Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tunisian Jew stabbed on Djerba

 With thanks: Ahuva

The Al-Griba synagogue, Djerba, a main focus for the Tunisian tourist industry. 

A Tunisian Jew has been treated in hospital on the Tunisian island of Djerba after being stabbed.

The Israeli medium, quoting the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior, reports that the man's assailant has been arrested. According to the preliminary investigation, 'there is no political or religious motive'.

Lassad Tounsi, 38, attacked Maurice El-Bchiri, a merchant from the main area of Jewish settlement, the Hara Kbira, with a blunt tool, and stabbed him in several places.

Sources have described Tounsi as a 'religious extremist'.

The incident has not yet been confirmed or widely reported.

Djerba is an important centre for the Tunisian tourist industry. In the run-up to the yearly Lag Ba'Omer pilgrimage to the Al-Ghriba synagogue, which would attract thousands of Jewish tourists in a few weeks' time, the authorities would be understandably anxious to play down any antisemitic motive.

Read report in full

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Henna traditions and Hametz

 Jewish singers in the 1930s, Tissint, Morocco

Did you know Henna dye is associated with Passover, although Jews did consider it Hametz (leaven, and therefore Henna preparation was forbidden during the week-long holiday)? Henna is also associated with the exuberance of the Song of Songs, which is read at this time of year. Fascinating post at Eshkol Hakofer (with thanks: Michelle) :

Since henna was a symbol of celebration, it’s not surprising that it would make an appearance on Passover. One fascinating account comes from a British soldier known only as “Colonel Scott,” who had joined the forces of the great Algerian leader ‘Abd al-Qadir (or Abd-el-Kader, as Scott spells it).

On April 5, 1841, Scott was staying in the town of Taza in the Highlands of Morocco, which happened to be the day before Passover.

He writes: “The Jews have been extremely busy the last few days, white-washing their houses, and making preparations for the celebration of the feast of the passover, which commences to-morrow” (1842, pg. 53).

 Sounds about right!

 "He continues (1842, pp. 53-54):

The Jewesses here not only dye their nails, but also their hands for this festival. Their manner of performing this operation is as follows; having made a paste of henna as thick as dough, they cover their hands with it to the thickness of a penny piece, they then have them bandaged up for the night; in the morning the paste being rubbed off, their hands are left a beautiful red; and so firmly does the dye take, that it remains on for eight or ten days, without any occasion for renewing the operation; at the expiration of the eight days, which time the feast lasts, they wash their hands and return to their usual occupations. 

"Passover is a week-long holiday, and so the henna was the perfect marker of this special time. Of course, he was mistaken if he thought that they washed their hands at the end of the week to remove the henna. But nonetheless it is an interesting account, and I imagine it must have been very visually striking.

 A similar tradition was found among the Jewish communities of Kurdistan. Brauer (whom we met previously here) briefly notes (1947, pg. 232): “women dye their hair and hands with henna before the holiday, since henna is imagined to be hametz.

 Hametz, literally ‘leaven,’ refers to the foods forbidden on Passover: anything made of grain (wheat, rye, spelt, barley, or oats) that has been or could have been fermented (i.e., not baked immediately into matza).

It should be obvious, then, that henna is not hametz, since it is not made of grain. However, apparently the women saw too much similarity between the process of mixing henna and letting it sit to allow the dye to release, and the process of kneading bread dough and letting it rise.

When describing how they mixed henna, Brauer explains (1947, pg. 99): “the women knead the henna in a tashta [shallow metal bowl], moistening it with warm water and adding hamirit hinna [the henna yeast], which is made of smokeh [sumac]. The henna needs to ferment [lehithametz] like bread dough, until the evening.”

Kurdish Jewish woman making bread, Israel, 1950s.

"The sumac, which is an acidic spice, would have helped the henna dye release, and they understood it to act as a kind of fermentation, calling it hamirit hinna [the yeast of the henna]. Thus it makes perfect sense why they would consider henna to be hametz!

This also might explain why I’ve never found any reference to henna celebrations for Mimouna, the Moroccan Jewish festival at the end of Passover. While it would fit in perfectly, if henna was cleaned out at the beginning of the holiday and people had dyed their hands already, then I understand why people wouldn’t have henna at the Mimouna.  

Read post in full

Monday, April 14, 2014

Celebrating the First Exodus

The way we were: Upmarket Seder in Morocco

It's that time again: Passover, the festival of the liberation of the Children of Israel from bondage in Egypt, is here. Tonight, millions will sit down to a ritual Seder and eat symbolic foods to remember the Biblical Exodus.

Courtesy of the Moroccan-Jewish site Dafina, Point of No Return brings you a rendering by Rav Avraham Yossef Ouziel in  Judeo-Arabic of the Haggadah, the story of Passover.

Wishing all those who are celebrating Passover HAG SAMEAH and TISKU LESHANIM RABOT. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

What happens now to Syria's Jewish past?

 Gunmen inside the shell of Aleppo's Great Synagogue

 How should the past in Arab states be maintained once the Jews have gone? asks Adam Blitz in Haaretz.  It's a good question. Before the Syrian civil war broke out and Jewish sites became a propaganda football tossed between the regime and the rebels, the Damascus Jewish quarter and synagogues were part of a restoration programme.  Forgive my cynicism, dear reader, but the government's main motive was not 'cooperation' or the preservation of Jewish memory, but lucrative western tourism. 
Immediately before the onset of the Syrian civil war two years ago, there were only a handful of Jews left in Damascus. But many synagogues – over a dozen – were still standing, a testament to a once-diverse community composed of Syrian Jews of ancient local lineage, as well as 'recent' Jews who immigrated from Iberia and Italy from the 16th century onwards. The Al-Raqay synagogue (Iraqi) and the Franji synagogue (Senores Francos, a reference to Italian Jews of the 16th century) were familiar fixtures in the communal landscape.

Damascus' traditional Jewish Quarter, Harat Al Yahud, in the south-east of the Old City, remained derelict and largely abandoned for many years after its Jewish inhabitants left, especially after Syrian independence and the UN partition of Palestine vote in 1947, which triggered pogroms against Jews in Aleppo and Damascus.

Harat Al Yahud's demise should be seen in the broader context of a city experiencing mass Jewish emigration, negative population growth, and a lack of social policy to address urban decay. In a country where nearly 90% of the housing is owner-occupied, the task of reviving any of the residential quarters of the Old City on a private basis remained a challenge. Assad's regime attempted to re-house Palestinian refugees in and amongst the remaining Jewish population, and offered the refugees subsidized rents, but it was not until a decade ago that Harat-Al Yahud would be regenerated.

Change came in 2004 when the Syrian sculptor Mustafa Ali bought the Bukhais ancestral home. The family of silk traders had left more than fifteen years prior. By 2005 their residence had been restored to its former glory and transformed into an art gallery. In the course of time, forty additional artists followed Ali’s lead and pitched camp in the Jewish Quarter.

Concurrent with the rise of an artists’ colony was a government-sponsored program to restore the Old City’s synagogues. This interest in minority affairs was spurred by the secularist ideology of the Assad regime which, somewhat instrumentally, voiced frequent affirmations of a multi-ethnic Syria.

Despite this gesture, there still remained no scientific attempt to survey the synagogues (before the rapid restoration program) or to catalog their holdings. The last attempt to grapple seriously with the Jewish record in Damascus was in 1995, when the photo-journalist Robert Lyons produced a survey for the World Monument Fund’s Jewish Heritage Program, which managed to cover 75% of the extant sites.

Still the question persists: How should the past be maintained once the Jews have gone? There have been examples of cooperation between Middle East authorities and their expatriate Jewish communities: The Beiruti community in France engaged with the Lebanese government and secured the eventual restoration of the Magen Avraham Synagogue. There are other examples of Iraqi Jewish artifacts, once illegally confiscated by the Iraqi authorities, that are now on loan to institutions in the U.S. (The expatriate Iraqi-Jewish community is NOT cooperating in this case. These artifacts ended up in the US for restoration by happenstance - if they had not been saved by an American Jew, the authorities would certainly have allowed them to rot in Iraq - ed)   

Then there are examples of where cooperation has soured. The Iraqis are now demanding the return of the Jewish archive. In Egypt, the remaining Jews have voiced criticism of the state’s involvement in the handling of their heritage sites – while this tiny community’s monuments have received state protection from potential Islamist violence.

I myself have pleaded that Jewish artifacts in Damascus’ synagogues should fall under the control of Syria's Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums. I have stressed the diligence of Dr. Abdulkarim, its director, and this has triggered discussions about the future of Jewish sites in both the free press as well as – surprisingly - Hezbollah's Al Manar, which accused the "Zionist intelligence agency", in coordination with al-Qaida, of stealing treasures from the Jobar synagogue via a commando unit to made up of combatants "of Arab origins: Iraqi, Moroccan and Lebanese, and were dressed in Islamist jihadists’ uniforms."

Syria's synagogues are now a battlefield for misinformation and half-truths by both the Assad regime and its opponents, with YouTube videos purporting to show plundered synagogues and blame thrown at both sides.  I simply do not believe that in the case of the Jobar synagogue the destruction has been as total as that put forward by these heavily edited and politically-engaged 'reports'. It is clear that several weeks ago the synagogue’s exterior was shelled, but it seems equally clear that the resulting press coverage has not differentiated between the exterior and the prayer hall across the courtyard.

What I do know is that the most recent videos in this media onslaught are composite pieces of propaganda. At a time when coverage of Syria’s war is mediated by soldiers, outsiders and the protégés of various warring factions, the free press should not be so quick to respond to online claims made by interested parties.

This virtual world often consists of hearsay and at other times mere subterfuge; the Syrian reciprocal blame game operates for every site that is reported damaged, and terms like "burned" or "destroyed" are standard phrases on both sides.  To the long list of the casualties of this most brutal war, it's clear that the first victim, as always, is the truth.

Read article in full 

Adam Blitz will be giving a talk in London on Syria's Jewish heritage for Harif on 11 June

Friday, April 11, 2014

Yemen positive press not that surprising

 Yemenites in Israel pictured with President Peres (photo: Yemen media)

Over at Elder of Ziyon, that most venerable blogger of bloggers has been marvelling at the fact that two articles in the Yemen press about Yemenite Jews have not attempted to whitewash their sometimes uncomfortable history.

It's not the first time that such sympathetic pieces have appeared. This one  published in June 2013 was remarkable for pulling no punches.

Elder of Ziyon reckons that these latest articles mark a significant change for the better. I would venture to suggest that much of the antisemitism in Yemen originated among the Shi'as of the north, and these are the same warring tribes causing the government trouble today. So there is no incentive for opinion-formers and official mouthpieces to gloss over the historical facts.

Another reason is that human rights and women's groups in Yemen are active on behalf of the 100 or so remaining Jews because they understand that Jewish rights are the thin end of the wedge for society at large.

A further reason could be the large numbers of converts to Islam of Jewish origin.

Finally,  the articles identified by EoZ cannot resist dredging up the usual Israel-bashing allegations, charging that the Zionist state discriminated against its Yemenite Jews, and restating the story of the Yemenite children who were abducted or mysteriously disappeared when their families arrived in Israel. So they are not as positive as all that.

The discrimination and abductions did happen, but they have been exaggerated for political ends. What was once considered acceptable is today termed 'abuse' or 'politically incorrect'.

Yemen Press article (translation by Google)

Turkish expulsion could have been worse

 Jamal Pasha, Ottoman military governor of Syria, on the shores of the Dead Sea (Wikimedia)

Why during the First World War did the Ottoman Turks commit genocide against the Armenians, but spared the Jews ? This article in the Armenian news medium Asbarez  says that the answer, according to a book by Israeli Professor Yair  Auron, amounts to 'the Jewish lobby'. This is not to underestimate the great suffering endured by non-Ottoman Jews deported north from Palestine on the eve of Passover 1917: some 1, 500 Jewish deportees are estimated to have died.

Armenians and Jews, as minorities in the Ottoman Empire, were convenient scapegoats for the whims of ruthless Turkish leaders. Interestingly, the Young Turks used the same arguments for deporting both Armenians and Jews. The Turks had accused Armenians for cooperating with the advancing Russian Army, while similarly blaming Jews for cooperating with British forces invading Ottoman Palestine. Furthermore, Jews were accused of planning to establish their own homeland in Palestine, just as Armenians were allegedly establishing theirs in Eastern Turkey. In yet another parallel, Jamal Pasha, one of the members of the Young Turk triumvirate, had cynically commented that he was “expelling the Jews for their own good,” just as Armenians were forcefully removed “away from the war zone” for their own safety!

In 1914, when Turkey entered World War I on the German side and against the Allied Powers (England, Russia, and France), Palestine became a theater of war. Turkish authorities imposed a war tax on the population, which fell more heavily on the Jewish settlers. Their properties and other possessions were confiscated by the Turkish military. Some Jewish settlers were used as slave labor to build roads and railways. Alex Aaronsohn, a Jewish settler in Zichron Yaacov, wrote in his diary: “an order had recently come from the Turkish authorities, bidding them surrender whatever firearms or weapons they had in their possession. A sinister command, this: we knew that similar measures had been taken before the terrible Armenian massacres, and we felt that some such fate might be in preparation for our people,” as quoted in Yeghiayan’s “Pro Armenia.”

In Fall 1914, the Turkish regime issued an expulsion order for all “enemy nationals,” including 50,000 Russian Jews who had escaped from Czarist persecutions and settled in Palestine. After repeated intercessions by German Ambassador Hans Wangenheim and American Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, these “enemy nationals” were allowed to stay in Palestine, if they agreed to acquire Ottoman citizenship.

Nevertheless, on December 17, 1914, Jamal Pasha’s subordinate, Bahaeddin, governor of Jaffa, implemented the expulsion order, deporting 500 Jews who were grabbed from the streets and dragged to police headquarters, and from there forced to board ships docked in the harbor. Homes of Jewish settlers were searched for weapons. Hebrew-language signs were removed from shops and the Jewish school of Jaffa was closed down. Zionist organizations were dissolved, and on January 25, 1915, the Turkish authorities issued a declaration against “the dangerous element known as Zionism, which is struggling to create a Jewish government in the Palestinian area of the Ottoman Kingdom….”

In response to protests from Amb. Morgenthau and the German government, Constantinople reversed the deportation order and Bahaeddin was removed from his post. According to Prof. Auron, the condition of the Jewish settlers could have been much worse had it not been for “the influence of world Jewry on Turkish policy…. The American, German, and Austrian Jewish communities succeeded in restraining some of its harsher aspects. Decrees were softened; overly zealous Turkish commanders were replaced and periods of calm followed the times of distress.”

Back in 1913, Pres. Wilson had instructed Amb. Morgenthau upon his appointment: “‘Remember that anything you can do to improve the lot of your co-religionists is an act that will reflect credit upon America, and you may count on the full power of the Administration to back you up.’ Morgenthau followed this advice faithfully,” according to Isaiah Friedman’s book, “Germany, Turkey and Zionism: 1897-1918.” After arranging for the delivery of much needed funds from American Jews to Jaffa, Morgenthau wrote to Arthur Ruppen, director of the Palestine Development Association: “I have been the chosen weapon to take up the defense of my co-religionists….”

In spring 1917, the Turkish authorities issued a second order to deport 5,000 Jews from Tel Aviv. Aaron Aaronsohn, leader of the Nili group – a small Jewish underground organization in Palestine working for British intelligence – immediately disseminated the news of the deportation to the international media. Aaronsohn secretly met with British diplomat Mark Sykes in Egypt and through him sent an urgent message to London on April 28, 1917: “Tel Aviv has been sacked. 10,000 Jews in Palestine are now without home or food. Whole of Yishuv [Jewish settlements in Palestine] is threatened with destruction. Jamal [Pasha] has publicly stated Armenian policy will now be applied to Jews.”

Upon receiving Aaronsohn’s reports from Palestine, Chaim Weizmann, a key pro-British Zionist in London, transmitted the following message to Zionist leaders in various European capitals: “Jamal Pasha openly declared that the joy of Jews at the approach of British troops would be short lived as he would them share the fate of the Armenians…. Jamal Pasha is too cunning to order cold-blooded massacres. His method is to drive the population to starvation and death by thirst, epidemics, etc….”

American Jews were outraged hearing of the deportations in Palestine. News reports were issued throughout Western countries on “Turkish intentions to exterminate the Jews in Palestine,” according to Prof. Auron. Moreover, influential Jewish businessmen in Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire demanded that their governments pressure Turkish leaders to abandon their plans to deport Jews. Jamal Pasha was finally forced to rescind the expulsion order and provided food and medical assistance to Jewish refugees in Tel Aviv.

Read article in full 

Exodus TO Egypt: the forgotten refugees of 1917 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Gina Waldman : I escaped with my life

With thanks: Michelle

 Gina Waldman slept in a bathtub when she and her sister spent two years in a small apartment in Rome, arriving as refugees from Libya in 1967 before finally resettling in the USA. Here she tells her dramatic story of escape to Ezra Levant, talk show host at the Toronto TV station Sun News. 

My only gripe is this introduction:

Ezra talks to Gina Waldman, a Libyan Jew whose family was kicked out of the country because of the creation of Israel.

Gina Waldman was not kicked out because of the creation of Israel. She left almost 20 years after the creation of Israel as a result of Libyan antisemitism.

That antisemitism singled out Jews whose families had lived in Libya for generations - some for thousands of years.

It must be pointed out that some of the worst anti-Jewish agitation took place before the creation of Israel: over 130 Libyan Jews were massacred in 1945 and thousands made homeless.

Read Gina's personal story in more detail

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Do compare Jewish and Arab refugees

 A Jewish refugee from the old city of Jerusalem in 1948

Just because the Palestinian refugee problem has not been solved and the Jewish refugee problem has, does not mean that a comparison should not be made and claims on both sides taken into account, argues Lyn Julius in this Huffington Post article:

A few weeks ago the Al-Jazeera Arabic channel carried a report on starving Palestinian refugees in a Syrian camp. In a sequence that must have slipped the editor's notice, an elderly man moaned in desperation to the camera: "Take us to the Jews. They will feed us!"

In that unguarded moment, two things were revealed: first -- Palestinian refugees are being deprived of a humanitarian solution to their plight. Second -- Arabs know full well that Israelis look after their own -- and not only their own -- but try and help others.

Nowhere is the contrast more stark than in the treatment of the two sets of refugees which arose out of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. A fair proportion of the 711,000 Arab refugees were left to languish -- and now starve -- in refugee camps as a longstanding reproach to Israel. Some 850,000 Jewish refugees were ultimately absorbed and given full citizens' rights in Israel and the West.
In the last month, the Canadian House of Commons decided to back a government committee recommendation to recognize the experience of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

Yet Jewish voices, especially on the left, argue that, simply because one problem has been solved and the other hasn't, the Jewish refugees from Arab countries should not be tied to the fate of Palestinian refugees.

Some like to see the Jewish refugee issue as 'right-left' issue, an unnecessary impediment to a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians. 'Right-wing Zionists', some leftists claim, have long used the issue of Arab Jewish refugees to 'compete with' and 'derail' the claims of Palestinians.

It is true that the 'right-wing' Netanyahu government has been the most pro-active so far in raising the issue of Jewish refugees. But 'right-wingers' have been particularly reluctant to undermine the classic narrative that these Jews were not refugees, but Zionists returning to their ancestral homeland. For instance, the 'right-wing' government under Menachem Begin did little to champion the rights of the Mizrahi constituency that elected him.
In fact, Israeli governments of all stripes have been accused of neglecting the Jewish refugee issue.

However, far from being the preserve of shadowy interest groups, the issue attracted a rare consensus in Israeli politics when a 2010 Knesset law requiring compensation for Jewish refugees to be on the peace agenda was passed.
The call for recognition and compensation predates the current push by the Canadian government, and even the 2008 US Congressional resolution, demanding equal treatment for all refugees.

The legal underpinnings of Jewish refugee rights are unassailable. All bilateral and multilateral agreements signed by Israel use generic language about refugees. UN Security Resolution 242, for instance, refers to a solution to the 'refugee problem' -- carefully worded to cover both sets. On two occasions, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) ruled that Jews fleeing Arab states were bona fide refugees.

Advocates for Jewish rights do not seek to delegitimize Palestinian claims. But it is a feature of the prevailing discourse that Jewish refugee rights are dismissed as an impediment to peace, denigrated or ignored, while Arab rights -- including the much-vaunted 'right of return' -- are put on a pedestal. Only Arab refugees may enjoy the exclusive support of the UN agency UNWRA. Only Arab refugees may pass on their refugee status from generation to generation so that, exceptionally amongst the world's displaced peoples, five million people can now claim to be Palestinian 'refugees'.

For precisely these reasons Jewish and Arab refugees must be compared.
It is beyond dispute that there were two sets of refugees in 1948. It is not a suffering competition, but the rights of refugees carry no statute of limitations. What about the human rights of these Jews who fled violence and persecution with one suitcase ? Would they or their descendants ratify a peace referendum that ignored their rights?

Recognizing the narrative of 50 percent of the Israeli population who descend from Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim countries could well be the key to reconciliation.

What have Jewish refugees got to do with the Palestinians, critics ask? The current negotiations are between Israel and Palestine, not Israel and its neighbors.
The conflict has linked Jewish refugees with the Palestinians since the 1930s when the Palestinian Arab leadership became complicit in victimizing Jews in Arab countries and dragged five Arab states into the 1948 war against Israel. This war resulted in the displacement of some 40,000 Jewish refugees from Jerusalem and the West Bank, in addition to the 850,000 forced to leave Arab states.

Arab states themselves cemented the link when they criminalized Zionism, persecuted their innocent Jewish citizens as 'the Jewish minority of Palestine' and stole their assets.

More proof of such a link is the fact that the Arab League plays an active role in the present 'bilateral 'peace talks. Moreover, Arab states such as Lebanon, Syria and Egypt hosting populations of Palestinian refugees have an essential role to play in solving the refugee problem. A good start would be for the Arab League to rescind the 1950s Law prohibiting Palestinians from becoming citizens 'to avoid the dissolution of their identity'*.

It is not Israel bombing and starving refugees to death in Syria. The desperate pleas of an old man in a Syrian refugee camp demand a humanitarian solution for all the citizens of that miserable country.

To fail to call to account the Arab League for their mistreatment of Palestinian refugees, however, would be to reward them for their deliberate policy of political exploitation.

Equally, to ignore the human rights of Jewish refugees will not make them go away.

Arabs and Israelis could only bring about an overall end to their conflict if the rights of displaced refugees on all sides are recognized.

Is it not right that both sides should have their claims taken into account? What sort of reconciliation would be built on cock-eyed justice?

Read article in full 

*Ed's note: In 1959, the Arab League passed Resolution 1457: "The Arab countries will not grant citizenship to applicants of Palestinian origin in order to prevent their assimilation into the host countries."

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The Mufti's Nazi war against the Jews

The wartime Palestinian Grand Mufti of Jerusalem's alliance with Nazism is well known, but less known is the murderous impact of Nazi propaganda, not just in Palestine, but in the Arab world, resulting in the 1945 riots in Egypt and Libya. Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Edy Cohen has uncovered some important research:

Haviv Kanaan, who was a researcher, journalist and police commander during the British Mandate, wrote many books about Nazi propaganda. After he retired from the Police, Kanaan began working as a journalist for Haaretz and researching the construction of the concentration camps in Palestine and uncovered the mufti’s plan to build incinerators in the Dotan Valley. Kanaan based his conclusion on the testimony of Faiz Bay Idrisi, who was a senior Arab officer in the Mandate Police and a Jerusalem area district commander.

Idrisi is quoted as saying, “Chills go through my body even today as I recall what I heard back then from police officials and mufti supporters [when General Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was about to enter Egypt as part of the 1942 El Alamein campaign].

Haj Amin Husseini was preparing to enter Jerusalem at the head of the Muslim Arab Legion squadron he’d created for the army of the Third Reich. The mufti’s grand plan was to build huge Auschwitz- like crematoria near Nablus, to which Jews from Palestine, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and North Africa would be sent and then be gassed, just like the Jews were by the SS in Europe.”(Emphasis mine)

Kanaan also tells how once, when he was carrying out his research, he met a retired German diplomat who had refused to join the Nazi Party. He told Kanaan, “I cannot say with certainty what lay in store for the Jews living in the Land of Israel, but I do know that their entire existence would have been at stake had Rommel succeeded in conquering the Middle East.”

Kanaan’s full-length study was published in Haaretz on March 2, 1970. Kanaan wrote a book about the El Alamein campaign called 200 days of fear – the Land of Israel against Rommel’s Army, in which he describes how the Jews in Palestine prepared for a possible Nazi attack from Egypt.

To collect information about the mufti’s plans, Kanaan traveled to Germany where he met with officials who were knowledgeable about them. In fact, after the defeat in the summer of 1942 at El Alamein as well as on other fronts, the mufti realized that the Third Reich’s days were numbered, and so he prepared another plan: conquest of the Middle East by the Nazi army, whose first order of business would be the annihilation of the 250,000 Jews in Tel Aviv. The mufti believed that the extermination of the Jews would stimulate the Arabs in Palestine and Egypt to revolt against the British and carry out a jihad (holy war).

These holy warriors would release the Arabs from tyranny of British and French colonialism.

Kanaan uncovered proof that the Germans invested heavily in this program and even established spy networks throughout the Arab world. Kanaan describes how senior German officials such as Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Goering took part in these discussions, although Hitler himself was never involved. The fact that most Arab countries were pro-British made it quite difficult to implement this program, and then the Third Reich began to collapse on all fronts, making it practically impossible.

It’s no coincidence that just a few months after Nazi Germany surrendered, on November 2, 1945, the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, many synagogues were burned down in Egypt and dozens of Jews were killed on the streets of Cairo.

And it was also no coincidence that on that same day, hundreds of Jews in Libya were killed, nine synagogues were desecrated, and hundreds of Jewish homes and shops were looted and burned down. There is no doubt that these attacks on Egyptian and Libyan Jews, which took place exactly on the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, were the result of the mufti’s machinations and his influence on leaders of the Arab world. These events were the direct consequence of propaganda the mufti had been circulating for years. Generations of Muslims, including the Salameh family, were being raised on such beliefs. The mufti’s actions had prepared the ground for attacks on Jews in Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

A plan to compensate Jews who escaped from Arab countries due to harassment and persecution is currently being discussed in the Knesset and in coordination with the US government. It’s important that Israeli politicians not only understand the historical background that led up to the displacement of Jews from Arab countries, but also the direct connection between their fate and what the Palestinians call the Nakba.

Read article in full

Monday, April 07, 2014

Safety concerns cast doubt on archive return

 The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, where the Iraqi-Jewish archive exhibit will be on display until 18 May

A travel advisory issued by the US is expected to have important ramifications for the ongoing dispute over the Iraqi-Jewish archive, due to be returned after restoration in the US to Baghdad in June 2014.

The warning, issued yesterday, cites "ongoing security concerns in Iraq, including kidnapping and terrorist violence." The warning noted that Baghdad International Airport has been hit by mortar rounds and rockets.
It said that said the US embassy is "extremely limited" in its ability to respond to situations that U.S. citizen might face in the Middle Eastern country.

The precarious security situation casts grave doubt on Iraq’s assurances that the archive will be safe on its return to Baghdad.

Resolutions approved in the  US House of Representatives and Senate ‘strongly recommend’ that the terms of the agreement to return the archive be renegotiated.

State department officials and senior Iraqi leaders are currently hammering out the legal details of a new arrangement with a view to extending the archive’s stay in the US.

In response to representations by an Iraqi-Jewish constituent, Congressman (Republican) for Tennessee Stephen Fincher wrote:

“We share your concern and understand their value (of the archive) to the Iraqi-American community and to others in the United States. That is why we are in discussions with high levels of Iraqi government and other interested parties aimed at finding a mutually-agreeable  approach to ensuring continued access and extending perhaps significantly the period of time the IJA exhibit remains in the US. I am pleased to inform you that these discussions are producing positive results and that the Government of Iraq is showing that it understands the value could provide for US-Iraq relations."

When the exhibition of the Archive at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York ends on 18 May, additional venues to host the IJA exhibit will have to be found.

On 30 April, elections due are to be held in Iraq. Opposition factions may try to exploit them in order to undermine current US-Iraqi current negotiations.

To advance peace, integrate refugee issue

 Former justice minister Irwin Cotler: surprised at Canadian government's reasoning 

The Canadian government has recognised Jewish refugees - but its failure to accept a second recommendation, to integrate the issue into the peace process, reflects a refusal to see the wars against Israel as primarily ideological. The Jewish Tribune reports (with thanks: Eliyahu):  

(...) the government has said that it won’t be complying with the second of the report’s two recommendations, which requires it to work to have the plight of those refugees included in the Arab-Israeli peace talks.

Liberal MP and former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, an honourary co-chair of Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries, told the Jewish Tribune in a telephone interview that he was surprised by the government’s response to the second recommendation.

“I also didn’t understand the government’s reasoning when it [said] the current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations take place in the context of the Arab Peace Initiative,” said Colter. “They’re actually taking place in the context of the US initiative and the Kerry proposals for a framework agreement in which the US itself has acknowledged that the issue of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries may well be part of the framework principles.”

Frank Dimant, CEO, B’nai Brith Canada, said, “I have always found Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s positions on issues to be principled and forthright, especially regarding the Middle East. I am confident he will ensure that the totality of the report will be manifested, as the issue of compensation for Jews who were forced to flee Arab countries is an integral part of the solution to the Middle East conflict.”

Dimant added, “It is especially rewarding to note that all factions in parliament were in agreement with the principles that were enunciated in the report.”
David Matas, senior honorary legal counsel, B’nai Brith and legal counsel, Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries, said in a statement that Canada will not be advancing the cause of peace through its refusal to act on the report’s second recommendation.

“What has driven the wars against Israel, from their inception to today, is anti-Zionism,” wrote Matas. “The wars against Israel are primarily ideological. Keeping the ideology of the war partly intact means keeping the will to wage war, the incitement to war and the war itself intact. The only way to peace is to combat the anti-Zionist narrative straight on.”

Read article in full 

What made Canada recognise Jewish refugees? 

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Jewish message to Copts is wrong

 A Coptic mass in Cairo (photo: Amr Nabil/AP)

 Jewish leader to Coptic pope: "do not let your people leave." That's the message that Magda Haroun, whose Jewish community is almost extinct, has tried to convey to the leader of  Egypt's Copts fleeing in droves. But Haroun does not address the real problem: the state's failure to protect its minorities. You can't blame them for leaving, if staying means risking life limb and property.

Paul Marshall filed this report for Fox News:

If you walk down bustling Adly Street in downtown Cairo, it is easy to miss the large gray building. But if you trace the address and stop there, you’ll notice the Stars of David carved on the walls. And then you’ll see the security checkpoint and the guards.

If you want to go into the Adly Street Synagogue and its offices, you must surrender your passport or other identity documents.

Certainly, the plainclothes security men are there to protect the synagogue and those close by — but they are also able to keep a detailed record of all those who visit.

My colleague Sam Tadros and I visited there in February to meet Magda Haroun, the leader of Egypt’s tiny remaining Jewish community. In living memory there were nearly 100,000  Jews in Egypt. Just weeks ago there were 15 left in all the country: 12 in Cairo, three in Alexandria. All were aged, and only one was a man.

Last month, after the death of Magda’s sister, Nadia, there are only 14.
There is no rabbi, so there are no Jewish marriages, even if there were any Jews of marriageable age and prospect.

When we met Magda, a part of her seemed tired and weary, a jaded realist knowing all too well the bleak prospects for her people in Egypt. Yet she was also full of energy, and even of guarded hope.

She told us she did not work to preserve her living community, which dates back to Moses and is probably the second oldest Jewish community in the world.  That community will end very soon; and for the foreseeable future, it will not return.
What she works for instead is to protect and preserve the heritage and memory of Jewish life in Egypt. She takes care of 17 synagogues in Cairo, and she hopes she can help create a museum of Egyptian Jewish life.

She is driven by the commitment and hope that people will not be able to forget that “there were once Jews in Egypt.”

Magda was also the first leader of the Jewish community to be invited to the installation of Pope Tawadros, chosen in 2013 to head the Coptic Orthodox church, home to over 90 percent of Egypt’s Christians. The term “Copt” is simply a brief form of “Egypt,” and this church traces its origins back to St. Mark, the author of Mark’s Gospel.

Egypt’s Christians, some 10 percent of the population, are by far the largest non-Muslim minority in the Middle East, and they are now also under threat.
On Aug. 14 last year, in one single day, 41 churches in Egypt were razed in a matter of hours. This was probably the largest single pogrom against Egypt’s Christians in the last 700 years.

Amnesty International reports that over 150 other Christian buildings were attacked on that day and the two days that followed. The attacks came from Muslim Brotherhood supporters after the Egyptian military attacked their armed camps and demonstrations in Cairo. Many Brotherhood members have apparently decided to make Christians the scapegoats for the army’s removal of their political leader, President Mohamed Morsi, and their attacks on Copts continue to this day.

Read report in full

Saturday, April 05, 2014

How Adel turned into Oded (updated)

Oded Amit (left) with the storyteller Yossi Alfi

Oded Amit is a man with two names - two distinct personae - one Israeli, one Arab. He has been known as Oded since his arrival in Israel in 1970. But his given name in his native Iraq was Adel Muallem.

Oded told his story on Israeli TV in this 15-minute interview (Hebrew).

He should have been named Eliyahu, but his father decided to give him the Arabic name Adel (meaning 'straighforward') even before he was born. It was a safe choice, denoting that he could be considered as either Jewish or Muslim. Muallem was also neutral, meaning 'teacher' in Arabic. The reason for his father's caution: the 1950s were a delicate time to be a Jew in Iraq. Over 100, 000 Jews, second-class citizens, chose to take advantage of a window of opportunity to emigrate legally en masse to Israel in 1950 - 51. They were stripped of their Iraqi citizenship and their property frozen.

Oded's family thought seriously about joining their relatives in Israel. His mother was especially keen, but his father, an accountant in a Jewish firm, feared that he would be forced into a low-status job in Israel. He chose to stay behind in Iraq with his family. Oded grew up in a cocooned environment centred on his Jewish Frank Iny school and Jewish clubs.

The father's decision seemed to have been vindicated during General Kassem's 'golden age'. Between 1958 and 1963, Jews were considered equal citizens and could come and go as they pleased.

However,  Baath party rule soon ushered in a terrible period for the Jews. Soon after the 1967 war with Israel, Oded received a knock on the door. He was arrested and taken to prison. The authorities were threatening to accuse him of spying for the US or Israel. He was only released on payment of a large bribe.

Oded witnessed the hangings of nine innocent Jews in Baghdad's Liberation Square in January 1969. He determined to keep his head down on his engineering studies and dared not even leave the room in the breaks between lessons. He kept in mind his father's philosophy: 'the night is always darkest before the dawn.' In other words, however bad things were, they could only get better.

Oddly enough, however, Oded did find an outlet: he played the guitar and started a pop group. He composed his own songs. The band would play at Jewish weddings and Barmitzvahs.

However, Oded was desperate to leave Iraq and on 14 July 1970, the opportunity presented itself. He could join a party of Jews being smuggled out through northern Iraq into Iran, then an ally of Israel (all but a few hundred of the 3,000 Jews still in Iraq fled in this way). To the Iranian soldiers at the border suspicious that he might be an Iraqi deserter, he shouted the only Farsi word he knew: 'kalimi' (Jew).

He felt 'like a king' as the Jewish Agency arranged his departure to Israel.  It was goodbye Adel Muallem, hello Oded Amit.

Nadia, Oded's sister, adds:

My father did not emigrate to Israel in the 1950 because he was scared of the unknown and how to support a family of three young children. My sister Norma was 7, Adel was 3 & I was 2.

Adel escaped with me and another two young couples on 15th November 1970. We stayed in Iran until our papers were ready and we arrived in Tel Aviv on 3 December 1970. Our escape was arranged by Kurds through the Frank Iny school where I was a teacher.

When we escaped, Israel did not know that our group of Jews was planning to escape. I later learned at a Zionist conference in Jerusalem that Israel had a special arrangement with the Iraqi government to turn a blind eye to escaping Jews. They even had a representative on the border to Iran. We were the only group that did not notify Israel. When we arrived, the Iranians did not know who we were and became suspicious until we got to Tehran and got in touch with the Israeli Consulate.  A Jewish boy who escaped before us vouched for us.

 When we arrived in Israel, we did not recognize any of our relatives. No one from the Muallem family recognized us because the Muallems who were related to us had changed their surname to Amit. The representative of the Jewish Agency hosted us in her flat until our grandmother was tracked down in Beersheva. One relative led us to a HUGE family. Adel then changed his name to Oded Amit. I stuck to my name!


Friday, April 04, 2014

Jews fair game for murder since 1920

 As the Palestinian-Israel peace talks stand on the verge of collapse, Jerusalem Post columnist Sarah Honig muses that nothing much has changed since the 1920 Nebi-Musa riots in Jerusalem. Then indigenous non-Zionist dhimmis were deemed fair game for murder simply because they were not entitled to the right to self-defence. Britain, as the colonial power, connived with the rioters.

Those deadly landmark rampages were kick started on April 4, 1920, exploiting Muslim celebrations to rally thousands of raiders at Nebi Musa in the Judean Desert. Serially inflamed by Husseini’s vitriolic harangues, they poured into Jerusalem, descended upon the Old City’s Jewish Quarter and began butchering, raping, pillaging and burning – all in the name of their God.

The premeditated atrocity lasted four days. Even passing reflections on its overlooked anniversary (it’s so uncool to recall crimes against Jews), can contribute considerably to our present-day perspectives.

This unprovoked killing-spree was launched before any of the excuses for Arab bloodlust – now so conveniently and commonly cited – had existed. There was no Jewish state to fulminate against and no Israeli occupation with which to justify any outrage against Jews in the Jewish homeland.

There was no hint of what the Palestinians market so effectively as their nakba – catastrophe. There wasn’t a single Arab refugee. There was no war, no displacement, no reason to rage.

Jewish victims of the 1920 Nebi Musa Massacre- Jerusalem’s ancient community was deemed fair game

Jewish victims of the 1920 Nebi Musa Massacre- Jerusalem’s ancient community was deemed fair game

The 1920 victims were largely members of the old-time, traditional, pre-Zionist Jewish community that had long before then constituted Jerusalem’s outright majority. Yet this ancient community was deemed fair game. The subtext was that Jews have no rights – not even indigenous non-Zionists.

Considering  their penchant for distorting history, Israel’s detractors are doubtless tempted to describe 1920’s predators as oppressed Palestinian peasants protesting against usurper Jews. It must, therefore, be a whopping downer to discover that none of this homicidal fury was unleashed on behalf of Palestine. The Arabs loathed the very name introduced to this country by its new British overlords.
Ironically, it was the Jews who became known throughout the first half of the 20th century as Palestinians and it was the Arabs who scornfully rejected the moniker.

The executioners who swooped down on Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter championed the cause of Greater Syria. On March 7, 1920 Britain crowned Feisal, a Hashemite princeling from today’s Saudi Arabia, as king in Damascus. By July that year the French would chuck him out. In response, London earmarked its latest invention, Iraq, for Feisal’s next monarchy. So much for the fictitious nature of Arab nationalities.

Feisal, incidentally, conferred with Dr. Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization, on January 1919 and they produced the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement for Arab-Jewish Cooperation. Thereupon Faisal issued the following statement, which appears quite fantastic in view of all that ensued:
“We Arabs… look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement… We will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home… I look forward, and my people with me look forward, to a future in which we will help you and you will help us, so that the countries in which we are mutually interested may once again take their places in the community of the civilized peoples of the world.”

Nothing even minimally approaching such recognition can be expected nowadays of Abbas, who preposterously claims no less than 9000 years of “Palestinian” Arab history in this land and who denies any Jewish connection to it whatsoever.

But truth be told, Faisal failed miserably to enlist support for his pro-Jewish inclinations. Syria’s loyal enthusiasts right here were busy murdering Jews during Feisal’s brief reign as their king. They yearned to be ruled by Damascus – as Syrians, not Palestinians. It would serve to note that Husseini’s co-instigator of the Nebi Musa bloodbath was Aref Aref, significantly editor of the “Southern Syria” newspaper.

Most instructive in regard to Israel’s current international standing is the reaction in 1920 of the international community’s representative – Britain, claimant to the mandate to rule this land. How did it respond to the Jerusalem pogrom?

Not unsurprisingly, as if by a magic wave of the mufti’s wand, His Majesty’s military units actually exited Jerusalem during the onslaught. Top officers, like Allenby’s chief of staff, Col. Bertie Walters-Taylor trained and abetted the assailants. Inspired by him, British and Arab policemen even joined the rioters.

No wonder the mob howled deliriously: “A-Dawla ma’ana” – the government is with us. They knew whereof they screamed and their assessment of the government’s bias was spot on.

How little things have changed. The entire watching world still seethes with bias against this land’s Jews.

Read article in full 

The Arab pogrom that started it all, by Michael Freund

No seder in Cairo this year

 Nadia Haroun z"l, the community's youngest member, died on 6 March

The Jewish Community Council of Cairo is mourning its past president and youngest member. It will therefore forego its community Seder this year, the Jerusalem Post reports. There are estimated to be just 15 Jews in Egypt.

An announcement in the Bassatine News, the community chronicle published by the JCC states: “For the JCC and our tiny community these have been a very difficult 11 months. In that short period we lost both our long-time serving president, Carmen Weinstein, and our newly elected vice president Nadia Shehata Haroun. The latter was the JCC's youngest member. Understandably we shall not be celebrating Passover at Adly Synagogue (Chaar Hashamayim) this year in view of the community being in mourning for its very recent loss. We shall however keep you informed regarding the next high holidays. Thank you for your understanding.“

Nadia Shehata Haroun who died on March 6, was the sister of JCC President Magda Haroun who was elected following the death in April, 2013 of long serving JCC President Carmen Weinstein, who though very ill continued to bring the community together at Adly Synagogue and to invite diplomats and Jewish tourists to attend Seder and Rosh Hashana community dinners. She presided over her last Seder less than a month before her death.
Read article in full

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Sephardi rabbi makes a stand

 Rabbi Elie Abadie's Safra synagogue in downtown Manhattan

Finally, someone has called a halt to the trend to include thinly-camouflaged anti-Israel groups such as J-Street in the 'big tent' that is the the US Jewish community. According to this article in the Algemeiner, it seems to be falling to Sephardim and Mizrahim, victims at the coal face of the Arab-Israeli conflict, to make a stand for Jewish and Israeli rights. Kudos to Rabbi Dr Elie Abadie, who tells his story of flight from Lebanon here  ,  . (With thanks: Michelle)

A leading Manhattan rabbi, representing some of the largest Sephardic communities in New York City, on Wednesday threatened to pull his support from the annual Celebrate Israel Parade, on June 1, unless the parade organizers bar “anti-Israel” groups from participating this year.

In a letter seen by The Algemeiner, Rabbi Elie Abadie, M.D., spiritual leader of four Manhattan Sephardic institutions, the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue, the Moise Safra Community Center, the Magen David Congregation of Manhattan and the Sephardic Academy of Manhattan, addressed his concerns to the leaders of New York’s Jewish Community Relations Council, the JCRC, which organizes the parade and has insisted in letters that its “open tent” policy is to encourage all Jewish groups to be involved.

Read article in full

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Few Jews remain in Calcutta

The Calcutta Jewish community was founded by Jews from Syria and Iraq in the 18th century; today pupils at the Jewish Girls' school are mostly Muslim, BBC religious correspondent Rahul Tandon reports (with thanks: Lily):

It is a busy time for pupils at the Jewish Girl's School in central Calcutta. Many of them are taking their final exams. They are all smartly dressed in uniforms which have the Star of David on their blouses, but their nervous mothers waiting outside are wearing the 'salwar kameez', or 'burkas'. 

Most of the students are now Muslims and few can remember the last time a Jewish pupil was studying at the school. Like many in one of the world's largest cities, they know little about the Calcutta Jews.

In her late 50s, writer Jael Silliman is trying to change that. Before the community completely disappears, she - one of its youngest members - is compiling a digital archive that will record their history. Her inbox is full of photos and materials sent by members of the Calcutta Jewish diaspora who are now scattered across the world.

Picture of Jael Silliman and her mother Flower Silliman  
Jael Silliman's mother, Flower, returned to Calcutta after settling in the USA and Israel
This was once a thriving community. The first Jew, Shalom Cohen, arrived in the city in 1798 from Syria. His financial success encouraged others to follow from Iraq and by World War II more than 5000 lived here. Now, less than 25 Jews call Calcutta their home.
Jael says: "Many left when it became clear that the British were about to leave India as they were worried about the direction the country was heading in and, once a few started to go, others quickly followed."

They left behind one of the largest synagogues in Asia. The Magen David was built in the mid 1880s and used to be crammed full of families, with the men sitting downstairs and the women upstairs, on its wooden pews. Heavily influenced by the design of the British churches that were being constructed in Calcutta at the time, it has a steeple, which is unusual for a synagogue.

Jael Silliman says that "the community had to write to the Jewish leaders in Baghdad to get permission. When it was finally given, there was a caveat that the steeple must be higher than all the buildings that surrounded it."

The synagogue, which was the centre of this once vibrant community, now lies empty.

Outside its gates, most of the street vendors think it is a church. When I tell them that it is actually a Jewish place of worship they look confused. One of them asks me: "Are you sure?" But then his friend adds: "He is right. This is the building that is looked after by Rabul Khan."

Once you walk through its gates, you will be met by the Synagogue's Muslim caretaker. Rabul Khan's family have been looking after the Magen David for generations.

Whilst handing me a 'kippah', a Jewish cap to cover my head, he smiles as he remembers the days when it was full for prayers, or 'namaaz', as he calls it.
As I am about to leave, he gestures to me to stop. He asks me a question: "Do you think they will come back?"

Not sure of how I should respond, I shrug my shoulders.

"Well, until they do, I will be here to look after this place for them," he says.
One of those who did return was Flower Silliman, Jael's mother. She is in now in her 80s but has more energy than most 40 year olds. She left Calcutta to set up home in the United States and then Israel. But she always missed the city of her birth, because for her being Indian is as important as being Jewish.

She describes her early life as "claustrophobically Jewish". Except for her servants, all the people she knew were Jewish as her parents were scared about assimilating into local life.

But Flower was ashamed of that, so she started to rebel. She insisted on learning Hindi, not French, and when she was at college in Delhi she joined the Indian independence movement.

She still vividly remembers the day she arrived back at Howrah station wearing Indian clothes: "My mother was horrified, " Flower tells me.

"To her it was like her daughter had gone to hell, and she made it clear to me that I would never wear these clothes whilst I was living under her roof."

Picture of Joe Cohen, secretary of Calcutta's Jewish Girls' School Joe Cohen, secretary of Calcutta's Jewish Girls' School


Esther David, Bene Israel writer  (with thanks: Malca)

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Why do the Arabs oppose a Jewish state?

 The dhimmis were 'at the bottom of the barrel'

The root of Arab rejection to recognising Israel as a Jewish state lies in the  'dhimmi' view of non-Muslims as a religious group worthy of contempt, not a nation, explains PoNR reader and blogger Eliyahu miTsiyon in the Jewish Press. Yet the Quran and some medieval Arab historiography did recognise Jewish peoplehood.

The explanation for the Arab position lies, I believe, in the traditional Arab-Muslim view of Jews as an inferior dhimmi people, a millet [see below] devoid of national rights, and only entitled to live if they pay a yearly head tax on dhimmis called the jizya. The dhimma system applied to all non-Muslims who were subjects of the Islamic state, with individual exceptions. Within this system, the Jews were at the bottom of the barrel, at least in the Fertile Crescent countries, including the Levant, where the Jews’ status was inferior to that of their fellow dhimmis, the Christians.

Whereas the Quran and medieval Arab historiography, such as the the writings of Ibn Khaldun, recognize the Jews as a nation or people, the entrenched Islamic view of Jews as an evil, inferior contemptible millet is now dominant. Moreover, in fact, in practice, that was the actual status of Jews in the Arab-Muslim countries for centuries. Even today in the 21st century Muslims believe that Jews do not deserve the dignity of having a national state of their own, the Quran and the old Arab historians notwithstanding.

This contemptuous view of Jews is clearly stated by the PLO in its charter. Article 20, already denies that the Jews are a people, claiming that they are merely a “religious” group. Jewish tradition holds that the Jews are both a people and a religious group. Here is the relevant text of Art. 20:

“The claim of historical or religious ties between Jews and Palestine does not tally with historical realities nor with the constituents of statehood in their true sense. Judaism in its character as a religion is not a nationality with an independent existence. Likewise the Jews are not one people with an independent identity. They are rather citizens of the states to which they belong.”

Note the contempt for Jews which oozes from this text. The history of Israelite/Jewish kingdoms in the country, as well as of the Roman province of Judea, is denied. The setting of much of the Hebrew Bible lies in the Land Of Israel which the PLO denies in a way reminiscent of Holocaust denial. Further, Jews do not have “the constituents of statehood in their true sense.

Read article in full

The dhimmi roots of non-recognition 

The Moroccan Jewish journey and exodus by Jeremy Dery

Monday, March 31, 2014

Behind RIBA boycott stands Abe Hayeem

The latest move to stigmatise Israel's actions in the 'occupied territories' by calling for a boycott of Israeli architects would not normally be a focus of this blog - were it not for the major part played in the boycott campaign by Abe Hayeem, an architect of Baghdadi-Jewish origin.

From The Guardian:  

"Britain’s leading architectural association has called for its Israeli counterpart to be excluded from the International Union of Architects in protest at Israel‘s occupation of Palestine, in a further indication of the growing momentum of the boycott movement.

"The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has demanded the suspension of the Israeli Association of United Architects (IAUA) from the international body, saying it is complicit in the construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and other violations of international law."

It's not the first time that the activities of Abe Hayeem have come to Point of No Return's notice.

The motion for a boycott was passed by 23 votes to 16, with ten abstentions, after Hayeem gave a presentation to the RIBA Council.

The irony that Abe Hayeem comes from a family of Iraq Jews, themselves 'ethnically cleansed' from their homeland, did not escape commenters when Hayeem wrote a piece for the Guardian on the 'dark' colonial past of Tel Aviv :

Perhaps next week you will write an article condemning the mistreatment and expropriation of the Jews of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt ....
And perhaps pigs might fly.
If the Arab regimes had not driven out their Jewish populations, then there might not have been the same need for Israel to house them all.

And Tom Wonacott commented:

Having noted that you are a Jew from Iraq which numbered in 1948 about 120,000, would you care to discuss why the Arabs in Iraq (and everywhere else in the Middle East) chose to persecute, harass and evict the Jews? Today, fewer than 100 Jews remain in Iraq. What had the Jews in Iraq done to deserve being run off from their homes, and their possessions confiscated?

Hayeem himself persists in the belief that 'the Zionists' destroyed Arab-Jewish coexistence in Arab countries, spouting base propaganda:

  Regarding Iraqi Jews, my family loved living in Iraq and spoke fondly of their Arab neighbours. Iraqi Jews always regretted leaving. It is well known how Mossad agents stirred up trouble, to the extent of bombing the Baghdad Synagogue, to frighten Iraqi Jews into leaving.

Israel's agenda was to create the flight of Arab Jews, to act as a
quid pro quo for ethnically cleansing the Palestinians. Many Arab countries like Libya and Morocco tried to stop their Jews from leaving.

One can only hope that Abe Hayeem knows more about his chosen profession of architecture than he does about Jewish history and Middle East politics. 

Chief rabbi of Iran dies

Rabbi Yousef Hamadani Cohen, chief rabbi of Iran since 1994, passed away over the weekend and was laid to rest on Sunday, The Times of Israel reports.

Hamadani Cohen was known for his ties with the political leadership, and made headlines in February 2003 when he hosted then-Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in his Tehran Yusef Abad Synagogue. That visit marked the first presidential visit to a Jewish center since the 1979 revolution. 

Three years earlier, Hamadani Cohen met Khatami along with other Jewish leaders. Hamadani Cohen is also said to have met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Friday, March 28, 2014

There was no Arab monopoly on suffering

Canada's recent adoption of a key recommendation in a Parliamentary report -  to recognise Jewish refugees from Arab lands - will unlock the stalemate in the current peace talks, argues Jonathan Tobin in Commentary. (With thanks: Eliyahu)
The Canadian report will undoubtedly be ignored by the international press that tends to treat any mention of Jewish refugees as somehow an illustration of Israel’s lack of contrition about the suffering of the Palestinians. But the more that one learns about the topic, the easier it is to understand that there was no monopoly on suffering in this conflict. Just as hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled or, in a few cases, were told to leave their homes in the former British Mandate for Palestine, almost an equal number of Jews throughout the Arab and Muslim world experienced the same fate.
The difference between the two populations was that the Jews were taken in and resettled by their brethren, either in the newborn state of Israel or in Western countries. Though their journeys and adjustment to their new homes was not always easy, none were allowed to languish in limbo. Today, they and their descendants in Israel or in the United States and other Western countries are members of successful communities where they enjoy equal rights. By contrast, the Arabs who left the territory that would become the State of Israel were deliberately kept in camps to this day and denied any resettlement or citizenship in the countries where they found themselves. The reason for this was that they were useful props in the Arab world’s ongoing war to reverse the verdict of that war. Their future was held hostage to the struggle to destroy Israel, and the refugees and their numerous progeny have been kept apart and in squalor in order to further that effort. Their plight merits the sympathy of the world. So, too, does the way they have been exploited and abused by their own leaders and other Arab countries.
Unfortunately, many of those who wish the Palestinians well, including many Jews, have accommodated their nakba narrative demands and sought to pressure Israel to apologize for winning the war of survival in 1948. But the Palestinian decision to cling to this narrative of suffering rather than embracing one of nation building in the West Bank and Gaza, where Israel has repeatedly offered them an independent state, is the primary obstacle to peace. As Rick Richman noted earlier this week, the point of insisting on the so-called “right of return” is not really the refugees but to keep the war against Israel’s existence alive. Not until they realize that they were not the only ones who suffered and that the war that led to their dispossession was the result of their own unwillingness to compromise and share the land will the Palestinians be prepared to accept the current compromise that has been on the table from Israel for many years, and finally move on.
Far from harming the cause of peace, the best thing those who wish to promote a resolution of the Middle East conflict can do is to remind the Palestinians that they were not the only ones who lost their homes and that the Arab world has as much apologizing to do as the Israelis. If one group of refugees must be compensated, so must the other. Just as two states for two peoples is the only possible formula for peace, let the Palestinians recognize that they aren’t the only 1948 refugees. Until they do and acknowledge the legitimacy of a state for those Jewish refugees, peace will be impossible.

Read article in full: 

Canada: Talks should consider Jewish refugees

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Plight of Libyan Jews during WW2

The "Piazza Muncipio" quarter of Benghazi, Libya, in the 1920s, where many Jews lived. Bottom: The "Covered Shuk" in Benghazi in the 1930s, where many Jews owned shops. (Courtesy of Prof. Maurice Roumani.)
The suffering of Libyan Jews during World War ll is gaining recognition. Some survivors have even received compensation. But no amount of money can make up for lives lost or shattered, argues Benghazi-born Professor Maurice Roumani in this interview with Rafael Medoff for JNS. org.
The Roumani clan, numbering several dozen families throughout Libya, was one of the oldest Jewish families in Benghazi. Prof. Roumani’s father was a successful merchant. Libya had been an Italian colony since 1911, and life for its 20,000 Jews was not significantly affected by the rise to power in Italy of Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Party in 1922. The “Racial Laws” that were decreed in Italy in 1938 at first were not strictly enforced in Libya.

As Italy drew closer to Nazi Germany in World War II, the Libyan colonial authorities began acting against the local Jewish communities. In the summer of 1942, Jews holding Libyan citizenship were interned in forced labor camps. In the Giado camp alone, nearly 600 of the Jewish internees died from typhus or starvation. Thousands of Libyan Jewish residents holding foreign citizenship were expelled to different destinations. The new deportation policy was known as “sfollamento,” or “removal.”

The expulsion decree hit the Roumanis particularly hard. Because various branches of the extended family were citizens of several different countries, the Roumanis were torn apart and deported to different locations.
"Some of my relatives held Algerian citizenship, so they were deported to the west, to Algiers,” Prof. Roumani explains. “Several dozen others held British citizenship—they had originally come from British-occupied Gibraltar—and they were sent to detention camps in Italy, and then later to Bergen-Belsen. Most of us, numbering more than two hundred, held either French citizenship or what was known as ‘Tunisian citizenship under French protection,’ so we were deported to the east, to Tunisia.”

Since communication was severely restricted, none of the relatives were able to maintain contact with those who went to other countries. It would not be until the end of the war— three years later—that they would finally find out what happened to one another.

A total of about 900 Libyan Jews with British citizenship were deported to Italy. But after the Germans occupied Italy in late 1943, the exiled Libyan Jews were deported again, some to the notorious Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, others to the Innsbruck-Reichenau slave labor camp. Most of them managed to survive, however, thanks to the fact that they were British citizens. Nazi officials thought they might be useful as bargaining chips in a prisoner exchange with the British. 
Prof. Roumani was a young child at the time, but still vividly remembers some of what he and his family endured during the expulsion. “We were packed into the back of trucks, without any of our possessions, basically just the clothes on our backs,” he tells “The journey went on for several days—it was more than 1,200 miles to Tunisia. At night, some of us slept on the ground, underneath the trucks.”

After several grueling days in the Saharan desert, they arrived in the Tunisian town of La Marsa, where they were housed in a single rectangular one-story building, with each family crowded into a single room. “Food was insufficient and sanitary conditions were unbearable,” Roumani notes. “We arrived penniless and with no possessions except for a few clothes—we survived only because of the support we received from the local Jewish community.”

The building had no protection from the war raging in North Africa between the Allies and the Axis, and in one bombing raid, 13 of Roumani’s relatives, including his grandmother, aunts, and uncles, were among the approximately 200 Jews killed. Many others were severely wounded or permanently traumatized.

In the postwar period, some survivors of the Libyan slave labor camp at Giado received limited financial compensation from the German government—but only if they emigrated to Israel, and only if they arrived in Israel between 1949 and 1953. Much later, in 2004, some of the other Libyan deportees began receiving a small monthly sum from the Germans. But those Libyan Jewish deportees who did not move to Israel, and who passed away prior to 2004 received nothing, nor did their descendants.

“No amount of money can ever make up for the lives that were lost or shattered,” says Roumani. “But our suffering, although not the same as what others experienced, deserves to be recognized, like other Holocaust survivors who suffered at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators.”