Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Iraqi Jews to demand compensation 'swap'

Leaders of the Iraqi Jewish community from around the world are to meet soon in London to plan a strategy to demand compensation for lost assets, potentially in the billions of dollars, from the Iraqi government, The Jerusalem Post of 31 August has learned.

Two meetings have been scheduled for September 18 and 19 to discuss the demands of the Jews from Arab countries and to bring to the forefront a political swap.

Iraqi-born Jew Mordechai Ben-Porat, chairman of Israel's Center for the Heritage of Babylonian Jewry, organized the first meeting.

"The Jews left behind hospitals, schools, cemeteries, shopping markets," said Ben-Porat, who had been a leader of the Zionist underground movement in Iraq from its inception in 1942 until he immigrated to Israel in 1945.

From 1949 to 1951 he worked with the Mossad to take care of Jewish immigration. During that period, he collected a list of the Jewish communal property in Baghdad and Hila. He would not reveal how much he believed the properties were worth, "before sitting at the negotiation table." Some have estimated the value of the properties to be billions of dollars.

The goal of the project is political and for that reason, Professor Heskel Haddad of ( the World Organisation of ) Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC) maintains support for the cause.

"It will help Israel in the peace negotiations," he said. "The idea is to make an exchange. Arab countries will not compensate Jews who left Iraq and Israel will not compensate the Palestinian refugees."

The Iraqi Jewish community was among the largest Jewish Diaspora communities in the Arab world, numbering some 140,000, but most of the community left Iraq between 1950 and 1952, after the creation of the State of Israel. They left behind homes, businesses and large pieces of land. Most of those assets were frozen, some were taken by the government and some were sold.

Ben-Porat is fighting for the communal property.

That second meeting organized by Stanley Urman, an American non-Iraqi and director of Jews for Justice from Arab Countries (JJAC), will join together Jewish leaders from 16 Arab countries who will plan an international media advocacy campaign for the Jews who left Arab countries as refugees – set to begin in March 2006.

"We want to collect historical narratives of mass violations of human rights and record losses of communal and private property," said Urman. "Without this documentation we won't be able to credibly assert the rights of Jews displaced from Arab countries."

However Haddad, originally from Iraq and now a US citizen, told the Post that he did not expect the Iraqi government to listen to them. "I don't think anything will come of it."

Read article in full

How much did the Jews lose?

How many Jewish refugees were there? 870,000 (not including refugees from Iran). [Palestinian refugees: estimates vary between 400,000 and 700,000.]

How much did the Jews lose? No official figures exist. The property and belongings of the Jewish refugees, confiscated by the Arab governments, has been conservatively estimated at about $2.5 billion in 1948 dollars. Invest that money at a modest 6.5% over 57 years and you have today a sum of $80 billion.

In an interview in June 2007, 'Righting a historical injustice', Dr Heskel Haddad of WOJAC estimated that the value of Jewish property seized at today's prices is between $200 and 300 billion. In an article dated 13 February 2003, Itamar Levin of Globes Online estimated the value of Jewish property lost at $30 billion, with that seized in Iraq, Syria and Egypt alone at between $8 - $10 billion. Article in French here.

Some claim that Jewish property lost in Iraq alone amounts to $20 billion.

Palestinians: in the early 1950s, the UN Conciliation Commission for Palestine estimated the value of lost Palestinian property at £122 million, or approximately $1.85 billion 1990 US dollars. This was the only independent study ever done of Palestinian losses. In 1999, the Palestinians presented a $670 billion compensations claim before the European Union Commission for lost assets, use of those assets and emotional distress (p.223 Locked doors by Itamar Levin).

Jewish-owned land lost in Arab countries:38,625 sq miles
[By way of comparison, Israel's total land area is 7,992 square miles.] WOJAC has also estimated deeded property lost in Arab lands to cover 100,000 According to a UN report of 20 November 1951, Palestinian land lost amounted to 6,3027 sq.miles (16,324 sq km), of which 1,766 sq. miles were cultivable.]

Background reading:
Jewish property in Iraq, Egypt and Syria:can it be retrieved in court? by Itamar Levin ( Justice no.36, summer 2003, page 9)
Israel tallies up compensation claims by Iraqi Jews by Michael Fischbach (book review here)
Locked doors:the seizure of Jewish property in Arab lands by Itamar Levin - book review
BICOM report: The Middle East's ignored Jewish refugees
Private property: keep out! by Peter Hirschberg
Jews who fled Arab lands now press their cause - San Francisco Chronicle
The other side of the refugee coin - Time magazine
Other must-read articles

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Moroccan Jews help newer immigrants

This Jerusalem Post article explains an initiative by Moroccan Jews to fund scholarships for needy new immigrant students in Israel.

"Moroccan Jewry has gone from being an absorbed culture to being an absorbing culture," Sam Ben-Chetrit, presdient of the world Moroccan Federation, told The Jerusalem Post, adding that "Moroccan Jews should help new immigrants because they have already gotten through all the obstacles," he said.

'Ben-Chetrit noted this change in status after setting up 60,000 immigrants from the former USSR and Ethiopia with Moroccan host families across Israel during this year's Mimouna festival, at the end of Pessah. 

'Most Moroccans, and many other Jews who moved to Israel in the 1950s and 1960s from North Africa and other Arab countries, were moved to development towns in the Negev and Galilee. Placed in the nation's frontier regions, these Mizrahi immigrants were marginalized socially and geographically and found it difficult to enter the mainstream, said Oren Yiftahel, professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University. 

'And although several famous Moroccans have worked their ways out of their disadvantaged position – the actor Zeev Revah, singer Maya Buskila and a slew of Israeli politicians, to name a few – there are still serious challenges facing Israel's Moroccan community resulting from life in the development towns, Yiftahel said. 

"After several generations in Israel, they are part of the population that absorbs [new immigrants]," he said. "On the other hand, as long as there is an overlap between ethnic origin and economic class, the process will never be complete."
Article in full

Sunday, August 28, 2005

New study of the 'Palestinian right of return'

Matthew Kalman, a freelance journalist and ex-Sunday Times correspondent based in Jerusalem, has recently written a paper on 'the Palestinian right of return in international law' from the Israeli perspective. He makes the point that the Israeli position has not changed since 1948, but that the Arab stance has shifted over the years.

In spite of objections from 'moderates' such as Professor Sari Nusseibeh of Al-Quds university that the 'right of return ' conflicts with the two-state solution, the Palestinian insistence on ' the right of return' has actually hardened in recent years. The Palestinians cite UN resolution 194 as the legal basis for their demand. Kalman points out that this resolution was passed before Israel became a member of the UN. Israeli jurists now consider it obsolete. Moreover, all Arab states voted against it at the time.

Interestingly, Kalman also points out that when UNWRA was first established, 17,000 Jews and 31,000 Arabs in Israel registered with the body, but they were soon absorbed.

The Israeli position is that the Arab refugees should be allowed a partial return, compensation and resettlement in a Palestinian state or other Arab states, while Jewish refugees should be compensated.

"The Jewish refugees from Arab countries were never offered, nor received, compensation for the property confiscated or left behind in the countries where they previously had lived. As the years passed without any sign of a comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, successive Israeli leaders expressed the hope that the refugee issue might be considered settledby this mutual suffering of exile and loss of property. In 1965, Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol said that in a natural national environment, Israel had absorbed Jewish refugees from Arab countries to a total not less than the number of Arab refugees who left our territory, and from the legal point of view, it has thus perhaps already fulfilled its obligation."

Read document in full

Friday, August 26, 2005

The dying years of Baghdad Jewry

Maurice B was one of only three Iraqi Jewish students in London during the Second World War. He returned to Baghdad in 1946, hoping to re-establish himself after a seven-year absence and settle down. Little did he and the rest of the community then realise that the days of the oldest Diaspora were numbered. In 1950 Maurice, his wife and his newborn son, together with 120,000 other Jews, left Iraq for good. These extracts from Maurice B's personal memoirs convey the atmosphere of the time:

"After four years of relative quiet and considerable material prosperity of the Jews of Iraq, trouble seemed to have been over and life returned to its usual daily rhythm. Little did they know, however, what lay in store for them, for it took no more than another four years for their ancient community to be virtually liquidated, themselves dispossessed and reduced to the status of destitute refugees.

The authorities started to take practical measures aimed at reducing the position of prominence which the Jews seemed to occupy. The League of Arab Nations had just recently been established, egged on by the British Foreign Office. The Palestine question became virtually the only cause on which the Arab World was ostensibly united. The involvement of a number of Jews in Communist activities made it easy for the government to persecute Communists as alleged Zionists and vice versa. Strict censorship was introduced on all contacts by Jews with Palestine. Letters to relatives and friends were seized and filed, later to be used against their senders regardless of what was actually written in them.

Jewish civil servants, some in high positions, were dismissed or forced to resign their jobs. Jewish merchants, especially those in the export-import business, were not issued with the necessary papers, and many were impelled to go into partnership with Muslim businessmen in order to continue to trade. Hebrew instruction in Jewish schools was reduced to a bare minimum and no more Jews were being admitted to institutions of higher learning.

Anti-Zionist demonstrations took place and threats were being made with renewed anti-Jewish riots. Travel restrictions were imposed. The Government decided that Jews were allowed to leave the country only if they gave a guarantee of their return in the form of a cash deposit of three thousand pounds (quite a large sum in those days).

For me the travel restrictions were a big blow. I could not then contemplate a return to England in any foreseeable future.

The owners of the large and prestigious building project on which I was engaged decided not to proceed. The valuable site was left in limbo with the reinforced concrete columns sticking up above the ground for many years, a symbol of the demise of the Jewish community. I had to forego most of the interim fees to which I was entitled.

I could no longer follow my profession as a civil and structural engineer. There was a suggestion that I may be offered a post as a temporary teacher of English and Mathematics at the Frank Iny Jewish School but the offer did not materialise. In any case, not having had any previous experience in teaching, it would have been difficult for me to undertake such a job.

I was co-opted to become an honorary secretary of a committee in charge of administering some Jewish medical services in Baghdad including the only large hospital, known as Meir Elias Hospital, run and funded by the Community. There were also some sizeable donations made by wealthy Iraqi Jews in New York to provide the hospital with additional facilities including a building to house new X-Ray equipment.

I was in charge of the financial administration and all cheques had to be brought to me for authorisation and signature.

On 29th November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for the partitioning of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab States.

Fighting soon erupted between Jews and Arabs in Palestine. A group of so-called “Iraqi Volunteers” was sent with official encouragement and financial help to join the Arab forces fighting in Palestine. A campaign was launched to raise funds from the Jews for what was called the “rescue of Palestine”. The chief Rabbi Sasson Kadoouri was forced to issue a statement rejecting Zionism and expressing support for Arab rights in Palestine. The distinction between “Zionist” and “Jew” had become blurred. Violent demonstrations took place in which the main slogan was “death to the Jews”. Synagogues were attacked and desecrated.

The community was in a state of shock and fear. However, one bright spot to relieve my own gloom and depression was the growing mutual attraction between my future wife and myself. We never had a proper courtship. We were able to meet from time to time, but we seldom had the opportunity to be alone together. The parents on both sides would have been happy to see us get engaged as soon as possible; however, because of the dire threats, persecution and our uncertain future, I was for several months rather reluctant to commit myself fully to the prospect of marriage.

The Arab League decided that before the British Mandate in Palestine was officially ended, the regular Arab armies from neighbouring Arab countries should intervene. And so it was that on 15th May 1948, immediately after the State of Israel had been proclaimed, the Iraqi troops crossed into their allotted sector in Palestine. It was the first time that Iraqis had used their troops abroad. Martial law was imposed throughout Iraq. Military courts were established, civilian officials in almost all areas of life were subordinated to the military; censorship was made more strict.

It was in this atmosphere of doom and gloom that we became formally engaged on 28th May 1948. The engagement party took place in my fiancee’s parents' house and garden and was attended solely by members of our two families. We were both happy and fully committed to face our uncertain future together.

At first, false reports were circulated by the Government and media about the victories achieved by the Arab armies in Palestine. Once the true story of the defeats of the Arabs at the hand of the Israelis emerged, stronger anti-Jewish measures were applied. Almost all Jewish civil servants were dismissed arbitrarily from their posts without notice, severance pay or pension. Jewish banks were forbidden to have transactions with foreign banks and institutions. Jews were charged with such fanciful crimes as having Zionist leanings, expressing support for Israel or making derogatory remarks about the Iraqi army. The procedure was simple enough, and the fact that the work was left to the police and the military courts made it easy for petty officials and fanatics to victimise the Jews with a vengeance.

First, the victim’s house was searched for any evidence of contacts with the Zionist enemy; then, whether or not such “evidence” had been found, the accused was arrested and brought to court and summarily sentenced to a year or two in jail, with the option of a fine of over £2,000. The searches provided the police with an excellent opportunity in acts of extortion and bribery. Millions of pounds were collected from Jews to cover the high cost of the country’s abortive military adventure in Palestine. The fines which the courts imposed on Jews were payable to the Ministry of Defence.

All prominent and wealthy Jews had become very worried about their personal safety and the harrassment they were likely to face. My father thought it necessary to leave Baghdad for Europe on “medical grounds”. My fiancee’s parents also left for Persia. Each person had to pay a cash deposit of £3,000 before a passport could be issued to them. My brother-in-law, who was one of the three Jewish members in the Iraqi parliament, was also very scared and left for Europe with my sister and their two children.

My brother and I were both summoned by the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) on trumped up charges. For several days we were kept on tenterhooks and greatly worried about what horrible fate might befall us. Fortunately, an intermediary who knew the chief of the CID was able to intercede and arrange for the charges against us to be dropped at a cost of a substantial bribe.

On the 28th December 1948, my fiancee and I were married quietly in our house, only members of the family being present. Her parents, my father, my sister and her family were all abroad. The person who officiated at our wedding was Shamoon Muallem, the same gentleman who officiated at my parents’ wedding thirty three years earlier. My mother was the only parent present at our wedding.

By the beginning of 1949, the anti-Jewish campaign appeared to have passed its peak. Armistice agreements had been signed between Israel and its surrounding Arab states. Iraqi forces were withdrawn from Palestine and martial law was lifted.

My mother managed to obtain a passport to travel to Europe to join my father. My brother had also obtained a passport enabling him to study in England. They each had to deposit the sum of £3,000 with the authorities, which would be forfeited if they failed to return to Iraq within a specified time.

A second cousin of mine, Naim B, used to be a senior employee of the Iraqi Railways. During the latter part of the Second World War, he was in charge of a project to develop tourist resorts in the mountains of Kurdistan. Naim knew the country well and had many prominent Kurdish friends. In the summer of 1949, we felt confident enough to travel with Naim to spend a holiday/honeymoon in the resorts of Salah El Din and Haji Umran, then largely deserted by tourists. Haji Umran was the most northerly point of Iraq, adjoining the frontiers of both Iran and Turkey and it could only be reached by car through a treacherous and mountainous unpaved road. The landscape resembled the mountains of Switzerland. It was covered with luscious green vegetation and several waterfalls. Naim introduced us to some of his Kurdish friends. We were happy to have been able to spend some ten days in the mountains, away for the simmering heat of Baghdad.

After the lifting of martial law, illegal emigration by young Jews from Iraq to Palestine increased greatly and was organised by the Zionist underground. Various escape routes to Iran, old and new, were used to capacity mainly via Basra, across the Shat-El-Arab in the South and through the mountainous borders in the north. Arab and Kurdish “guides” were paid handsomely and border security guards and policemen were bribed and conveniently looked the other way. Mass evacuation operations could no longer be kept secret, since many families chose to follow their children and started selling their household effects and property.

Confronted with such determination, the government decided to legalise emigration. On 2nd March 1950, a law was passed permitting the Jews to leave the country provided they surrender their Iraqi nationality. It was first suggested that the law might be a trap to enable to authorities to round up suspected Zionists and during the first few weeks there was little response to the new law. When finally word was given by the Zionist underground that Jews could start registering for emigration, there was a flood of people who decided to register, a kind of vicious circle was set in motion and many of those who had no wish to leave the country forever decided to follow suit, finding it difficult to remain when their children, relatives and friends or business associates were about to leave. In March 1951, the day of expiry of the law allowing Jews to leave, it was found that all Iraqi Jews, with the exception of some five to six thousand, had registered to leave.

It was then that the final blow was dealt. The government, led by Nuri-al-Said, went into secret session and decided to convoke parliament, again in secret session. Two laws were proposed and passed. The first decreed that the possessions of all Jews who had registered for emigration were to be “frozen”, the second stipulated that Iraqi Jews who had not given up their Iraqi nationality and who were abroad, would lose their nationality should they not return within a specified period of time, and eventually their possession would be forfeited to the Iraqi government. Overnight, nearly 80,000 Jews waiting to be airlifted to Israel were rendered penniless, having from now on to make do with whatever immigrant absorption authorities there would offer.*

The massive airlift which became known as Operation Ezra and Nehemiah was carried out fairly smoothly although the number of emigrants by far exceeded all original estimates. While immigration authorities in Israel had been planning to received about 300 new immigrants a day – and this, with difficulty, the daily influx at its peak reached the enormous number of 1400. The total number of Iraqi Jews who surrendered their citizenship and were airlifted to Israel was 107,603 while some 16,000 had left the country by other means. It was estimated that at the beginning of 1952, no more than 6,000 Jews remained in Iraq. *

As I am writing these lines early in 2004, there are less than two dozen Jewish men and women spending their last remaining years in a country in which they and their ancestors had lived for close on three millennia.

We were desperate to leave Iraq as soon as possible and me to return to the UK where I had spent the war years and where I had a good chance to earn a living. In the meantime my wife had become pregnant and the baby was expected in June 1950.

My brother-in-law had returned from Europe with my sister and her children. He was still one of the three Jewish members in the Iraqi parliament who were now just figureheads and ignored by the government and other MPs.

He was anxious to move with his family from a rented house to my parents’ house as soon as we were able to leave Baghdad. He succeeded in getting us issued with passports without having to lodge the £3,000 cash deposit per person with the authorities.

On 30th June 1950, our son Danny was born in a private room at the Meir Elias Hospital where I was still the Honorary Secretary. It was an unduly hot summer in Baghdad where the maximum temperature in the shade climbed to nearly 50 degrees centigrade. There was no air conditioning but every effort was made by the hospital staff to try and cool the temperature in the delivery room by providing blocks of ice ventilated by electric fans.

The ceremony of the Pedion for the first-born male took place in our house one month later. My paternal grandmother Salha was then 104 years old and although rather frail, she had retained all her faculties. She was very happy and excited about the baby. I myself was named Moshe after my grandfather who was the husband of Salha. My grandmother realised that we were soon going to leave Baghdad for good and she would never see us again. She made me promise that if ever a little girl is born to us, we would name the baby after her, a promise which I duly kept.

On 23rd August 1950, with Danny only seven weeks old, we flew from Baghdad to London via Rome and Amsterdam. The journey was tiresome and took over 12 hours. At last we were able to lead our new lives in a free and democratic country. We were happy to face the challenge of finding a new home, and for me to earn my living in a new job. But this is another story."

*With acknowledgements to Nissim Rejwan and Prof Elie Kedourie.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Jewish artist invited to Iraq

Iraqi-born artist Oded Halahmy is looking forward to his trip to Baghdad. He has been invited by the Iraqi government to visit the country. He plans to tour sites of Jewish interest - such as the tomb of the prophet Ezekiel at al-Hilla - and to write a book.

In December 2003, a menorah sculpted by Halahmy was placed in front of the presidential palace in Baghdad to mark the first festival of Hanucah since the liberation of Iraq.

Halahmy sees himself as an ambassador for peace. He is optimistic about the future of Iraq. He hopes eventually to divide his time between Tel-Aviv, New York and Baghdad.

The sculptor left Baghdad aged 12 in 1950 when the bulk of the Jewish community was airlifted to Israel. But his work has always been influenced by images of the Middle East and from his Baghdad childhood - pomegranates, palm trees and the Hand which protects against the Evil eye.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Morocco rediscovers its Jewish identity

Lately Morocco seems to have rediscovered its Jewish heritage. Why? Because, according to Le Journal Hebdomadaire," by looking at our Jewish heritage, we find out who we are."

In this quest for identity, Moroccan Jews have become a bridge. In May, Paul Dahan put on an exhibition in Brussels of Moroccan Jewish objects - jewellery, costumes and over 6,000 manuscripts. The exhibition went down surprisingly well with the children of North African immigrants.

Surprising - sociologist Hind Taarji explains - " because the Jewish aspect of recent Moroccan history has been hidden away. It is surprising that it is Jews who are promoting Moroccan culture. Today it is hard to conceive that one can be both Jewish and Moroccan. For young Muslim Moroccans today, the Jew is an Israeli. The fact he belongs and is attached to Morocco comes back at them with a boomerang effect."

An old man she interviewed in the old medina of Casablanca was reminiscing about the close relationship he had with his Jewish neighbour. The 'other', in a sense, was a part of himself. But for the new generation, the 'other' is the Israeli you see on TV.

The Jews were once 3 percent of the population in the 1950s. All but 3,000 have left for the US, Canada, France and Israel. According to Joseph Chetrit, a specialist in Moroccan Jewish culture, the issue of the Jews became a taboo: their departure was seen as a kind of betrayal. Another factor was than those who were historically inferior are now a thorn in the side of the Arab world.

"As long as the complex reasons which pushed a community which were settled in Morocco for more than 2,000 years into exile have not been clearly taught in the history books, future generations will never be able to conceive that one can be both Jewish and Moroccan.

"Moroccan Jewish history is not rosy as the official version dictates, nor is it entirely black. The Jewish communities, like Morocco itself, have always been pluralistic, shaped by region, tribe and the shared environment."

Joseph Chetrit, a professor at Haifa University, views Arab-Jewish relations over 13 centuries as 'ambivalent'. The Jews were dhimmis - protected but disliked. But the communities were economically interdependent.

In the towns, the Jews were jewellers and silversmiths, a trade forbidden to Muslims because it was associated with usury. In the country the Jews were not landowners but played an important role by financing crop-seeding and harvesting. Relations were based on trust.

Popular culture among Jews and Muslims was almost identical. The Mimouna celebration at the end of the Passover week represents a true symbiosis: The Jews went to their Muslim neighbours for their first cup of sweet tea after the holiday, while Muslim families offered them milk, flour and honey.

From the 9th century onwards, Jewish and Muslim musicians worked together in Andalusia and in Cordoba. The Jewish musician Mansour accompanied the master musician Ziryab on his flight from Baghdad. At the court of Abdurrahman II he created a vast corpus of music, known as Andalusian music, which has been played at weddings and family celebrations through the ages.

Several contemporary Moroccan hits were actually composed in Israel by Jewish musicians such as Botbol, Bensoussan and Karoutchi. They were popularised by Jewish bands who went back and forth between Israel and Morocco. Famous singers included Nissim Anneqab and Zohra El Fassia, but the king of them all was Sami El Maghrebi.

According to the book Deux mille ans de vie juive by Haim Zafrani, the Jews founded 'Moroccan capitalism': they did jobs that were banned or despised by Muslims. They were metalworkers, shoemakers and worked with Christians under the direction of a Muslim to mint coins for the Sultan in Fez. They were part of an international network trading with Jews in Hamburg and Manchester. They exported cereal, skins and leather and imported a variety of goods, notably textiles. From the 19th century the Nahon, Pariente and Benchimol families set up the first Moroccan banks with branches in Tangier.

Jews also worked as builders, grain merchants and financiers, producers of salted and dried leathergoods (maroquinerie) and beeswax.

Controversy in Casablanca

This bizarre article (in French) by Fahd Yata in La Nouvelle Tribune castigates the self-perpetuating leadership of the Jewish community of Casablanca for not having held elections for 20 years. (" The Council of the Jewish Community in our town is a bit like the Moroccan Tennis Federation," said one wag.)

Women have not been allowed to exercise their voting rights yet. The self-appointed Serge Berdugo and Boris Toledano argue that it is the Moroccan authorities themselves who have been opposing womens' voting rights and that talks on this issue having been going on with the Interior Ministry since 1997.

" At a time when the Moroccan press has been reporting the progressive normalisation of relations between Israel and the Palestinians and has even interviewed the Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, the stance of the Casablanca Jewish Community appears singularly anachronistic.(...), Fahd Yata writes.

"Two-thousand year-old Moroccan Judaism is an essential part of our national heritage and Moroccan identity. The community is not as big as it once was, but two million Jews are proud of their Moroccan origins and follow carefully what goes on in their native land. (...) The winds of change blowing in Morocco for the last five years should touch the Jews of Casablanca too."

Friday, August 19, 2005

Gaza settler wanted to become Palestinian

This fascinating interview by Al-Jazeera predated the Gaza withdrawal by a few weeks. Ultimately Libyan-born Avi Farhan, who came to Israel as a refugee, was not allowed to conduct his experiment: to stay on in his settlement of Elei Sinai and become a Palestinian citizen, just as an Arab from Um-Al-Fahm can be a citizen of Israel. Still, Farhan does put his finger on the nub of the Israel-Arab conflict: the refusal of the Arabs to live alongside the Jews.

"What I'm saying is that if we want real peace, all the Arab states have to participate alongside Europe, the US and Israel. The Arab states have to come to terms with what happened to the million Jews that once lived there. I suggest that each country in the Arab land absorb the Palestinians that live there, like in Ein Hilwah camp in Lebanon, for example, and have them live in the lands that we owned there. If they want to come back to Yaffa and Lydd and Ramla, then they want to kick the Jews out."

Read article in full

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Shabbat at the Maadi synagogue, Cairo

"It was an odd feeling, coming to pray in this place. As we stood on worn oriental carpets, praying by the light of the art deco candelabras, I felt as if I had gone back in time. I wonder what the people who built this synagogue would have thought if they could have known that one day their community would spread all over the world and that people speaking Hebrew--Israelis--would replace them as the worshippers in their synagogue."

Sophia Aron reports for Haaretz on the only working synagogue in Cairo:

"Neighborhood residents used to say that if it lights up, it must be Yom Kippur, but now the old Maadi synagogue in Cairo is lit every Shabbat. My interest in the Maadi synagogue began two years ago, when my father and I visited the famous Ben Ezra synagogue in Coptic Cairo. The Ben Ezra is famous for its beautiful interior and the amazing texts recovered in its' geniza, the Jewish burial place for holy texts. But sadly, nobody prays there anymore. I had read in my guidebook that there was another synagogue in Cairo. The Maadi synagogue was occasionally in use and was open to visitors, provided you gave a little baksheesh to the old gabbi (caretaker).
Read article in full.

More about the Maadi synagogue here.

Back to Babylon

In the Jerusalem Post of 15 August, Judy Lash Balint reports on her visit to the Museum of Babylonian Jewry at Or Yehuda: (with thanks:Lily)

The epic story of the most ancient Diaspora community and its eventual immigration to Israel is graphically depicted at the Museum of Babylonian Jewry in Or Yehuda. Located 13 km east of Tel Aviv, Or Yehuda was once itself the site of two large ma'abarot (tent cities) set up in 1950 to accommodate an influx of thousands of Iraqi and Romanian Jews.

Several halls of the museum deal with the highly developed educational and communal structures of Iraqi Jewry during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Photos show stylishly dressed families at lavish weddings; well-to-do businessmen standing proudly at the doors to their Baghdad establishments; and orderly rows of children in neatly pressed school uniforms standing at attention on the grounds of one of the 32 Jewish schools in Baghdad.

But, as with so many other Diaspora communities, the mid-20th century saw the political and social situation in Iraq deteriorate rapidly. This occurred within the lifetime of the museum founders, so it is not surprising that the tumultuous changes of this century for the Iraqi Jewish community occupy so much space in the museum.(...)

One exhibit that is bound to stop you in your tracks is the recreation of a ma'abara, complete with clothesline, a finjan, and suitcases packed in the corner. Photos of the ma'abarot during the miserable, rainy winter of 1951 can give only an inkling of what life must have been like for the thousands of immigrants who called Or Yehuda home.

The government's crude attempts at immigrant absorption are also on display. Posters reading "Jew, Speak Hebrew" and certificates noting name changes line the walls.

There's plenty of visual interest at this museum. A life-size reconstruction of an alley in Baghdad's Jewish quarter is included, with merchants of every description, a coffee house, and homes with their overhanging balconies, all recreating the ambiance of early 20th-century Baghdad.

A new wing of the museum is nearing completion, which will expand the educational and archival space. In the new library, a display panel explains how US troops discovered a treasure trove of Jewish artifacts when they overran Saddam Hussein's intelligence headquarters in Baghdad in 2003. Much of the material was damaged by fire and water during the battle for the Mukhbarat building, but the Americans salvaged what they could, dried it onsite, and sent everything to Washington, DC, for professional restoration. The museum would like to house and display the recovered books and community records, but so far American authorities have given no indication of their intentions regarding the legacy of the last Jews of Iraq.

The final hall of this compelling museum is a recreation of the Great Synagogue of Baghdad (Slat-li-Kbighi). Here, one may ascend the Holy Ark to look at Torah scrolls rescued from Iraq, and then exit to the streets of Or Yehuda to mingle with the descendants of those who might once have prayed there. Read article in full

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

First Cairo, now Gaza

With Israel in the painful throes of the Gaza pull-out, this letter appeared in the Jerusalem Post of 15 August:

"Sir, - The beginning of disengagement is painful for most people. But it is especially so for those previously expelled from other lands.

In 1957 my wife's family was given less than a week to "dispose" of their home in Cairo and leave Egypt forever. Each person was allowed only two suitcases, and less than $1,000 in local currency for the entire family. My wife was seven when this happened, also in August. But she still remembers Egyptian children running into her room and taking all her toys, dolls and other items while her father stood helplessly by.

Though residents of the settlements can take virtually all their possessions with them - including the doors and window frames of their homes, all carefully packed - having to leave homes many have lived in for periods of up to 30 years is no less traumatic than my wife's experience in Egypt nearly half a century ago.

It can only be hoped that our government ministers understand what they are going through - and noting the rhetoric from the PA's Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qurei that Jerusalem (and Tel Aviv?) is next on their agenda. (" 'Tomorrow Jerusalem,' claims exultant Abbas," August 14).


A Karaite Passover

Tradition teaches that on Passover, all Jews must embody the experience of Exodus, feeling as if we ourselves have gone through it. For the Karaite Jews from Egypt — a community that rejected rabbinic law from the start — no imagination is required, reported JTA News last Passover (Acknowledgements:JIMENA).

“Every year at Passover,” says Sara Moussa, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area, home to the largest Karaite community in the United States, “we tell the guests at our table that our ancestors were kicked out of Egypt thousands of years ago, then we were kicked out one more time just a few decades ago. We never forget that.”

The Karaites observe a form of Judaism that its adherents claim is based entirely on the Bible. The group, which traces its origins to the eighth century, considers the Talmud and other oral law, upon which much of rabbinic Judaism is based, to have no authority.

Read article in full

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Inside the mind of Avi Shlaim

NB: This interview by Meron Rapoport with the Baghdad-born, Oxford-based 'new historian' Avi Shlaim (reprinted from Haaretz of 11 August) comes with a health warning. Some of the mindboggling claims peddled by Shlaim are guaranteed to make your blood pressure rise. Please send all complaints to (With thanks:Lily)

Try this for size:

'The Arabs have repeatedly outstretched a hand to peace and Israel has always rejected it. Each time with a different excuse."

And this, Shlaim's version of the 1950 exodus of the Jews from Iraq (his family among them), somewhat at variance with the highly-respected Professor Elie Kedourie's :

"I think - I can't prove it - that there was an understanding between the Iraqi government and the Israeli government. An understanding, not an agreement. Israel asked Iraq to let the Jews immigrate, the Iraqis said: we are not opposed, but the Jews are filling central positions in the Iraqi economy, so Israel said: Leave the Jewish property in Iraq.'

Here are some more extracts:

"Shlaim was born in Baghdad in 1945, to a wealthy family with a magnificent three-story house and 10 servants, including a special servant who went to the market to do the shopping. His father was an importer of building materials, and hobnobbed with the heads of the Iraqi government, including then-prime minister Nuri Said.

"Most of the ministers were customers of ours," says Shlaim. "They used to come to our house and order building materials for their houses. They never paid, but in return they ordered work for the government from us, and paid much more than necessary. That was corruption, but not brutal corruption, as with Saddam Hussein. That was an old Arab political culture, a culture of compromise."

"His mother was connected to the British government. Her father was the British army's head interpreter in Iraq during World War II, two of her brothers served in British intelligence as interpreters, and received British citizenship. That helped them later on, when they wanted to leave Iraq.

"Shlaim describes a home in which Judaism was not an important component of his parents' identity. "Judaism was ritual," he says. "My parents used to attend the synagogue once a year, at home we spoke Judeo-Arabic, we listened to Arabic music. Nor was Zionism important, my parents had no empathy for it. There were Zionist agents who tried to create propaganda, but it didn't impress the Jewish elite and the middle class. There was no tradition of persecution or anti-Semitism in Iraq."

"The first pogrom took place in 1941, in Farhoud, in the context of the (pro-Nazi) Iraqi rebellion against British rule. The real problems began with Israel's War of Independence in 1948, says Shlaim, when the harassment began. The climax came when a hand grenade was thrown into the central synagogue in Baghdad in 1951, "and from that day to this, there have been rumors that an Israeli agent tossed the grenade."

Note how the events of the Farhoud (which killed 169 Jews) are skimmed over in one sentence. Shlaim ignores the Nazification of Iraq, the raft of anti-Jewish legislation and the traumatic hanging of Shafiq Ades. In his zeal to blame Israel for the Iraqi Jews' troubles he echoes the standard Arab propaganda line that one hand grenade tossed by an Israeli agent caused the bulk of the community to flee. He protests that he was prevented from verifying his claim because he was not allowed to see the historical record.

"Out of the 130,000 Jews in Iraq, 100,000 registered, including my father. And then, immediately afterward, a new law was issued, to the effect that any Iraqi who had given up his citizenship was giving up all his other rights, including property rights. My father was sure that he would have enough time to sell his property, but then it turned out that he had lost everything: a house and warehouses and merchandise worth half a million pounds sterling at the time. In the end, he was even forced to cross the border illegally on a mule, because he was the guarantor of the debts of another Jew who had disappeared. I, my mother and my sisters, with our British citizenship, left Iraq on a regular flight to Cyprus, and met up with my father in Israel."

In the very next paragraph Shlaim makes the contradictory claim: "we are not refugees, nobody expelled us from Iraq, nobody told us that we were unwanted. But we were the victims of the Israeli-Arab conflict."

He then describes the pathetic figure of his father, whose refugee experience had left him a broken man:

"Shlaim, five years old at the time, landed with his parents in Ramat Gan. His father managed to bring some money with him, and tried to do business here, but failed. "They cheated him. In Baghdad, if you gave a check and it bounced, you wouldn't show your face again. Here it was a badge of honor," says Shlaim. His mother, who hadn't worked a day in her life, found work as a telephone operator in the Ramat Gan municipality. She acclimated (sic), as did Shlaim and his sisters. They learned Hebrew quickly, although they continued to speak Arabic with their parents.

"He was somewhat ashamed of his father, especially when he would call to him in Arabic in the street, but he didn't dare to ask him not to speak Arabic to him in front of strangers. "He was a broken man, but he continued to dress and to behave like a respectable man, very polite, he didn't interrupt and he was not aggressive," says Shlaim. "He brought with him from Baghdad all the suits that his tailor had sewn for him from British fabric. He didn't have any work, and he would go down to the street, in a suit and an ironed shirt and a tie, and go to the cafes to sit with his friends from Iraq, who also had no work, and also walked around in the street in their suits."

(Rapoport) And did you try to talk to him?

"He didn't talk about Iraq, he was silent. Today I'm interested in his trauma and I'm interested in why he didn't speak at the time. Maybe he spoke and I didn't show any interest. Children, apparently, are not interested in history. He died in 1971."

There follows a not-very-convincing attempt to allege anti-Mizrahi prejudice from his Ashkenazi fellow pupils and teachers: I didn't encounter discrimination, and I didn't feel deprived, but the atmosphere was that anything Ashkenazi was good and anything Arab was primitive. I felt I had accomplished something when I had Ashkenazi friends. I remember that one boy placed his hand on my shoulder and said to me: you're my best friend. I was amazed that he didn't feel that I was inferior."

What are we then to make of Avi Shlaim? How can one explain his Orwellian revisionism of Middle Eastern history? Is he suffering from an Oedipus complex? 'Stockholm syndrome'? Or has he been terminally brainwashed by The Guardian?

Update: two ex-Hebrew University professors respond:

"Shlaim's writing stems from a political agenda that is hostile to Israel, which is typical of the "new historians," rather than from an objective examination of the Israeli narrative. The following story will testify to the nature of Shlaim's attitude toward Israel. A few years ago he, together with Eugene L. Rogan, published the book "The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948." In the foreword to the book, Shlaim dared to write something to the effect of the following:

In the Middle East, as in other places, history plays a fundamental role in the building of a state, in granting legitimacy to its authority and to its political system. Governments in the region impose direct and indirect authority on the writing of history. The state controls the preparation of history textbooks for the elementary and high schools. The state runs the vast majority of the universities in the Middle East, and the members of their faculties are civil servants. National history associations and government publishing houses serve as filters whose job is to uproot impermissible historical descriptions, and to convince people of the truths that the state is interested in promoting. Since advancement in the academic establishment is closely related to adhering to the official line, historians are only barely motivated by the desire to engage in critical historical writing. Instead, the vast majority of Arab and Israeli historians have written and are writing in an uncritical nationalistic spirit.

The Israeli reader cannot help but react with astonishment to these lies regarding Israel. This entire description is of course valid in relation to the Arab countries, but in Israel the situation is the opposite: The government does not run the universities, their faculty members are not civil servants and their advancement is not dependent on their writing according to the wishes of the government. A failure to distinguish between the situation here and what is happening in the Arab countries is strong evidence of Shlaim's willingness to use lies and invective as long as he can achieve his goal, which is to denigrate Israel. It is unfortunate that this man is becoming such a leading figure in the eyes of Israeli journalists."

Update 10/10/07: An interesting insight from a commenter on Harry's Place who knew Shlaim at school:

Let me try to explain from what and from where Mr. Shlaim's hatred for all things Israeli, and more deeply, all things Jewish, may stem from.

In 1961, I, as a recent immigrant to England, started attending the JFS Secondary on Torriano Avenue in Camden Town. I was one of two non-English-born "foreigners" in the School, a 15-year-old Jewish boy from India; the other was an Iraqi-Israeli, Avi (Abe) Shlaim.
We were different from the others, so we became fast friends especially as we lived close by to each other, I with my family, and he with the Principal of the JFS, Dr. Conway.
We played the same sports, did the same subjects, and usually went home together. This went on for three years!

From the first day I knew him it was obvious that Abe absolutely HATED Israel. His family, well-to-do in Iraq, but forced out by the Baathist regime (so he said) were now just another family of Mizrahim, Sephardic Jews, in Israel, where, truth be told, they were never the equals of the Ashkenazim. But Abe never blamed Iraqi politics for this demeaning drop in status; he blamed the establishment of the State of Israel! The argument then, as now, being that if Israel did not exist then there would have been no massive disinterrment of Jews from the Arab countries, where they had lived in Dhimmi peace, but in peace, for centuries.
Abe's hatred for the State of Israel would show itself in his constant reiteration of the mantra that he would rather die than go to the mandatory, and in those days a universal badge of honor, service in the IDF.

As for his hatred of Jews; he was living in the home of the Conservative-Orthodox Principal, yet he took every possible opportunity to decry that; he would never wear his school cap, would laugh at kosher (admittedly not exactly revolutionary among us at the time) take every opportunity to desecrate Sabbath. We all did these things, but for Abe it was always a personal vendetta, like sneaking a Wimpy hamburger into a kosher home after telling us that he was going to, and then repeating what a forbidden thrill it was to eat it in his own room, half-hoping he would be discovered so he could "have it out" with his host.

Abe went on to read History at Cambridge; I the same at Sussex. We did not keep in touch, although I did hear that he was being groomed for the Israeli Diplomatic Service.
I never heard of him again until he started writing his books when it became abundantly clear that the Abe Shlaim I knew had become the Avi Shlaim I didn't want to!
So, protect your kids from themselves, and teach them well. The books they write as adults will nearly always be prefigured in their childhood loves and hates!

Posted by: eliXelx at October 10, 2007 10:24 AM

Holocaust Museum recognises Farhoud

The Holocaust Museum in Los Angeles and the University of California has decided to recognise the pro-Nazi Farhoud of June 1941 in which 130 Iraqi Jews were killed (other estimates put the figure as high as 169 or 179 - Ed) as 'a forgotten pogrom of the Holocaust'.

The decision was made by the Museum together with the Center for research into the Holocaust, citizenship rights and Tolerance at the University of California.

The museum and the Research Center called on all Holocaust museums and academic researchers in the Holocaust to follow suit. (With thanks: iraqijews)

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Morocco haemorrhages its Jews

Morocco's King Hassan II would not have been averse to "Israel entering the Arab League," reports an article of 3rd August 2005 in the Moroccan newspaper Le Journal-Hebdo on the exodus of the Jews from Morocco.

On the other hand the late Hassan distinguished between 'Jews' and 'Zionists' and advocated the return of Jews to Morocco.

The article is frank about the causes of the Jewish exodus. "After the Six-Day War of 1967, Morocco is no longer a land where Jewish and Muslim communities lived in harmony for centuries. Gone are the days during the Second World War when Sultan Mohamed V could declare that there were no Jews in Morocco, only Moroccans. Since the creation of the state of Israel, riots and anti-Jewish measures caused the 265,000-strong Jewish community to emigrate en masse. Between 1955 and 1957, 70,000 Moroccan Jews settled in Israel and 30,000 in France, Canada and the US.

"A ban on emigration into Israel from 1956 until 1963 briefly put the brakes on the exodus. When it was lifted in 1963, 100,000 left."

The report attributes the departure of the Jews to 'economic' reasons. Industrialisation impoverished many Jewish artisans. Simon Levy (who maintains a Jewish museum in Morocco) is quoted as saying that only a minority left for 'political' reasons.

However, the report does acknowledge that "post-independence nationalism wrecked age-old coexistence. The (ultra-nationalist) Istiqlal party played a not inconsiderable part with its sloganeering:'Give a dirham to kill a Jew'. As a result 12,000 registered to leave every year from 1961, with the tacit consent of the Moroccan authorities."

But the article cannot resist a dig at the Zionists, 'whose provocations made Jews leave' after 1967. It states that in 1976 there were only 17,000 Jews left. In fact numbers today are down to about 5,000.

Read article (in French) in full.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Jews of Algeria, Ashkenazim of the Arab world

Not much has been written about the Jews of Algeria, mainly because they were French for four generations. "They are the Ashkenazim of the Arab world," says Benjamin Stora, author of a new history on the Jews of Algeria*. "They believed in the Republic of the Enlightenment, as did the Jews of Poland, Lithuania, Russia. But there were also old men who felt they were taking their memories of their heritage with them."

The Jews of Algeria did not see themselves as a separate group. When they arrived in France in the 1960s they melted into the 'pieds noirs' (French settlers expelled after the Algerian war). The singer Enrico Macias was originally seen as a 'pied noir'.

In an interview with Information juive (July/August 2005) Stora said that few academic studies had been made. But historians would find a wealth of archive material at Aix-en-Provence. Unlike the Jews of Morocco, who were 'protected', the Jews of Algeria were stripped of their French citizenship and subject to Vichy laws but were never deported. The official archives for all towns except Constantine were destroyed in 1944 on the orders of the Free French.

Except for the Jews of Constantine, the acculturated Jews of Algeria were always fascinated by France. After 1962 they did not go to Israel. As early as the 19th century, rabbis were warning of the dangers of assimilation.

Could a Jewish community have survived in an independent Algeria? Stora thinks not.

"The nature of Algerian nationalism was problematic. Originally it was a composite, incorporating all currents from secular republicanism to Muslim Brotherhood religious fundamentalism. Many Jews identified at the time with Ferhat Abbas, who stood for egalitarian republicanism. But there is the other, Arab-Muslim aspect to nationalism. It's an ethnicist concept of the nation: it says Islam is my religion, arabic is my language and Algeria is my homeland. In other words, nationality is defined by religious affiliation.'

*Histoire des juifs d'Algerie (Editions Stock)

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Algerian press attacks Jewish visit

Following the May visit by 130 Jews to their home town of Tlemcen in western Algeria, the first for 40 years (reported here and here on Point of no return) the Algerian press launched an unprecedented antisemitic attack. An underlying factor seems to be the fear that the Algerian government may soon have to give the Jews of Algeria compensation for their lost assets. Here is a selection of the more venomous press reports (with acknowledgements to Information juive, July/Aug 2005):

"We give them bunches of roses and they kill our sons, chase us off our lands, deprive us of our honour, profane our graves and prepare minefields for us. Bravo the Jews!" Ech-Chorouk El-Youmi, 19 May 2005

"These people draw up a plan to get their hands on half of Algeria's deposits and put them in American banks, run by the Jews! Who could now stop them since our funds are with them and the UN will be under their control if they decide to put forward a resolution advocating restitution." Ech-Chorouk El-Youmi, 21 May 2005

"When they cry for their lost paradise they only cry for the privileges, land and property they left behind after independence. However, they left it all behind because it did not belong to them and was acquired through money gained on the backs of Algerians." El Bilad, 21 May 2005

"What was the point of sprucing up Jewish tombs for the benefit of pilgrims from Paris or Tel Aviv as if they had spilt blood to liberate the country when they had in fact opposed its liberation and even took arms against our children? "Ech-Chorouk El-Youmi, 22 May 2005

"The Wailing Wall is part of the Algerian waqf" - ditto

The Jews have been experts in extorting money for centuries." Sawt el Ahrar, 24 May 2005

"The lofty speeches by some Jews about their relations with Algeria should not hide their wish to blackmail the country with their demands for compensation" - ditto

These people did not leave because of their religion: they lived with us for 14 centuries. They went because they committed betrayals and crimes. The visit of the Jews to Tlemcen was based on provocation and cynicism. It had nothing to do with tourism." El Akhbar, 29 May 2005

Friday, August 05, 2005

Every Arab loves a Jewish doctor

From the Arabic website alBawaba comes the curious story of Professor Moshe Mani of Tel Hashomer hospital, a Jerusalem-born Israeli with roots in Baghdad, who since 1978 has posed as a Palestinian in a jellabiya and treated Arab leaders. His true identity was known only to Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi businessman, who ferried him around the Middle East in his private jet."There is nothing an Arab likes more," says Khashoggi," than a Jewish doctor".

"In a private air field in the Saudi capital, the limousines would await his arrival. None of his special Saudi patients knew that he was actually Israeli. Moshe Mani, born in Jerusalem, the son of a well-off family that included distinguished Rabbis and lawyers, with roots in Baghdad and Georgia, had undertaken a new identity during his secret journeys. With the help of a British passport that was issued in Rome – he had “turned into” a Palestine-born son of an Iranian mother and Italian mother. His new name was Manual Mani.

"When I had entered the Saudi experience (Prof Mani said), I informed the relevant people (in Israel), and an order from the prime-minister’s office came out to Tel HaShomer not to ask me any questions regarding my long absences. They (the hospital officials) were also ordered to save my position and salary, also if I were absent for long periods of time, and not to intervene (in my affairs)”.

Read article in full.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Saddam's Jewish victims are urged to speak up

The Iraqi Memory Foundation has launched a new project designed to gather oral testimonies from all those who suffered during the Saddam Hussein era , including the Jews. (With thanks: Maurice S).

Last February the foundation presented several lectures at the Library of Congress. Carol Basri, a lawyer and film-maker of Iraqi parentage, was one of the speakers. A testimony by Shaul Hakham Sasson (the son of the former chief rabbi and head of the community in Iraq) was screened from a video interview with him about his torture and suffering at the prison known as ' Saddam's Palace', Kasr Al-Nihaya, in 1969.

The oral history project seems to conduct taped interviews, but members of the Jewish community are being urged to submit their testimony in writing - or through pictures, DVDs, tapes and the like. It is thought this would promote international recognition of their suffering and aid efforts to obtain restitution.

(It seems to me that the Jewish community should also be archiving these precious testimonies. Perhaps anyone sending information to the Iraqi website should be also sending copies to Justice for Jews from Arab Countries or the Israel Ministry of Justice.)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Iraqi nationality policy condemned as antisemitic

In L'Humanite, one of the few western newspapers to comment on the implications for Jews of the latest draft of the Iraqi constitution, Paul Falzon accuses the new leadership of Iraq of playing the antisemitic card in order to paper over their factional differences.

As the story posted immediately below explains, most of the drafting committee has decided that Iraqi exiles are only eligible for nationality if they left the country after 1963, the year when the Ba'ath party staged its first coup d'etat. This means that tens of thousands of persecuted Jews - the population went from 134,000 in 1948 to 11,000 in 1952 - are being denied this right.

" While it would have been perfectly possible not to fix a cut-off date and to restore their nationality to all Iraqi exiles, irrespective of their religion and the reason for their leaving," Falzon writes," the new Iraq seems to be repeating the worst behaviour of the Arab nationalist regimes which spawned Saddam: discrimination on religious grounds and the systematic repression of Jews through state antisemitism.

"Let's hope that Parliament, which has the last word on the constitution, annuls the clause."

Article (in French) here.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Dual citizenship still denied to most Iraqi-Israelis

According to the latest draft of the Iraqi constitution (with thanks: Lily), an earlier clause denying dual nationality to Jews who left after 1968 and who are now Israelis seems to have been scrapped. (These lucky few thousand, like all refugees from the post-68 Ba'ath regime, have also been allowed to claim compensation for their lost property.) However, the vast majority of Iraqi-Israelis, who left in the early 1950s, would still not be allowed to regain their lost Iraqi citizenship.

It is certainly bizarre that Iraqi Jews have been allowed to vote in the Iraqi elections, but not to claim citizenship.

Anyone interested in a general analysis of the constitutional drafting process can find it here.
This current draft—like the earlier one— contains errors ( the date February 8 should have probably read July) and is still very much a work in progress. The deadline for the Iraqi constitution's final draft is 15 August. Here is the article as it now stands:

4. An Iraqi is allowed to bear more than one citizenship. An Iraqi who was stripped of his
citizenship after February 8, 1968 for any reason is considered Iraqi and is entitled to regain [his citizenship].

The earlier draft of 30 June, which was featured in the Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada, took pains to exclude Israelis from those who could obtain dual citizenship: (The main purpose of this clause is to deal with the Shi'a and some Kurds who lost citizenship in the 1970s.)

"3. Any individual with another nationality (except for Israel) may obtain Iraqi nationality after a period of residency inside the borders of Iraq of not less than ten years for an Arab or twenty years for any other nationality, as long as he has good character and behavior, and has no criminal judgment against him from the Iraqi authorities during the time of his residency on the territory of the Iraqi republic.
4. An Iraqi may have more than one nationality as long as the nationality is not Israeli.

A Kurdish parliamentarian gives his view here. Here is an article from the Arabic press (Dar-al Hayat) explaining that Jews who left Iraq before 1963 will be denied Iraqi nationality (with thanks: Iraqijews).

Monday, August 01, 2005

Tunisia welcomes Israeli holidaymakers

"In the 1990s, Israeli tourists came to Tunisia primarily to see the homes from where their families had emigrated. At a later stage, they came to visit the Berber communities built underground and to paraglide over the Sahara dunes, and today they can visit Tunisia simply for a relaxing holiday. As of this year, Tunisia is marketing itself to Israelis as a tranquil vacation spot", according to Haaretz.

"If an Israeli citizen had arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport in the 1980s and said he was off to Tunis, he would have been arrested immediately by passport control police. In those days, the headquarters of the PLO, led by Yasser Arafat, were located there, and Tunis was associated with Arab capitals most hostile to Israel: Damascus, Baghdad and Beirut. Today, the Foreign Ministry is mostly concerned about Israelis who regard Tunisia as quite close and accessible, and consider a visit to the country as a given. "The most important thing is that people don't just randomly get on a plane and show up," says the head of the ministry's North African desk, Yigal Palmor. "The main problems we have encountered so far with trips to Tunisia have been with people who traveled there without making sure to get a visa in advance." Read article in full