ashkenazi discrimination'.
Curiously, Arab governments can dodge their responsibility for what happened to their Jews because they are no longer in power, whereas an Israeli government which expelled the Palestinians is still in power. Hmmm.
Nice try, Joseph Massad, but no cigar.