Thursday, April 22, 2021

Jews were never consulted about return of Iraqi archive

 In the year in which the Iraqi-Jewish archive (IJA) is supposed to go back to Iraq, activists are fighting to keep it in the US. As part of her campaign, lawyer and academic Carole Basri, who descends from a prominent Iraqi-Jewish family,  has launched a film called 'Saving the Iraqi-Jewish Archives'. 

The film, which Carole directed with Adriana Davis, makes the case that the archive belongs to Iraqi Jews now in exile, and not to the Iraqi state. Some of the 20,000 documents and photos, correspondence and school reports  came from the Frank Iny school, the last Jewish school in Baghdad. Frank Iny was Carole Basri's grandfather.

Carole spent several months in Iraq immediately following the US invasion in 2003 and knew all the officials in the Coalition Provisional Authority run by Paul Bremer.

In a Q&A with Professor Henry Green, after a screening of the film at the Miami Jewish Film Festival, Carole Basri described how she  and other Jews was not consulted by the Bremer government when it signed  a commitment to return the archive to Iraq once restoration by the US National Archives in Texas had been completed.

She had little faith that the IJA might be properly preserved if it returned to Iraq, given that over 300 Torah scrolls were gathering dust in the basement of the Iraqi National Museum. The IJA is the last remaining link between descendants of the community and its 2,700-year history in Iraq.

The IJA was seized by Saddam Hussein's regime from a Baghdad synagogue in the 1970s and stored in the basement of the secret police headquarters. The collection was discovered in 2003 under four feet of water by Dr Harold Rhode after a US bomb damaged the building's water pipes, but failed to explode. It took ten years for the National Archives in Texas  to restore and digitise the archive. Highlights were exhibited at various Jewish centres and museums in the US and its stay extended several times after protests by Congressmen. 

The US state department has stated that the collection will definitely return in 2021, although only three Jews still remain in Iraq.

You may view the film Saving the Iraqi-Jewish archives until 29 April.

Sign the Petition: Don't let the Jewish archive go back to Iraq

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

To combat Shoah denial, call out Arab antisemitism

The path to true reconciliation surely lies in a balanced view of history, where Jewish victims of Arab anti-Semitism are allowed to tell their stories, and Arab states are called to account for their own actions, writes Lyn Julius in JNS News.

Robert Satloff: creating empathy

The walls of Holocaust denial are crumbling, wrote Washington Institute for Near East Policy executive director Robert Satloff earlier this month. We are seeing the green shoots begin to sprout that he personally had helped seed to combat Holocaust denial in the Arab world. 

 Since Satloff published his book Among the Righteous in 2006, calling for an awareness that Arabs were bystanders, perpetrators and also rescuers in the Holocaust in North Africa, there has been an explosion of academic research; Emiratis and Saudis have visited Auschwitz; and Holocaust denial has been condemned by Morocco. 

 Change may be painfully slow but is to be applauded and must give us hope for a better future. On the same day that Satloff published the above blog, however, three broadcasts on official Palestinian Authority TV indicated that Holocaust distortion and denial are still very much alive. These shows charged that Jews had betrayed “the warm Palestinian welcome” given to them as refugees, called Hebron a Nazi-style ghetto and equated Israeli leaders with Nazis.

Despite Satloff’s strenuous efforts to the contrary, his campaign still has the unfortunate side-effect of projecting the Holocaust as a European story. The complicity of key Arab figures in the Nazis’ extermination project, such as “leader of the Arab world” Haj Amin al-Husseini, is barely touched upon in Among the Righteous. 

 The mufti broadcast virulent anti-Jewish propaganda from Berlin, where he and dozens of other Arab Nazis were Hitler’s guests. He was a willing party to the “final solution.” For political reasons, he was never tried for his war crimes, which entailed sending 20,000 Jews to their deaths, and massacres perpetrated in Yugoslavia by the SS units he established. The Palestinian leadership has never repudiated the eliminationist anti-Semitism spearheaded by the wartime mufti, who concocted a deadly blend of Koranic anti-Jewish prejudice and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories imported from Europe.

 Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas himself wrote a Ph.D. thesis minimizing the Holocaust. Pan-Arabism attempted to coalesce the Arab world against Communism, the West and Zionism. In the 1930s, there arose Arab parties founded on the Nazi model and paramilitary “shirt” groups emulating the Nazi Brown and Black Shirts. 

When it looked like the Nazis would win the war, Arabs were not shy to show their overwhelming support for the Germans. For two months in 1941, Iraq had a pro-Nazi government and declared war on the British. Virulent Nazi propaganda and incitement were an important factor in the massacre of hundreds of Jews known as the Farhud. Yet Satloff views this event stripped of its Nazi significance, as just another pogrom among others that erupted from time to time in the Arab world. 

 Egged on by the mufti to declare war on the fledgling State of Israel, Abdul Rahman Azzam, the Arab League’s first secretary-general, threatened that the establishment of a Jewish state would lead to a “war of extermination and momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacre and the Crusades.” A genocide would have been likely if the Arab side won.

 After the war, Nazi war criminals escaped justice by fleeing to Syria and Egypt, and there continued the Nazis’ anti-Semitic campaign. In spite of the signing of the Abraham Accords, anti-Semitism is rampant even in countries that have peace treaties with Israel. Egypt, for example, where Islamism—whose legacy of terrorism and anti-Jewish hatred goes back to the Nazi era—still has much support among the Arab rank and file. 

 As a result of Palestinians’ failure to defeat Israel militarily or through terrorism, their intention to commit genocide has morphed into politicide, through the demand of the “right of return” of Palestinian “refugees” to Israel proper, “lawfare”‘ to delegitimize Israel in international fora and the BDS movement. 

 Robert Satloff’s strategy has been to create empathy among Arabs by attempting to find Muslims who saved Jews. But this approach has its pitfalls: Holocaust education has been manipulated to confirm Palestinians in their victimhood. Spurious, morally equivalent comparisons are made between the Nazi victimization of the Jews and the “Nazi-like” behavior of Israelis towards Palestinians. 

 A Holocaust museum set up in Nazareth by Khaled Mahamed, an Arab Israeli, was initially praised by Yad Vashem until he displayed a Palestinian flag, photos and posters of the so-called nakba, the “catastrophe” of the exodus of Palestinian refugees from Israel in 1948. Yad Vashem condemned Mahamed for “conflating the Holocaust with other events and contributing to the misappropriation of the Holocaust as a tool against Israel.” 

 The Anti-Defamation League spokesman in Israel pronounced himself “troubled” that Palestinians were said to be paying the price for European guilt over the Holocaust. 

 Professor Mohammed Dajani won praise as one of the few Palestinians to campaign against Holocaust denial. He led a group of students from Al-Quds University on a visit to Auschwitz in 2014. Consequently, he found himself in hot water with his own people, and promptly lost his job; he went to work for Satloff at the Washington Institute. 

 On a previous visit to Auschwitz, however, he had said: “We do not compare the nakba and the Holocaust as if the atrocities that occurred are on the same level.” But he made just such a comparison when he stated: “I feel we must have empathy for each other, in the sense that I, as a Palestinian, must understand what the Holocaust meant to a Jew and a Jew must understand what the nakba is to a Palestinian.” 

 The best way to prevent distortion and manipulation is to raise awareness of anti-Semitism in the Arabs’ own backyard— eliminationism against Israel and the Jewish nakba of almost a million Jews from the Arab world, who now comprise more than half of Israel’s Jewish population. The Jewish nakba has been thought of as collateral damage of the Arab failure to destroy Israel, yet we know that the Arab League drafted a plan to persecute and dispossess their Jewish citizens before a single Palestinian refugee had fled Israel. 

 The League states applied Nuremberg-style laws, criminalizing Zionism, freezing Jewish bank accounts, instituting quotas and imposing restrictions on jobs and movement. 

 The path to true reconciliation surely lies in a balanced view of history, where Jewish victims of Arab anti-Semitism are allowed to tell their stories, and Arab states are called to account for their own actions.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Sixty years since the Egoz sank, with the loss of 43

Sixty years have passed since the Egoz (Pisces), a Mossad smuggling boat carrying 42 illegal emigrants from Morocco, capsized. All on board died except for the captain and two sailors  (a third crewman, Paco Perez, died with the emigrants.) On 16 April 2021, Gila Gutman Azulay, who lost the majority of her family that day, lit a memorial torch to commemorate their deaths and the deaths of those who died defending the State of Israel. Some 22 of the bodies were located and buried at Jerusalem's Mt. Herzl Cemetery. Here is an extract from a post published by Point of No Return on the fiftieth anniversary of the sinking of the ship: 

A solemn ceremony was held on Mount Herzl to recall the dead of the Egoz (Photo: Jerusalem Post)

 On Wednesday 11 January 1961, for the thirteenth time, the ship Egoz was about to do an illegal crossing to Gibraltar. It was an old launch that had served the British during World War 2, converted into a smuggling boat. 

 On board were ten families of Moroccan Jews, 42 people in all, preparing to make the great voyage to the Promised Land. Among them were Captain Francisco Morilla and a three-man Spanish crew; Haim Sarfati, a 28-year-old Israeli born in Fez, sent by the Mossad as a radio operator, on his last mission before returning to marry in Israel; Jacques and Denise Ben Haroch, married the previous day; David Dadoune and his two children. Dadoune had been caught with a fake passport at the airport in Casablanca and was happy to be joining his wife and two other boys already in Israel; Henry Mamane, a bartender from Casablanca, and his 80 year-old mother Hana Azoulay and his children, eager to be reunited with two girls who had gone with an earlier party of children on 2 January. 

 The passengers were exhausted after a 600 km journey from Casablanca.To avoid attracting attention, the group was supposed to make a pilgrimage to the tomb at Ouezzane of Amram Ben Diwan. In case they were stopped after Ouezzane they had to claim they were on their way to be guests at a wedding in the Al Hocem area. 

Crossing the Rif mountain range had been very arduous due to snow and fog. Around midnight they stopped near a bridge, where two masked figures had guided them on a rocky path to the beach. These armed and hooded men, members of the Mossad network, helped them onto lifeboats in order for them to reach the boat. But as the boat sailed out to sea, the waves became rough. Yet all checks had been made and the forecast had been for good weather. At 3 am GMT, ten miles from the Moroccan coast, the vessel's tired hull split 'like a nutshell'. Within five minutes the Egoz sank completely. No doubt the Mossad network in Gibraltar picked up the SOS and gave the alarm. 

The captain and two sailors aboard managed to escape on board the only lifeboat. A Spanish trawler, the Cabo de Gata picked them up at dawn and also sounded the alert. 

 Alex Gatmon, the head of the Mossad in Morocco who had taken up his post two months earlier, warned Ephraim Ronnel, his superior who ran three North Africa networks from Paris. Rescuers converged from all sides.The coastguard launch Orpheus and four Moroccan trawlers set sail from the port of Al Hoceima. The British base at Gibraltar dispatched a speedboat and airplane. The commander of the French Navy in Algeria ordered two escort vessels to divert to the scene of the accident (the Vendeen and Intrepid). 

The military attache of the Embassy of Israel in Paris, Colonel Uzi Narkiss, won a promise of help from the French Prime Minister Michel Debre. But aid came too late. Twenty-two corpses were found floating on the surface wearing inadequate life jackets. The wreck itself and the bodies of 20 passengers, including 16 children, were never found. 

 This event raised a storm of international emotion, and a forceful poster and leaflet campaign in Israel and the mellahs of Morocco (Operation Bazak) aroused the anger of the Moroccan authorities. Crown Prince Moulay Hassan received a delegation from the Jewish community: Dr. Leon Benzaken, former Minister of Posts, and a personal friend of King Mohammed V, David Amar, head of the Jewish community and Rabbi David Massas. They asked permission to give the dead a religious burial.

 Following lengthy and extremely tense talks, the prince agreed, on condition that the bare minimum of ceremonial took place and no parent was allowed to attend. The 22 bodies were buried hurriedly in a far corner of the Spanish cemetery of Al Hocem. 

 Since 1980 the 23rd Tevet has been declared a day of remembrance in Israel for the sinking of the boat Egoz. After years of hard work and negotiation with the Israeli government, associations in Israel and international figures, King Hassan II gave his permission for the bones from the shipwreck to be repatriated to Israel. They were given a state funeral at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on 14 December 1992. 

Monday, April 19, 2021

Young Canadian cleans up Sudan Jewish cemetery

A young Canadian Jew has embarked on a project to clean up Khartoum's Jewish cemetery. Chaim Motzen has set up a website where people can share details and photos to help identify graves. Will Brown writes in the Sunday Telegraph (with thanks: Nelly, Lily)

The Jewish cemetery, one of the last remnants of  a Jewish community in Sudan,  was vandalised as used as a dumping ground

Mr Motzen, who now develops renewable energy projects across Africa, decided to travel back to see the new Sudan after the revolution.

“There was a remarkable difference,” he says. But when he saw the graveyard, his heart sank. The rubbish piles had grown four feet high and there was a pungent smell of urine and rot.

Mr Motzen asked for and immediately got permission from the Minister of Religious Affairs Nasr Eldeen Mofarih in the new transitional government to restore the site as a private individual in January 2020. He paid for a Sudanese archaeologist and dozens of workers out of his own pocket and got to work.

Over several weeks they removed some 14 trucks of almost everything imaginable from the site. “There was about five metric tonnes of glass, car parts, a crazy amount of dirt, medical waste, lots of scorpions, and even beehives,” he says.

Eventually, they uncovered 71 graves, many of their inscriptions broken beyond recognition. The team carefully sifted every spade of dirt for thousands of fragments of the headstones. Then for months, Mr Motzen and the archaeologist then set about laboriously piecing the Arabic and Hebrew inscriptions together like giant puzzles.

Standing in the beating sun with the jangling sounds of the city all around him, Mr Motzen points to a small stone slab marked with Star of David. The grave had been broken apart and scattered across the site. But after hours of work, he had managed to piece together the fragments and translate the Arabic words.  

The small grave belonged to Diana Yacoub Ades, a small girl who had died suddenly in 1959 at just eight months. With this information, Mr Motzen explains how he tracked down Diana’s first cousin in London.

The 88-year-old Albert Iskenazi told the Telegraph he was shocked when he heard the news. Mr Iskenazi grew up in Khartoum and remembered his baby cousin clearly. “I remember Diana well. She died suddenly of a fever. It made me feel very happy that he found the gravestone. Now we can mourn her properly.”

“Our happiest days were in Sudan. We used to go to visit our Muslim friends during Ramadan and wish them a happy feast,” says Mr Iskenazi.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” says Daisy Abboudi, founder of the research project, Tales of Jewish Sudan. “He found fragments of my great grandmother’s gravestone, as well as other graves of family members. There is something about the physicality of graves which is so important to people.”

“When I visited in January 2020, I assumed that physical link to my history was lost to time. There was nothing people could point to and say my ancestors were here. And then suddenly there is. It's very powerful.”

Read article in full

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Tripoli synagogue 'to become Islamic centre'

Once the handsomest synagogue in Tripoli, plans could be afoot to turn the Dar al Bishi synagogue into an Islamic centre. In a  JTA report based on one in the Italian-Jewish Moked, David Gerbi  of the World Organisation of Jews in Libya alleges that the synagogue is being taken over without permission. Gerbi broke into the synagogue in 2011 to pray, but was forced to leave Libya, where no Jews live anymore,  after threats on his life. If the synagogue becomes a mosque, it would not be the first. The shrine of Ezekiel at al-Kifl in Iraq was turned into a mosque without protest in the last five years.

The Dar al Bishi synagogue

JTA — An abandoned and ancient synagogue in Libya is being turned into an Islamic religious center without permission, the World Organization of the Jews of Libya said. David Gerbi, a Libya-born Italian Jew, and member of the organization, which promotes the interests of people belonging to the Libyan Jewish Diaspora, wrote about the Sla Dar Bishi in Tripoli last week in a report published by Moked, a Jewish publication in Italy. 

 “Since there is now no Jew living in Tripoli and since the power is in the hands of the local authorities (read: militias) it was decided to violate our property and our history,” he wrote. “The plan clearly is to take advantage of the chaos and our absence.” 

 Gerbi said The World Organization of Jews in Libya “calls for this transformation to be stopped immediately and to leave the Tripoli synagogue intact with the hope that one day it will be restored.” Contacts on the ground provided Gerbi with pictures and videos over the past three months that have convinced him that the synagogue is being taken over illegally, he said.

David Gerbi managed to pray in the synagogue in 2011 before being thrown out of Libya

Friday, April 16, 2021

BBC Arabic downplays Jewish suffering in Iraq

Following the March 2021 passing of one of Baghdad’s very last Jews, 61-year-old Dr. Dhafer Fouad Eliyahu, BBC Arabic published a piece drawing on an Agence France Press report. But key passages referring to the persecution of the Jews were excised, thus giving a misleading picture. The BBC has form in downplaying Jewish suffering. CAMERA Arabic has published this analysis:

Dhafer Fouad Eliyahu, who died in March 2020, leaving three Jews in Iraq.

 Parts of the report were based on a March 28th AFP Arabic report on the same story. (A similar English version from March 27th is found here). Notably, the edits BBC Arabic made to the original AFP text consistently downplayed the suffering experienced by the local Jewish community, often at the hands of the Iraqi state, as well as surrounding Muslim majority. 

Below are the relevant AFP Arabic language passages (translation from Arabic is largely based on the corresponding AFP English report, with CAMERA Arabic’s alterations in cases the two disagree), with BBC Arabic’s omissions in italics and additions in bold:[One mostly prays at home”, a source knowledgeable of the city’s Jewish community, who also chose to remain anonymous, told AFP. Jews also suffer “when they deal with government bodies, they will not be well received once it is known they are Jewish”, he added.] 

Prayers for those followers of the Jewish religion who remained in Iraq are mostly held at home. According to Edwin Shuker, a Jew born in Iraq in 1955 and left it for Britain when he was 16, “there are only four Jews with Iraqi nationality who are descendant of Jewish parents” left in the country.,[not including the Kurdish region. ]

[In the early 1940s, the Jews were subject to a pogrom known as the “Farhud”, which left more than a hundred of them dead, properties looted and homes destroyed]. Throughout Iraqi history, Jews consisted a key part of the country’s diverse religious and social fabric. In 1948, Israel was created amid a war with an Arab military coalition that included Iraq. Subsequently, almost all of Iraq’s 150,000 Jews left the country, involuntarily at large. 

After Israel’s establishment, the number of Jews in the country exceeded 150,000. Then it began to decrease, as their identity cards were taken away and replaced by documents for Jewish people only that made them targets wherever they showed them, according to AFP. The majority then preferred to sign documents saying they would “voluntarily” leave and renounce their nationality and property. Still today, Shuker said, Iraqi law forbids the restoration of their citizenship. 

By 1951, 96% of the community had left. Almost all the rest were to follow when emigration rates resurged, after the 1969 public hangings of mostly Jewish merchants denounced as “Israeli spies”, together with the Ba’ath party rising to power by a coup.  [“Promotion of Zionism” is punishable by death and that legislation has remained unchanged. ] Decades of conflict and instability — with the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, the invasion of Kuwait, an international embargo, the 2003 American invasion and the ensuing violence — completed the erosion of the small community. By the end of 2009, only eight members remained, according to a US diplomatic cable. 

[Nevertheless,] violence against members of the community has been persisting. A jeweler threatened by militiamen who coveted his goldsmith’s work went into exile. In short, BBC Arabic saw fit to edit out the following information from a report about Iraqi Jews and their history: 
* The occurrence of the early 1940s” (June 1941) Farhud pogrom, which killed “more than a hundred” (179) of them. 
* That Iraq was party to the 1948 war with Israel. Iraqi Jews were forced to forgo their nationality and property in exchange of the authorities allowing them to flee the country. 
*That Jewish individuals are still being targeted in Iraq even in the passing decade, reportedly having suffered mistreatment at the hands of local authorities, as well as violence at the hands of militias. 
*That “promoting Zionism” is punishable by death in Iraq even today.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Albert Arie, Egypt's oldest Jew, dies in Cairo

The oldest Jew in Egypt has died in Cairo, just short of his 91st birthday. 

Albert Arie was born in 1930 into a middle class Jewish family. In spite of the mass exodus of 100,000 Jews, Arie turned down many opportunities to leave Egypt. 

He was a Communist and served time from the 1950s in five jails. There he rubbled shoulders with the top leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

 He appeared in the  2012 film by Amir Ramses, 'Jews of Egypt' , together with other Jewish communists. 

 Arie converted to Islam in the 1960s to marry a Muslim woman. His son, Sami Ibrahim, takes an active interest in the preservation of Egyptian-Jewish heritage.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Halimi killer won't stand trial: 'a devastating blow'

France’s highest court on Wednesday found that the killer of a Jewish woman was not criminally responsible and could not go on trial, provoking anger from anti-racism groups who say the verdict puts Jews at risk. The Simon Wiesenthal Centre called the verdict 'a devastating blow'. The Times of Israel reports: 

 Sarah Halimi, an Orthodox Jewish woman in her sixties, died in 2017 after being pushed out of the window of her Paris flat by neighbor Kobili Traore, who shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great” in Arabic). The verdict by the court means Traore will not face any trial.

 In its decision Wednesday, the Court of Cassation’s Supreme Court of Appeal upheld rulings by lower tribunals that Traore cannot stand trial because he was too high on marijuana to be criminally responsible for his actions. Traore, a heavy pot smoker, has been in psychiatric care since Halimi’s death. The court said he committed the killing after succumbing to a “delirious fit” and was thus not responsible for his actions. 

  The Simon Wiesenthal Centre's Director for International Relations, Dr. Shimon Samuels, stated: 

"After a harrowing three years of courtroom debate on the criminal responsibility of a murderer,....the family has been on edge until now. This is a devastating blow!"

The voluntary act of drug consumption constitutes wrongful behaviour which excludes irresponsibility. Moreover, since the consumption of cannabis is intended to obtain a modification of the state of consciousness, Kobili Traoré must have been aware of the risks involved in this consumption. Therefore, the consumption of narcotics is an aggravating circumstance and may not at the same time constitute grounds for exemption from criminal liability."

Furthermore, the antisemitic and Jihadi remarks made by the accused before and after the murder illustrate a remnant of conscience, that the latter "voluntarily" threw the victim from her balcony, and acted with "awareness of the fact that Madame Attal-Halimi was Jewish.”

Samuels stressed that, "the Supreme Court’s decision now closes the case definitively... and instead of allowing it to be re-examined by the Appeals Court on the basis of a more solid legal standpoint, it confirms that it is possible to deny justice for a murder aggravated by its antisemitic character. Furthermore, this decision denies closure for the family and potentially creates a precedent for all hate criminals to simply claim insanity or decide to smoke, snort or inject drugs or even get drunk before committing their crimes."

The forgotten (or ignored) tragedy of Tunisian Jewry

The Nazis occupied Tunisia for six months in 1942. They even imposed the yellow star in the town of Sfax. However, the impact of Nazism on Jews in North Africa has been forgotten, if it was ever known about, Haim Saadoun tells Israel Hayom:

Yakov Saadoun and his wife Yvet, Haim Saadoun's parents

Occupying Tunisia was a response to these two military events. The goal was to place a buffer between the British forces that moved from Libya towards Tunisia and the US forces that were also moving there, but from Algeria." 

 The SS men that arrived in the North African country together with the German army were in charge of dealing with the local Jewish population, as usually happened. SS Commander Walter Rauff, who specialized in the extermination of Jews in Eastern Europe in mobile gas chambers, was in charge. Rauff and his men implemented a policy somewhat similar to that in Europe and established a Jewish community council through which they controlled the Jews. 

 "The Jewish community had to provide the Germans with at least 5,000 young men between the ages of 17-50, who were used for labor in the German army," Saadoun said. 

 "The Germans needed the workforce for various reasons, and some Jews were being held in labor camps. Some of these camps were situated at the front line of the war, and Jews there lived in tough conditions and had to do hard manual labor. 

 "There were 24 camps. We do not know how many Jews were there, but it was thousands. The Germans did not apply an exterminating policy in Tunisia. There were isolated cases of Jews being killed, but it was not systematic. Many did, however, die in the labor camps," Saadoun explained. "The 18-year-old Jews were sent to labor camps at airports that had been hit by American bombs," Saadoun's father, Yakov, wrote in his journal. 

 Jews were also sent to work at "the port and the train station. They had to do manual labor and wear a yellow badge to stand out against the French and other nationalities, like Italians, Greeks, and Maltese, etc. Many workers died as a result of their work, for they were bombed by the Americans or the Brits," he wrote. 

 "The Germans caught my father, a blond 14-year-old boy with blue eyes, [characteristics] that saved him because they thought he was not Jewish based on how he looked," Saadoun said. "My father wrote many letters that I keep, but he did not talk about the wartime a lot. I originally did not understand why it took him so long [to share his experience during the war,] but it turns out that it was very difficult for him to speak of that time. It was a kind of post-trauma." 

 "In some cities in Tunisia, Jews would walk around with yellow badges, for example, in Sfax. Their property would get confiscated by the Germans, so were Jewish buildings and valuable personal belongings, and more. That was the first time Tunisian Jews had to face such great difficulties. They never experienced anything like that before. They did not know how long it would last. It was a horrible time for them," Saadoun explained. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Moroccan Israelis demand Oujda massacre be recognised

Descendants of families murdered in the 1948 riots in the northeastern Moroccan towns of Oujda and Jerada are set to ask the Israeli government to recognize those killed in the events as victims of terror. JNS News reports:

Jewish cemetery at Oujda

 Abraham Cohen, a descendant of a family that lost 17 members to the attacks, said such a move would “correct a historic injustice that cries out to heaven.” Four Jews were killed when the riots broke out in Oujda on June 7, three weeks after Israel declared independence. They then spread to the adjacent city of Jerada. 

Rioting there took the lives of 37 Jews, among them community Rabbi Moshe Cohen. Women and young children were among those killed. Dozens were wounded. Jewish stores were looted and homes were destroyed as Muslim women encouraged the acts, according to survivors’ testimony. 

 The riots were in response to the founding of the Jewish state and the underground activities of Moroccan Jews smuggling community members to the border with Algeria. 

Located just two kilometers (1.2 miles) from the Algerian border, Ojeda was a base for smuggling Jews. In what was an open secret at the time, members of the underground would hide and smuggle Jews, raise funds and falsify identification cards, angering Muslim locals who felt a sense of solidarity with the Arab population in Palestine.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Photos show Palestinian Mufti visiting Nazi camp

Coinciding with Yom Hashoah, the Kedem Auction House in Jerusalem has published three out of six photographs in which the wartime Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem inspects a Nazi labour camp together with foreign pro-Nazi leaders and Nazi government officials. Wolgang Schwanitz, author with Barry Rubin of Nazis, Islamists and the making of the modern Middle East , has managed to identify the individuals in the photos. Read his article in The Tablet (with thanks: Paul, Lily, Laurence):


 Report on i24 News

Mile Budak was the ideologue of Croatia’s ethno-radical, anti-Semitic Ustasha party, which ran a Nazi satellite state formed in 1941.

 On the left is Dr. Fritz Grobba, a former envoy to Kabul, Baghdad, and Jidda. He was a Protestant and not a member of the Nazi Party. He had been in charge of the Middle East in the German Foreign Office since early 1942. 

 Grobba and the two Arab leaders pictured had supported the anti-British coup in Iraq, which was followed by the al-Farhud pogrom in mid-1941. In it, 179 Jews were killed and many stores looted. Masterminds like al-Kailani and al-Husseini wanted to signal, there in a 2,500-year-old community, how Arabia’s Jews should be treated.

 In the second photo (above) is the politician Arthur Seyss-Inquart, who presided over Hitler’s Anschluss of Austria in 1938 and two years later served as commissioner for the occupied Netherlands. In the process, he oversaw the deportation of 100,000 Jews to death camps and the enslavement of half a million Dutch people, half of whom were forced to go to Germany as slave laborers. 

 After the Nuremberg trials in 1946, Seyss-Inquart ended up on the gallows for his crimes against humanity. Budak shared this fate a year earlier in Zagreb, where he was hanged as a war criminal for his policy of sending Jews, Serbs, Sinti, and Roma to death camps.

 On the other hand, both Arab leaders continued their anti-Jewish and Islamist policies unimpeded after the end of the war: al-Kailani until 1965 and al-Husseini until 1974. 

Outside of Israel, Nazism had hardly been delegitimized in the Middle East, and its adherents often came to power after the war ended. The Iraqi al-Kailani staged a coup in Baghdad but failed. He was sentenced to death, then exiled to Beirut. Al-Husseini also found himself in Beirut, where he was active in the World Islamic Congress, which he founded in Jerusalem in 1931 (he opened a Berlin branch a year later). With robust backing, he rose to become the first “Global Grand Mufti.” 

A mufti is a religious and legal authority who hands down rulings on everyday issues to believers in his jurisdiction. His late half-brother Kamil was the previous grand mufti of Jerusalem. Al-Husseini received the title in 1921, and in order to preserve and expand his transregional “Mideast-Europe” legacy after 1945, he chose as his representatives Said Ramadan for Europe, in Switzerland, and Yasser Arafat in the Middle East. 

The Mufti advised Arafat in 1968 to take over the Palestine Liberation Organization (which he headed until 2004) and “to liberate Palestine,” operating out of Gaza with Fatah troops.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

We need to acknowledge the Shoah's impact outside Europe

The Holocaust did impact  the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa, and it is a near certainty that they would have been targeted for extermination had the Nazis won WWII. However, argues Georgia Gilholy, the Arab states remained faithful to Nazism's legacy of violent antisemitism when they deported and dispossessed their Jewish populations after the war was over. Read her excellent Times of Israel blog (with thanks: Imre, Lily): 

Jews being marched off to labour camps in Tunisia during the Nazi occupation of 1942 (Photo: Yad Vashem)

Although it is clear that the direct occupation of German, French and Italian forces played a huge role in the atrocities against North Africa’s Jews, this does not account for the extensive attempts at collaboration between Muslim leaders and the Nazis against their alleged “common enemies” of Communism, Zionism and the West.

 Nor does it explain away the Nuremberg-worthy laws imposed on Jews after the collapse of Nazism, nor the fact that Mein Kampf remains a long-standing bestseller in Turkey, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

 Not to mention that Iraq’s pro-Nazi coup in 1941 occurred a full nine years after its independence from British adminstration. This coup culminated in the Farhud (lit. violent dispossession) pogrom of 1941, in which hundreds of Iraqi Jews were murdered, beaten and sexually assaulted thousands of miles away from the theatre of Nazi occupation and war — a tragedy that Israeli activist Hen Mazzig tirelessly works to raise awareness of, but one that was never mentioned in my over two decades in the British education system.

 In failing to acknowledge the experiences of communities outside Europe and the complicity of non-western actors in the Holocaust, we fail to fully understand what was one of the most devastating and defining moments of the twentieth century, whose implications for the Jewish and non-Jewish world endure today. Although cooperation does seem to be growing in the wake of initiatives such as the Abraham Accords, the prevalence of grassroots antisemitism across the Muslim world is arguably the greatest barrier to peaceful coexistence between Israel and its neighbours. 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Dubai Rabbi chants Shoah prayer in Arabic

With thanks Eli T, Niran)


A first in Dubai: Rabbi Elie Abadie, head of the Association of Gulf Jewish communities, recites a prayer for the victins of the Holocaust.

 The commemoration took place at the Museum of the Crossroads of Civilisations, Dubai. It demonstrates the newfound freedom with which Jews in the UAE flaunt their identity.

 Rabbi Abadie recited the prayer in Arabic. The Rabbi, who is also a physician, was born in Beirut and was forced to leave as a refugee. He has served  Sephardi congregations in Manhattan and was chairman of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) which advocates for the rights of MENA Jewish refugees.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Worrying rise in antisemitic attacks on Djerban Jews

 News has reached Point of No Return of a worrying spate of attacks on Jews on the island of Djerba, Tunisia, one of the last remaining functioning Jewish communities in the Arab world.

The annual pilgrimage to the Al-Ghriba synagogue on Djerba is scheduled at the end of April.

The attacks were publicised on the Facebook page Tunes et  les Assimilės Tunes but have not been widely reported in the press and media. Local sources have attempted to suppress or deny the antisemitic character of the attacks.

On 7 April, a Jewish girl aged 16 was attacked by two Muslim youths on the island's Jewish ghetto,  Hara Kbira. The youths seized her mobile phone. This was not a simply mugging, however, as the attackers attempted to suffocate and strangle the girl. She fought off her attackers 'like a lioness'. After two passers-by appeared, the youths were arrested.

The antisemitic nature of the incident was clear to Yakoub Peres, who posted a description on Facebook. However, his father-in-law Haim Bittan, chief rabbi of Tunisia, forced Peres to remove the post.

In a previous incident, a boy of ten, wearing a kippa and tsitsit was beaten up.

In an incident reminiscent of the Nazi era, a Jew was made to remove his trousers. He was tormented, spat upon and told 'to go back to his country'.  Yet the Djerba Jewish community, which today numbers around 1,000,  has existed for 2,000 years and predates the Arab invasion of Tunisia.

There was a fourth incident, but no details are available.

The Tunisian civil rights NGO Attalaki condemned the incidents as antisemitic. They have occurred in the run-up to the annual al-Ghriba pilgrimage at the end of this month.

This event was traditionally the highlight of the Djerba tourism calendar. This year, few visitors will be able to travel to Tunisia because of the pandemic.

The election of Kais Saied as President of Tunisia  is thought to have fostered a rising climate of antisemitism. The President himself has been accused of slandering Jews in an attempt to distract from the economic crisis.

Saied was elected two years ago on campaign promises that he would maintain no ties with Israel, that normalization with Israel constitutes treason, and that he would bar Israelis from visiting the country.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

In a first, Bahrain and Dubai commemorate the Shoah

For the first time, Bahrain held a Yom Hashoah commemoration in the synagogue in the capital Manama, led by Huda Nonoo, former Bahrain ambassador to the US. Both Bahrain and Dubai took part in the 'Yellow candle' project. A webinar is being held under the auspices of the Association of Gulf Jewish communities'. The Jerusalem Post reports:

A Holocaust memorial ceremony was held in the Manama synagogue, Bahrain

For the first time in history, the Jewish community in Bahrain marked Holocaust Memorial day in a virtual ceremony initiated by “The House Of Ten Commandments.” 

Only a few months after the signing of the Abraham Accords, of which Bahrain was one of the signatories, a memorable ceremony was held in a Jewish community synagogue that was recently renovated as part of an initiative by the King.

 The ceremony was led by Ambassador Houda Nono, a member of a Jewish family who previously served as Bahrain's ambassador to the United States.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

How refugees from Nazism were saved in Egypt

 Tonight is the start of Yom Hashoah,  the Holocaust Memorial Day marked by Israel and Jews around the world on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. It is a fitting occasion to focus on how fugitives from Nazism found refuge in parts of the Muslim world.

Professor Ada Aharoni in her book The Woman in White: an extraordinary life documents the exploits of Thea Woolf, a German-Jewish nurse who spent working 12 years at the Jewish Hospital in Alexandria, Egypt. Thea lost all family members who stayed behind in Germany.

The Jewish community of Egypt set up a Rescue Committee for Jews from the Holocaust in the 1930s and generously helped refugees with both medical care and money. Until June 1940,  a delegation from the Jewish hospital in Alexandria visited ships docking at Port Said. They were carrying Jewish refugees bound for Shanghai, one of the few destinations open to fleeing Jews. The committee obtained from the Egyptian authorities permission  to disembark the sick. 

Thea Woolf also tells the story of how the hospital took under its wing Karl, a fugitive dancer from eastern Europe whose leg had to be amputated after a serious illness. The hospital set Karl up in an alternative career running a student boarding house.

In 1939, an Egyptian policeman arrived at the Jewish hospital in Alexandria. He had been sent to ask for help by an anxious German sailor on board a ship from Hamburg carrying 13 Jews seeking a haven from persecution in a Mediterranean port. But every time the ship docked, the Nazi captain locked the Jews in their cabins.

The sailor, Thea and the hospital director, Dr Katz, concocted a plan. If an epidemic broke out on a ship, the captain was obliged to tell the health authorities and allow a doctor on board. The doctor distributed sleeping pills to the 13 Jews. All fell into a deep coma and were taken into the Jewish hospital in Alexandria; the Nazi captain had no choice but to continue on his journey without them. The Jews took two months to recover from a coma and lung infections. They asked to go to Palestine and were taken to Port Said prison.

As the British would not allow Jews entry into Palestine, Thea and her colleagues had to think of another plan.  A fishing vessel carrying the Jewish refugees was hired to sail outside Egyptian waters, escorted by the hospital team on a police boat. Back in Alexandria, Thea heard nothing for a week, until she received the secret code, 'your aunt has arrived'.  But the refugees almost never made it. Off the Jaffa coast, a British coastal patrol had intercepted the fishing vessel. The refugees piled into a cutter, and despite rough seas, managed to row ashore.

It is important to note, Ada Aharoni reminds us,  that none of the refugees from Nazism could have been saved without the assistance of the Egyptian authorities and acts of compassion by individual Egyptian Muslims like the kindly policeman. 

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Loyalty of last Yemen Jews repaid with expulsion

Rabbi Yahya Youssef went to extraordinary lengths to show loyalty to  Muslim Yemen, but was still expelled by the Houthi Islamists. Lyn Julius blogs in The Times of Israel: 

“There is no place like Yemen. Not in America, not in Israel. It’s just not the same. When the people of Yemen say, “We don’t want a single Jew here,” I will go, but until that day, Yemen is my home and that is where I will stay.” 

 Rabbi Yahya Youssef Musa Marhabi uttered those words in 2010. That fateful day came in late March 2021 for him and 12 other Jews: they were driven out by the Houthi Iranian-backed Islamists who have taken control of the north of the country and whose slogan is “Convert or die.” 

The rabbi’s departure signals the end of a 3,000-year-old community. Just six Jews remain in war-torn Yemen: an old woman, her crazed brother and three others in Amram province. (One man, Levi Salem Marhabi, is illegally in jail.) Some reports say that the last Jews agreed to leave as a condition of Levi’s release, but there is no guarantee that he will be freed. 

 The 13, from the Zindani, Habib, and Marhabi families, have arrived in Egypt where they will find no more Jews than now remain in Yemen. The group refused an offer to go to Israel by way of the port city of Aden, which is controlled by the Southern Transitional Council, supported by the United Arab Emirates. Some people are exasperated with the Yemeni Jews’ obstinacy, for it is not as if they did not have multiple opportunities to leave. 

 The group, which had already been forced out of their homes in the north of Yemen and their property stolen, would have preferred to resettle in the UAE, which has taken in three Jewish families from Yemen over the last year, but this was impossible for unspecified reasons. It is thought that some among the 13 did want to go to Israel, but “an influential member” of the group was against the idea. 

 I would wager that the “influential member” was Rabbi Yahya Youssef. He has heard reports of scantily-clad women in Israel and fears that Yemenite Jews will not be able to cling to their traditional, pious way of life.

 The scholar SD Goiten once described Yemen’s Jews as the most Arab and Jewish of Jews. Rabbi Yahya has insisted that he is Arab before he is Jewish. He has bent over backward to show his willingness to integrate into Muslim Yemen. He has tried to fight for Jews to have seats in Parliament, said that Jewish children should go to Muslim schools, and even said he believed in Muhammad as much as Moses.

 There is a name for this kind of behavior: Stockholm syndrome, or to use a word familiar to the Jewish-Muslim lexicon, dhimmi syndrome. Dhimmi describes not only the subjugated status of Jews and Christians under Islam, but a survival strategy employing flattery and appeasement.

 Beleaguered Jews in Arab or Muslim countries have long expressed their hostility to Israel and loyalty to their countries of birth. Where has it got them in the long run? A one-way ticket out of the country. There are no communities left in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Libya or Algeria. In Iraq, a Jew died recently, bringing the number down to three. 

 It is heartening that countries like the United Arab Emirates and Morocco have chosen a different path, “normalizing” with Israel and encouraging the growth of local Jewish communities. But where are the expressions of consternation, where are the protests, the petitions, the governments and NGOs calling out those Muslim countries which have ethnically cleansed their Jews? The silence is deafening. 

The last Jew of Afghanistan is leaving for Israel

The writing seemed to have been on the wall - or rather off the wall -  in 2019, when  vandals tore up Zabulon Simantov's posters. He is going  to Israel out of fear of a return of the Taliban in Afghanistan. JTA report by Gabriel Friedman:  

Zebulon Simantov says his morning prayers

(JTA) — The man who has been known as the last Jew in Afghanistan for well over a decade is leaving for Israel, fearing that the U.S. military’s promise to leave the country will leave a vacuum to be filled with radical groups such as the Taliban. 

 “I will watch on TV in Israel to find out what will happen in Afghanistan,” Zabulon Simantov told Arab News on Sunday. 

 Simantov, 61, said he will leave after this year’s High Holidays season in the fall. His wife, a Jew from Tajikistan, and their two daughters have lived in Israel since 1998. 

But Simantov has stayed in his native Afghanistan to tend to its lone synagogue, located in the capital Kabul, through decades of violence and political turmoil, including a period of Taliban rule and the country’s war with the U.S. 

 “I managed to protect the synagogue of Kabul like a lion of Jews here,” he said to Arab News. 

Monday, April 05, 2021

New Cairo museum boasts Torah scrolls among the mummies

Jews from Egypt were surprised to discover that a newly-opened museum in old Cairo boasts two Torah scrolls  in a display case,  cheek-by-jowl with antiquities from ancient Egypt and the mummies of long-dead Pharaohs. 

With much fanfare, the sarcophagi of 18 mummified Pharaohs and four ancient Egyptian queens were paraded in nitrogen capsules through the streets from Cairo's Tahrir square to their new home in the Museum of Egyptian Civilisation three miles away in Fustat, prior to its official opening on 3 April. 

 Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi attended the inauguration together with minister of Anitiquities, Khaled al-Fani. Also in attendance was Audrey Azoulay, director-general of UNESCO since 2016 and daughter of Andre Azoulay, the King of Morocco's Jewish adviser. 

The Torah scrolls on display bear the symbol of the date palm. The date palm  is typically to be found on Torah scrolls in 20th century Cairo synagogues and is richly embroidered on a red or blue velvet case. The scrolls often bear a plaque indicating the name of the donor. 

 The provenance of the two scrolls cannot be identified. They may come from a storehouse run by the Egyptian ministry of Antiquities. Alternatively, they  may have been part of a stash of Judaica seized in 2014 which the Egyptian authorities claim was being smuggled out of the country. 

 While many Egyptian Jews applaud the presence of the Torah scrolls in an Egyptian museum as evidence of centuries of Jewish presence in the country, others are upset.  Rabbi Alouf of the Ahava ve'Avda Egyptian synagogue in Brooklyn, USA sent a message to  Magda Haroun, who heads the tiny Jewish community of Cairo, stating that the public display of the Torah scrolls was a Hiloul Hakodesh - a desecration of that which is holy.

  In a letter sent to to Haroun in 2013, the Historical Society of Jews from Egypt,  chaired by Rabbi Shimon Alouf, had written that any comparison with the artefacts of ancient Egypt is false. Torah scrolls, artefacts, and prayer books can be used by living Jews and do not belong in museums, the letter argues. 

The donor who gifted the scroll to a particular synagogue in memory of a departed relative might have intended to have his or her name preserved within a living Jewish community.

A 2017 report by the International Nebi Daniel Association, which aims to preserve Jewish heritage in Egypt,  identified 19 scrolls from Cairo synagogues that could be repaired. Together with the American Jewish Committee, Nebi Daniel recommended that the 19 scrolls be given on long-term loan to Jewish communities across the world. This would give them a new lease of life and 'contribute 'to underline the tolerant image of an Egypt respectlful of all religions'. 

However, the Egyptian government considers that any Torah scroll more than 100 years old is an antiquity and part of Egypt's national heritage. This definition also extends to synagogues.

When the Nebi Daniel synagogue in Alexandria was restored  at a cost of four million dollars, minister Khaled el-Fani shocked diaspora Jews from Egypt when he announced to the media that the synagogue was now an Egyptian-Jewish heritage site similar to Pharaonic, Coptic and Islamic heritage sites. Although the synagogue rang out to the prayers of Egyptian Jews at their February 2021 dedication, it is clear that this was their swansong.

Levana Zamir of the Association of Jews from Egypt in Israel says that it is preferable for Egypt's synagogues to be considered heritage sites than 'community centres' for concerts and other cultural activities. 


Audrey Azoulay walks past the case containing two Torah scrolls, accompanied by President el-Sisi and (right) Khaled al-Fani

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Morocco and Israel to celebrate first joint Mimouna

This year, hard on the heels of the signing of the Abraham Accords between Israel and Morocco, the Mimouna festival, which marks the end of Passover, will be extra-special in its celebration of Jewish-Muslim good neighbourliness. The Israeli and Moroccan embassies in Washington are hosting the first-ever joint Mimouna celebration in partnership with Sephardic Heritage International in Washington (SHIN-DC) and the Smithsonian Institution. The Jerusalem Post reports:

Israel's President Reuven Rivlin at a Mimouna celebration in 2018 (Photo: Jerusalem Post)

The holiday of Mimouna is a tradition among many North African Jewish communities, and is especially associated with Moroccan Jewry. 

Held the day after Passover, the holiday marks the return to being able to eat leavened bread after it was forbidden throughout the weeklong holiday. “Occurring just before Holocaust Remembrance Day, Mimouna is a festival of good neighbors that encapsulates the spirit of the normalization of the Morocco-Israel relationship, as well as the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and other neighbors under the Abraham Accords,” Sephardic Heritage International director Afraim Katzir said in a statement.

 “Mimouna not only marks the end of Passover, but is inspired by the Moroccan Jewish and interfaith narratives of unity, commemoration, goodwill and neighborliness," the statement said. "During Mimouna, Jewish families would open up their homes to each other and to non-Jews, who brought the leavened foods needed for a neighborly celebration.” 

The celebration will also feature musical performances by Moroccan national and Washington resident Ismail Bouzidoune, who will play Gnawa religious music, and Moroccan-Israeli Mor Karbasi, who will play Andalusi music, on which flamenco is based. 

The ceremony will be held live over Zoom on April 5, the day Mimouna is held outside of Israel. Registry for the event is free of charge, and can be done through the SHIN-DC website.

For Mufleta recipe click here

Friday, April 02, 2021

Rabbis tend to Passover needs in 22 Muslims lands

 Passover is being openly celebrated in Bahrain and in the Gulf countries, where over 100 guests attended a seder in Dubai. Meanwhile, The Jerusalem Post reports, rabbis in the West have been tending to the religious needs of Jews in Muslim countries:

Matza production in Tehran

In Tehran, the matzah factory, which begins operating approximately three weeks before Passover begins, has been churning out several tons of machine-made matzah for the local community, overseen by Chief Rabbi of Tehran Rabbi Yehuda Gerami. There are approximately 12,000 Jews in Iran, mostly in Tehran but with communities also in Shiraz, Isfahan and beyond. In addition to the locally made matzah, some 250 kg. of “shmura matzah,” produced with greater stringency and by a more difficult process than regular matza, often used specifically on seder night, was imported into Iran from Azerbaijan. 

And the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States (ARIS), an association of rabbis serving Jewish communities in 14 Muslim-majority countries, has been busy sending matzah to Jews in some of the most politically perilous places in the world, including Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and Lebanon. 

In addition, the organization has sent several thousand seder boxes, including seder night essentials, to Jewish communities ahead of Passover, across the Muslim world, including Turkey, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Nigeria, and beyond. 

 In Uzbekistan, Rabbi Shlomo Babaev from the capital city of Tashkent, prepared 560 bottles of wine for use at the seder and over Passover, and slaughtered 120 chickens brought to him by members of the Jewish community for consumption over the holiday. 

“It is heartwarming to see how rabbis in Muslim countries are helping each other in providing logistics and assistance in transportation of matzah, to assure that every Jew is able to celebrate the holiday,” said chairman of the alliance Rabbi Mendy Chitrik. 

“This year, the rabbis at the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States have provided Matzah and Pesach amenities to 14 ARIS member countries and to individuals in eight additional Muslim countries. The assistance of our governments in assuring that we can have our Passover religious needs cannot be overestimated.

” On the Arabian peninsula, the newly established Association of Gulf Jewish Communities imported some 300 kg. of matzot for local communities in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and beyond. There are around 1,200 Jews living in the Gulf countries, the overwhelming majority of whom are expats from around the world but they also include 50 Jews in a community dating back some 140 years in Bahrain.

 The Bahraini Jewish community also produced some locally made matzah as well.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

Kitniyot ban may be on the wane

For centuries, Ashkenazi Jews have observed a ban on kitniyot -  eating lentils, peas, beans, rice and other foods at  Passover. The rabbis have reasoned that they must not bee eaten because they swell in cooking, and therefore resemble bread baked with yeast. Jeremy Sharon writing in the Jerusalem Post finds that this custom, never observed by Sephardim, is on the wane in Israel:

Perhaps because of the pushback against the custom, observance of it has actually waned significantly. According to research published by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) in 2019, only 53% of Ashkenazi Jews in Israel who observe kashrut abide the kitniyot ban. 

The study found that even a majority of the conservative wing of the religious-Zionist sector, of which Lior is a leader, do not refrain from eating kitniyot on Passover. 

The only sector where it is still observed in the majority, some 71%, is among the ultra-Orthodox haredim.

 Senior JPPI researcher Shmuel Rosner said at the time that, outside of the ultra-Orthodox community, the custom could die out within one or two more generations.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Expelled Yemeni Jews arrive in Cairo

Expelled by the Iranian-backed Houthis,  13 Jews of Yemen departed for Cairo, Egypt, according to the Times of Israel. This leaves just six Jews in Yemen, including the jailed  Levi Salem Marhabi. The press has speculated that the Jews consented to leave as part of a deal to free Marhabi, but there is no guarantee that he will be released. See my comment below:

The 13 Jews received an offer to go to Israel by way of the port city of Aden, which is controlled by the United Arab Emirates’ proxy in the war-torn country, the Southern Transitional Council. But they refused.

 “They reached an agreement with the Houthi leadership to go to Cairo. They wanted at first to go to the United Arab Emirates, but that proved impossible, so they went to Cairo. 

In Cairo, they have family there,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. 

 Several Yemeni Jewish families have been resettled in the Emirates in recent months. The families were given what the official termed “very good financial conditions,” including housing units.

According to the Jerusalem Post:

The three families arrived in Egypt and are considering whether to immigrate to the UAE or make aliyah to Israel, according to KAN news. Some of the family members are reportedly interested in moving to Israel, but one of the family members is reportedly opposed.

According to KAN news, six Jews remained behind in Yemen, including Marhabi who is still imprisoned, despite the Asharq Al-Awsat report that he would be released if the families left. His conditions in prison have reportedly been improved since the families agreed to leave.

My comment: The departure of the 13 Jews marks the end of the 3,000-year-old community. There are six Jews left, including the jailed Marhabi: an old woman, her crazed brother and three others in Amram province.  (It is estimated that there are also  Jewish women married to Muslims). For reasons unspecified, the thirteen were not able to move to the UAE, which took in three Jewish families from Yemen in recent months. It is highly unlikely that the Yemenite Jews would have family in Egypt, where the community consists of six elderly ladies, all widows or married to Christians or Muslims. The newcomers will not find a Jewish community in Egypt to speak of. It is likely that the 'influential  member' opposed to their aliya to Israel is Rabbi Yahya Youssef, who headed the group of Jews living in a government compound in Sana'a before the Houthis took control of the city.  Yahya unsuccessfully fought for Jewish rights in Yemen.

Rabbi Yahya Youssef

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Tobie Nathan captures mysticism of Cairo Jewish quarter

Tobie Nathan is the author of a dozen novels and numerous psychoanalytic studies. Born to a Jewish family in Cairo in 1948, Nathan had to flee his country with his family in 1957. Educated in France, Nathan is a pioneering practitioner of ethno-psychiatry: 

Alexandria is not Egypt', says Tobie Nathan. " It's next to Egypt.' 

What does Nathan mean? It is to say that Alexandria in the 20th century was home to a cosmopolitan mix of nationalities, many of them recent arrivals, drawn by the port city's thriving commercial life.

The real Egypt is to be found in Cairo, where Nathan was born. Indeed he comes from a long line of native Jews. The family house was in Haret El-Yahud, the Jewish quarter. The quarter had a gate which the Jews themselves locked in order to protect themselves. In fact the gate to the quarter (now removed) was also the gate to the large Nathan family house.

The Nathans were stateless, as were 40 percent of Jews. Only some five percent held Egyptian nationality, a privileged class with connections to the elite. 

Nathan  is the author of several books. The most recent is a novel, 'La Societé des Belles Personnes'. It is a tale of revenge based on real events. (See Akadem Interview  in  French with thanks: Viviane).

The book is the sequel to 'A Land like You'. Here is an extract from a review by Jean Naggar  for the Jewish Book Council: 

 In his latest novel, A Land Like You (short-listed for the Prix Goncourt in 2015),  Tobie Nathan has written a beautiful and immersive novel, plunging readers headlong into Egypt’s unique history and extraordinary variety of cultures. Nathan interweaves the worlds of the voluble Jews from Haret el Yahud—the Cairo Jewish Quarter — with those of the Muslims of Bab El Zuweyla, along with the complex international communities that connect and divide them. 

Propelled forward by vivid, unforgettable characters, the layers of political, historic, and mystical Egypt tumble together into a rich mosaic, encompassing a period of great change from 1918 to the 1950s. Within the crowded Haret El Yahud, Esther, an orphaned child, suffers a traumatic accident that reshapes her future. The trauma leaves Esther’s relatives, and the larger community, convinced she is possessed by alien spirits and demons.

 Beautiful, wild, and ungovernable, Esther clearly marches to the beat of her own drum. Her intimacy with unseen forces commands consternation and respect, distinguishing her in the often claustrophobic community of Jews who inhabit the twisted paths and teeming dwellings of the Haret El Yahud. For Jews and Arabs alike, religious mysticism and close contact with the spirit world imbues their daily lives with wonder and drama.

 Urged on by a multitude of anxious relatives, Esther marries at fourteen, and finds deep love and happiness with Motty, an older man, blind from birth. Sadly, the love between them produces no child in seven years of marriage. Her quest for motherhood eventually results in a son, Zohar, but she has no milk with which to feed him, so she seeks out a woman in the Muslim quarter who has recently given birth to a daugher, Masreya.

Read review in full

Monday, March 29, 2021

Saudi report: last Yemenite Jews are to be expelled (updated)

Update: The American Sephardi Federation has independently verified the report, and confirms that the Iranian-backed Houthis have indeed made refugees of 13 Yemenite Jews. There is no guarantee that Levi Salem Marhabi should be released from jail as a quid pro quo. Six other Jews remain in the country, according to the ASF.

According to a Saudi press report, the last remaining Jews in Yemen are to be expelled and are waiting for the UN refugee agency to find them a country other than Israel or the US which would grant them asylum. Last summer, a Jewish family arrived in Abu Dhabi from Amran province in Yemen and two more families followed in January 2021. The 13 Jews from three families to be expelled would have been living in a Sana'a compound, originally under government protection but at the mercy of the Iranian-backed Houthis since their takeover of the capital in 2014. The departure of the 13  is a condition for the release from jail of  Levi Salem Marhabi, following pressure from the US. The Jerusalem Post reports:

Some of the Jews living in the Sana'a compound

The last three Jewish families in Yemen were deported by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, leaving only four elderly Jews in the country, after heavy pressure by the Houthis, the London-based Saudi daily Asharq Al-Awsat reported over the weekend. 

The families, totalling 13 people, told Asharq Al-Awsat that they were now searching for a new home. The families had resisted leaving their home, but finally agreed to leave after the Houthis made their departure a condition for the release of Levi Salem Marhabi, a Jew who was captured by the Houthis about six years ago. 

 “They gave us a choice between staying in the midst of harassment and keeping Salem a prisoner or leaving and having him released,” one of the deported Jews told Asharq Al-Awsat. "History will remember us as the last of Yemeni Jews who were still clinging to their homeland until the last moment." 

 Marhabi was arrested by the Houthis for helping a Yemeni Jewish family move an old Torah scroll out of the country. Despite a court ruling that he was innocent and should be released, he was reportedly held as a bargaining chip, according to the daily. Similar reports have been denied as false in the past.

 In July of last year, Iranian-backed Houthis were said to be rounding up Yemeni Jews and pressuring them to leave, according to Egyptian reports. 

The Israeli Foreign Ministry denied the reports, as did Yemeni and international sources.