Monday, May 31, 2021

Farhud Commemoration was a 'learning and healing experience'

Some 350 people from around the world Zoomed in to the 80th Anniversary Commemoration of the Farhud, June 1 and 2, 1941 Shavuot massacre of at least 179 Jews. The massacre sounded the death knell barely ten years later for the oldest Jewish diaspora, which had been in the country since Babylonian times, but had contemporary echoes in the antisemitism sweeping across the West in recent weeks.

A recording was heard of testimony by Steve Acre z"l. He had witnessed the Farhud from the top of a palm tree

 The Commemoration, held on 30 May 2021,  was arranged by the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Montreal and Harif. It featured a film edited by Sephardi Voices UK showing witness testimonies to the murder, looting, rape and mayhem unleashed during those two days by soldiers of the defeated Iraqi army, Nazi sympathisers and Bedouins in search of loot. 

One witness told how her family had escaped one day before, at the same time as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and pro-Nazi coup leaders, and had stayed in the same hotel. Others told how they had narrowly escaped death by changing their route home. Muslims had protected Jews in several cases. The Jews could never feel at home in Iraq again, and those who were not able to leave turned to Communism or Zionism as their salvation. ( Event video recording to come soon). 

 The Hon Irwin Cotler spoke of how a resurgence in antisemitism had not provoked a sense of outrage among decent people in the West. Rabbi Joseph Dweck quoted the author Will Durant:" For barbarism is always around civilization, amid it and beneath it, ready to engulf it by arms, or mass migration, or unchecked fertility. Barbarism is like the jungle; it never admits its defeat; it waits patiently for centuries to recover the territory it has lost.” 

 Some 28 organisations co-sponsored the event including representative bodies such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews, universities, such as the Tel Aviv university Moshe Dayan Center, and bodies fighting antisemitism, such as B'nai B'rith and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

Thanking the participants,  organiser David Nathaniel, head of the Community of Babylon Iraqi Jews of Montreal, stated:

"We were able to share a deep history and a powerful collective message in a dynamic fashion and the feedback received both during the event and since has been numerous and overwhelmingly positive! It was a learning experience for many and I believe a healing opportunity for all of us who have been traumatized over the past few weeks. We honoured the victims of the Farhud, their families, and friends in a respectful and impactful way."

 Yvonne Green, poetess, brought tears to many eyes when she re-read a poem that Harif had commissioned for the 75th anniversary of the Farhud.  We are reprinting the full text below.

Yvonne Green recited her poem for the first time at the 75th Anniversary Farhud Commemoration at Lauderdale Road Synagogue in London.

The Farhud: Baghdad’s Shabu’ot 1st and 2nd June 1941

We walked on Shabbat
in the Bustan al-Khass
(lettuce orchards)
on the East bank
of The Dijla (The Tigris),
or in al-Saa’doun, built
to look like Hyde Park.

Watch us work, prosper, plod
tread the middle ground during
a two thousand six hundred year
sojourn with family, food, festivals.
Listen to us speak Aramaic, Qiltu,
then Gilit. You never learned
our languages after you arrived,
we wrote literatures preserved
for you now in different geographies.

Watch Britain’s renegade Grand Mufti
translate National Socialism into
his Promised-Land apartheid, listen
to the whispers that the Fuhrer
was born in an Egyptian village.

Watch him and hundreds of Palestinian
and Syrian intellectuals-in-exile train soldiers,
police, militia-men and children, watch
nothing stop the Golden Square Generals,
even once their leaders temporal and spiritual
run away from the British, for whose oil-fuelled
infantry eight kilometers was further than the walk
from Ambassador Cornwallis’ dinner plate
to his card table.
Look, there’s a man in a dark suit at Maqbra,
who’ll later press his cheek and arms up
against a semi-cylindrical grave where
one hundred and eighty Farhud-dead are buried.
This is not the only tomb, they were not the only dead.
     But go back before the Omer, watch us
tremble as we asked “Mnein Jitem”
that Erev Pesach after the lawyer,
Rashid al-Gaylani’s coup turned
the hilleq bitter. Watch our hopes surge
when within the month he and the Grand Mufti
escape from the British to Iran, plummet
when Yunis al-Sab’awi declares
himself Governor General and orders us
penned in our homes, soar again when it’s he
who’s deported within the day. Hear us attest
to our treble-terror reprieved when we eat
our Tbit on the Shabbat which runs
into Tikkun Leyl, and hear Regent
Abd al-Illah’s due back the next day,
Sunday June 1st. Watch us cheer him home
on the first day of ‘Eid al Ziyarah.
      Then watch soldiers, police, civilians attack us
on al-Khurr bridge, at al-Rusafa, Abu-Sifain
everywhere until 3 a.m. and silence. Watch
at 6 a.m. on the second day of Hag when
they start again. Not just the poor from al-Karkh
who cross the river empty handed,
then load-up having cruelly sacked
our homes, shops, synagogues,
but from everywhere they yelp
“Idhbahu al-Yehud” (butcher the Jews).
Drilled by Salah al-Din as-Sabbagh,
or by centuries of knowing our place,
keeping the rules, paying the price
being no guarantee of protection.
      They cut up Jewish babies and threw them
into the undertow, no Moses survived.
They raped girls and old women,
cut their breasts, no Dina survived.
They beheaded and severed, taunted
and tore. Dragged Jews from buses
which they used to run them over.
Every attack intended to humiliate.
The dead, hurt, stolen, destroyed
uncountable, even once the Regent
called in the cut that felled
the saturnine mob. Where was natural,
civil, military, sharia law? The assumed
duty to dhimmi?
         In the stand taken by Moslems
like Dr Sa’ib Shawkat, Dean
of Baghdad’s Medical College.
In the acts of landlords
who risked their lives to save those
whose houses the Hitler Youth-styled
Futuwwa had painted with red khamsas.
In the arms of neighbours
who caught children in blankets
when they were thrown to safety
and sheltered families who jumped
across flat roofs where Baghdad
used to spend its summer nights.
     Yes, we fought back, we boiled
siraj (sesame oil) and threw it
from our shnashil (latticed balconies)
where women, unseen, had watched
their households’ comings and goings.
We used the bricks from our parapets,
we had no guns, few had iron fists.
Since the funerals our children
remember with new knowledge
and their picnics of beith-bla’ham,
timman-ahmar, and kahi never go south
to al-Kifl for the pilgrimage, sing
Shirit Hagvarim at its seven
waystations, or hear the tomb
of Yehezkel cry for its Jews.

Yvonne Green 

Saturday, May 29, 2021

When the mobs came for the Jews of Baghdad

Joe Samuels was 10 when mobs attacked the Jewish community of Baghdad.  Rioters maimed, raped, killed and robbed the unsuspecting Jews. This massacre, which began June 1, 1941, was called the Farhud, Arabic for “violent dispossession” or pogrom. To coincide with the Farhud's 80th anniversary, Joe's story has been published in a  respected mainstream US newspaper, The Wall St Journal:

Joe Samuels, Farhud survivor

The seeds of the Farhud had been sown two months earlier. On April 1, a pro-Nazi coup d’état overthrew the pro-British Iraqi government and seized power. The coup was staged by Rashid Ali al Gaylani, an Arab nationalist and former Iraqi prime minister, supported by four army generals, and aided by Fritz Grobba, a former German ambassador to Iraq. This dangerous group was further stoked by the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, who deeply hated the Jews. Anti-Semitic propaganda began to appear in the daily newspapers and in broadcasts on Radio Baghdad. It was intended to inflame the Muslim population and rally support for the new regime.

The Jewish community bore the brunt of this explosive combination of Arab nationalism, Nazi propaganda and anti-Semitism. In the weeks after the coup my family stayed home most of the time, huddled around the large console radio. We listened with disbelief to reports of Jews being arrested and accused of anti-Iraqi sentiment and of spying for the British. I shook just thinking of the torture being carried out to extract false confessions.

On May 31, 1941, the British army arrived at the outskirts of Baghdad. The pro-Nazi government collapsed quickly, but al Gaylani and his co-conspirators escaped to Iran. The Jewish community in Baghdad felt a sense of relief, especially as it coincided with the eve of the Shavuot festival, commemorating the time when God gave us the Ten Commandments. We had good reason to rejoice.

But that high spirit didn’t last long, and joy reverted to pain and sorrow. The absence of a functioning government created a power vacuum. Across the country, chaos and lawlessness followed.

The Farhud erupted early Monday morning, June 1. Soldiers in civilian clothes, policemen and large crowds of Iraqi men, including Bedouins brandishing swords and daggers, joined in the pillage, helping themselves to loot as they plundered more than 1,500 Jewish homes and stores. For two days, the rioters murdered between 150 and 780 Jews—exact counts aren’t known—injured 600 to 2,000 others, and raped an indeterminable number of women. Some say 600 unidentified victims were buried in a mass grave. All through the night we heard their screams. We heard gunshots too, then sudden quiet. Unarmed and unprepared to defend themselves, Jews were vulnerable and helpless. I was shaken, desperate and angry.

On the first day of the Farhud, my older brother Eliyahu’s adventurous spirit nearly cost him his life. He rode his bike to visit his friend, but returned home traumatized and with tears in his eyes. He had seen men on Rashid Street, a main thoroughfare, dragging Jewish passengers from a minibus, stabbing them to death, and then robbing them in broad daylight.

My family reinforced our front door by stacking heavy furniture against it. I carried buckets of water to the roof to boil and stay ready to toss on marauders should they attempt to break in. We stayed up through the night, barricaded in our home. My father was praying and reading the Book of Psalms, but I was too preoccupied to join. Not wanting to appear weak to my older brothers, I cried myself to sleep in silence.

The riots ended in the late afternoon of June 2 when Iraqi, Kurdish and British forces entered Baghdad, killing some of the rioters and establishing order. My family and I were saved and unharmed, but my uncles Moshi and Meir hadn’t been so lucky. Their homes were ransacked totally. They had managed to escape with their lives only by jumping from rooftop to rooftop.

Later, I heard of Muslim men protecting Jewish homes by standing guard with guns and daggers. Some even sheltered Jews in their own homes and saved them. Those were the good, honorable and faithful Muslims, the righteous among the nations. They were the true heroes. These stories restored my faith and made me realize that there were many good Muslims among us.

After Iraq’s failure in its May 1948 war to extinguish Israel, the new Jewish state, the Iraqi government reignited its assault on its own Jewish citizens. New waves of accusations, arrests, tortures and hangings shook the Jewish community’s faith in the future. Fear of a second Farhud took over. I felt that there was nothing left for me in Iraq. In December 1949, I was smuggled illegally to Iran in a secret hold of a cargo boat. I made my way to Tehran with a group of Iraqi Jews, then we were airlifted to Israel by Jewish operatives. I arrived with nothing but the shirt on my back.

My friends and family were soon to follow. Around 135,000 Iraqi Jews—most of the community—are estimated to have left Iraq by 1952. Most were allowed to bring one suitcase each.

Today only four known Jews live in Iraq. Jewish communities in the Middle East and North Africa had existed for millennia, but they are nearly all gone. Around 850,000 Jews like us were forced to leave their countries. They, too, left behind their homes, businesses, irreplaceable historical artifacts and religious treasures. This was ethnic cleansing of Jews, right after the Holocaust, in the middle of the 20th century.

A journalist based in Basra, Iraq, recently asked me, “Would you like to come back to Iraq, if things got better?” “No,” I replied. “I am glad and grateful to be out of Iraq alive, and feel fortunate and blessed to enjoy freedom in one of the best countries in the world, the United States of America.”

Friday, May 28, 2021

Caught between two stools: the Jews of N Africa during WWII

Excellent review  in Sifriatenou by Jean-Luc Landier of Michel Abitbol's book, published in 1983, 'Les Juifs d'Afrique du Nord sous Vichy'. This is a less-than-perfect automated translation  of the French, but it gives a superb overview of the plight of the Jews during WW2 (with thanks: Nelly)

The Jewish community of Algeria adopted early and very quickly the language and the culture of the French colonizer: it was, from the middle of the XIXth century, subject to French civil law, thus abandoning its personal status. His children attended the French school. The authority of the Central Consistory of France was extended to Algeria where rabbis trained at the Jewish Seminary in Paris were dispatched.

But the radical turning point in the evolution of Algerian Judaism was, of course, the adoption of the Crémieux decree (October 24, 1870), which conferred French citizenship en bloc on all the Jews of Algeria, definitively separating their fate from that of Muslims. The Jewish community in Algeria, which experienced rapid social advancement, especially in the big cities, came up against, shortly after the implementation of the emancipatory decree, the radical hostility of the population of European origin. The participation of Jews in the elections, in accordance with their new rights as citizens, stoked the fierce and enduring hatred of the European community as a whole; it saw in the Jewish vote a step towards granting the same rights to Muslims, a process that could lead to the loss of its privileges. The anti-Semitic agitation was let loose at the end of the 19th century, fuelled by the Dreyfus affair in France: Max Régis , whose anti-Semitic hatred was his sole program, was elected mayor of Algiers; as was elected  Constantine Morinaud, an anti-Semitic leftist; and Drumont , the author of the anti-Semitic manifesto La France juive , deputy for Algiers .

Sheikhs Ben Badis and El Oqbi condemned the violence against Jews in Constantine, Algeria, in 1934

The Jews of Algeria were victims of multiple exclusions (from public markets, professional associations…). Anti-Jewish hatred found its outlet during the 1898 riot that broke out in Algiers. This anti-Semitism of the Europeans experienced a relative pause during the First World War, in which the Jews of Algeria participated courageously (2,000 killed), but manifested itself again with virulence with the crisis of the 1930s. At the same time, the latent tensions were exacerbated. between Jews and Muslims, linked to the condition of dhimmi which the Jews, in constant social progression, had escaped since the arrival of the French, and especially since the Crémieux decree. During the Constantine pogrom of August 1934 , twenty-eight Jews were murdered by the Arab populace, without the French army intervening to protect them. The pogrom attested to the strong resentment of the Muslim masses towards the Jews, still perceived as dhimmis and jealous because of their position as commercial intermediaries with the Muslim peasants.

The anti-Semitic agitation was condemned by the Muslim elite, in particular by Sheikh Ben Badis  and by Tayeb El Oqbi . It was, on the other hand, encouraged by the European press, whose anti-Semitism was based on the desire to preserve the colonial hierarchies. The authorities, informed by police reports influenced by anti-Semitism, did nothing to dispel this noxious atmosphere, exacerbated by Nazi influence.

Sheikh Ibn Badis and El Oqbi, Algerian politicians, notably Abbé Lambert and Émile Morinaud, succeeded with some success in stoking anti-Semitism among the Muslim masses, by referring in particular to the Palestinian question. As for the officials of the Federation of Muslim Elected Officials, Ferhat Abbas and Mohammed Bendjelloul, who remained followers of a reform policy within the French system, they kept their distance from anti-Semitic propaganda, while regretting the indifference of the Jews of Algeria vis-à-vis the fate of the Muslim population.

French anti-Semitism in Morocco and Tunisia, product of colonial dependence
In Morocco , it was the conjunction of French far-right anti-Semitic propaganda , active in the press, and Muslim resentment following the tensions in Palestine, which created an anti-Semitic climate; violent incidents occurred in Casablanca, Rabat and Tangier. Moroccan nationalist leaders, in particular Al Wazzani and Bannuna, were indeed under the influence of Chakib Arslan, a Lebanese journalist who took refuge in Geneva and an ideologue of Pan-Arabism, close to the mufti of Jerusalem, who sought to undermine French authority in Morocco. In Tunisia , the Italian fascist propaganda also sought to damage the image of France. Italian propaganda took an anti-Semitic course after the 1938 race laws were passed in Italy. On the other hand, Bourguiba's nationalist movement of Neo Destour remained impervious to anti-Jewish propaganda.

Nazi Germany, moreover, led a sustained propaganda campaign to undermine French positions in North Africa. This action was constant in Morocco, among nationalist circles, through the intermediary of German merchants who were in fact agents of the secret services. Radio Berlin's Arabic and Kabyle broadcasts attacked France, and identified the Jews as the agents of its power. In these broadcasts, the Third Reich presented itself as an ally of the Arab peoples, especially in Palestine. In the three Maghreb countries , the reaction of the Jews was comparable : boycott of German and then Italian products; solidarity with persecuted European Jews; defense of the authority of emancipatory France; support for democratic and anti-racist organizations such as LICA or the League of Human Rights.

The self-defense reactions of certain groups of young people, such as Bétar, however, led community leaders to be cautious. In September 1939 , as soon as France declared war on Germany, many young Moroccan and Tunisian Jews wanted to serve in the French army, which often turned them away. The Jews of Algeria, for their part, were mobilized like all French citizens.

French anti-Semitism (July 1940-November 1942) 

The coming to power of Pétain and the implementation of the National Revolution were greeted with enthusiasm by the Europeans of North Africa. The enthusiasm for the Marshal was even more unanimous than in metropolitan France, with a large establishment of the Legion of Combatants, the quasi-single party created by Pétain. The press was unleashed against the Jews, in Algeria in particular, where the abolition of the Crémieux decree - a traditional claim of anti-Semites in Algeria - was demanded from the outset by a very large part of European opinion. After the destruction of the French fleet by the British at Mers El Kébir, a climate of suspicion weighed on the Jews of Algeria, suspected of pro-English sympathies.

The statut des juifs was adopted by Pétain's government on October 4, 1940, without the slightest German request. This strictly French initiative entered into force in Algeria and was also implemented in the protectorates of Tunisia and Morocco after ratification by the sovereigns, the Bey of Tunis and Sultan Mohammed V of Morocco.

On October 7, Vichy put an end to the Crémieux decree , reducing the French Jewish citizens of Algeria to the rank of subjects, seventy years after their full integration into the nation. Jewish officials were dismissed, liberal professions subject to a strict numerus clausus, both in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Rare exceptions were granted to decorated, wounded or maimed veterans.

The application of these measures was very rigorous in Algeria but more flexible in Morocco, under the terms of a dahir from the sultan, and even more liberal in Tunisia.

In Algeria, the rector of the University of Algiers, Hardy, implemented, with the agreement of the governors Abrial and then Weygand, a school and university numerus clausus , going much further than the anti-Semitic measures taken in metropolitan France. Jewish children were thus expelled from primary schools (attendance capped at 14 and then at 7/100) and high schools, and students subject to a rigorous numerus clausus, to the satisfaction of student associations in Algiers.

The second statut des juifs, produced by Vallat, commissioner for Jewish questions, on June 2, 1941, contained new restrictions, and provided for the census of Jews in North Africa, in order to implement "economic Aryanization", that is, that is, the spoliation of the Jews. The decree of November 21, 1941, applied in Algeria, aimed to eliminate all “Jewish influence” in the national economy. Provisional administrators were appointed by the governor general for businesses owned by Jews. The mission of the directors, paid by the company, was to prepare for its liquidation, as in metropolitan France.

While many Europeans sought to profit from it, Muslims as a whole refrained from acquiring Jewish businesses. All these measures were taken in a stifling climate, the North African press lashing out against the Jews, and the police indulging in constant harassment and finicky controls, the Jews being suspected of black marketeering.

Identical measures were considered for Tunisia , but their implementation was spread over time by the resident general, Admiral Esteva , whose procrastination, inspired by his Christian faith, irritated Vallat. The beys of Tunis, successively Ahmad Bey and Moncef Bey, expressed their sympathy to their Jewish subjects, but their powers were very limited.

In Tunisia, France was above all anxious to confront the demands of fascist Italy, which opposed the application of discriminatory measures to Jews of Italian nationality.

In Morocco , economic aryanization was left to the initiative of professional groups and unions. The exclusion of Jews was effective in the film industry and also implemented by certain groups of importers. The Jews of Fez were driven out of the European city, and forced to return to the mellah . A persistent public rumor attributed to the sovereign, Sultan Mohammed V was that  he gave a flexible interpretation of the anti-Jewish measures rigorously implemented by Noguès, representative of Vichy.

His Majesty Sultan Mohammed V (1909-1961) 

The interpretation of rigorous historians (M. Abitbol, ​​G. Bensoussan ) leads to a more nuanced conclusion: the Sultan had no autonomy of decision-making and had the obligation to ratify the choices of the resident-general of France; On the other hand, in private, the Sultan repeatedly told Jewish visitors to the palace that they were his subjects like the Muslims, and that no one could touch either their property or their persons.  The Sultan was, in fact, a humiliated sovereign , locked in the heavy constraints of the colonial protectorate, and any gesture on his part, however symbolic, was an affirmation of autonomy.

The other moderating factor in Morocco was paradoxically - and it is little known - the Spanish influence. Francoist Spain, present in northern Morocco and an ally of Germany, put pressure on the resident general to moderate his anti-Semitic exclusion projects. In accordance with the measures implemented by Vichy in mainland France in October 1940, the French authorities in North Africa proceeded to the administrative internment of foreigners and therefore foreign Jews who had taken refuge there or who were there following the French campaign of May-June 1940. This is how thousands of Jews who volunteered in the Foreign Legion were interned in camps on the Saharan borders after their demobilization, and assigned in particular to the construction of the trans-Saharan railway, an old French colonial project which was presented as one of the great designs of the Vichy regime. In the desert camps, Jewish internees were forced to do forced labor ten to twelve hours a day, in extremely harsh conditions, in heat and privation, under the supervision of non-commissioned officers of the anti-Semitic Legion of German origin. Torture was inflicted in these camps for the slightest violation of the regulations, such as the tombeau punishment: the victim was placed in a pit less than two meters for several days; he was forbidden to move while being beaten by Arab or Senegalese guards. Several died as a result of this abuse.

As for the Algerian Jewish soldiers of the 1939 class, they were demobilized, but not released; following the abolition of the Crémieux decree, they were immediately incorporated into a group of Jewish  workers, in  Bedeau camp , near Sidi Bel Abbès, or in Telergma, in the Constantine region of Algeria, and forced to do pointless forced labor, in miserable living conditions closer to prison than to barracks, subjected to bullying and insults from juniorofficers or guards from SOL, the future Vichy Militia.

The Jews responded to Vichy's anti-Semitic measures with disbelief and protest at first. How was it possible that the France of Human Rights, whose nationality they held (as far as the Jews of Algeria) were concerned), whose language they had adopted the language, the culture and the values ​​(in the case of the Jews of Tunisia and Morocco ), could thus cast them out , they who had shown her love and fidelity for decades?

The anti-Semitic measures could not possibly be a French initiative, they had necessarily been imposed by the German occupier. This is what the Chief Rabbi of Algeria Maurice Eisenbeth wrote to Xavier Vallat in 1941. He is remembered for his constant  and courageous commitment to easing the persecution of Algerian Judaism. The latter, with the support of Elie Gozlan, secretary general of the Consistory and founder of the Algerian Jewish Committee for Social Studies and with the assistance of Professor Robert Brunschvig, had to create from scratch and set up a network of private schools. in order to take in Jewish children expelled from schools.

By the start of the 1942 school year, a network of seventy primary schools and five secondary schools, serving 20,000 pupils, was in operation. The hundreds of teachers excluded from National Education provided high quality education strictly in accordance with official programs, and despite the incessant harassment of the Vichy administration.

However, Algerian Judaism did not distance itself from mainland  France, despite the strictly French persecutions inflicted on it. Like the metropolis, the general government of Algeria sought to set up a General Union of the Israelites of Algeria, counterpart of the UGIF in France. Here again, Rabbi Eisenbeth was approached by Governor Chatel to take the presidency. It could not easily constitute such an institution, doomed in metropolitan France. It was not until September 1942 that the UGIA could be formed. Fortunately, the Allied landing in November led to the abandonment of this project. 

In Morocco , mutual aid in favor of Jewish refugees fleeing Europe was particularly active. Before the invasion of the southern zone by Germany, until the summer of 1942, hundreds of refugees had indeed been able to embark in Marseilles towards Morocco, in the hope of reaching the United States or Latin America. Once in Morocco, the refugees found that their lot was hardly more enviable than in Vichy France. Those whose papers were in order - very few in number - were taken care of by the local assistance committees until their departure. The majority were interned in  camps. 

Jewish institutions in Morocco, financially supported by American organizations such as the Joint or the Hicem, showed solidarity. It was mainly the work of a Moroccan Jewish lawyer from Casablanca, Hélène Cazes Benattar , who knew how to take countless initiatives in favor of the refugees, braving the harassments of the French administration, providing the refugees with material and medical aid, food, accommodation pending their departure, and, for those interned in labor camps, constant assistance to free them.

In the war (November 1942-October 1943)

 Following the abolition of the Crémieux decree and the adoption of the statute of the Jews, many young Algerian Jews excluded from the Youth Workshops or the University engaged in  sports and fitness in order to combat anti-Semitism , in a sports hall in Algiers called Salle Géo-Gras. This place quickly became the center of one of the first movements of the French Resistance, founded by three young Jews, André Témime, Émile Atlan and Charles Bouchara.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Matti Friedman: 'Israelis are not like Americans '

Thanks to the classic novel Exodus, Americans have tended to see Israel as a projection of themselves. Now, for some on the progressive left, the conflict between Jews and Muslims 6,000 miles away has become jumbled up with American ideas about race. Must-read by Matti Friedman in The Atlantic:

Matti Friedman

When Uris was writing in the 1950s, most Israeli Jews were natives of the Islamic world who’d either been drawn to the new state or forced from their home by their former neighbors. 

Many of the rest were survivors of the Holocaust trying to hack out a living without losing what was left of their mind. They lived alongside a sizable Muslim Arab minority, a remnant of those displaced by the war, feared as a fifth column and kept under military rule. 

Kibbutznik pioneers like Ari Ben Canaan were never more than a tiny share of the population—and as committed socialists, would never have gone anywhere near the foxtrot. Few people here were blond. A more representative hero for Exodus would have been the Arabic-speaking seamstress from the Jewish ghetto in Marrakech. 

 But Exodus wasn’t about representation, or about a strange country in the Middle East. It was an attempt to get American readers to look at Israel and see themselves. Ari Ben Canaan was a hero from the America of Ernest Hemingway and John Wayne. He was a blue-eyed, chiseled, gorgeous Paul Newman. 

 Although a close relationship between America and Israel has been taken for granted over the past half century, it solidified only once Americans decided that Israelis were like them. In novels and countless press reports about pioneers and fighters in the ’50s, “Israel and Jews came to be perceived as masculine, ready to fight the Cold War alongside America,” the scholar Michelle Mart wrote in her study of the topic, Eye on Israel. “By contrast, Arabs were increasingly stigmatized as non-Western, undemocratic, racially darker, unmasculine outsiders.” 

 “In the images of Israelis, then,” she wrote, “Americans constructed their own self-image at mid-century.” That construction has been on my mind this month as disturbing events unfolding here have been picked up and interpreted abroad. Many Americans are now using their image of home to construct their image of Israel. Indeed, for some on the progressive left, the conflict between Jews and Muslims 6,000 miles east of Washington, D.C., has become jumbled up with American ideas about race.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Remember the Farhud, 80 years on

The 80th anniversary of the Farhud, a  cataclysmic massacre in Iraq, falls at this time. The antisemitism which drove its main instigator, the Mufti of Jerusalem, is still alive today in the kindred ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood (Gaza branch - Hamas). It also sets a precedent for the incidents of mob violence that have targeted Jews in the West. Lyn Julius blogs in the Times of Israel: 

Artwork by Nissim Zalayett, a Farhud survivor

It was early, on 1st June 1941, that the woman who delivered milk to Ivy Shashoua’s house in Baghdad warned: ‘Stay at home.’ Trouble was brewing for the Jews that day. The milk woman led Ivy’s family to a small room. They spent 12 hours there without food and water in the Baghdad heat, thinking they were safe. 

 Meanwhile, they could hear screams and gunshots as a mob ran riot through the streets, murdering and raping Jews, mutilating babies and stripping Jewish homes bare of every last object. This was the Farhud, an Arabic word for ‘forced dispossession.’ The rioting went on for two days (although the British army, at the gates of Baghdad, could have intervened to stop it) : at least 180 Jews died (some say as many as 600); 900 homes and 586 Jewish-owned shops were destroyed.The dead were hurriedly buried in a mass grave.

 The Farhud was incited by pro-Nazi Iraqis who seized power in a coup two months earlier. It marked an irrevocable break between Jews and Arabs and paved the way for the dissolution of the 2,600-year-old Jewish community barely 10 years later. Loyal and productive citizens comprising a fifth of Baghdad, the Jews had not known anything like it.

 Other ‘Farhuds’ followed in other Arab countries and just under a million Jews fled. Communities predating Islam and the Arab conquest by a millennium were driven to extinction within a generation. But the Farhud was not just another anti-Jewish pogrom. Its Nazi inciters had a more sinister objective: the round-up of Jews, their deportation and extermination in desert camps. 

 The inspiration behind the coup, and the Farhud itself, came from the Palestinian Grand Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini. Moving to Iraq in 1939 with 400 Palestinians, he whipped up local anti-Jewish feeling. An illiterate populace imbibed bigotry through Nazi radio propaganda. 

Before fleeing Iraq with the Mufti and prime minister Rashid Ali to spend the rest of the war as Hitler’s guests, Yunis al-Sabawi, who translated Mein Kampf into Arabic, instructed the Jews to stay in their homes so that they could more easily be rounded up. 

 The Farhud cemented a wartime Arab-Nazi alliance designed to rid the world, including Palestine, of the Jews. The Mufti’s postwar legacy of islamised antisemitism endures in the kindred ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood – as seen in the latest conflagration between the Brotherhood’s Gaza branch, Hamas, and Israel. 

 In London, in the US, Canada and Germany, Jews have been subject to verbal and physical attacks and intimidation in a reminder that mob violence has long been an instrument of political coercion in the Muslim world. 

 Farhud survivors could not rely on the police to protect them – indeed, some police joined the rioters. Jews turned to their Muslim neighbours to save them – and many did. 

 But some neighbours had evil intentions. The milk woman which Ivy Shashoua thought would save them had planned to kill the family and steal their possessions. In the end, a Muslim friend rescued them. 

 Two ingredients were present in the Farhud: incitement and the failure of the forces of law and order to protect the Jewish minority. Fear of a second Farhud, and mistrust of the Iraqi police and army, were major reasons why 90 per cent of Iraq’s Jews fled to Israel after 1948.

 If the authorities in western countries do not deal firmly with antisemitic incitement and attacks, diaspora Jews will feel that they have no choice but to move to the only country which will protect them – the Jewish state. 

 An international mega-Zoom commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Farhud takes place on 30 May at 5pm. Register here.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Unsettling parallel between the Farhud and today's riots

There are disturbing parallels between the Farhud massacre, whose 80th anniversary falls at this time, and mob violence directed against Jews in the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict, writes Israel Kastnett in JNS News. 'Remember the Farhud' is a social media  initiative to raise awareness of the lessons of history:

The victims of the Farhud were buried in a mass grave

The general parallel between the Farhud pogrom and the riots of last week is unsettling. 

 According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Arab nationalists in Iraq “perceived the Baghdad Jews as Zionists or Zionist sympathizers and justified the attacks as a response to Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine.” 

 The Arabs claim their rioting this week is a reaction to the Arab-Jewish conflict in Sheikh Jarrah and the Temple Mount, both in Jerusalem. But it only drives home the point that anti-Semitism still exists and must be fought everywhere. 

 ‘Double standard in application of international law, human rights’ The “Remember the Farhud” project aims to educate the public on the history of the Farhud and asks the public to light a virtual candle in memory of the 180 pogrom victims. It also asks readers to add a specially created frame to their Facebook profile in order to spread awareness of the Farhud and express solidarity with the families who mourn those who were killed during the deadly pogrom. 

 “The Farhud was a tragic event that sounded the death knell for the oldest Jewish Diaspora community,” said Iraqi-British Jewish businessman and philanthropist David Dangoor, the initiator of the “Remember the Farhud” initiative. 

“It is vital that the Jewish world and beyond commemorate the Farhud to understand better how to deal with hate, incitement and violence, and prevent such events from happening in the present and future.” 

 Former Knesset member Michal Cotler-Wunsh from the Blue and White Party told JNS “what we see in Israel’s streets is actually stoked by what is happening on digital platforms utilizing anti-Semitic tropes. It is imperative for Israel to engage in discussion, to learn about and identify anti-Semitism for what it is,” she said. “Anti-Semitism is always there and has the ability to mutate,” she said. “The point is to identify it. The imam inciting the masses in the mosque? That’s anti-Semitism.” 

Here is an article in the Jerusalem Post on a similar theme by David Dangoor: 

 Now that the latest conflict between Israel and terrorist groups in Gaza has ended, it is important to look back at one of the more wrenching and unprecedented aspects of the recent conflagration. 

The attacks, lynchings and pogroms in mixed Jewish-Arab towns and cities in Israel is arguably the most worrying manifestation of the divisions in the country, and must be immediately addressed at all levels.

 One of the most important elements to this is how best to understand and then combat hate, incitement and violence between communities.

 For this, we can find a very sad precedent in the Farhud, the pogrom in Baghdad and Basra, which took place exactly 80 years ago, which was the beginning of the end for the Iraqi Jewish community, the oldest Jewish Diaspora. 

We didn't escape Khomeini's Jew hatred to live with it again in LA - Times of Israel  by Karmel Melamed: 

For many years both my parents shared with me portions of this painful story of Berookhim’s execution and the horrific Jew hatred they face under the current Islamic Khomeini regime.

 I knew it was a terrifying experience for them, but not until recently when hearing the news of three young Iranian Jews being randomly beaten by pro-Palestinian thugs on the streets of West Hollywood just for being Jewish, did my parents’ horror from Iran truly sink in for me.

 This incident has shocked the Los Angeles area Iranian Jewish community and all Americans regardless of their religion, must call for the authorities to put an end to this shameful thuggery.

Monday, May 24, 2021

The return of the anti-Jewish mob - this time in the West

Ben Cohen experiences a sense of déjà vu when he sees bands of Muslim youths harassing Jews. It is a reminder of the time when Jews were pushed to leave Arab countries by mob violence - a symptom of their failure to defeat Israel on the battlefield. He writes in JNS News:

A pro-Palestinian demonstration in London

The mutation of antisemitism that the latest fighting between Israel and Hamas has given us a glimpse of hasn’t been seen in almost a century. It is one of the most disturbing forms that Jew-hatred takes: semi-organized mobs of mainly young men deliberately targeting individual Jews or Jewish-owned businesses with verbal abuse and physical violence. 

We associate such images with the Nazis most of all, but there are slightly more recent instances of such antisemitic violence. Throughout the Arab world in the late 1940s and ’50s, Jews were subjected to pogroms and other atrocities as a prelude to their mass expulsion and expropriation by these countries. 

 History is full of horrible ironies, and this is one of them. The mobs we have witnessed attacking Jews in cities on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean are overwhelmingly composed of members of the various Arab and wider Muslim communities. 

In European demonstrations, for example, Turkish and Algerian flags can be spotted alongside Palestinian ones. The same impulse that drove the eventual expulsion of nearly 800,000 Jews from the Arab world is now coming back to haunt us in the very countries where we sought our freedom. The impulse that I am referring to is failure.

 In the Arab countries during the first decade of Israel’s existence, persecution of local Jews was one feat that could be accomplished, and indeed relished, amid the humiliating battlefield defeats inflicted by the nascent Israel Defense Forces on the Arab armies. 

The legacy of that domestic campaign of antisemitism has traveled with us to different continents and vastly different political contexts. What remains the same is the conviction that Arabs are being disempowered, robbed, and murdered by Jewish conspiracies, and that ordinary Arabs are therefore justified in taking their anger out on ordinary Jews in response.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

The 1947 Aleppo riots made our family want to flee Syria

In 1947 after riots broke out in their city of Aleppo, the parents of Ofra Basul-Bengio, now a professor at Tel Aviv university, contemplated smuggling out their family from Syria to Israel. But they could have been executed if caught. Finally, in 1954, Ofra's father managed to obtain passports from the governor of Aleppo,  rarely given to Syrian Jews. She tells her story to Haaretz (with thanks: Lily)

Ofra Basul-Bengio's parents, Latifa-Adina and Kemal-Avraham Basul.(Photo: courtesy)

The first time we attempted to escape Aleppo was shortly after the United Nations vote on the partition of Palestine in November 1947. A powerful fear seized us and all the Jews in the city during the war, when we were compelled to cope with bitter experience of seeing the burning of our businesses, schools and synagogues, including the Central, or Great, Synagogue, which housed the ancient Aleppo Codex (the priceless manuscript of the Hebrew Bible created in Tiberias in the 10th century). 

Our family, who lived in a Muslim neighborhood and saw with our own eyes the torching of the Jewish-owned café opposite our home, and heard the angry crowds chanting that, “Palestine is our land, and the Jews are our dogs,” decided that there was no alternative but to try and flee Syria before it was too late. 

 It was decided that everyone in the family would put on the clothes of Arabs. My mother and we four girls wore veils; my father and the four boys also put on traditional Arab clothing. To further hide our Jewish identity, our parents assigned each of us an Arab name, like Fatma or Mohammed. 

We locked our house with all its contents and set out for the railway station in the hope of boarding the first train that would take us to Lebanon, and from there to the Land of Israel. But immediately after we got on the train, the conductor announced that if there were Jews among the passengers they had to disembark immediately or face severe punishment. We had no choice and were forced to get off for fear we would be found out. That ended our first escape adventure – but not our ordeals. 

Fearing the pogroms would continue, our family joined other Jews in the home of a Christian family that had undertaken to protect us and others afraid for their lives. The image of the men standing and reciting Psalms for our salvation has never left my memory. 

After a time the situation calmed down somewhat and we were able to return to our home, though the urge to try again to leave Aleppo did not abate. The desire to flee stemmed not only from existential fears but also from a potent affinity for Zionism that had informed our lives even before the war broke out in Palestine in 1948. My father, Kemal-Avraham Basul, had visited that land in 1934, when the rail line between Damascus and Haifa was still operating. 

The intention was to see whether it would be possible to immigrate with the family, but it didn’t work out at the time. 

Still, the longings for Zion did not diminish – for example, my father used to read us stories in Hebrew, like the one about little Yossi, who wanted to get to the Land of Israel. The tale fired our imaginations and touched us so deeply that our eyes and his welled up with tears each time he read it to us.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Turkish Jews deny that Erdogan made antisemitic comments

In a display of dhimmitude, Jews in Turkey have denied that president Erdogan has made antisemitic statements, despite his using 'Jews' and 'Israelis' interchangeably. Times of Israel reports: 

JTA — The main organization representing Turkish Jews has criticized the US State Department for accusing Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of using antisemitic rhetoric. 

 The Jewish Confederation of Turkey said Wednesday that it was “unfair and reprehensible to imply that President Erdogan is antisemitic” in a tweet. 

 On Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement that “the United States strongly condemns President Erdogan’s recent antisemitic comments regarding the Jewish people and finds them reprehensible.”

Morocco bans solidarity march with Palestinians

The conflict with Gaza is the first test of 'normalisation' between Morocco and Israel, the price exacted for the US's recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over western Sahara. According to Al-Araby, Morocco has banned a pro-Palestinian march at the end of this week for Covid-related reasons. But under pressure from the Moroccan 'street', the government has allowed plenty of other demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza, although it initially tried to ban them. These demonstrations have demanded the revocation of 'normalisation'.  Mindful of his position as the head of the Al-Aqsa Committee, the king of Morocco has been commended for  asserting his religious authority. Morocco has also sent 20 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Gaza. 

A group in Morocco voiced discontent with local authorities on Thursday after a march of solidarity with Palestine scheduled to take place at the end of the week was banned. 

 The 'National Action Group for Palestine' (NAGP) rejected the decision by Moroccan authorities which claimed it had banned the march to protect the community from the ongoing coronavirus health emergency. 

 "The National Action Group declares its strong rejection of the logic of authoritarianism in preventing and suppressing the right of the Moroccan people to express their solidarity with the Palestinian people, their embrace of comprehensive resistance, and their rejection of all forms of normalisation (with Israel)", the group said during a press conference.

 The group called on the authorities to reconsider the decision. "We demand the closure of the so-called Zionist liaison office in our country, the cessation of all forms of dealing with the usurping entity, and the abolition of disgraceful normalisation agreement." While Sunday's gathering was banned for Covid-related purposes, several other demonstrations have been held across the country in recent weeks.

 Read article in full

Moroccans with Palestinian flags  demonstrate in solidarity with Gaza

Bahrainis protest in solidarity with Palestinians

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Jerusalem memorial to Jewish refugees is completed

A memorial to the 850,000 Jews driven from Arab countries has finally been completed and sited on the Haas promenade in Jerusalem. The family group is inspired by a photo of the Zviv family, who fled Yemen for Israel in 1949. Understanding the pain of the Other is a leap forward to thwarting one-sided bigotry and increase understanding, argues Jerry Klinger in this Times of Israel  article: 

 As the missiles of terror and death to the Jews crashed randomly into Israel without regard or concern for civilian life, a unique memorial, the first ever in the world and certainly Israel, was erected prominently sited on Jerusalem’s Haas Promenade.

 It is a memorial messaged that very few in the non-Jewish world, especially the Muslim world, know about. 

Unfortunately, too many in the Jewish world know little about it too. The Memorial is formally titled the Departure and Expulsion Memorial. The title follows the theme of a long-overdue Knesset Law passed in 2014. 

 The law requires the teaching of what happened to the Jews from Arab lands and Iran with the birth of Israel. 

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Sheikh Jarrah and asymmetrical property claims

While many observers are in uproar about Jewish owners reclaiming their property in Sheikh Jarrah (Shimon Hatsaddik in Jerusalem), all avenues leading to restitution for Jews in Arab countries are closed. Lyn Julius writes in JNS News:

The Cecil Hotel in Alexandria: only example of restitution to its Jewish owners

If you believe most Western media, it all started with Sheikh Jarrah: the neighborhood in Jerusalem that has become the symbol of the “injustice” to Palestinian residents under threat of eviction. The matter has been misrepresented as a bigoted attempt by Israel to evict “hundreds” of Palestinians by Jewish “settlers.” In fact, it is a long-running private dispute between Jewish landlords and Arab tenants. The tenants are at risk of eviction for not paying the rent. 

 A mirror image of the Sheikh Jarrah case occurred in Iraq recently. There, a tenant in Baghdad, fearing his home would be bulldozed, appealed to the Jewish owners of the land, now living in Canada, to sue a developer who had falsified the ownership deeds. 

 But even if they had won a legal case, the Jewish owners would not be able to claim back their property, since they had been de-nationalized—stripped of their rights when they fled the country. 

While discussions can take place where Israel has the power, Jonathan Spyer, writing in The Jerusalem Post, points out a fundamental asymmetry: All avenues leading to restitution of Jewish property seized in Arab countries are closed. “Might is right” in dictatorships that persecuted Jewish citizens, scapegoated as Zionists. For Jews, even to entertain the idea of reclaiming their property is considered ludicrous. 

 Billions of dollars’ worth of property has been seized from Jews evicted from Arab countries. (Some Jews expelled from Egypt after the Suez crisis, British and French citizens, received some compensation from the U.K. and France, but the vast majority got nothing.) 

 There has only been one example of property restituted to its Jewish owners, the Metzgers—the Cecil Hotel in Alexandria. An Egyptian court ruled in 1996 that the hotel should be restituted to Albert Metzger, but the ruling was not implemented for fear that it would establish a precedent for the restitution of nationalized Jewish property.

 It was only in 2007 that the Egyptian government proposed a deal whereby it would implement the ruling, but would immediately buy back the hotel from the Metzgers. 

 When a Property Claims Commission was set up in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq to deal with claims by Iraqis stripped of their property, the timeline was set at 1968, the year when the Ba’ath regime took power. This excluded the vast majority of potential claimants—the 130,000 Jews who left in 1950-51.

 A Claims Commission was due to have been implemented under the terms of the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. But it was never established. 

 Jerusalem is an exception. When the city came under Israeli jurisdiction after 1967, Jews evicted by the Jordanians in 1948 were presented with the opportunity to recover their properties in the Old City and eastern Jerusalem. 

 A 1970 law enables Jewish owners to sue for restitution. But there is one important caveat: The law protects tenants who pay rent. In the Sheikh Jarrah case, they refuse to do so.

 In Israel itself, a partial exchange of property occurred: Jewish refugees from Arab lands were resettled in abandoned Palestinian homes and villages. Conversely, Palestinians were re-housed in Jewish quarters, social clubs, schools and synagogues in Iraq, Libya, Lebanon and Syria. 

 The thorny issue of property claims for refugees on both sides awaits a comprehensive peace settlement. The fairest solution might be compensation, rather than restitution. But in light of recent events, that prospect seems some way off.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

BBC airs tale of Jew's escape from Iraq in 1971

With thanks: Sarah

Edwin as a child with his parents and grandmother

Almost exactly fifty years ago, 2,000 Iraqi Jews made the perilous journey from their homes in Baghdad through the north of Iraq and Kurdistan and over to border to freedom. One of them was Edwin Shuker, then a 16-year-old. 

He tells his story in the BBC series Witness. (9 minutes.) His family had two hours to prepare for their departure. This happened in the dead of night, using a succession of taxis and smugglers. There was always the risk of arrest and imprisonment.

The final leg of Edwin's journey was in a truck. The driver was a young Kurd. ' When you tell the story of your escape,' said the driver,' Never forget to say that the Kurds saved your life.'

By chance, Edwin was to meet the young man again thirty years later. His name was Massoud Barazani, and he became president of Kurdistan.

More about Edwin Shuker

Emil Somekh's escape

Monday, May 17, 2021

The dispossessed Jews you will never hear about

The Sheikh Jarrah properties owned by Jews in East Jerusalem are the tip of the iceberg: it may come as a surprise to many that Jews owned land all over the 'occupied Palestinian territories'. But East Jerusalem is the only place where Jewish restitution is a realistic possiblity. Lyn Julius blogs in the Times of Israel (Jewish News):

Yemenite Jews were evicted from Silwan (Jerusalem) in the 1930s

By now the name ‘Sheikh Jarrah’ will be familiar to anyone who has been following events in Israel and Gaza. You will have learned that Arabs living in four houses in this neighbourhood in East Jerusalem have been under threat of eviction. The full facts of the case, which has been winding its way through the Israeli courts for over ten years, have been frequently distorted – but are well set out here. It is not, as reported by The Guardian, ‘that Israel had plans to evict hundreds of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem’. It is because they refuse to pay rent. 

 Furthermore, the Guardian editorial states: “Under Israeli law, Jews who can prove a title from before the 1948 war can claim back properties in the city. This cannot be justified when no similar law exists for the Palestinians who lost their homes. “ This is not strictly true. Arab-Israelis internally displaced by conflict have been able to file claims in the Israeli courts. 

The media almost never tell the Jewish side of this story. Jewish property rights, and the ethnic cleansing of Jews from their homes are never mentioned. The issue is framed to convey the impression that Jews claiming these homes are ‘settlers’ or ‘interlopers’. 

It is estimated that 3,000 Jews were expelled from East Jerusalem in 1948 ( between 17,000 and (according to historian Benny Morris) 40,000 Jews were made refugees from Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem). 

The descendants of those Jews expelled from 100 homes in the Eshel Avraham neighbourhood in East Jerusalem in 1929 still retained their title deeds until April 2014, when they decided to sell the properties. Jews were evacuated from Hebron after 1929 and Silwan (Shiloah) in Jerusalem in the 1930s for their own safety, upon orders of the British. Some of the latter are trying to recover their homes.

 The JNF purchased hundreds of individual parcels of land in and around Jerusalem during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Some ended up under Jordanian control. In 1948, on one of these parcels the UN built the Kalandia refugee camp, seizing the land without permission from the owners, the JNF. The JNF also lost land in the Dheisheh refugee camp in the West Bank.

 Other parcels of land in ‘Arab’ East Jerusalem were cut off from their Iraqi and Iranian Jewish owners after they came under Jordanian rule. It is also a little-known fact that hundreds of thousands of dunams in the rural West Bank – including the Gush Etzion settlements, land between Nablus, Jenin and Tulkarm, and in Bethlehem and Hebron – were seized by the Jordanians after 1948. Jews also owned land in Gaza.

 In leaked documents called the ‘Palestine Papers’, the Palestinian leadership frankly acknowledged former legal Jewish ownership of land in Jerusalem, on its outskirts and in the West Bank, as well as Gaza. 

 The Beit Yehuda Society on the western slopes of the Golan Heights owned 2,000 dunams of land ( one dunam equals one English acre – or 1,000 sq.metres). The JNF even owned land in what is today southern Syria. No Jews have been able to recover lost land and property in the West Bank since 1967. The property came under the control of the Jordanian Custodian of Absentee Property after the 1948 war. Jordan frequently leased or sold Jewish-owned land to Jordanian citizens. The Israeli government has not wanted to open this particular can of worms.

 Hundreds of thousands of Jews, scapegoated as Zionists in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, etc, in a mass uprooting resulting from the Arab-Israeli conflict and evicted from their homes, have never received compensation or restitution for millions of dollars worth of lost property and assets. Because it has come under Israeli jurisdiction, 

Jerusalem is the only place in the Middle East where Jews are in a position to claim restitution. But the rights of the existing Arab tenants remain protected under Israeli law as long as they have been paying rent – which in the Sheikh Jarrah case they have not. 

 Jerusalem is an exception. The truth is that Jews have been consistently driven out of their homes by violence, intimidation, or persecution, whether in Palestine or Arab countries. Today these are almost all judenrein. 

 The thorny issue of property rights demands a comprehensive solution for refugees created on both sides of the conflict. As part of an eventual peace settlement, the fairest solution might be for an international fund to be established to compensate refugees on both sides – Jewish and Arab. Until that day comes, context is all. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Discussions on property restitution are asymmetrical

The Sheikh Jarrah  controversy - where Arab tenants have refused to pay rent to Jewish owners claiming restitution of the property they live in - has spotlighted a larger  issue: legal discussions regarding restitution of properties lost in the course of the conflict tend to arise only on the side where Israel has the power, argues Jonathan Spyer in the Jerusalem Post:

Jewish pilgrims  in 1927on their way to visit the tomb of Simon the Just in Sheikh Jarrah

For Palestinians and their supporters, the Sheikh Jarrah issue has become emblematic of what they regard as the built-in injustice of arrangements put in place by Israel following the 1948 and 1967 wars.

 The Legal and Administrative Matters Law, passed in 1970, allows for Israeli property owners who owned properties that in 1948 were transferred to Jordanian control to claim them back from the Israeli administrator-general. 

Property abandoned by Palestinian Arabs in the 1948 war was transferred in its entirety to the Custodian of Absentee Property, in line with the Absentee Property Law of 1950. An amendment to the law allows Arab-Israeli citizens and residents of east Jerusalem to claim monetary compensation for properties transferred to the Custodian, on the basis of the properties’ value on November 29, 1947. 

But no legal path for the restitution of properties exists. Backers of the Jewish efforts to reclaim property in eastern Jerusalem, meanwhile, maintain that they are following existing legal means in an attempt to right an injustice – namely, the refusal of the protected tenants to pay rent, as required by law. 

They further assert that this process is being undertaken without reference to any other situation or larger political context. 

 These legal niceties aside, there is a harsher, less diplomatic reality which is the reason that many Israelis may feel few pangs of conscience with regard to events in Sheikh Jarrah.

 Legal discussions regarding restitution of properties lost in the course of the long conflict between Jews and Arabs tend to arise only on the side where Israel has the power. 

 Where Arab participant countries in the 1948 war had and have jurisdiction, the matter of any claims to properties lost in the 1948 war by Jews expelled from these areas is regarded as closed. With regard to properties lost by Jews to Arab states, the law is the familiar one of greater force. The states in question, all dictatorships, are not interested in discussing the rights and wrongs of the issue. They have the capacity to enforce this preference. Hence no such discussions take place. 

 During the period of 1948-67, for example, when Jordan ruled east Jerusalem and the West Bank, no legal avenue for recompense was available to Jews who had lost property as a result of their expulsion by Jordanian forces. 

The combined value of lost Jewish-owned properties in the Arab world and Iran, according to an Israeli investigation carried out in 2019, may amount to $150 billion. But these properties, many of them owned by Jews expelled from Arab participant countries in the 1948 war such as Iraq, remain beyond the reach of their legal owners. No path for compensation is available. 

An Iraqi Jew seeking to petition, for example, the current government in Baghdad for compensation for loss of property incurred during the expulsion of Iraq’s Jews in 1951 would rapidly discover the futility of any such effort. For anyone with knowledge of the Middle East, the very idea of such an attempt indeed sounds absurd. 

 From this point of view, the apparent imbalance thus reflects a larger balance. Where Israel is in control, the matter is subject to discussion, and necessarily imperfect but existing legal process. The tenants at Shimon Hatzadik, for example, may find it unfair or unjust that they are required to pay rent to the property’s owners. But should they prove willing to do so, their residence rights will be protected by law.

 There is no reflection of this on the other side, where the automatic assumption of the absolute justice of the Arab Muslim position translates into a similarly automatic dismissal of any legal process for individuals associated with the enemy camp. This is the harsh, usually unstated accounting of ethno-religious conflict.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Don't apply US identity politics to the Middle East

A US Congressman's attempt to brand Israeli Jews caught up in the current conflict with Hamas as 'white' is lambasted by Liel Leibowitz writing in Tablet. At the end of the day, American identity politics cannot be applied to the Middle East: it is about one group's wish to murder another. 

US Congressman Jamaal Bowman

 Now, this might be confusing to you, especially if you’ve been following the news over the past day. If so, you would have heard about Soumya Santosh, a 32-year-old Indian woman who, in order to provide for her 9-year-old boy, found work in the Israeli city of Ashkelon, caring for an 80-year-old woman. The pair were ducking for cover when their home was directly hit by one of Hamas’s rockets. Santosh’s brown body was torn apart by a projectile hurled by a terrorist organization and aimed at innocent civilians, none of whom, by the way, have any use for silly and preening identity politics.

 Or maybe you know about 19-year-old Yehuda Guetta—his family hails from Libya, a country located, of all places, in Africa. Yehuda was shot and killed earlier this week by a Palestinian-American named Muntasir Shalabi, who was motivated, according to his neighbors, by equal parts Jew hatred and heavy gambling debts. 

 In general, I am loathe to deny Americans the right to play their national sports, which these days apparently include mau-mauing “white people”—though I will say that it seems creepy to use skin color as the primary way to identify human beings, like 19th century “race scientists” did. But since Congressman Bowman is being joined by a host of other elected officials including Rashida Tlaib in trying to chauvinistically transpose their own American psychodrama onto a foreign region, this is now starting to get terrifyingly dangerous—and I don't mean for Israel, but for Jews living here in the United States, including those in Congressman Bowman’s own district.

 So let’s be clear as day: Israel isn’t America, Jews aren’t white, and Palestinians aren’t “Black and brown people.” Judaism is an identity that predates “race,” just as it predates America, and the sin of slavery, and the idea of nations and the Christian and Muslim faiths.

 Reckless, ignorant racializing, precisely of the kind that Bowman is practicing these days, has a trickle-down effect. In a statement last month, the Congressman and his fellow progressives released a statement declaring themselves shocked, shocked! by the anti-Jewish violence in their own districts. Sir, the call is coming from inside your house. 

 Moreover, if people like Congressman Bowman can’t see how being openly denigrated by powerful people—like, say, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives—makes members of a minority group feel vulnerable and targeted, then I really have no idea what progressive politics are even pretending to be about anymore. 

 Of course, Bowman is free to ignore Jewish history and all the suffering of real people in the present, and to fantasize about skin-based affinities while fundamentalist terrorists lob thousands of rockets at people who are family members, both figuratively and literally speaking, of his own constituents. But how about the other side of what’s happening in Israel? 

In the last 48 hours, thousands of Israeli Arab citizens, whose skin color is exactly the same as that of their neighbors, and who enjoy the highest standard of living in the region as well as every right to practice their religion freely and attend great universities, launched a wave of pogroms against their Jewish neighbors. They attacked and defaced synagogues in Lod—just like in Bowman’s district in Riverdale. They also beat up children in the street, bombed buses, dragged drivers from their cars, and smashed shop windows, targeting the Jewish regional minority. 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Western press misrepresents Jerusalem property dispute

Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem

This week the UK newspaper The Guardian published an editorial claiming that 'Israel had plans to evict hundreds of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.' This kind of misrepresentation is par for the course in the western media, where due process in Israeli courts has become a pretext to twist the facts and demonise Israel.

Furthermore, the editorial states: "Under Israeli law, Jews who can prove a title from before the 1948 war can claim back properties in the city. This cannot be justified when no similar law exists for the Palestinians who lost their homes. "

The issue of lost property ownership is a lot more complex than meets the eye. This issue demands a comprehensive solution for refugees created on both sides of the conflict - Jewish as well as Arab. Meanwhile Arab Israelis internally displaced by the conflict have been able to obtain compensation.

 Hundreds of thousands of Jews, scapegoated as Zionists in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya , Yemen, etc, and evicted from their homes have never had compensation or restitution for millions of dollars worth of lost property and assets. 

No Jews have been able to recover land and property lost in the West Bank to the Jordanian occupation in 1948. The property came under the control of the Jordanian Custodian of Absentee Property.  Jordan frequently leased or sold Jewish-owned land to Jordanian citizens. The Israeli government has not wanted to open this particular can of worms.

 Jerusalem is the only place in the Middle East where Jews are now in a position to claim restitution. But the rights of the existing Arab tenants remain protected under Israeli law as long as they have been paying rent, which  in the Sheikh Jarrah case they have not.

This long-running property dispute is simply a pretext for Hamas, acting as a proxy for Iran, to stoke a major crisis.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Muslim Iranian friend describes executed Jew as a patriot

Sunday 9 May marked the 42nd anniversary of the execution of Iranian businessman and Jewish community leader Habib Elghanian by the Islamic Republic. Journalist Karmel Melamed, who has tirelessly raised the issue of the persecution of Iran's Jews, had this article published by IranWire:

Habib Elghanian, executed by the Iranian regime in 1979

 Both Elghanian’s vast contributions to the Iranian Jewish community and his 20-minute show trial for espionage in 1979 have been widely reported since then. But less well known are the significant contributions Elghanian made to wider Iranian society. 

 Many of those who worked closely with him in the business realm or philanthropy were either executed by the regime, or have long since passed away. Recently, however, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Nasser Oliaei, an Iranian Muslim businessman and former MP, about his long-time friendship with Elghanian. Oliaei is now in his late 80s and lives in Newport Beach, California. 

He worked alongside Elghanian in Iran’s National Chamber of Commerce before the fall of the Shah. Whether it was through encouraging international trade, giving to charitable causes or supporting his thousands of Iranian employees, Oliaei describes Elghanian as nothing short of a remarkable Iranian patriot.