Friday, May 22, 2015

Celebrate Shavuot with Muhallabi

The Feast of Shavuot begins tomorrow evening, 23 May. It is customary to eat dairy foods, and each community has its own favourites. This recipe is popular with Iraqi Jews.

Muhallabi -  Aromatic almond milk pudding (From Flavours of Babylon by Linda Dangoor)
 Serves 4 - 6
I litre almond milk
7 tablespoons cornflour
5 tablespoons sugar
2 whole cardamon pods
2 teaspoons vanilla essence 
2 1/2 tablespoons rosewater
Garnish: 1tablespoon finely ground cardamon pods
1 tablespoon pistachios

Mix cornflour with a little almond milk into a smooth paste.
Set aside.
Place a saucepan over medium heat. Combine the rest of the almond milk with the sugar and cardamon pods and slowly bring to the boil,stirring frequently.
Remove from the heat and pick out the cardamon pods. Add the cornflour paste and blend in well. Return to a low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens. (about 15 mins). Be careful not to let the mixture stick to the bottom of the pan.
Remove from the heat and add the rosewater. Give it a good stir. pour into individual dishes or a large bowl and garnish.

Here is some useful background on the festival (My Jewish Learning):

On Shavuot, we celebrate the giving of Torah at Mount Sinai. According to Jewish tradition, the Torah has seventy “faces”, but is still one, unified Torah. Shavuot customs celebrate the gift of Torah, and show the same diverse presentation of a few unifying core ideas. Each Jewish culture is unique, and at the same time, integrated with the worldwide Jewish community.

There are many special foods for Shavuot, in different Jewish cultures. Dairy is popular because, when the Israelites in the desert received the Torah, including the kosher laws, there was no kosher meat yet available. Torah is compared to honey, so many traditional Shavuot foods are sweet, as well. Persian Jews make “Polao mastin” a dish made of rice and milk, and “koltcha shiri”, a dairy cake, while in Greece there is a special dairy porridge made with cinnamon called “sutlag”. In Poland, cheesecake is the traditional Shavuot dessert. Libyan Jews make necklaces strung with cookies or pretzels in symbolic shapes for their children. Iraqi Jews make “sambusak”, a savory pastry filled with cheese. The exact details of the menu are fluid—any interpretation of a dairy meal and dessert would be appropriate. This is an excellent opportunity to try out a new recipe, symbolic of our renewed relationship with Torah, or to take the time for an old family favorite, to celebrate your roots.

It is common for communities to prepare their synagogues for Shavuot with natural decorations. Greek Jews historically decorated their synagogues with green branches and a variety of flowers. Even today Bukharan Jews use red roses. In Poland, synagogues were decorated with flowers, branches, and paper cuttings called “reizelach”, or roses, in Yiddish. German Jews would place two flowering branches on either side of the Ark, as a symbol that Torah is our Tree of Life. Consider decorating your synagogue or home with local, in season, flowers and greenery.

Traditional communities hold a “Tikkun Leil Shavuot”, a night-time Torah study session which can last anywhere from a couple of hours to all night long. In some communities this is held in the synagogue, while in others, it is located private homes. People may recite specific passages from different traditional texts, while others prepare different topics, which change from year to year. Study is a potent way of renewing our understanding of Torah.

Shavuot is full of opportunities for communal gatherings and fun. Libyan and Moroccan Jews spray water onto passersby, because the Torah is compared to water, and our reconnection to Torah is a source of blessing.

Read article in full

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Jewish pirates 'became Ottoman allies'

A pirate's grave in the Bay Jewish cemetery in Jamaica (photo: D.R.)

Believe it or not, Jewish pirates were powerful allies in the Ottoman wars against Spain, which had expelled and dispossessed them in 1492. They were also pioneers in discovering the New World, a new exhibition explains. Via Harissa website (with thanks: Michelle)

 Sinan Reis was a member of a Sephardi family who fled the peninsula after the  decree of expulsion and found refuge in the Ottoman Empire. He becomes  Barbarossa's right arm. Among his military exploits is the victory against the Spanish Armada in 1538 at the Battle of Preveza, considered by many historians as the greatest maritime Ottoman victory against Spain. The ships were marked by a Star of David.

Samuel Pallache (Fallache?)
was born in Morocco in 1550. A merchant, diplomat and pirate, he worked to unite Amsterdam and Morocco in the face a common enemy: Spain. He was the first to obtain an agreement between a Christian and a Muslim country. That contract negotiated the presence of a Jewish community in Amsterdam and construction of the first synagogue of the city, where one can see the skull and crossbones. He received a hero's welcome when he decided to end his life here, in 1615.

 "Christopher Columbus left for the Americas and discovered a new world. Jews who had been forcibly converted and who had not renounced their religion took the opportunity to flee Spain. (The exhibition curator)  Martine Yana adds: "the Inquisition spread terror. People were being accused of practising Judaism in secret (the offensive word"Marranos"). They monitored chimneys on Saturday to see if they smoked, if food was being cooked.  They entered the houses to smell what people were cooking. In fact lard was used for cooking, Jews used olive oil. "

" So the "Marranos" joined the explorers, sailed with the conquistadors and were among the first settlers of the colonies of the New World. "They realised that Spain and Portugal were at war with England and Holland. They found a way to get revenge, to recover part of their wealth. Each pirate allies himself with a country to which he undertakes to hand over 50% of his booty. "

"These men, says Yana," had little belief in faith and law but they kept some communal principles. Thus, they did not loot on Saturday. Furthermore, the galley slaves on Spanish vessels were often freed "Marranos". They created small Jewish towns along the coast. This was particularly the case in Jamaica, soon captured by the British who allowed Jews to practise their religion. They were heavily implicated in the resulting pirate code of conduct. They promoted the equal sharing of  spoils. They insisted that they did not swear on the Bible when becoming a pirate but sitting in a boat. "

They helped their community: "London was threatened by the Spaniards so the pirates reached an agreement with Cromwell to fight for him in exchange for the return of the Jewish community in London." 

The story of 20 Jewish pirates is told at the Centre Fleg, Marseille until 4 June.

Read original post (French)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Who will save the Christians of the Middle East?

 Wars of identity break out when order breaks down, writes Walter Russell Mead in this masterful essay in the Wall St Journal on the disappearing Christians of the Middle East. While Christians have never been the only victims, Muslims have more often been the perpetrators. (With thanks: Eliyahu)

A woman prays for Assyrian Christians at a church in Damascus (photo: Reuters)

During the many centuries of imperial rule, the peoples of the region became scattered and mixed. But the region was a salad bowl, not a melting pot; groups retained their distinctive customs and beliefs wherever they went, and different ones served different economic roles. Merchants and skilled workers might be German, Jewish, Armenian or any of a half-dozen other ethnic groups. Eastern Orthodox peasants might be ruled by Catholic or Muslim aristocrats. Rabbinical courts heard cases involving only Jews; the various groups of Christian clergy handled such matters among their flocks.

But the old arrangements could not withstand the rise of nationalism and calls for self-determination. When the Balkan peoples struggled to throw off Ottoman rule in the 19th and 20th centuries, they wanted ethnic nation states like the ones they saw in the West, such as Sweden, Denmark and France.

Wars of independence became wars of peoples and wars of religion. Turks massacred Christians, whom they suspected of sympathizing with the rebels, and Christians massacred and drove out Turkish civilians and Muslims on the side of the empire. And of course, from time to time, everyone took a turn persecuting the Jews. From the war for Greek independence that began in 1821 up through the chaotic collapse of the Ottoman empire in 1923, such wars swept through the region, and atrocities became almost routine. Peoples who had lived cheek by jowl from time immemorial participated in unspeakable brutalities against their neighbors.

Wars of identity break out when order breaks down—which is what happened across the region as the Ottoman and Russian empires collapsed. More recently, we have seen the return of such conflicts in Yugoslavia after Tito’s death and in the Caucasus and now Ukraine following the fall of the Soviet Union. In Syria and Iraq, a series of colonial masters and locally grown despots maintained a brutal order from the 1920s through the last decade. But neither the colonizers nor the despots could provide permanent security.

The role of Islamist fanaticism among Sunnis and Shiites in the latest round of violence should not be minimized, but Christians are not now and never have been the only victims of these wars. From vicious massacres in the Balkan wars of independence to the destruction of the Circassians (a predominantly Muslim people of the Caucasus), the mass deaths of Crimean Tatars and the more recent slaughters in Bosnia and Chechnya, Muslim communities have often fallen victim as well. In the spreading sectarian conflict between Shiites and Sunnis, the murdered innocents and penniless refugees fleeing for their lives are usually Muslim.

Still, in the wars of identity raging across the post-Ottoman Middle East, Muslims have more often been the perpetrators and Christians the victims. That is certainly true today in Iraq and Syria, where Christians are for the most part unarmed and much of the killing is being done in the name of radical Islam.
Over the centuries, Middle Eastern Christians have developed many survival strategies. One is to stay invisible. Christians have often survived best in remote areas, and those in more densely populated areas often do their best to avoid antagonizing their neighbors. Many Assyrian Christians fled into the mountainous regions of Syria and Iraq to escape Ottoman persecution during World War I, and the Armenians in the isolated, mountainous hinterlands fared better than their more visible compatriots in Istanbul.

Another survival strategy for Christians has been to find foreign protectors. In the 19th century, the Christian powers in Europe and the U.S. took an increasing interest in the situation of Christian and other minorities in the Ottoman lands. The Orthodox looked to Russia; Catholics in the region looked to France; Britain and the U.S. asserted a right to protect Ottoman Jews as early as the 1840s; and Armenians often looked to the U.S., among others, for help.

This strategy had its successes, but it proved costly. Turks justified the Armenian genocide as a necessary measure against a pro-Russian Armenian rebellion in World War I. Assyrian Christians provided troops for the British against Arab and Kurdish rebellions against British authority in the 1920s; they paid a heavy price when the British withdrew and the retaliations began.

As Christians in the Middle East have learned at great cost, the Western powers and so-called “international community” are weak reeds. They have been (and still are) slow to intervene, and their interventions have usually been halfhearted, short-term and subject to the vagaries of great-power rivalries.

Yet another Christian survival strategy was to support the development of a secular Arab identity in which Christians and Muslims could meet as equal citizens—just as Catholics and Protestants can be German or American citizens. Many of the most influential Arab nationalists (including many radical Palestinians) were of Christian origin.

People such as Michel Aflaq and Antun Sa’adeh of Syria and George Habash of Palestine made significant contributions to Arab nationalist thought, and the era of secular Arab nationalism allowed many Christians to play more prominent roles in the region. Anti-Zionism also became one of the ways that the Christians of the Middle East could demonstrate their Arab bona fides. To this day, intense support for the Palestinian cause is common in Arab Christian communities.
Unfortunately for Christian hopes, secular Arab nationalism lost its allure. The titans of the nationalist era too often became ineffective despots presiding over failed states. As the intellectual pendulum of the Arab world has swung back toward Islamist ideas about politics, Christians have found themselves ever more marginalized.

For Christians, a final survival strategy was to cling to strong rulers. In Syria, Iraq and Egypt, they attached themselves to rulers such as Hafez al-Assad, Saddam and Hosni Mubarak (and now Abdel Fattah Al Sisi). Such alliances had their uses for both parties. Christians achieved a measure of protection and stability; they were repressed no worse than anybody else, and a handful achieved wealth and political power.

For the despots, Christian allies served many of the purposes that Jews once did for kings in the Middle Ages. They were seen as loyal because they had no other place to turn—and as useful both for their services and because you could blame them when things went wrong (and, if necessary, throw them to the wolves).

They could also be counted on as intermediaries who could present the regime’s case to outside powers. It was not for nothing that Saddam Hussein named Tariq Aziz (a Chaldean Catholic baptized as Mikhail Yuhanna) as his foreign minister.
The deal between Middle Eastern despots and their Christian communities also served to conceal other divisions. In Iraq and Syria, the nominally secular Baathist regimes of Saddam and Assad were, in fact, governments that allowed a religious minority (Sunnis in Iraq, Alawites in Syria) to dominate the country’s majority. However much Christians may have disliked the cruelty of these rulers, they themselves were minorities, and they often preferred minority dictators over the risks of potentially hostile majority-run regimes.

Read article in full

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Travels of a tray from Iraq to Israel via Canada

 The silver tray, once in the possession of Iraqi Jews, now takes pride of place on the top shelf of a display at the Or Yehuda Babylonian Heritage Museum in Israel.

This is the remarkable story of the travels of a silver tray, looted from its Jewish owners in the 1941 pogrom known as the Farhud. It is told by Hussein Al-Hilli, an Iraqi Muslim journalist writing in al-Wanaltaqy. 

Hussein Al-Hilli wanted to show his appreciation to a Jordanian Christian who helped Ashraf's wife gain a resident's permit in Amman. He entered an antique shop in Baghdad and bought a silver tray.The tray was made of pure silver in 1920 by the Jewish silversmith 'Jangana'. "This is the heritage of the Jews of Iraq", said the shopkeeper.

The journalist had heard a lot about the Jews - his grandmother had Jewish friends in Hilla (town neighbouring Ezekiel's shrine - ed) but had been too young to know any Jews himself. He had heard a lot about the Jews and the Farhud , but did not know what it represented in the history of Iraq.

One of four reporters working for  foreign news agencies covering the Gulf War in 1991, Hussein was suspended from his job before he could present the tray as a gift. The intended recipient had left Amman. Hussein fled to Canada with his family. The tray came with him from Amman to Baghdad to Montreal.

In Montreal, an Iraqi Jew, the late Dr Ihsan Samra, became his family doctor and a good friend. Hussein discovered the writers Anwar Shaul, Salman Darwish and researched the Farhud. How was it possible that lawyers, doctors, politicians and writers, who contributed so much to the state of Iraq, were uprooted?

The real problem in Iraq was not Saddam Hussein and what had happened to himself, thought the journalist :"we attacked the Jews in the Farhud and stole furniture and personal items. We looted their homes and displaced them, just as in 1979 - 80 we did to the Iraqi Shi'ites,  accusing them of aiding the Iranians."

Hussein wanted to give Dr Samra the silver tray. But Dr Samra said, better to give it to the Museum of Babylonian Heritage at Or Yehuda in Israel. And so the tray completed its journey from Baghdad to Amman to Montreal and finally to Israel.

Read original article in full (Arabic)

Monday, May 18, 2015

It's risky being Jewish in Lebanon

 The renovated Maghen David synagogue is about to re-open. Or is it? The Forward has been denied permission to go inside, but an exception has been made for Al-Monitor (see article below) . Until the situation for Lebanon's Jews ceases to be precarious, it is doubtful whether the synagogue will ever open its doors.

The renovated Maghen Avraham synagogue (photo: Reuters)

The Forward reports:

Five years after reconstruction, the synagogue’s doors are still locked and the lights are off. Gaining entry is nearly impossible, requiring permission from the Jewish community’s president, and bureaucratic wrangling with Beirut’s security officials. The Forward’s request to visit the site was denied.

The Maghen Abraham Synagogue, originally built in 1925 and one of more than a dozen synagogues that operated in Beirut, is one of the scarce remnants of Beirut’s Jewish past. Its delayed opening has shed light on just how precarious the situation is for Jews in Lebanon.

Since the exodus of nearly 1 million people during the 15-year-long civil war, only a few dozen Jews remain, living quietly in a country that sees the Jewish state to its south as an enemy.

“The word ‘Jewish’ is a very heavy word in Lebanon,” said Nagi Georges Zeidan, a Christian Lebanese historian writing a book on the country’s Jewish history. “Those who stayed keep it a secret. They’re scared to death, and they often don’t even tell those they are friends with that they’re Jewish.”

Among Lebanese, the synagogue’s delayed opening is widely rumored to be due to threats, as spillover from the war in neighboring Syria continues to threaten the country’s fragile sectarian fabric.

Yet while the synagogue undoubtedly has its opponents in Lebanon — it was attacked twice in 2009 — Bassam al-Hout, a Muslim lawyer for the community denied the rumors of threats as baseless.

Isaac Arazi, a representative of the Jewish community, who raised funds from the Lebanese diaspora to renovate the site, insisted that it’s not anti-Semitism but national instability that has prevented the synagogue’s reopening. Without wishing to elaborate, Arazi told the Forward in an email, “The situation of Jews is like all Lebanese citizens — nothing sure, nothing certain.”

But in a country that has seen continual conflict with Israel over the last few decades, there is a risk to being Jewish in Lebanon.

“The Israelite community” — a name Jews have lobbied to have changed in an attempt to distance themselves from Israel — is officially recognized as one of Lebanon’s 18 sects, but members of the community shy away from attending public functions on the community’s behalf, presumably for their own anonymity and safety. They pray quietly in homes in East Beirut.

But Jews didn’t always live in the shadows.

Lebanon’s history is unique to the Arab world. Its Jewish population soared following the establishment of Israel, as Jews fleeing elsewhere around the Middle East settled in the country known as a bastion of diversity. In the 1950s, the population peaked at about 10,000, a significant jump from the some 3,500 who lived there in 1932, some with a lineage believed to date back millennia.
Relations between Jews and others were generally positive, Zeidan said, though tensions flared at times with nationalists following Israel’s founding. He cited a series of violent incidents targeting Jews, but said that much of Lebanese society viewed Jews as one among Lebanon’s many religious sects, with a reputation as honest tradesmen.

Mariam, a bubbly Jewish woman in her 80s who lives alone in a city several hours outside Beirut, reminisced fondly about her childhood memories of the Jewish quarter of Beirut. She remembers listening in on holiday services there, though women did not sit inside synagogues.

Her husband, a Christian, died seven years ago, and her modest apartment is decorated with an assemblage of religious symbols — a picture of Jesus with an aura around his head, a Hanukkiah with leaning candles and a copy of the Ten Commandments, which hangs on the wall.

“This country was beautiful,” Mariam, who asked that her real name not be used, said in Arabic. “There were Jews, Christians and Muslims, Armenians and Kurds, and in one family, you could find all of them. But now, people here don’t like Jews.”

With the Six-Day War in 1967, much of the Jewish population fled Lebanon ­— but it was during Lebanon’s bloody 15-year civil war that Jewish life in the country came mostly to an end.

While Jews were careful to remain politically neutral during the war, the Jewish quarter of Beirut sat squashed between the Sunni Muslim and Christian areas. As a result, Jewish structures were caught in the crossfire, looted and desecrated — turning the quarter into a no-go zone.

It was, ironically, an Israeli bombardment in 1982 that destroyed the Maghen Abraham Synagogue. It had been meant to target Palestine Liberation Organization members who were, allegedly, protecting the site.

As the community dwindled and ultimately disappeared, Mariam felt safe — even as widespread anger grew against Israel — only because her husband was a Christian.

“The Arab people just don’t understand that Jews are not all Zionists, and that is the problem here,” she said. “About half the people know I’m Jewish, but they know my family is Christian. I’m not afraid for my own safety. I’m old, but I am afraid for my children.” Her children, however, have all been raised Christian.
The country’s Jewish cemeteries are unkempt and overgrown with bushes and thorns, and its old Jewish homes are now lived in by Christian or Muslim Lebanese citizens.

In Saida, a city two hours south of Beirut, the old Jewish quarter is today a rundown, impoverished part of the city. A street sign that once read “Jewish quarter” has since been replaced with a “Gaza street” sign — a protest against Israel’s war with Lebanon in 2006. Posters with the faces of the PLO’s former and present leaders, Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, are plastered to the walls.

Down a short and narrow dark pathway off the main courtyard, behind a big, wooden door on the left, hides the city’s old synagogue, built in the late 19th century.

A 25-year-old man of Syrian descent with a carefully trimmed beard answered the door with a welcoming smile. Inside was the only home he and his family have ever known, with several pairs of shoes scattered by the door, and blue paint, one of the last reminders of its past as a synagogue, fading from the stone walls and ceiling.

Zeidan estimated that Lebanon’s remaining Jewish community will perish within the decade.

Read article in full 

This article in Al-Monitor strains every sinew to disassociate Jewish religion from nationality and Lebanese Jews from Israel. Israel is in case an unappealing destination because it is at war. Once the war is over, the Jews will return: the food and atmosphere are so much better in Lebanon!

Bassem al-Hout, a Muslim lawyer who represents their interests, told Al-Monitor that even though the synagogue renovations are nearly finished, security in the country is not high enough yet for it to reopen.
“We are waiting for the struggle to end,” he said, referring to the regional conflicts spilling into Lebanon from Syria and Iraq. “The region is on fire.” Hout stated that when the synagogue is opened, Jews and supporters from around the world will be invited for a dedication ceremony.

For now, the Jewish community within Lebanon’s borders practices its faith in the privacy of home. Hout explained, “They are afraid of a reaction by individuals," who do not understand their religion is not synonymous with the State of Israel.

But Hout also said the Lebanese public needs to be educated about the difference between Lebanese Jews and Israel, and it is the responsibility of the media to expose such information.

Edy Cohen of Bar Ilan University in Israel told Al-Monitor, “Most Jews from Arab countries don’t relate to the Israelis," but rather they relate to the countries that raised them. Cohen himself, a Lebanon native, identifies as Lebanese first, differentiating his nationality from his religious practice. He left Lebanon when he was 19 after the country’s civil war. He said his father was kidnapped by Hezbollah a few years before, in 1985, and was killed when the Israeli government refused a prisoner exchange.

He confirms most of the Jews in Lebanon did not want to migrate to Israel during the war, saying, “Israel is always in a state of war; it’s known." They had relatives in other places such as the United States, France or Canada. Cohen believes those who fled Lebanon for the West did not want to start a new life in a place of war.

But Hout said that Lebanon’s Jews “do not like Israel; they are Arabian.” Like Cohen, Hout believes Lebanese Jews identify with their nationality versus their religion.

In Tel Aviv, Canadian-Israeli citizen Corey Gil-Shuster hosts a YouTube channel called “Ask An Israeli,” a project he started nearly four years ago in 2011, to better understand the narrative on the streets of Israel about the Palestinian conflict and the Arab world around them.

In one episode, entitled “Meir: Lebanon,” dated September 2013, he interviews a Lebanese-Jewish man called Meir, who admits he misses Lebanon. Meir said that in Israel, people are stressed, but in Lebanon, “You lived like kings. In Lebanon, things were great: the food, the atmosphere.” But the war changed everything. Meir once had Muslim friends, but now there is no one. His own family lives in the West, while for now, he feels more comfortable in Tel Aviv than New York. He would return to Lebanon if there were peace.

Shuster follows with another episode in which he asks Israelis whether it is possible to have peace with Lebanon. While most say the divide is the fault of “terrorist organizations,” namely Hezbollah, one man, Shai, who served in the Israeli military and was deployed to Lebanon in 1977, believes the “noisy minority” — extreme parties in both Lebanon and Israel  prevents relations between the countries.

Shuster told Al-Monitor the knowledge base in Israel is a “closed system.” He explained many Israeli citizens are unaware of the Arab world outside their borders, including Lebanon, and base what they know off “what’s on TV” at night. He said there are “only two narratives; you’re either pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli," and there’s little understanding of an alternative storyline.

Most texts point to the formation of an Israeli nation through Jewish-religious roots. The interpretation of how their people-group should exist, however, is changing due to many Israelis abandoning their religious beliefs and practices.
But those living in the Arab world who find solace in the Jewish religion are finding their identity torn. In Lebanon, Hout stated there are “individuals who do not see the difference because of the war.”

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Eli Cohen was hanged 50 years ago

The president of Israel is to host a reception honouring the family of the Egyptian-born spy Eli Cohen, who was executed in Syria 50 years ago. Y-Net News reports:

He provided an abundance of vital intelligence that assisted the country in the war against its enemies; and this month marked 50 years (according to the Hebrew calendar) since the execution in Damascus of legendary Israeli spy Eli Cohen. All the efforts to bring his remains back to Israel for burial have come to naught thus far. 

Born in Egypt, Cohen moved to Israel at the age of 33 and settled in Bat Yam, where he worked as a translator and subsequently married Nadia, an Iraqi immigrant. In May 1960, he was recruited by Unit 188, Military Intelligence's operational unit, trained as a spy and then sent to Argentina, where he took on a false identity – that of Kamal Amin Ta'abet, an exiled Syrian businessman.

Eli Cohen's widow, Nadia Cohen, with a photograph of her husband. (Photo: Kobi Koankas)
Eli Cohen's widow, Nadia Cohen, with a photograph of her husband. (Photo: Kobi Koankas)

Two years later, he moved to Damascus, rented an apartment nearby the Syrian Army's general headquarters, and soon forged close ties with senior Syrian military and government officials.

Thanks to these ties, he managed to gather vital intelligence, which he then passed on to his Israeli handlers – usually during the course of "business trips" in Europe, where he would also meet with members of his family. Some of the intelligence Cohen provided, for example, was of paramount help to the Israel Defense Forces during the Six-Day War
Two years or so after beginning his work in Syria, the Mossad assumed control of his operations.

Yedith Ahronoth report. The headline reads: Israeli Eli Cohen was hangded this morning in Damascus.
Yedioth Ahronoth report. The headline reads: Israeli Eli Cohen was hanged this morning in Damascus.

Syrian officials began to suspect there was a spy in their midst after Israel thwarted a classified plot to sabotage Israel's National Water Carrier project. In January 1965, in an effort to root out the spy, the Syrian regime imposed a 24-hour period of radio silence.

Cohen knew nothing about it, and he was apprehended in his apartment by Syrian security while transmitting a report to his handlers. On May 18, 1965, after a five-month trial and harsh interrogation and torture, Cohen was publicly hanged in Damascus' Marjeh Square. He was survived by his wife and three children.

Eli Cohen (left) during his trial (Photo: AFP)
Eli Cohen (left) during his trial (Photo: AFP)

On May 18, the President's Residence in Jerusalem will host an event in his honor, to be attended by the prime minister and former Mossad chiefs.

Read article in full

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mufti planned to kill Jews in Arab world and Palestine

There is documentary evidence that the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, aimed to kill the Jews, not just in Palestine, but in the Arab world, and had secret plans to set up extermination camps near Nablus, writes Dr Edy Cohen in the Jerusalem Post. After his part in bringing the pro-Nazi Rashid Ali government into power in Iraq, the Mufti spent WW2 in Berlin as Hitler's guest,  broadcasting vicious propaganda from a shortwave transmitter. (With thanks: Eliyahu)

The mufti lived in Germany until May 1945, when the Second World War came to an end. Throughout this entire period, the mufti was involved in espionage, sabotage, terrorist activity against the British and the Jews, as well as anti-Semitic propaganda.

As part of his alleged struggle for independence for the Palestinian people, the mufti attempted to prevent the arrival of European Jews to Palestine, as well as the establishment of a national Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel. At least that’s what he claimed in his memoirs.

But this is far from the truth. In actuality, the mufti was constantly engaged in the deportation and extermination of Jews from Arab countries and from Palestine.

I recently discovered documents that attest to the depth of the Arab world’s animosity toward the Jews and how the Arabs incited against the Jews and spread propaganda. Many people have asked just how closely the mufti identified conceptually and practically to the Nazi approach regarding the extermination of the Jewish people.

There are recordings of the mufti broadcasting from Berlin to the Arab world in Arabic, in which he says, “Kill the Jews wherever you find them – this is God’s will.”

On November 2, 1943 – the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration – the mufti organized a protest in Berlin in which thousands of Muslim immigrants to Germany participated. The following is an excerpt from the speech the mufti gave at the protest: “26 years ago the Jews received the Balfour Declaration so they could build a national Jewish homeland. The British betrayed the Arabs and Islam by supporting the Jews. Jews are selfish.

They think they are the chosen people and that all the other people of the world are meant to serve them. The Jews are the enemy of Islam – they are the ones killed the prophet Mohammad!” The Mufti continues, “The Jewish British minister [Benjamin] Disraeli bought the Suez Canal, thus paving the way for the British to conquer Egypt. And Algerian Jews helped France occupy Algeria. ...The Arabs – and especially the Muslims – must expel the Jews from Arab countries.

This is the ultimate solution.

The prophet Mohammad used this solution 1,300 years ago.

“The Treaty of Versailles was a disaster for Germany and for the Arabs, but the Germans know how to get rid of the Jews, and this is why the Arab world has such close relations with Germany.

Germany never harmed the Muslims and is fighting against our common enemy – the Jews.

The most important thing is that they have found the final solution to the Jewish problem. Time is working against the Jews even though the Allies are helping them.”

According to the mufti’s memoirs, he was aware of the Final Solution already in the summer of 1943.

On March 19, 1943, the mufti made a speech from the Islamic Mosque in Berlin in honor of the prophet Mohammad’s birthday, during which he said, “The Jews have managed to use their influence to control the British and the Americans. This is proven by the recent passing of a bill in Congress allowing the Jews to build a national homeland in Palestine.

“The Jews took advantage of the previous war to settle in the Holy Land. The Jews are a threat not just in Palestine, but in every Arab country, since this is where the Allies plan to resettle the millions of Jews who were expelled from Europe. The Arabs must fight with all their strength to put an end to this plot.”

From the above, we can clearly conclude that the mufti was aware of the Final Solution and the plan to exterminate the Jewish people in Europe from the beginning of the war. There is also documentation showing that the mufti toured concentration camps in Poland with Heinrich Himmler. Killing European Jews was not good enough for the mufti, though, and so he planned to kill all the Jews in the Arab world and in Palestine. While the mufti publicly called for Arab countries to expel Jews living in them, he secretly planned to build extermination camps for Jews from Arab countries and Palestine, so that he could implement the Final Solution in the Middle East.

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.”

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 counties, but also the direct connection between their fate and what the Palestinians call the Nakba.

Read article in full

No solution for Palestinians without justice for Jews by Edy Cohen

Friday, May 15, 2015

No solution for Palestinians without justice for Jews

 The Shaar Ha'aliya transit camp for Jewish refugees , 1951

Today is Nakba Day  - when Palestinians commemorate their exodus from what is now Israel in 1948, in spite of having declared war on the fledgling Israeli state. Their tragedy is recalled every year by a compliant media, and there are even plans to build a Nakba Museum in Washington DC . Dr Edy Cohen, a Jewish refugee from Lebanon in the1990s, writes in i24 News that no solution can be  found for Palestinian refugees as long as justice for 
the  870, 000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries is denied.

On May 15, Palestinians and groups associated with them - extreme leftist Israelis and international organizations funded by Europeans - mark a national Palestinian tragedy known as the Nakba (Arabic for “disaster”). No one can deny the existence of the Palestinian refugee problem, created by the 1948 creation of the State of Israel and the ensuing Palestinian flight from their homes. This is historical fact. However, the creation of Israel also resulted in the transfer from their homes of hundreds of thousands of Jews living peacefully in Arab countries. Having failed in their efforts to defeat the fledgling Israeli state in 1948, Arab states took revenge on the Jews living in their lands who had been loyal to the Arab rulers for centuries.

While the Palestinian refugee problem is well known, few in the West are aware of the problem of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. The nature of that Jewish immigration from Arab countries varied. Some were motivated to move to the newly established state by Zionism. Others did not want to leave. My family, for example, had lived in Lebanon for three generations and was an integral part of the Beiruti landscape of Wadi Abu Jamil Street in the Jewish neighborhood of Harat-al-Yahudi. For years we came to Israel to visit family but always returned to our home in Lebanon.

My family did not choose to leave its homeland for Zionist considerations. It was forced to flee in the 1990s fearing for its life. Therefore, the definition of the word “refugee” as formulated in the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention is compatible with my status and that of hundreds of thousands of other Jews. “A person who [has] a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality.”

Dozens of Lebanese Jews were abducted and killed around Beirut in the mid-80s and the Lebanese government was unable to keep the Jews of Lebanon safe. The strengthening of the Shiite organization Hezbollah, on the one hand, and the weakness of the government of President Amin Gemayel, on the other, along with the emergence of many militias, turned Lebanon into a dangerous place, not only for Jews but for hundreds of foreigners many of whom were kidnapped and murdered.
Some 900,000 Jews from Arab countries left their homelands since 1948. The property they left behind is estimated at $30 billion, including the buildings in dozens of Jewish communities in Arab countries: magnificent synagogues, factories and private property that was expropriated and confiscated.

In 2008, the US Congress adopted Resolution 185 which recognized the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and unanimously determined that if aid is extended to Palestinian refugees, similar aid and compensation must be extended to Jews from Arab lands. In an unprecedented decision, the Canadian parliament recognized the rights of Jewish refugees in March 2004.
In Israel, too, the Knesset approved a 2010 law aimed at preserving the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran and receiving compensation. In addition, Israel recently designated November 30 as "Jewish Refugee Day".

Let us not forget this quiet but paralyzing trauma, which has been passed on to younger generations. Jewish refugees who came to Israel from Arab countries were in a state of post-traumatic stress, and therefore did not talk about their past. They came as refugees to a dusty wilderness, dispossessed and beaten, and built new lives. Most integrated into society and made a tremendous contribution to the state and its institutions. But others, robbed of their wealth and property in Arab countries, remain trapped in multi-generational poverty in so-called “development” towns in the periphery, which is the term corresponding to the so-called “refugee camps” on the other side.

Decision makers around the world are well aware that there will be no solution to the Palestinian problem as long as they do not find a solution to the problem of Jewish refugees. The Western world needs to recognize that the tragedy has two faces: the tragedy of the Palestinian refugees and the tragedy of the Jews of Arab countries.

Read article in full

Thursday, May 14, 2015

We left Egypt, Egypt never left us

With thanks: Michele
Film producer Elliot  Malki (second from left) with friends from Egypt

Coming to a film festival near you is a new documentary about Jews who were forced to leave  Egypt in the 1940s and 1950s.

Elliot Malki and Ruggero Gabbai have released the 17- minute trailer for 'Starting all over again'. They have interviewed Egyptian-born Jews in Italy, the US, Israel, France and Britain, demonstrating that the 80, 000 community - now reduced to eight elderly ladies - was scattered all over the world.

The interviewees recall the knock on the door in the middle of the night like it was yesterday. Their brutal expulsion, mostly after the Suez crisis in 1956, turned their lives upside down. The word 'partir' (leaving) was on every Jewish family's lips. Breadwinners had their permits to work withdrawn. One interviewee, reduced to tears, told how Jews were stripped of their nationality and given a laissez-passer bearing the words: 'one way trip - no return'.

Families were torn apart. Ada Aharoni's grandmother refused to leave, throwing herself down the stairs with a trolleyful of her precious china.

Nevertheless, whichever country they moved to around the world - Cairo-born  Lucette Lagnado remarked - Jews always preserved a longing for their country of birth.

"You can take the Jew out of Egypt - but you can't take Egypt out  of the Jew.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

How Friday became Arab film night in Israel

Leila Murad, Jewish star of the Egyptian cinema with leading man Anwar Wagbi

  "We've now got 300 channels, none of them worth watching. In the old days, Israel had one channel, and we looked forward to the Arab film shown on Friday afternoon from one week to the next."

That was one man's verdict after watching 'Arab Movie' (Seret aravit) - a documentary by Eyal Sagui Bisawi telling the extraordinary story of how much of Israel was transfixed by Egyptian movies in the 1950s and 1960s.

Israel did not have Hebrew-speaking  TV channels until 1967. It did, however, have one channel broadcasting four hours a day - three of them in Arabic. In order to fill airtime, Salim Fattal, head of the Arabic channel, decided to establish that  Friday institution - the Arab movie. Egypt was the hub of Middle Eastern culture and had a thriving film industry : Egyptian ladies from Bat Yam sang along enthusiastically with the diva Um Kalthum and the Jewish star Leila Murad, whom everybody claimed as a relative. They shed copious tears  if the film ended badly.

Egypt's cinematic melodramas, with their dashing heroes sweeping voluptuous girls off their feet, were so popular that the Israeli pubic demanded Hebrew subtitles. Among known aficionados were Shimon Peres and Moshe Dayan, who was so taken by one film that he refused to interrupt his viewing to take a call from prime minister Golda Meir.

Israel was then at war with Egypt. The films were smuggled into Israel from Egypt via Jordan, copies made and the originals returned so as to protect the smugglers' identities.

Some of the films were ahead of their time - surprisingly forthright in their depiction of sex and violence - and the Israeli censor made cuts, mindful of the fact that children were watching on a Friday afternoon. Egyptian cinema explored homosexual relations and even satirised aspects of Egyptian society, though this was mostly lost on Israeli viewers.

It was not until the 1990s that the Arab Movie graduated from the family living room to the cinema screen. But a film shown at the Edison Cinema in Jerusalem caused a riot. The audience was so angry that songs had been cut out of the film that they broke the chairs.

One is left wondering if and how these films would play in the current ultra- conservative atmosphere in Egypt. In that sense, Israeli viewers of 'Arab Movie' have had a privileged glimpse of a bygone age.

The man who taught Iraq to fizz

The iconic Coke bottle and Naim Dangoor are both 100 years old this year. Dangoor set up the first bottling plant in Iraq in 1950, together with his Muslim partner, Ahmed Safwat. (While theirs was a truly harmonious partnership, this article, in a Coca Cola house magazine, omits to mention that Jewish businessmen in Arab countries could then not operate without a Muslim partner. ) Dangoor, who now lives in London, methodically worked out the optimum selling price for his product: 14 fils.
“Soon you will see the bottle which brings enjoyment the world over!”, heralded a series of 1950 Baghdad newspaper ads. Most of the ads featured the famous Coke bottle as a centerpiece to drum up interest and demand while announcing that “Delicious and Refreshing Coca-Cola is on its way to Baghdad.”

100th Celebration for Iraq Bottler
Naim Dangoor (left) and Ahmed Safwat in Nice, France in the 1940s.

Bringing the world-famous Coca-Cola bottles to Iraq proved quite the challenge for Naim Dangoor and Ahmed Safwat, the country’s first Coca-Cola bottlers. They overcame numerous challenges in importing bottling machinery and completing construction on their building near Baghdad’s city center.

The pair was finally able to get their operation off the ground in the summer of 1950. The original contour bottles they filled were embossed with the Coca-Cola script in both Arabic and English and a cap that read: “Bottled in Iraq”. Post-launch newspaper ads declared, “After months of waiting it is with us now!” – an indication that there was indeed quite the delay on the introduction.

Ironically, Naim Dangoor is – like the iconic Coke bottle – a centenarian, born 100 years ago in Baghdad. His son, David, shared some scanned versions of his father’s detailed business plans from the era that he came across while cleaning up. While we know that Coke cost a nickel in the United States for over 70 years, the documents give a glimpse of how the initial retail price of Coke bottles in Iraq was determined.
100th Celebration for Iraq Bottler
Naim Dangoor suggested the price of 14 Fils for a bottle of Coke.

“He was trying to work out what was the optimum price to sell Coca-Cola,” David Dangoor explained to me as we reviewed the charts and graphs his father sketched out sometime around 1950.
While the Coca-Cola head office suggested 20 fils as the retail price, Naim Dangoor concluded that selling at 14 fils would bring much more profit based on his projected revenue forecast estimated prior to launch. Before the days of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, Dangoor created intricate charts and graphs to convince The Coca-Cola Company that his proposition was the right approach.

“You can see that he was very methodical about deciding what the price should be,” his son David remarked while sharing hand-drawn analyses of pricing versus costs of goods, advertising, rent, property taxes, wages, coolers, cases, bottles and ingredients.

Perhaps the elder Dangoor was so methodical because of his studies in engineering at London University. In the 1930s, he made the five-day journey from Baghdad to London on his own to enroll in the university at the age of 17. After graduating, he returned to his native Iraq, where he would eventually form Eastern Industries Ltd. with his business partner, Ahmed Safwat, a fellow Iraqi and London University graduate.

100th Celebration for Iraq Bottler
Naim Dangoor celebrates his 100th birthday amongst family and friends.

After a few successful real estate and manufacturing ventures, they decided to apply for the Coke bottling franchise in Iraq. Coca-Cola was relatively new to the region, having been introduced in Egypt in 1946 and Lebanon in the same year as Iraq – 1950. The bottom of each print ad in Iraqi newspapers has a line that notes Eastern Industries Ltd. as authorized bottlers of Coca-Cola. Dangoor remained a Coca-Cola bottler in Iraq beyond the 1950s.

Naim Dangoor, who happens to be Jewish, and Ahmed Safwat, who happened to be Muslim, met at a military training in Iraq, and “they immediately hit it off and decided they had to go into business together,” David recalled.

Naim Dangoor
Naim Dangoor, 2015
As we studied a late 1940s black and white photo of his father and Mr. Safwat, David said, “In my heart, Coca-Cola was that symbol of common harmony. The campaign, ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing’ was something in practice. It was not just an ad man’s story. Here you had two people from different communities, hand in hand, and here they were working together for something that is a universal symbol today. Coca-Cola was to them a symbol of a new opportunity. I hope that symbol will inspire new common harmony.”

Read article in full

Monday, May 11, 2015

Jews reclaim former Silwan synagogue

 Silwan as it is today

A  former synagogue in 'Arab' Silwan (Shiloah) in Jerusalem, abandoned by Yemeni Jews in the 1930s, has been restored to Jewish ownership, in spite of  Palestinian Arab protests. The Jerusalem Post reports:
Amid accusations of a brazen “takeover” by Jews of a sought-after former Yemenite synagogue occupied by an Arab family in Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood early Wednesday morning, a right-wing NGO heralded the move as legal and long overdue.

“Israeli settlers took over three apartments in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, under the pretext they are absentee’s property, according to local sources,” Palestinian news organization WAFA reported.

“Witnesses told WAFA that a group of settlers, guarded by police officers, arrived in Silwan at midnight and broke into three vacant apartments owned by the Abu Nab clan. Police said the settlers had won a court ruling establishing that the three apartments are the property of Yemenite Jews [from] a long time ago,” it continued.

Despite claims that the apartments were misappropriated in the cloak of night while the family that lived there was away, Ateret Cohanim, an organization that purchases properties for Jews in Arab neighborhoods, said the property was vacant and legally acquired.

According to the organization, ownership of most of the contested property – which was seized during Arab rioting in the ’30s – was recently awarded to the NGO by the court following a protracted legal battle with its previous Arab residents.

The former synagogue, called Beit Knesset (but known by Arabs as Abu Nab), is adjacent to a Jewish- owned building called Beit Dvash and nearby Beit Yonatan, a six-story building that Ateret Cohanim built several years ago.

The left-wing NGO Ir Amim (City of Nations), which is dedicated to “the establishment of an egalitarian Jerusalem,” claimed that Ateret Cohanim legally, but wrongfully, seized the property from the family that lived there while the state turned a blind eye.

“Tonight a group of over 20 settlers took over Abu Nab in Silwan in the absence of the family that lived there,” it said, adding that the move constitutes “a series of incursions into Palestinian homes in recent months.”

“The state supports Ateret Cohanim and other settler organizations in their efforts to take over and privatize outposts in Palestinian neighborhoods in the city,” the organization continued.

“This policy degrades Jerusalem and should stop.”

While the Jerusalem Municipality said it is not directly involved in the case, which it deemed a “civilian issue,” it confirmed that the building was empty and legally acquired by Ateret Cohanim.

Read article in full 

More articles about Silwan

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Jewish refugees to hold 'Jewish Nakba' event

A group of Jewish refugees from Arab countries is holding an evening meeting in Israel on 14 May - timed to coincide with the Palestinian Nakba. The event will draw attention to the Nakba Hagedola ('Great Jewish Nakba') and will try and find ways to introduce the rights of Jewish refugees on to the political agenda in Israel. Here  is an article by Dr Eddie Cohen promoting the event to Arabic readers.

Palestinian Arabs mark 15 May, the so-called "Palestinian Nakba". It is the anniversary of the independence of the modern state of Israel from the British and the Ottomans and the Arabs since 1948. But the Palestinians, and with them most of the Arabs rather forget the subject of Jewish refugees who were displaced and driven out of most of the countries established by Arab regimes in the Middle East during the twentieth century.  

JJAC (Justice For Jews From Arab Countries) has discovered a document which reveals an Arab League plan in the late Forties of the last century to expel and despoil the Jews in the Arab countries  and the confiscation of Jewish money in Arab states - particularly in Egypt, Iraq and other countries.

Dr. Eddie Cohen
Dr. Eddie Cohen

Accordingly,  the Israeli Knesset  has voted to  claim the rights of refugees and compensation for their suffering now and throughout history, the tragedies and sorrows which struck the Jewish people, and massacres at the hands of the Arab governments.
Consequently, Dr. Eddie Cohen - a refugee from Lebanon, together with other refugees from Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq is holding a conference on 14 May in the city of Tel Aviv under the title "the Great Nakba - repression and deportation and massacres against Jews in Arab countries." 

 This conference will discuss how to deal with the rights of refugees and the restoration of their property. Dr. Cohen has established a Facebook page in Arabic language specifically to discuss the issue of Jewish refugees.

Read article in full (Arabic)

To attend the 'Nakba Hagedola' ('Great Nakba') event in Tel Aviv please contact specifying your  full name and number of attendees. Please note that the event will be conducted in Hebrew.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

From darkness to light: The Joint in Morocco

With thanks: Imre and Janet 

This rare publicity video from the Israel State Archives is an advertisement for the underrated but essential work of the American Joint Distribution Committee in Morocco. The Joint celebrated its centenary last year.

 Until the Joint in Casablanca brought forth 'light' by beginning operations in 1943, Jewish life in Morocco was in darkness. It had not changed for centuries. Jews were confined to ghettoes *- cities within cities. Some 60,000 Jews were crammed into the Mellah in poverty. They were uneducated and suffered trachoma and other endemic illnesses.

 Interestingly, the video dates the beginning of the end of the Moroccan Jewish community to 1955, when the French protectorate came to an end and Morocco declared its independence: "each man asked what future lay in store for his child". The video thus lays the blame for the demise of Moroccan Jewry at the door of decolonisation.

While it is true that Morocco did not enforce state-sanctioned discrimination against Jews (unlike other Arab states) Jews were squeezed out of economic and social life by arabisation and the hostility of Moroccan nationalists. Then there was the constant threat of, or actual, violence.

*The Joint video omits to specify that in accordance with anti-Jewish rules Jews were made to move back into city mellahs in Vichy-occupied Morocco in 1941.

How Morocco's Jews became shadows

Friday, May 08, 2015

With its Jews gone, Egypt lost its 'joie de vivre'

Beloved Iraqi-born actor Arieh Elias dies
 Arieh Elias, award-winning actor:

Beloved Israeli veteran character actor, Arieh Elias, born in Iraq, has died  at the age of 94, The Jerusalem Post reports.

Elias was best known for his roles in Israeli classics of the ’60s and ’70s, among them Kazablan (1974), The Policeman (1971), Charlie and a Half (1974) and Snooker (1974).

He specialized in playing Mizrahi characters, often with comedic overtones. In recent years, Elias appeared in the movie James’ Journey to Jerusalem (2003), portraying a stubborn older man who refuses to sell his property to Tel Aviv real-estate developers and bonds with a young African foreign worker. He won the Best Actor Award from the Israel Academy of Film for his outstanding performance in the touching role. That same year, he was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the grandfather in the movie Bonjour, Monsieur Shlomi.

Born in Iraq in 1921, Elias studied theater in Baghdad.

He came to Palestine in 1947 and served in the Palmach.

Following his military service, he tried to break into the theatrical world, which at the time had little use for actors from non-Ashkenazi backgrounds.

Read article in full

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Tunisia protests at Israel Djerba jitters

 The al-Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba

Are tourists staying away from this year's Lag Ba' Omer pilgrimage, or defiantly ignoring Israeli security warnings? It depends which news media you read.

The Jewish Press reports:

Only a few hundred Jews are expected come to the Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba for the annual Lag B’Omer pilgrimage, held on May 6 and 7 this year, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned of “concrete threats” of terror attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets in Tunisia.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Tunisian Interior Minister Najem Gharsalli protested what he termed an unfounded warning, accusing Israel of trying to “damage the reputation of Tunisia.”
He did not specify why Israel would be so hell bent on hurting Tunisian tourism.

Read article in full 

 Africa Review puts a positive spin on this year's pilgrimage:

"There is a lot of security, there are soldiers and police everywhere and that is very reassuring to us," said Lorine Bendayan, who made this year's trip from France.
Apart from Tunisian pilgrims, some 500 others are expected in Djerba for the two-day religious festival from France, Israel, Italy and Britain, according to the organisers.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that his country had learned of "concrete threats" of terror attacks against Jewish or Israeli targets in the North African country, prompting a quick denial from Tunis.
But many of the Jewish pilgrims at Djerba on Wednesday were defiant.
"We are not afraid. We don't care what Israel has warned," said Bendayan.

Read article in full

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The approaching end of Egypt's Jews

 Nadia Haroun: grave desecrated

 In this movingly blunt article in Mada Masr,  Mina Thabet, an Egyptian Christian, blames the approaching end of Egypt's Jewish community on hate speech, incitement and the authorities' failure to protect minorities. Even the grave of Nadia Haroun, sister to Magda, the leader of Egypt's seven Jews, has not been spared desecration. (With thanks Maier; Lily)

The Egyptian Jewish community is facing the ugly truth that its existence is coming to an end. The population of Jewish Egyptians has fallen from 75,000 to 80,000 in 1947  to only seven today . Most of those left are elderly women, who need daily medical care.

I met Nadia Haroun, the deputy leader of the Jewish community in Egypt, for the last time in November 2013. I remember that day because I met her at the same time as her older sister Magda, the community’s leader. Nadia was smiling while telling me, “Magda told me a lot about you, I was looking forward to seeing you.” For me, I couldn’t quite believe it. “Today I met two Jews? I was the one looking forward to that.”

The Jewish community is the oldest religious community in Egypt, and it has faced a wave of propaganda, defamation and hate speech. That legacy is still felt today through stereotypes and slurs that persist in everyday language.

I was criticized for writing an article in Arabic entitled, “We are sorry, Jews.” Critics wondered how a Christian could defend Jews, when they took part in the crucifixion of Jesus. Ironically, many of those critics are Muslims extremists, some of whom may themselves be discriminating against Christians.
Unfortunately, Egyptian history is full of violations of the essential rights of minorities and vulnerable groups.

On November 2, 1945, anti-British, anti-Zionist (and anti-Jewish) demonstrations took place in Cairo on the occasion of the 28th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. A synagogue was burned down, 27 Torah scrolls were desecrated, and a soup kitchen, a home for the aged, a shelter for poor transients, the Jewish hospital, the quarters of the Art Society and several Jewish public buildings were damaged or destroyed.

After the 1948 war, a hostile environment against Jews strengthened, as they were suspected of acting as a “fifth column” for Israel. After the 1952 coup, Jews were subject to detention, deportation and sequestration. At least 900 Jews had been arrested as of December 7, 1956 . In the mid-50s, then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser started his policy of nationalization, which had a devastating impact on the Jewish community, as they controlled a broad sector of the Egyptian economy. American diplomats noted that sequestration decisions were filed against 539 Jews by name and 105 firms, in addition to Jews covered in the sequential orders filed against British and French nationals.

In November 1956, the regime modified its citizenship and nationality laws in order to keep Jews and other minorities from becoming Egyptian citizens . The situation became more complicated at the end of November, by when at least 500 Egyptian and stateless Jews had been expelled from Egypt , not including a considerable number of Jewish citizens of Britain and France. Most of the expellees were heads of families. They were ordered to leave the country within two to seven days. In most cases, the individual served with a deportation order was responsible for supporting his family, so all members of the family would have to leave the country . Thus, this measure lead finally to the mass migration of Jews. They almost vanished from Egypt.

A small number of Jewish families stayed in Egypt, among them leftist activist Chehata Haroun and his family. According to Haroun’s daughter, Magda, when her father tried to fly her older sister to Paris for treatment, Egyptian authorities agreed only to give him an exit visa with no return, so he left his daughter to die and never left the country . When he died in 2001, his family had to bring a French rabbi to perform the ritual prayer for him, because they did not have a Jewish rabbi in Egypt.
The same happened with the death of Nadia.

Nadia died in March 2014, and I had the honor to attend her funeral. Egyptian state officials did not attend, although they typically attend funerals of Al-Azhar sheikhs or bishops from the Coptic Church. Nadia left her older sister Magda alone to carry the burden of the Jewish community in Egypt.

Early this month, it was the first anniversary of Nadia’s death, and Magda went to her older sister’s grave along with her current Christian husband and her Muslim daughters to perform their rites. She found that a group of youth had desecrated her sister’s grave. They also insulted her and insulted Judaism . I can’t imagine how Magda felt about that. It’s very hard for anyone to see his beloved ones insulted in life and death, just because they had a different religion.

Read article in full