Sunday, February 28, 2021

Who needs hamantaschen when you can eat 'dabla'?

The triangular Hamantaschen, or Haman's ears, have become the universal cookie for Purim. But they were unknown in Tunisia, where the tradition Purim food was dabla (debla), a thin dough dipped in oil and honey. Peggy Cidor recalls how the festival was cellebrated in her childhood in The Jerusalem Post:

Tunisian dabla (debla), prepared specially to give away to the needy at the festival of Purim. Recipe here.

Each day, upon returning from the French school where I studied and where no one ever mentioned any of the Jewish festivals, I found a new pile of cookies on the buffet table wrapped in cellophane, each more tempting than the next. 

 Sensing our enthusiasm to taste them, my brother and I were warned not to even touch them. “It’s all for the mimanot,” my mother would say, using an abbreviated term for mishloach manot. Sometimes, my mother would simply call the mimanot “the plates,” but they always meant the same thing – a large dish always taken from our finest china, loaded with samples of the cookies she prepared, wrapped in delicate and colorful paper or one of Mom’s embroidered napkins.

 Sometimes, I arrived back from school while my mother was still busy in her kitchen preparing these cookies. I particularly remember the mekrud, made of semolina, dates, tangerines and nuts, baked in the oven and then dipped in homemade honey sugar, tangerine syrup and water. 

The dabla were the Oriental counterparts of the Eastern European hamentashen made of a very thin dough cut into long strips and rolled around a special fork, dipped into boiling oil and then honey. And there were more, including almonds mashed and fried in the shape of cigars, and so on. When the day itself arrived, my brother and I changed into our Shabbat outfits, put all the mimanot in large baskets and began our tour to all the aunts and other family in the area. 

Needless to say, we returned from our route having received the same amount of mimanot from all of them. Around the table that evening, my parents would dare, here and there, to compare the traditional homemade cookies they had received – always stating their preference for my mother’s.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Gulf states Jews celebrate Purim publicly for first time

The Association of Gulf Communities got off to a flying start with a Zoom event for Purim on the evening of 25 February. The association is under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Dr. Elie Abadie, based in Dubai, and president Ebrahim Dawood Nonoo, based in Bahrain, Arutz Sheva carried this piece:


 For the first time, the Jewish communities of the six Gulf countries - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - celebrate Purim together. 

 The event will include a keynote speech by Dr. Sh. Khalid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Co-existance in Bahrain. 

 Thoufeek Zakriya, the Arabic-Hebrew calligrapher living in Dubai, will take part in the event, creating a piece of Purim artwork live. Purim Megillah (Scroll of Esther) will be read by the Rabbi of AGJC, Rabbi Elie Abadie. 

Jews in six Gulf states for 'Beth Din of Arabia'
Meanwhile Azeri Jews have cancelled their Purim Celebrations (Jerusalem Post)

Thursday, February 25, 2021

One man's mission to preserve Iranian-Jewish heritage

Tonight begins the festival of Purim. Youssef Setareh-Shenas hopes that, by tomorrow night, he will have a virtual tour of the tomb of Esther and Mordechai at Hamadan on his website, which aims to preserve the memory of Iranian-Jewish heritage. Karmel Melamed interviewed him for The Forward:

The tomb of Esther and Mordechai in Hamadan

 Celebrating Purim is bittersweet for Fariborz Moradzadeh, an Iranian Jewish businessman in Los Angeles. 

 In the 43 years since arriving in L.A., he has been unable to return to his birth city of Hamedan in Iran and visit the burial site of Purim’s heroine Esther and hero Mordechai located nearby. 

The Iranian regime’s random arrests of Iranian Americans and Jews makes such visits all but impossible.

 But this Purim Moradzadeh hopes to be able to visit Esther’s tomb virtually through, a website that is trying to provide a virtual 3-D tour of the Esther and Mordechai mausoleum. 

The 3-D tour is still glitchy and the site, in Farsi with some English, difficult to navigate. But those drawbacks don’t dissuade Moradzadeh and others who are proud there’s an online home for Iranian Jewish heritage even if, as they claim, wealthy Iranian Jews aren’t interested in funding it. 

 The site is the brainchild of Los Angeles Iranian Jewish small businessman Yousef Setareh-Shenas, who nearly 15 years ago created the Persian-language online forum to preserve Iranian Jewish history, culture and information — and which he runs on a shoestring without help from far wealthier members of the community. 

 “I realized that we as Iran’s Jews are gradually losing our history and heritage because the majority of the community live here in America are unconcerned with the past,” said Setareh-Shenas, who is in his late 60’s.

Hag Purim Sameah!
A video tour of the tombs of Esther and Mordechai in Hamadan, Persia (W/ t Imre)

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

The lost Jewish history of a Baghdad holy shrine

The New York Times has published an article, Tomb of Joshua, Revered Prophet, Beckons Believers in Baghdad,” on the purported Iraqi holy site that is also known as the Shrine of Jeshua the High Priest. It begins by misleading readers into thinking that this is the tomb of the Prophet Joshua, who never set foot in Iraq. The American Sephardi Federation (ASF) criticises the piece for not noting the history of the tomb:

The article mentions in passing the “Jewish neighbors that some in the neighborhood still remembered” 20 years ago and how these Jews were “descendants of Jews in exile in Babylon, and an important part of Iraqi society until most were forced to leave in the 1950s.”

 Unfortunately, the Tomb’s Jewish history goes unnoted. That history includes the major 19th century fight over the burial of Baghdad’s Chief Rabbi Hakham Abdallah Somekh (an ancestor of former US Department of State Special Envoy to Monitor & Combat Anti-Semitism Elan Carr) in the courtyard and how the Farhud’s first victims may have been pilgrims en route to or from the Shrine for the annual Sukkot pilgrimage.

Top: the tomb of Joshua the High Priest with Haham Ezra Dangoor. Bottom: the Hebrew inscriptions and distinctive decoration have been painted over in recent times.

Diarna,  an independent digital reconstruction project in partnership with the ASF, has this history of the site:

The burial of Chief Rabbi, Hakham Abdalla Somekh, in the shrine's courtyard in 1889 led to the persecution of Baghdadi Jews by the city's governor, who even imprisoned the new Chief Rabbi. The governor was removed after a "memorial on the subject was addressed to the marquis of Salisbury (Oct. 25, 1889, on behalf of the Jewish Board of Deputies and the Anglo-Jewish Association)."

 Decades later the shrine featured in the Nazi-inspired pogrom in Baghdad known as the Farhud. According to the Government Committee for Investigating the Events of 1-2 June 1941 (as summarized by Dr. Zvi Yahuda in Nahardea: Journal of the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center, No. 15, Winter 2005/2006):

"The riots broke out on the morning of Sunday, 1 June 1941 (the first day of the Pentecost [Sukkot] festival), next to the al-Khirr bridge situated in al-Karkh, the western part of Baghdad, on the main road to the tomb of Joshua the High Priest. Soldiers of the Iraqi army together with civilians fell on Jews making their way to visit the tomb, as was their custom in celebrating the Pentecost holy day. The writers of the report believed that this onslaught, which was not put down right at the start by the army and police authorities, was the direct cause of the riots at al-Rusafa, the district in Baghdad where concentrations of Jews were located. However, local Jewish sources, who agree with what the report contains as to details of the incident, in which soldiers and Muslim civilians injured the Jews, diverge from its contents regarding the background to its onset. These sources maintain that this was not the Jews' setting off to celebrate the Pentecost festival by visiting the tomb of Joshua the High Priest but their participation at a reception held for the Regent and his entourage on their return to Baghdad.

Questions linger about the Jews who were first attacked, whether a delegation of Jewish notables who had been attending a reception with the Regent at the Palace of Flowers (Qasr al-Zuhur), or "a different group of Jews, defined as young people, who were on their way to the festivities at the tomb of Joshua the High Priest and crossed the bridge after the deputation of Jewish notables had returned." If, as the report maintains,the attack on the Jews [took] place close to the palace where the Regent and his retinue resided and operated, and on the main road connecting the Palace of Flowers to the Baghdad international airport and the British Embassy... How did it happen that at a place so sensitive to the security of the British and the rulers who supported them, riots could erupt, and a bloody incident could occur in which Jews were injured and killed? Had the British neglected the security of the road connecting their Embassy with the residence of the Regent and allowed the assembly of armed soldiers and civilians who opposed them and their supporters among the domestic rulers?

Unfortunately, "the report of the Committee and the British sources did not trouble to address these questions."

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Government to compensate for disappeared Yemenite children

In an effort to gain closure for the Yemenite Children Affair,  the Israeli government has approved a plan to compensate some 1,000 families whose children had disappeared following their arrival in Israel some 70 years ago.  The government has expressed regret for the families' suffering, but has stopped short of an apology. The Times of Israel reports (with thanks: Sarah, Stan):

Jews from Aden and Yemen awaiting their airlift to Israel in 1949

Under the terms of the plan, families will receive NIS 150,000 ($46,000) for each child whose death was made known to them at the time. A sum of NIS 200,000 ($61,000) will be paid for each child whose fate is unknown. In total, the government will allocate NIS 162 million ($46,600,000) for the compensation plan.

 Only families whose cases were already reviewed by one of the three state committees set up over the years to investigate the issue will be eligible to apply for compensation. Requests must be filed between June 1, 2021, and November 30, 2021. 

A committee will be established to oversee distribution of the compensation money. There are 1,050 families that qualify for compensation, according to the Ynet website. Receiving compensation will be dependent on a written commitment to not file any further lawsuits on the matter as well as to close and waive any existing legal action. 

 The proposal included a declaration that “the government of Israel regrets the events that happened in the early days of the state and recognizes the suffering of families whose children were part of this painful issue.”

 “It is not in the power of a financial plan to provide a remedy to the suffering caused to families,” the declaration noted. 

“However, the State of Israel hopes that it will be able to assist in the process of rehabilitation and healing of the social wound that this affair has created in Israeli society.” The compensation plan came against the background of several lawsuits by families regarding the matter. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

How Shlomo Hillel helped 120,000 Iraqi Jews flee to Israel

Tributes to Shlomo Hillel, the architect of the Iraqi 'aliya' have appeared in The New York Times (the identical piece is in the Irish Times). (With thanks: Solly)

Shlomo Hillel in a photo taken in 2018

Shlomo Hillel, a Baghdad-born Israeli operative who in the late 1940s and early 1950s used bribes, fake visas and a network of smugglers to move more than 120,000 Jews from Iraq to Israel, died on February 8th at his home in Ra’anana, Israel. He was 97. His death was confirmed by his son, Ari, who did not specify a cause. 

 Hillel was just 23 when the Haganah, a paramilitary organisation in what was then British-controlled Palestine, sent him undercover to Iraq. Jews had lived there for centuries, mostly in harmony with their neighbours, but growing Arab nationalism and anti-Zionist sentiment, including a 1941 pogrom in which several hundred Jews were killed, were making their situation precarious

 Hillel, disguised as an Arab, was there to lay the groundwork for migration, teaching Hebrew and rousing pro-Zionist sentiment. He also helped smuggle small numbers of Jews to Israel in trucks travelling between Baghdad and Haifa, a major port in Palestine. 

 After a year he returned to Israel, but he soon grew restless. As he watched ships full of Jews arrive from Europe – one carried his future wife, Temima – he decided that Iraqi Jews deserved the same opportunity. 

But Iraq forbade them to emigrate, and the British had severely limited how many Jews could move to Palestine. Hillel would have to act in secret. 

 With the Haganah’s support, he found American pilots who had a cargo plane and an itch for adventure. “Someone in the United States had told two of them, ‘Look, in Palestine there are some crazy people who are willing to pay a lot of money to smuggle Jews to Palestine,” Hillel said in a 2008 oral history. 

 The pilots were to be paid upon arrival in Israel, but in Baghdad one of them suddenly changed his mind, and demanded the money before they left. Knowing that the pilot had an account with a bank in New York, Hillel lied and said he had one with the same bank, and wrote him a cheque, drawn on a fake account number.

 The plan went perfectly. They took off just after midnight so they could arrive at daybreak, before the British were awake. When they landed in a field near Yavne’el, a town on the Sea of Galilee, an agent from the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, handed the pilots a bag of gold coins. Hillel retrieved his fake cheque. 1948 war The Haganah ran the operation, called Michaelberg – derived from the pilots’ names – one more time, bringing back 50 more Iraqis, before the outbreak of the Israeli war for independence in 1948 rendered the flights too risky. 

In June 1948, with the war still raging and the situation growing worse for Iraq’s Jews, Hillel went to Iran, this time disguised as a Frenchman. He had passed through Paris, where he encountered a priest named Alexander Glasberg, who had converted to Roman Catholicism from Judaism.

 He had saved some 2,000 Jews during World War II by hiding them in monasteries, and was now involved in getting European Jews to Israel. The two decided that if Jews could make it across the porous border to Iran – and if Hillel could bribe Iranian police to look the other way – then Glasberg, who was friends with the French interior minister, could arrange visas for them to get to Israel. 

Over a few months, about 12,000 Jews made the trip. But even this was not fast enough for Hillel, who had since returned to Israel. In 1950 a new government in Iraq passed a law allowing Jews to migrate for one year. Here was his chance to get tens of thousands of Jews out of the country. Hillel travelled to Baghdad once more, this time disguised as a Briton named Richard Armstrong, representing an American charter company called Near East Air Transport. The company, owned by a pro-Israel American, was real, although it received much of its funding from the Mossad. 

Post by Lyn Julius (Times of Israel)

Jewish Chronicle obituary by Natasha Dangoor

Israeli TV series 'Lebanon' forgot abducted Lebanese Jews

 Israeli Jews with roots in Arab countries are up in arms that a six-part  TV documentary series, 'Lebanon', did not mention the tragedy of the Lebanese Jewish community.

The series 'Lebanon' aired on Channel 11 recently. Activist Dana Avrish took to Facebook to register her outrage. She had devoted her career to raising awareness of the history and heritage of Jews from Arab countries, but Lebanese Jewry had been erased from the series. 'Without our past, there is no present and no future,' she said. She called for individuals to join her in fighting such denial.

Dana Avrish

Particularly galling for academic and activist Dr Edy Cohen was that 11 Jewish civilians abducted and murdered by an organisation linked to Hezbollah, the Organisation of the Oppressed,  during the 1980s, were not mentioned. Among them was his own father, Haim Hallala Cohen. Dr Cohen complained in his Facebook video that Israeli TV  dealt with  Christians, Shi'as, Palestinians, even Ashkenazim and Ethoipians, but  there was not a single sentence about oppressed Jews in Arab countries.

Edy Cohen

The abductions included three members of the Beniste family, a father and two sons. The tragedy was all the more shocking given that 93 Jews remained in the country. Some bodies were never found. 

These Jews will be the subject of a new book being written in French, 'Les derniers juifs du Liban' by the historian of Lebanese Jewry, Nagi Gergi Zeidan.

Here are the names and ages of the 11 abductees and the presumed dates of their deaths:

1984: Raoul (son of Sobhi) Mizrahi, 52

1984, Selim Mourad Jamous, 54

1985: Haim Hallal Cohen, 39

1985: Dr Elie Hallac, 52

1985: Elie Youssef Srour, 68

1987: Isaac Sasson, 65

1986: Isaac Tarrab, 70

1987: Yehuda Beniste, 70

1987: Ibrahim Beniste, 39

1986: Youssef Beniste, 33

1986: Henri Mann, 40

The first victim Raoul Mizrahi's story: (From Les derniers juifs du Liban (French) by Nagi Zeidan:) 

On 2nd July 1984 Mizrahi, an engineer, was kidnapped at 8 am from his office in Sanayeh, Beirut in front of his secretary, Amani Yahia. The kidnappers put him in a a sack tied at the neck with  a rope. They dragged the sack down four flights of stairs. His secretary had been bound and gagged. Mizrahi, who had health problems, was  bundled into the boot of a car and died from a heart attack. His body was abandoned in the street and his family found it at the Al-Makassed hospital morgue on 10 July 1984. He was buried at the Sidon Jewish cemetery in the presence of his son Robert and brother-in-law. The photo shows the author Nagi Zeidan with Mizrahi's skeleton in September 2018 during the cemetery renovation. (Courtesy)

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The brilliant, but short, life of a Hebrew printing press in Fez

For eight years in the 16th century, the Moroccan town of Fez had a Hebrew printing press until it was forced to close down due to a Spanish prohibition on the sale of paper. There would not be another until the late 19th century. Marvin J Heller writes in  Sephardic Horizons (Winter 2021):

Jewish houses in Fez, 1932

Jewish residence and Jewish history in Fez, in northern Morocco, is both continuous and lengthy. Jewish settlement dates to the early ninth century, continuing to the present day. Although not always positive, since there were periods of extreme oppression, Jewish residence was, more often than not, beneficial to Jews.

Among the little-known aspects of Fez Jewish history is the existence of a brief press that printed as few as seven to nine books, and perhaps even more between c. 1515 to the early 1520s. 

 Fez was founded in 789 by Idrīs I. It became the capital of the kingdom in 808 under Idrīs II. The latter admitted a significant number of Jews, who settled in the al-Funduk al-Yahūdī quarter. They paid an annual tax of 30,000 dinars. 

 A positive example of this early Jewish residence in Fez is cited by André N. Chouraqui, quoting Roud el Kartas, who relates that when Idris I assaulted the Jews and Christians in the Maghreb in 789, they were defeated and forced to convert to Islam, despite being ensconced in fortresses. The majority who did not submit were executed. 

Nevertheless, even the Idrises’ efforts were limited, for according to Ibn Khaldun, Yahya ibn Yahya ben Mohammed, the last emir of the elder branch of the Idrises, was attracted to a young Jewish girl of Fez. He attempted to seize her while in her bath. The people of Fez revolted, forcing Yahya to take refuge in the Andalusian quarter of the city. Chouraqui concludes that “this episode shows that the townspeople of Fez were concerned for the welfare of their Jews and of their women, and may be accounted for by the strong Berber influence that remained in the town.”

 Three subsequent events in Fez stand out in vivid contrast to this anecdote; in ca. 987, a portion of the community was deported to Algeria; in 1035, 6,000 Jews were massacred by fanatics who conquered Fez; and in 1068, the Almoravides sacked the city. A century later, in 1165, a new Almohad monarch instituted changes including forced conversion. Among the victims the dayyan R. Judah ha-Kohen ibn Shushan was burned alive for refusing to submit and Maimonides and his family, who were refugees from Spain, left for Egypt. Another source of affliction for the community was the appearance, in about 1127, of a pseudo-messiah, Moses Dari. Somewhat later, in 1438, the Jews of Fez were required to live in a separate section of the city known as the Mellah in New Fez. 

 All of this notwithstanding, Chouraqui writes that “these crises were of a passing nature” and Fez was, once again, felt to be a safe city so that Jews could settle there, including, as noted above, Maimonides' family. Indeed, apart from the trials of Jewish life, Fez was also a home to Jewish scholars and scholarship with moments of security and even prosperity. Indeed, Chouraqui notes that it was a “center of Jewish learning.” 

Among the early rabbinic figures who resided in Fez are R. Judah ibn Kuraish (9th century), known as the “father of Hebrew grammar,” R. Dunash ben Labrat (mid 10th century), and R. Judah ben David Hayyuj (c. 945–c. 1000), renowned grammarians. Most celebrated of the sages in Fez was R. Isaac ben Jacob Alfasi.9 Among the later sages is R. Jacob Berab (Beirav, c. 1474–1546) and R. Abraham ben Jacob Saba (d. c. 1508). The former was appointed rabbi of Fez at the age of eighteen. He left for the Middle East several years later, where, in Safed he was involved in the attempt to renew semikhah (ordination for a Sanhedrin) for the first time in several hundred years. 

 The expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 saw large-scale immigration to Morocco. The Fez community increased to number as many as 10,000, comprised of “Spanish exiles” (megorashim) and "natives" (toshavim).11 It was to this community that Portuguese émigrés Samuel ben Isaac Nedivot and his son Isaac came. 

As Abraham J. Karp notes, as the presses of the Iberian Peninsula closed and the Italian presses had not yet achieved eminence, there was a need for Hebrew presses. The time appeared propitious for a new press. The Nedivots who had learned the printer’s craft at the press of Eliezer Toledano in Lisbon founded their Hebrew press in Fez in circa 1516, the first in Africa. Indeed, there is a similarity to the works published in both places.The press would publish seven to nine titles between 1516 and 1524, including a Sefer Abudarham, Azharot, Hilkhot Rav Alfas, Tur Yoreh De'ah, and several Talmudic tractates, although the attribution of several of the tractates is in question.

Friday, February 19, 2021

The return of MishMish to the cinema screen

They were the Walt Disney of Egypt: the three Frenkel brothers introduced the popular cartoon character of MishMish Effendi to an Egyptian cinema audience in the  1930s and 1940s. But they were forced to leave Egypt for France (see story below), where they never managed to replicate their former success.  Now Israeli  producer Tal Michael has made a documentary to rescue their story from oblivion. 


Mishmish Effendi, an Egyptian Mickey Mouse

In a Zoom interview, Michael told The Times of Israel that as young men, the Frenkels “just fell in love with it, this technology, the animated world, [and just] decided they could do it.” 

 Not everyone supported them. The documentary’s title refers to an inauspicious early-career conversation they had while seeking funding.

 When they pitched a leading member of the Bank of Egypt, he called their project “mafish fayda,” or “useless” in Arabic. When they persisted, asking when he might be open to investing, he replied with a well-known expression, “bukra fil mish-mish,” or “when the apricots bloom,” a reference to the short apricot season and generally understood to mean that something will never happen. 

 Reflecting on the phrase, Michael finds two potential meanings. One is dismissive, but the other allows for a brief possibility of hope — just like the small time frame when apricots do actually bloom.

 The Frenkels’ story fits right in with the second interpretation. “For a very short time, they became the Walt Disney of Africa and the Arabic world,” Michael said. Along the way, they took some swipes at their naysayer. 

“Mafish Fayda” became the title of one of their films, while they named their most enduring character Mish-Mish Effendi. A fez-wearing, hijinks-prone young man, Mish-Mish appealed to rich and poor alike and even starred in “National Defense,” an Egyptian propaganda film by the administration of King Farouk. 

Yet future success was derailed by Egyptian hostility toward the newly declared State of Israel. Riots against the Egyptian Jewish population caused a mass exodus. The Frenkels left for France, and although they continued making animated projects they could never recapture their glory.

 Eventually, their film reels were left gathering dust in their basement. 

On the 'Egyptian Jews' Facebook page, Didier Frenkel posted the document issued to his family on their departure by ship from Egypt in 1951. What is interesting is that the document does not give a reason for leaving and says that the family is not allowed to return to Egypt. The family apparently had Egyptian nationality and left five years BEFORE Nasser's mass expulsion of 1956 for France.


Thursday, February 18, 2021

Gulf-Israel partnership founded to build social bonds

With thanks: Henry

 One of the most promising initatives to come out of the Abraham Accords has been the founding of Sharaka, the Gulf-Israel Centre for Social Entrepreneurship.

Sharaka is Arabic for 'partnership'. Their self-declared mission is 'to build bonds between young Israeli and Gulf leaders in order to strengthen peace, trust and cooperation between our societies'. 

The Israelis in the Sharaka team include members with roots in Arab countries, such as Amit Deri, Ben-Dror Yemini and Ofir Ohayon. In December Sharaka organised a group visit of young Arabs to Israel.

This video  shows members of the delegation wiping away tears while being shown around the Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem.


Majid Al-Sarrah from the UAE encouraged all people to “see the reality of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem and promised, “We will spread the knowledge about the Holocaust. We will raise peace and love, say never again to anti-Semitism, hate and discrimination. We are brothers and sisters. We will stand together, and together, we will build a world free of anti-Semitism and hate.” 

 Mashael Al-Shemeri from Bahrain said, “I would like to say to all Jews and the people of Israel: You are not alone anymore.” Najat Al-Saeed from Saudi Arabia added, “We must educate young generations about the full horrors of the Holocaust, including by ensuring that the Holocaust is taught in schools in the Abraham Accords countries and that special envoys are appointed for preserving Holocaust remembrance.”

Shoah survivor tells her story to Arab audience 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

How were Jews treated in 19th century Morocco?

 In contrast to the picture of age-old harmony projected by today's regime in Morocco, western newspapers in the 19th century describe how Jews were persecuted by their Muslim neighbours in Morocco. The inestimable blog Elder of Ziyon has unearthed two newspaper articles:

"Here is an account of Jews in Fez, Morocco, part of a longer article about Morocco that was published in the (Chicago) Inter Ocean, November 4, 1894. Although the article seems slightly exaggerated (Jews weren't forced to wear peyos, and I am skeptical that there was a death penalty for a Jew being on a street with a mosque), the article describes how the Jews are persecuted by their Muslim neighbors. It also has a fair amount of the typical unconscious antisemitism that is often seen in 19th century newspaper articles."

See post in full

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Kuwaiti singer wants to convert to Judaism

Apostasy from Islam seems all the rage, as a popular singer in Kuwait declares her intention to convert to Judaism She is following another performer who declared his wish to convert to Christianity. Kuwait's ruling family is sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood which considers apostasy punishable by death. Jewish Voice reports: 

Ibtisam Hamid

Shockwaves were profoundly felt throughout the Arab world on Wednesday when acclaimed Kuwaiti singer and actress Ibtisam Hamid made a public pronouncement of her intention to renounce her Islamic faith and to embrace Judaism through conversion.

 Also known by her stage name Basma al-Kuwaiti, the singer and actress posted a video on Twitter in which she said her decision stemmed from the fact that Islam violates women’s rights and does not treat them with dignity, as was reported by Israel HaYom.

 She stated:“I, Ibtisam Hamid, nicknamed singer Basma al-Kuwaitiya, announce that I am leaving Islam and proudly announce embracing Judaism.” The video was so widely circulated to the point that she topped Arab Google trending searches lists as well as social media. According to the web site, fans and followers of al-Kuwaitiya demanded that the singer be arrested and held accountable for her decision to convert to Judaism. 

 The web site reported that one follower said: ‘So this is a trendy approach for fame nowadays, every now and then someone announces apostasy.’ Another one wrote: ‘We are at the end of time, and this is called apostasy, and she must be stopped’. 

Israel HaYom reported that the singer also spoke out against the ruling family of Kuwait, saying “I want to declare my opposition to the Al Sabah family, who reject normalization with Israel, stands against religious freedom in the country and against freedom of speech.”

Monday, February 15, 2021

Jews in six Gulf states form 'Beth Din of Arabia'

Jews in six Gulf states have formed a new association to coordinate their religious needs. Seth Frantzman reports in the Jerusalem Post:

Houda Nonoo, former Bahrain Ambassador to the US, and Rabbi Elie Abadie, senior rabbi in the UAE.

As Jewish life has become more public in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, Jews from across the Gulf are forming the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities. The new organization, the first of its kind, will include Jews and their communities from the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, according to a statement Sunday morning. 

 “During the pandemic, many of us started attending the Jewish Council of the Emirates’ pre-Shabbat Zooms where we met each other. That ultimately became the genesis for the creation of the Association of Gulf Jewish Communities because as we got to know one another on the call, we realized that there were certain resources we could share,” said Ambassador Houda Nonoo from Bahrain. Nonoo previously served as the kingdom's ambassador to the United States.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Jews critique report by Algerian-Jewish historian Stora

The Algerian war of independence was a brutal six-year conflict between the French army, local paramilitaries and the FLN independence fighters. It ended in the eviction of 800,000 pieds noirs (white settlers), and the repatriation of some 130,000 Jews to France. The Algerian war  has long been a sore point, eliciting calls for  an apology from France for torture ; president Macron has sought to heal the wounds by appointing the Algerian-born Jewish historian Benjamin Stora to write a  report. But Stora's report has attracted criticism from left and right. (with thanks: Jean-Loup, Imre)

Benjamin Stora

The New York Times reports:

 PARIS — France will establish a 'truth and reconciliation' commission to review the country’s colonial history in Algeria, following a key recommendation in a new, much-anticipated report commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron (and released in January 2021). The report also presented a series of other proposals to address longstanding grievances. But it ruled out issuing an official apology for the past, and the proposals avoided the question of systemic torture by French forces, which Mr. Macron has already acknowledged. The report said its purpose was to achieve a “reconciliation of memories between France and Algeria,” two countries divided not by just the Mediterranean Sea but also by deep animosity stemming from years of colonization and an independence war that left hundreds of thousands dead. In a statement issued late Wednesday, Mr. Macron’s office said that he would create a Memories and Truth Commission as recommended. In addition, it said, three ceremonies to be organized by the French government in 2021 and 2022 will pay tribute to Algerians who fought on opposite sides of the war. 

Ariella Azoulay

 Writing in the Boston Review,  Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, an academic and photography critic,  issued a vigorous critique of Stora's report  addressed to him, alleging that not only did he barely mention Algerian Jews but that Jews were torn away from their Muslim brethren by the French, and French citizenship forced on them against their will. 

 "Like you, I have a personal stake in these matters. I was born in 1962, the year the war ended, when my family, yours, and 140,000 other Jews were forced to leave Algeria as the direct consequence of its long colonization. As you noted in your 2006 book The Three Exiles of Jews from Algeria, two other exiles preceded this one.

 "The first occurred in 1870, when the Crémieux decree separated the Jews from the rest of the Algerian population and turned them into French citizens in their own country; the second in 1940, when the Vichy government revoked this decree and French citizenship along with it. Your book was very helpful to me when, more than a decade ago, I started to ask questions about the fabricated identity that was assigned to me at birth—“Israeli.” The more I studied the structures put in place to dissociate me from my Algerian Jewish ancestors, the less I recognized myself in this assigned identity. I rejected it twice over: first as a form of belonging, and second as an imperial template of history—an effort to mark a new beginning (in 1948), a rupture between what was made “past” and what was allowed to be the future. 

"The creation of the state of Israel proclaimed previous affiliations and formations either nonexistent (Palestine) or inappropriate (Algerian Jews, Iraqi Jews, and so on). It devalued the singularity of diverse groups of Jews, reshaping and concocting them into an undifferentiated group. This move effectively continued the Napoleonic project of regulating Jewish life, making “the Jewish people” into a historical-national subject that can only be fully realized by a sovereign state of its own." "When I started to gather histories and memories of who we Algerian Jews were until not so long ago, I noticed a striking similarity between the settler colonial identity assigned to me and the one assigned to my Algerian ancestors in 1870. My father left Algeria for Israel in 1949, and the rest of my family had to depart in 1962 to France, leaving behind more than two millennia of Arab Jewish life in the Maghreb. We can say that we are of Algerian origins, but colonialism destroyed the shared world in which this identity materialized. 

"When my ancestors were made French citizens, they didn’t stop being colonized; “granting” them settler colonial citizenship was another form of French colonization, not its end. Indeed it initiated a process of deracination. Jews were set apart from the people among whom they lived and with whom they shared language, cosmologies, beliefs, experiences, traditions, landscapes, histories, and memories. Some Algerian Jews welcomed French citizenship, but in 1865 most had refused to apply for it. The three exiles you describe in your book are examples of the heavy price Jews paid for their colonizers’ citizenship, a decision that impacted their descendants as well. The fact that some chose to comply—and later found ways to profit from their citizenship—doesn’t make it less of a colonial technology, which forcibly engineers people to become other than who they are. "As Maghreb and Middle Eastern Jews were forcibly assimilated into the European persona of the Jew as citizen, they were trained to see Arabs and Muslims as others. "Studying the connection between these two settler identities, the French and the Israeli, helped me to understand the role they played in serving the interests of major European colonial powers: namely, to dissociate the Jews from Arabs and Muslims and to incorporate them into the fabricated “Judeo-Christian tradition."(See my comment below). 

Jean-Pierre Lledo

 The Stora report has also come under fire from Jean-Pierre Lledo, himself born in Algeria of a Jewish mother. Writing at length in Revue Politique et Parlementaire (French) Lledo questions why the report should only require reconciliation between the French and the Algerian Muslims, including the Harkis, the native soldiers who fought on behalf of the French but were denied their rights. The Algerian Muslims were not the only victims of violence, Lledo says: a massacre of non-Muslims, even communists who supported independence, is not mentioned (Some 3,000 were murdered in 1962.) Algeria was never a nation, but an Ottoman province before 1830 when it came under French rule. For centuries, It was the scene of great terror against Berbers and Arabs alike and piracy.  Arabs practised slavery against kidnapped Europeans.  The  Arab slave trade was just as egregious as the Atlantic, if not more so. The slave traders castrated thousands of male slaves, thus effectively committing the genocide of generations unborn. While Stora vaunts the Jewish musician Raymond Leyris as a symbol of Arab-Jewish coexistence and shared culture, he fails to mention that Leyris was murdered by FLN supporters. Furthermore, Stora fails to allude to the pre-1830 Dhimma, the subordinate status of Jews and Christians under Islam. Examples of dhimmi abuse are enumerated in the 800-page book by Fenton and Littman, Exile from the Maghreb, but these are conveniently ignored. 

My comment: It is not clear why, for Ariella Azoulay, 'Israeli' should be a 'fabricated' identity but 'Algerian' - describing a modern Arabic-speaking state carved out of the Maghreb in defiance of the wishes of its indigenous Berber (Kabyle) population - should not. Azoulay accuses the French of imperialism while ignoring centuries of Muslim  imperialism. She accuses the French of tearing the Jews away from their Muslim brethren, a charge frequently proferred by 'cultural studies' scholars like Ella Shohat. Shohat, the inventor of the phrase 'Arab Jew', leads a popular school of thought in western universities which inflates the importance of cultural identity over politics. 

Absent from Azoulay's polemic is any appreciation that Algerian Jews had few rights before they were granted French citizenship in 1870. The reason why the Jews were hesitant to accept it is because the rabbis did not want to cede their authority to civil society. She dismisses the fact that Algerian Muslim were offered French citizenship too in 1865, but did not want their personal status governed by French civil law  Azoulay's article idealises relations between Jews and Muslims and lacks essential  historical context. For all its faults the French colonial era 'liberated' Jews from their subaltern status.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Sultan of Morocco resisted emancipation of Jews in 1943

With thanks: Duncan

Further to our post reporting that French historians like Georges Bensoussan and Michel Abitbol have debunked the myth that the sultan of Morocco had 'protected' the Jews during World War II, Duncan Lamb has kindly drawn our attention to the official record of the 23 January 1943 meeting between the Grand vizier  of Morocco, representing  the Sultan  and Mr Hopkins, representing President Franklin D Roosevelt.

The Grand Vizir of Morocco presents four questions to Roosevelt: Question 2 seeks assurances on behalf of the sultan that the US will not encourage the emancipation of Jews in Morocco. This question even takes precedence over his request for essential supplies and food.

Roosevelt, De Gaulle and Churchill at the Casablanca conference in January 1943

"The Jews have never been the predominant people in Morocco. In numbers and in influence they have always been definitely second. They have been well treated by the Moslems. When the German Armistice Commission arrived in Morocco they at first insisted that the Jews in Morocco should be treated the same as they are in Germany. This the Sultan steadfastly refused to do. The existing situation has been the result of centuries of living together. The Moslems need the Jews and the Jews need the Moslems. There is no Jewish question in Morocco and will be none if matters are left as they are now. Some Jews thought that the arrival of U.S. troops would mean the placing of Jews in positions of authority over the Moslems. This must not be. " (My emphasis -ed)

Jews must therefore know their place and submit to the Muslim majority.  It is clear that the sultan sees his legitimacy as tied to protection of the Jewish minority. The statement that the Jews have never been predominant in Morocco seems to stand in stark contrast to all current efforts by the royal adviser, Andre Azoulay, to magnify the importance of  Jewish heritage and culture in Morocco today.

An earlier meeting on 17 January between General Noguès, resident-general  of the Vichy regime in Morocco and  President Roosevelt,  confirms Roosevelt's known antisemitism.  As no elections were planned in Algeria, the Jews would be denied 'the privilege' of voting. They would  still be subject to professional quotas in liberated North Africa. 

General Noguès

 "The matter of political prisoners was then discussed. General Noguès stated that for the most part the Jews had now been released from the concentration camps. It was also stated that the Jews, especially those in Algeria, had raised the point that they wish restored to them at once the right of suffrage. The President stated that the answer to that was very simple, namely, that there just weren’t going to be any elections, so the Jews need not worry about the privilege of voting. Mr. Murphy remarked that the Jews in North Africa were very much disappointed that “the war for liberation” had not immediately resulted in their being given their complete freedom. The President stated that he felt the whole Jewish problem should be studied very carefully and that progress should be definitely planned. In other words, the number of Jews engaged in the practice of the professions (law, medicine, etc.) should be definitely limited to the percentage that the Jewish population in North Africa bears to the whole of the North African population. Such a plan would therefore permit the Jews to engage in the professions, at the same time would not permit them to overcrowd the professions, and would present an unanswerable argument that they were being given their full rights."

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Deaf dancer 's childhood overshadowed by vanished sister

This is the amazing story, told by Ruth Corman in her blog, of how Amnon Damti, born profoundly the deaf son of Yemenite parents, became an award-winning Israeli dancer with his wife Jill. They danced for the US president, deaf and disabled children and prisoners, devising a new 'Damti Method' to bring out the best in them. But Amnon's childhood was scarred by the disappearance of a sister, and he grew up in her shadow. 

Amnon and Jill Damti

His mother Shulamit, born in the mid 1920’s in Yemen, was given in marriage to a divorcé when she was aged 10. Her new husband, all credit to him, was patient, waiting until she was ‘mature’ (12) before the marriage was consummated.

 Her first son was born when she was 14 or 15 – she never knew her real age, and she later had three more boys. In 1947 the family emigrated to Israel with their four sons, three of whom, including Amnon, the youngest – were deaf.

 The family had trekked across Yemen, encountering many hardships en route until eventually reaching a place where airplanes were waiting to fly them to the Holy Land as if ’on the wings of eagles’. On arrival they lived in a tented camp. Life was hard, but Israel represented a safe haven for Shulamit and her family, far from the dangers they had experienced in Yemen. She had brought some jewellery with her, made by her artisan grandfather. Unfortunately, this was stolen, but compared to the subsequent ‘theft’ she suffered, the loss of the jewellery was insignificant. 

After two years she gave birth to a long awaited daughter, Miriam. When the baby was almost a year, Shulamit, having insufficient milk to breast feed and was advised to visit the doctor for stamps to receive extra food. 

 She had heard stories about Yemenite babies being taken away from their parents so was nervous about going, even more so when, at the surgery, the doctor told her that she was young and beautiful and could easily have more children. He continued”Your daughter is very ill, and must go to hospital.” 

Shulamit replied saying “I may be primitive, but my daughter had neither fever nor cough, however she could not argue with the doctor. They were immediately taken by taxi to a hospital where a waiting nurse took the baby from her arms – it was the last time she ever saw her. 

Returning to the surgery she discovered that the ‘doctor’ had disappeared. Shulamit desperately searched for a year but could find no trace of Miriam. 

Even when she was 90 years old she said there was not a single night that she did not cry herself to sleep and never once stopped looking for her baby. 

 When Amnon was young his mother left his hair long and in pigtails. On one occasion there was a fancy dress party for the Jewish festival of Purim. He wanted to be a cowboy or a soldier but his mother insisted on dressing him as a girl, telling him how beautiful he looked. 

He never knew the story about his sister until his brothers told him several years later, but his mother never spoke of it until many years later when Jill was making a film on this subject.

 Amnon began slowly to realise why, despite his being loved by his mother, he somehow felt as though he was living as a mere shadow of the sister he never knew, whilst Shulamit spent her whole live looking endlessly for her missing daughter. Despite years of searching no trace was ever found. 

Jill and Amnon Damti dancing 'Between two worlds'

More about the Yemenite baby affair

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Historians debunk myth of protective wartime sultan


Did the wartime sultan of Morocco protect the Jews? For some years now historians have been gnawing away at the myth that the sultan prevented the deportation of the Jews to death camps and even wore the yellow star.

French historian Georges Bensoussan, speaking on the Israel (French) channel Kan. affirmed that the King may have shown his sympathy for Jews in private, but he signed every single anti-Jewish dahir promulgated by the pro-Nazi Vichy regime in 1940/1.  Deportation was never on the cards. The yellow star was never mandated in Morocco and only in Sfax in Tunisia. 

In fact Bensoussan says that the Bey of Tunisia was more liberal towards his Jews than the sultan of Morocco, who made sure that Jews were banned from employing young Muslim girls as maids.

The historian Michel Abitbol says that the sultan had no choice but to comply with the anti-Jewish decrees, or risk being deposed. The decrees mainly concerned the relations of Jews with the French administration (dismissal of Jewish officials, expulsion of Jewish children from French schools and  property inventories) . The order  forcing Jews settled outside the Mellahs of major cities back into Mellah, the ban on the practice of certain liberal professions or any press or cinema-related profession concerned a limited number of Jewish people and were generally not applied.

So how did the myth arise? When the future Mohamed V met Roosevelt and Churchill in January1943, Roosevelt promised to work for Moroccan independence. According to Bensoussan, because he believed that the Jewish lobby controlled US foreign policy, the sultan  made protecting the Jews a badge of his authority. According to Abitbol, the sultan was then free to express his support for all his subjects. The myth has been spread by Moroccan Jews themselves when faced with the hardships of resettling in Israel, where most of them went.

Was the king of Morocco a Righteous Gentile?

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

'Operation Babylon' architect, politician and diplomat Shlomo Hillel dies

Tributes have been pouring in to Shlomo Hillel, who passed away on 8 February 2021 aged 97. Hillel was one of the main drivers behind the aliya of Jews from Iraq. But he also worked to help transport Jews legally or illegally to Israel from Iran, Egypt and Syria and later from Ethiopia,  and became an Israeli  politician and diplomat.

Shlomo Hillel (Photo: Sephardi Voices)

He was a former chairman of the Knesset and minister, Israel Prize laureate and one of the founders of the Babylon Jewish Heritage Center.

 Hillel immigrated to Israel with his family from Iraq in 1934. He studied at the  Herzliya Gymnasium and  helped found Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael. He set up the Ayalon Institute, an underground factory for the production of bullets 'under the noses' of the British. 

 Later he went on a mission for the Mossad to  Iraq and worked with the members of the fledgling  Zionist underground to organize the daring airlift  from Baghdad to Israel in 1947, Operation Michaelberg. 

After the establishment of the state of Israel, Hillel worked to locate escape routes through Iran for
 13, 000  Jews.  When the Iraqi government enacted the law in which Jews leaving the country had to give up their Iraqi citizenship, Shlomo Hillel posed as an Englishman and met with the Iraqi Prime Minister as an airline  representative to negotiate the airlift of  over 100,000 Jews to Israel - known as ′′ Operation Ezra and Nehemiah." He published 'Operation Babylon' to tell the story.

He was continuously involved in the Mossad mission to bring in Jews from Arab and Muslim countries. In 1953, he was sworn in as a member of the Knesset on behalf of the Mapai party and served in seven Knessets.  He served as the Israel ambassador to Ivory Coast, Upper Volta, Nigeria and Dahomey as well as the VP of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Middle East Affairs. He served as Minister of Interior and Minister of Police.

In 1988, he was awarded the Israel prize for making a special contribution to society and the country. In 1952 Shlomo Hillel married Temima and the couple had two children - Ari and Hagar. Hagar died in 2005. He was widowed in 2011.

Shlomo Hillel worked for the preservation of the Babylonian Jewish heritage. At an event to honour him in 2020, he stressed that  the aliya of the Jews of Babylon was in fact a rescue operation. The immigrants from Iraq came to Israel under difficult conditions in the young state of Israel but did not complain, made all efforts to improve their living conditions and successfully integrate into the country. 

Monday, February 08, 2021

Moroccan TV programme celebrates Jewish culture

With thanks: Leon

A screenshot from the TV programme

On 3 February 2021 the Moroccan TV channel MED1tv broadcast a 'culturathon' - a two-hour long programme vaunting Moroccan-Jewish culture. The programme featured performers, a Judaica collector, a film-maker and academics, all speaking of their memories,  nostalgia and affection for Morocco. It ended with the Moroccan national anthem being played in Israel.

The programme was clearly aimed at an external audience. It began with the glamorous French-speaking presenter quoting from the 2011 Constitution, which recognised Jews and Berbers as integral components of Moroccan 'pluralism'. Kamal Hachkar, a French-Moroccan with Berber roots, took part. He had made  a documentary about Israeli  Jews homesick for their mutual home town of Tinghir in the Berber Atlas, and a sequel following  an Israeli singer, Neta Elkayam, who has  returned to live in Morocco.

Interspersed with blessings for the welfare of King Mohamed VI, the programme bore the unmistakable stamp of royal adviser Andre Azoulay, who for years has been pushing Jewish heritage into the Moroccan mainstream. A 19th century synagogue in Essaouira has been converted into Beit Dakira, a House of Memory, opened by the King in 2020 to great fanfare.

Now that Azoulay has fulfilled his foreign policy objective of US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara as part of the Abraham Accords (one interviewee called them the US-Morocco accords')  what is he trying to achieve next?  The programme  ended with a call to the young generation of Jews, now mostly settled in Israel, to return to Morocco.

But the native Jewish population of Morocco dwindles year by year, and is now being put at 1,500 as the younger generation leaves to enhance their job and marriage prospects. There is a limit to how much new life  a returning singer or two might inject into a dying community. For all the talk of a rich and ancient heritage, all Morocco really can do is to erect monuments to a community of ghosts.

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Mizrahi activists hit back at curriculum critics (updated)

Update: the Palestinian Community Network on Twitter has voiced its displeasure at the 'erasure' of Arab  American Studies from the final version of the Californian Ethnic Studies Curriculum. It blames 'Zionists'.

The latest draft of the Californian Ethnic studies schools'  curriculum has largely corrected earlier shortcomings  and  does not justify the criticism it has met in recent days; it has even been disavowed by its original drafters. Sarah Levin of JIMENA  writing in JTA says that the modifications that they and other groups have fought for will allow for minority groups to be explicitly represented, and antisemitism measured against the IHRA definition. Hen Mazzig (below) objects to Jews being used to advance a pollitical agenda:

Sarah Levin writes: 

Despite reports to the contrary, the latest draft of California’s Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum does not teach the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Students will not be taught the lie that Jews are somehow foreign interlopers in our ancestral homeland. Instead, students will learn that all Jews are indigenous to Israel, they will study the realities of contemporary anti-Semitism, hear about the diversity of Jewish life in America and be exposed — many for the first time — to the stories of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish Americans. 

Sarah Levin: lesson plan an achievement

The inclusion in the curriculum of JIMENA’s lesson plan, “Anti-Semitism and Jewish Middle Eastern Americans,” represents an achievement for the Mizrahi and Sephardic community in America. For the first time in U.S. history, Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish Americans will be explicitly represented in the statewide K-12 curriculum, and California public school students will have the opportunity to learn about our communities and hear our stories. 

Los Angeles’s Iranian Jewish community is one of the largest Middle Eastern Diasporic communities in the world, and we are proud that through modifications to the curriculum, students from this community will see themselves reflected in their studies. Our success is also a testament to intercommunity organizing: We and other members of Advocates for Inclusive Middle Eastern Education, an interfaith coalition of MENA minority communities that represents the 60% of California’s MENA population, advocated for an inclusive curriculum that doesn’t overlook the state’s Iranians, Kurds, Assyrians, Bahai, Yezidi and other non-Muslim Middle Eastern minority communities. The new draft curriculum is one that represents and celebrates all Jews, and provides critical resources and contexts to the current struggle against anti-Semitism. 

Perhaps most crucial, through JIMENA’s lesson, the Ethic Studies Model Curriculum for the first time canonizes the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of anti-Semitism — considered the gold standard by international governments, organizations and much of the Jewish-American community — in K-12 education in the biggest state in the country. 

Jews are not a political football, by Hen Mazzig:

 Last week, Emily Benedek penned a piece in Tablet that went viral. In her article, she took a hit at Critical Race Theory, another framework to combat racism that was developed by many Black scholars. The impetus for her article was a controversy over the California Ethnic Studies Curriculum. This piece was exploited by many in the Jewish community, using issues about antisemitism in order to discredit the broader movement. What made this particularly appalling was that the legitimate issues with antisemitism had, at the time the article was written, already been addressed and largely corrected. This was never acknowledged since doing so would have undermined the article’s thesis.

Hen Mazzig: criticism outdated

 DePaul Law professor David Schraub had already shown that the information this article relied on was outdated, coming from a 2019 California draft document. “Based on an earlier outcry from Mizrahi and Middle eastern Jewish activists, the California education authorities were both responsive and proactive. The current ESMC draft cites surging rates of hate crimes against Jews, and that we are the most common victims of religious-based hate crimes in southern California. It has an excellent unit focusing on Mizrahi and Middle Eastern Jews — one of the first I’ve seen dedicated to this subject — that specifically characterizes Jews as Indigenous to the Middle East.

 It includes passages from a range of Jewish luminaries including Ruth Wisse, Julius Lester, and Angela Buchdahl. It speaks about how, while Jews have found America to be a land of opportunity, especially after World War II, our successes stand side-by-side with the continued reality of antisemitism — especially for Jews who have resisted assimilation into dominant American culture.” So if the curriculum was indeed largely fixed, why did the Tablet article make such noise? Well, because it was not really about the curriculum. 

Benedek later explained in a note added to her piece that it didn’t matter that she didn’t mention or speak to any of the Pro-Israel and Jewish organizations who worked for years to include Jews in the curriculum. She wrote, “the reason I felt no need to praise these tweaks is that they are peripheral to the problem.” 

 University System’s decision to make an about-face on a major ethnocultural issue is anything but a tweak. But Benedek was dismissive for a very good reason. She wasn’t concerned about antisemitism at all. For her, antisemitism was a dollar store sock puppet behind which she could hide her true agenda. Her agenda is to overturn ethnic studies, to obliterate Critical Race Theory. If tossing the Jewish football kept her in the game, so be it.

Friday, February 05, 2021

California school curriculum is 'a house on rotting foundations'

A battle has been raging for several years over the model curriculum for Ethnic Studies taught in schools in California. The state Board of Education will finally vote on the curriculum on 17 March.  JIMENA has been among those groups actively pushing for the curriculum  to include Mizrahi Jews. But Emily Benedek, writing in Tablet, argues that their focus has been akin to painting a house standing on rotting foundations. Those foundations are 'Critical Race Theory', which sees Jews as 'privileged, powerful and white' and cannot admit discrimination by 'people of colour', a category which emphatically does not admit Jews.

Participants in a Zoom meeting decrying cuts to Arab studies  from the current draft of the schools curriculum

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, director of AMCHA Initiative, which fights campus anti-Semitism, points out that all 13 founding members of the Critical Ethnic Studies Association (CESA) are BDS activists. CESA, the national home base for critical studies, passed a resolution to boycott all Israeli academic institutions in 2014, and the group’s past four biennial meetings included multiple sessions demonizing Israel. “There are a couple thousand academic boycotters of Israel in the country,” she said, “and the largest percentage of them come from ethnic studies. Anti-Zionism is built into the theory and the discipline of ethnic studies, which demonizes Israel as an apartheid settler-colonialist Nazi state.”

But of even greater concern to Jews, she believes, is the singling out of Jewish students as enjoying racial privilege. “I don’t see any way that Jewish students can sit in an ethnic studies class and not feel they have a double target on their backs,” she said, fearing hatred and violence will ensue. First, because they’re Jewish, and considered white and part of the 1%, the purported villains of the teaching, and then through an assumed association with Israel. “There’s a state requirement that you have to sit through a class that says to Jewish students they have extraordinary racial privilege and yet forbids them from speaking because ‘this course is not about you?’ If you don’t accept it, you’re publicly shamed and ostracized—you can’t even speak up and say, ‘I’m not sure if I think that all white people are racists.’” To placate critics, the third version has added lessons about Korean Americans, Armenian Americans, and Sikhs. Two lessons have been offered about Jews. One, following crude CRT dogma, teaches that Mizrahi Jews coming to the United States from Arab lands were mistreated by “white” Ashkenazim. The other suggests that Jews of European descent have white privilege.

The Jewish Journal points out that Jews are the only group in the curriculum for whom the term “privilege” is used. And this privilege is not earned by way of talent, or educational and professional attainment, but rather trickery. The ESMC, echoing Nazi propaganda about Jews as impostors and appropriators hiding in plain sight, points out that American Jews often change their names (“this practice of name-changing continues to the present day”) to change their rank in the social hierarchy. The historical reality of repeated genocidal attacks on Jews because of their perceived or imagined privilege is not offered as counterpoint, because ethnic studies teachers assume the Holocaust is taught in world history class. But next year in San Mateo County, world history will be replaced by ethnic studies. Lia Rensin, who has two children in public schools in the Bay Area, said the students already have no time. “I think I probably feel the way most parents feel—there are already a gazillion requirements. My daughter took two semesters this summer of online Spanish, so she could take art next fall in school. Now you’re thinking of adding yet another requirement?”

Meantime, Rossman-Benjamin said the ESMC creators are trying to reestablish their influence: “The people who wrote the first curriculum who are still very well connected are going school board by school board and getting them to agree to implement the discredited first draft.” In fact, school districts are free to follow any curriculum they want. There is no requirement to use the model curriculum.

Emily Benedek adds this note: It is true that StandWithUs, JCRC-SF, AJC, ADL, JIMENA , JPAC, the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, and Progressive Zionists of California all labored in their own fashion over the past two years to make this curriculum less terrible for Jews and for racial comity in America. They eliminated hateful and offensive material that should never have been there to begin with, and successfully lobbied to include a lesson on Mizrahi Jews, which includes a truncated version of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

They see these as major victories. But I do not.

The reason I felt no need to praise these tweaks is that they are peripheral to the problem. The exclusion of Jews from the original ESMC, which was what the various organizations spent their energies on, was offensive. But focusing on that is akin to painting a house that is rotted from the foundation. The critical race theory framework is what is dangerous, and, as I tried to show with my reporting, it is fundamental to every single draft that's so far been produced.

Read article in full

Point of No Return adds:

Meanwhile, the far-left publication Jewish Currents criticises JIMENA's lesson plan, which aims to introduce students to antisemitism through the lens of Jewish Middle Eastern Americans, as well as their 'intersectional identities' 'for containing few examples' aside from antisemitism. It even quotes a 'Mizrahi activist' who objects to the fact the plan does not mention Islamophobia or anti-Arab racism! This charge is only credible if Mizrahi Jews are viewed as ' Jewish Arabs', a concept fashionable on the anti-Zionist left. 

Jewish Currents also cites Devin Naar, associate professor of Sephardi Studies at Washington University, who criticises the lesson plan for evading the question of 'extensive prejudice' Sephardim  have faced in the United States from other, normative, white Ashkenazi Jews and Jewish institutions'. While this is a fair point and reflects the bias of the majority- Ashkenazi community, Jewish Currents fails to appreciate the full extent of antisemitic discrimination experienced in Arab and Muslim countries which caused Mizrahi Jews to move to the US in the first place. This is because 'critical race theory'  sees Arabs  and Muslims only as powerless victims of white power structures.

Jew-hatred is forced on the kids of California by Dominic Green (Jewish Chronicle - with thanks: Lily)

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Foreign minister Zarif lets slip insulting word for Jew

As the Biden administration mulls its strategy towards the theocratic regime in  Iran, it is worth recalling that the current government is viscerally antisemitic, not just anti-Israel.  It has not escaped Jewish Iran-watchers that the foreign minister, Mohamed-Javad Zarif, used the word  'Johood' in a recent Persian-language interview analysed by MEMRI. Johood is a pejorative term - the accepted word for Jews is kalimian, (kalim=word) which connotates with 'People of the Book'. Karmel Melamed writes in The Forward: 

Iranian foreign minister Zarif: 'bigoted'

Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian-Jewish activist, and head of the Los Angeles-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, said the word “Johood” in Farsi has long been very antisemitic and highly offensive to Jews.

 “In the last few centuries, the term ‘Johood’ used in Iran to denote the Jews, has become a highly offensive and humiliating word akin to the ‘N’ word used against African Americans here,” said Nikbakht.

 “The derogatory term ‘Johood’ is reminiscent of degradation, discrimination, even physical threat and past massacres and plunder.” Iranian Jewish community leaders said Zarif’s use of the word ’Johood’ revealed his deep-rooted antisemitism, which he has been trying to hide over the years by falsely claiming he is only anti-Israel and not does hate Jews. 

“The Iranian regime’s antisemitism continues to reach new depths, said Sam Yebri, president of 30 Years After, an Iranian Jewish non-profit group based in Los Angeles. 

“By using that abominable hurtful term publicly and refusing to apologize, Foreign Minister Zarif revealed his own bigotry and gave the world a glimpse into how the regime dehumanizes all Jews, not simply Israelis.”

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