Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Incredible: BBC radio mentions Jewish refugees

Good news from the BBC. (With thanks: Avril)

A BBC presenter actually uttered the words: 'Jewish refugees from Arab countries.' It happened on Tuesday 30 October during the BBC Today programme on Radio 4 (scroll down to 08.52). Pardon my excitement - such utterances are as rare as sightings of the Loch Ness monster.

The bad news is that in predictable BBC fashion, the entire report was slanted towards the part Palestinian refugees - the BBC unquestioningly put the numbers at four and a half million - would play at the Annapolis conference, scheduled for the end of November. Following a tear-jerking plea from a Palestinian in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus for him to be allowed to return home to Jaffa, Karen Abu- Zayd, Commissioner General for UNWRA based in Gaza, said it was only fair that the Arab refugees should be given the choice: return or resettlement.

When challenged about Jewish refugees, Abu Zayd quizzically replied that UNWRA was set up to deal with all refugees from 'Palestine'. Technically she is correct - UNWRA could in theory have initially helped those Jewish refugees who had fled areas conquered by Arab armies in the 1948 war (eg Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, Gush Etzion).

In practice, UNWRA helped very few, if any, of these Jewish refugees who were resettled in Israel at Israel's expense. Their numbers and the property they lost* pale into insignificance compared with the Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

*According to 'Locked Doors' by Itamar Levin (p 218) there were 1,587 claims filed with the Israeli ministry of Justice for property lost in those areas and worth some $38,677,701.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Arab columnist: freedom starts with the weak

Before the massacre of Yazidis in northern Iraq by Sunni Muslim suicide bombers, Abd Al-Mun'im Sa'id, the author of this piece in Sharq-al Awsat(translated by MEMRI) had never heard of this ancient sect of 300,000. But their plight should teach the Arab world that personal religious freedom and tolerance begins with the weak. (With thanks: Lily)

"In all Arab states, we have all failed the test of freedom of religion and ethnic affiliation... even if [the group in question] shared our same religion or school of thought. When Saddam Hussein slaughtered and interred the Kurds, the Arab nation remained silent, or murmured in astonishment. This silence implied empathy with this [i.e. Saddam Hussein's] Fascist regime's fight against imperialism, and fear of Kurdish autonomy - the latter construed as a possible cause of Iraq's disintegration, while we wish for its unity. What is especially surprising is that the Arabs' silence on the Kurdish issue is one of the factors that ultimately led to the American invasion of Iraq and the Kurds' de facto independence, even if [de jures] the Kurdish region [will be] part of the not-yet-established Iraq Federation.

"In Egypt in particular, we have failed more than one test [of freedom of religion], i.e., as concerns the Baha'i and Christians converting to Islam. Denying freedom of religion [to these two groups] was explained just like it was in all [other] cases [of human rights] violation - [by claiming that these religions are connected with] colonialism and that their validity vis-à-vis other religions is therefore [suspect]. And what happened in Egypt happened in other Arab countries as well."

"The most recent test that we all failed has to do with the Yazidis in Iraq. According to the newspapers, the Yazidis were massacred by extremist Sunni groups, while the Arab public watched from a safe distance, concocting tales that portrayed the Yazidi community as Satan worshippers.

"Until this incident, I knew nothing about that group except its name, which surfaced every time the conversation touched upon different ethnic groups and schools of thought in Iraq. The slaughter of 500 members of the Yazidi community, and the [non-intervention stance] taken by the Arab world, have brought this issue, which had to be acknowledged, to the forefront - [since it indicates] the extent to which these people have become a testing ground for freedom of religion in the Arab world.

"Once we learn about the Yazidis, we are surprised to find that they profess an ancient religion that preceded monotheism. Despite numerous and repeated attempts over hundreds of years [to introduce other religions into the Yazidi community], the Yazidis maintained their own faith - even in the face of the ideological and religious challenges [posed by other religions]. [The main challenge,] coming primarily from Islam, concerned the Yazidi religion's fundamental concept, which has to do with the role that monotheistic religions assign to 'the angel,' or 'peacock,' [as it is called] in Yazidi lore, and to 'the Satan' (iblis) - the one who refused to prostrate himself before Adam [the first man, who dwelt in the Garden of Eden].

"However, even putting aside the question of the validity - or lack thereof - of their beliefs, the important point is that this group has held onto its faith despite the heavy pressure and massacres to which it has been subjected time and again throughout history, especially during the Ottoman period and during Saddam Hussein's rule…

"Nor did the trials of the Yazidis end with the fall of Saddam Hussein and his government. Al-Qaeda marched into Iraq, bringing with it extreme Sunni fundamentalism, which believed in murder and massacre as a solution to controversy - even for minor disagreements, let alone a 'Satan worshipping' sect, as it is dubbed in many languages!

"It is not clear what motives drive these people to adhere to their faith and to stay apart from the Arabs, Kurds, Christians, Muslims, or Jews. The Yazidi minority comprises less than 300,000 people, divided among two districts; they are totally unprotected, with not one ally in the whole world, save for [several] small groups in Syria, Turkey, Armenia, and Germany. These people are confined within their own group, are in constant fear of the outside world, and have never experienced anything but persecution, oppression, and murder."

"It is for this very reason that freedom of religion has, throughout history, been one of the most significant cornerstones of freedom in general. Inasmuch as freedom, in the final reckoning, amounts to the ability to choose, it is the strong, the rich, and the majority - since the latter have the means and resources - that always enjoy a wider choice of different possibilities. [Such freedom, however] comes to naught for an individual or for a group that is weak, marginal, or a minority whose religion no one understands.

"The connection between faith and freedom becomes obvious when it comes to defending the weak, or those who have been marginalized for holding views different [from those of the mainstream]. Defending such people is the first [step] towards defending the personal and political freedom of members of a [certain] political group.

"The facts about the Yazidi community in Iraq... came to light on account of the stoning of a 17-year-old girl by the members of this sect, as a punishment for embracing Islam in order to marry the man she loved. The entire sect turned against a single helpless individual, just because their religion forbade that person to embrace another religion. Following this incident, Islamic groups immediately proceeded to murder 23 Yazidi men as they were on their way to work.

"Once again, we are witness to crime perpetrated by the majority, in all its might and power, against a defenseless minority. As if it was not enough that Al-Qaeda blew up four vehicles in villages with defenseless and unarmed populations, none of whom had proselytized their religion outside the village boundaries.

"The wall of silence was erected in the Arab world [regarding this incident], just as it had been in the past. The silence implied acquiescence and satisfaction, as if the angels and the devils had finally matched the two parts of the equation [i.e. the good and the bad].

"As long as the strong are always tyrants, murderers, and torturers of the weak, there is no reason to be surprised at the results of actions by the majority, or simply by those with the guns and cannon.

"Personal freedom begins when the weakest among the weak [are granted] freedom!

Jews of Iran caught 'between hammer and devil'

On October 3rd Yedioth Ahronoth published an article in Hebrew by Ariela Ringel Hoffman entitled “Between the Hammer and the Devil” about the current situation of Jews in Iran. Jews do not want to leave, but feel they are sitting on top of a powder keg: ( with thanks Daled Amos, via Israpundit)

Some highlights of the article:

  • According to Hoffman, between the years 2000 and 2007–approximately 1,200 Jews arrived from Iran. In 2000: 384, 2001: 207, and year by year the numbers have diminished. However, while 65 Jews arrived from Iran in 2006, thus far this year 77 have arrived.
  • This is despite The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, of which Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein is president, which guarantees a grant of $10,000 to each Iranian Jew who comes to Israel. Efforts are being made to put together a package of incentives to entice them further.
  • Yossi Shraga, Director of Middle East immigration at the Jewish Agency, there are between 25,000 and 28,000 Jews now living in Iran–though the Iranians themselves put the number much higher: 100,000. Either way, averaging 100 Jews from Iran per year is a minuscule amount.
  • Hoffman describes the situation as a conflict between fear of life in Iran and the ability to adapt and lead a normal life there; between the worry of leaving everything behind and the desire to lead a new life in Israel.
  • According to Jeff Kaye, an official of the Jewish Agency, there good reason to worry about the fate of the Jews of Iran–the same reasons that pushed Israel to bring Jews out of Syria, Lebanon and Iraq to Israel or the US exist also in Iran.
  • One Iranian Jew interviewed by Hoffman said that Jews in Iran know they are sitting on a powder keg–at least half of them think that either Israel or the US will attack Iran’s nuclear reactors. And when they do, the Jews of Iran will pay the price. Even without encouragement from the government, the Iranians on the street will take it out on the Jews.
  • Another Iranian Jew tells Hoffman that it was not the threat of war that brought him to Israel, but the desire to live as a Jew. “There, it is difficult to keep Mitzvot, to keep Kosher, to pray and to learn about Judasim. On Shabbat the children have to go to school–everything there is more difficult.
  • He continues, saying that it is the Israeli government that Iran hates–and not the Israelis themselves. He believes that things are better than they were 10 years ago–when there was a water fountain in the marketplace in Tehran with 2 faucets: one for Muslims and one for Jews. If a Jew dared to drink from the faucet for Muslims he would be beaten up. Today it is different.
  • Another Iranian Jew shows Hoffman his passport. On the last page–as will all Iranian passports–it reads:
  • Another Iranian Jew describes how most of his friends at the university were Muslims–some of whom expressed the wish to visit Israel. He draws a distinction between the Iranian on the street and those in the university, where instructors openly question Iran’s need for a nuclear reactor. He believes that Anti-Semitism is something encountered only on the street, where calling someone a Jew is the equivalent to someone in Israel calling someone a Nazi. Yet he admits that Jews cannot hold government posts.
  • Hoffman reports that the economic situation of Jews in Iran is good relative to the rest of the population, and has in fact improved during the last few years–even while the poverty level has increased.
  • In Iran, the Internet is censured. Soon after a new site pops up, the authorities find out about it and it is blocked. Likewise, families watch CNN–until the government comes around and takes down their TV antenna. In previous years there was a punishment too, but no more. One of her interviewees tells Hoffman that he has a friend, a lawyer, who was involved in the compensation when 60 died from an explosion–but the explosion was never reported on the news.
  • Despite the small size of the Jewish community in Iran and the difficulty in finding a shidduch, intermarriage is relatively rare.
  • In Iran, serving in the army is mandatory. Many Jews avoid service by paying someone off–something that is not limited to the Jews alone. One who ended up serving in the army recounts how the Iranians who served were religious and treated him like someone impure, and gave him the hardest jobs. Though service is for 24 months, after 20 months he got disgusted and deserted.

Hoffman concludes:

The problem is that the Iranian Jews don’t want to leave, I say to him [Yossi Shraga]. That is true, he says–they may not say it, but that does not free us. This is similar to the situation the Jews faced in Europe before the rise of the Nazis. Jews have the tendency, says Shraga, to believe that everything will turn out all right. But back then, there was no Jewish state, no government. Today there is, and we will not be able to forgive ourselves if something happens.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Yad Vashem showcases Muslims who saved Jews

Albania's 200 Jews were saved from the Holocaust by Muslims acting according to a traditional code of honour. The Jerusalem Post reports that Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial, is about to pay tribute to them with a special exhibition (with thanks: Lily) :

"The extraordinary story of Albania, where an entire nation, both the government and the population, acted to rescue Jews is truly remarkable," said exhibition curator Yehudit Shendar. "Many, if not all, were heavily influenced in their choice by Islam... This very human story, told through these sensitive portraits, combine to highlight a little-known but remarkable aspect of the Holocaust."

"This is a story that has rarely been publicized," said Holocaust survivor Ya'acov Altarat, 74, from Tel Aviv, who escaped to Albania with his parents as a boy of eight in 1941 and found refuge there for the duration of the war.

"It is a story of a nation saving all of its Jews because of a code of behavior," he said.

"Why did my father save a stranger at the risk of his life and the entire village?" asked Enver Alia Sheqer, son of Righteous Among the Nations Ali Sheqer Pashkaj, who is featured in the exhibition. "My father was a devout Muslim. He believed that to save one life is to enter paradise."

The exhibit will be on display at Yad Vashem for two months and will then travel to New York, where it will be displayed at the United Nations headquarters on January 27 for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The Thursday morning opening ceremony will take place in the presence of Science, Culture and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadle - Israel's first Muslim cabinet minister - as well as Gershman, Chairman of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous at Yad Vashem Ya'acov Turkel, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev and Honorary Consul of Albania in Israel Raphael Faust.

"What I found were good people who did good deeds," said Gershman, who hails from Basalt, Colorado, and began the project four years ago after coming across pictures of Albanian Muslims who had been honored by Yad Vashem for saving Jews during the Holocaust.

He noted that the some of the Muslims he'd met in Albania had referred to the Koran when asked why they took in the Jews, while others talked about a culture of hospitality.

"This is a story that [shows] there are good Muslims in the world," he said.

About 22,000 non-Jews have been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations since 1963, including 63 - predominantly Muslim honorees - from Albania.

To date, more than 70 Muslims have received the award, Yad Vashem spokeswoman Estee Yaari said.

No Arabs have received the honor, although one candidate, Khaled Abdelwahhab of Tunisia, in January became the first Arab to be nominated for the award.

Read article in full

Syrian-Jewish cookbook exudes aromas of the past

In her beautiful book Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews, Poopa Dweck, a first-generation Syrian-Jewish American, describes the customs and traditions of the Jews of Aleppo. Though the book is primarily a cookbook, it also describes the community's history and customs, according to The Jerusalem Post.

"The foundation for the Great Synagogue in Aleppo is believed to have been laid by King David's general, Joab ben Seruya (circa 950 BCE), after his conquest of the city. It is still sometimes referred to as Joab's Synagogue.

"With the adoption of Christianity as their official religion, the Romans placed restrictions on Jews. These were lifted with the Arab conquest in 636, when Islamic caliphates began ruling the region. From the seventh century until the end of Ottoman rule, the Jewish community was self-governed. This entitled the Jews to freedom of religion, a separate court system and military protection.

"With the arrival of Iraqi Jews fleeing the Persians during the eighth and 10th centuries, Aleppo's Jewish community began to grow.

"For many years, the Jews lived comfortably under Muslim rule, secure in their place as dhimmi, a protected people. Living in a non-democratic state, both Jews and Muslims remained apolitical."

Read article in full

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The black hole at the centre of Israel advocacy

Last week I had occasion to speak to a man whose job is to improve Israel's PR in Britain.

"Why don't you ever mention Jews from Arab countries?' I asked.

" Jews from Arab Countries are not sexy news," he replied.

I was gobsmacked. By 'sexy' I suppose he meant 'topical'. Yet hardly a day goes by without some Palestinian, somewhere, telling how his land was 'stolen by the Zionists', as recently as... 60 years ago. Hardly topical, and yet the news media lap it up.

To be charitable, one can hardly blame Israel activists and advocates for not mentioning the rights of Jews expelled from Arab lands. They take their cue from the Israeli government and foreign ministry, press and media.

I cannot recall a single instance when a senior Israeli government minister has made a statement for foreign consumption mentioning the rights of Jews from Arab countries.

It is true that in the frenzied making of demands and staking of claims in the run-up to the Annapolis peace conference, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert have been outspoken in rejecting the Palestinian 'right of return'. But they do this on practical, never moral, grounds - because to have millions of Arab refugees flooding the country is tantamount to destruction by demography. Israeli leaders never say that to insist on a 'right of return' for Arab refugees is wrong when a right of return to Arab countries for an equivalent number of Jewish refugees is the height of absurdity. They never say that there is a kind of rough justice in the irreversible exchange of refugee populations.

Far too many advocates for Israel think of 'Jews from Arab countries' as a peripheral issue. They see the pogroms that killed 100 in Aden and Syria almost exactly 60 years ago as an unfortunate backlash by Arab mobs enraged by the UN Partition Plan for Palestine. They seem to have swallowed the narrative that what happened to the Jews is a regrettable but an inevitable by-product of Israel's creation.

Yet the 'ethnic cleansing' of the Jews from 10 Arab countries is not peripheral at all -it is the main event. The Arabs' 60-year struggle to eliminate Israel is of a piece with the oppression of non-Arab or non-Muslim minorities - much of it inspired by Nazism. Nascent Arab-Muslim dysfunctional societies were marginalising and murdering Jews, Assyrians and Copts as early as the 1930s.

As long as pro-Israel advocacy fails to bring Jews from Arab countries into the argument, the Palestinians will continue to hog the moral high ground, Israel will continue to be delegitimised and Middle East peace will continue to be beyond reach.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Middle East is the poorer as its minorities die

While the rest of the world is furiously globalising and becoming more multicultural, the Middle East is moving in the opposite direction: it is divesting itself of the ancient minorities which once made the region richly diverse. Marcus Rubin writes in Haaretz: (with thanks: Lily)

"Last month I spent a few days in Yemen, and saw the sad remains of the once-thriving Jewish community there - a few Stars of David on the buildings and some fake Jewish jewelry in the shops.

"The story is the same across the region. Having been brutally kicked out of almost all the Arab countries, Jews in the Middle East are now almost only found in Israel, where - to make matters worse - they are now busying themselves with building walls and keeping everybody else out of the Jewish fortress. Even the few desperate refugees from the genocide in Darfur, kindred persecuted spirits, one should think, that make it all the way here, find the door to Israel shut.

"There are so many problems and conflicts in the Middle East today that it can seem hopeless to point to any one of them as the worst. Would it really help appease radical Islamists if the Israel/Palestine conflict was resolved? I doubt it. Extremists will always find something else to battle against. But living in Israel and traveling as a journalist in the region during the past few years has convinced me that the real tragedy and root of many of the ills currently afflicting the region is that while the rest of the world is furiously globalizing and becoming more and more multicultural, the Middle East is moving in the opposite direction.

"Iraq is a depressingly good example of both the process and how fast it goes. An ancient civilization with a bewildering array of ethnic groups and religions has turned on itself with a vengeance after the ill-advised American invasion, and is rapidly dissolving into a hodgepodge of small warring enclaves of Kurds, Sunnis, Shias and others. A sorry fate for them, but even worse for the smaller Iraqi groups like the Yazidi and the Mandeans, who risk utter annihilation in the current mayhem.

"This is new. The 60,000 Mandeans in Iraq are the last Gnostics, a religious community that has survived for almost 2,000 years. It has managed to cope with everything from the Arab invasion to the Mongols and the Europeans, but now seems all but certain to vanish from the Middle East. If the Mandeans are to survive at all, they will probably have to relocate to Europe and the United States, leaving both Iraq and the Middle East yet a little bit poorer and less diverse."

Read article in full

Yemen airlift pilot to receive honour

(JTA) An airline pilot who helped rescue 40,000 Yemenite Jews will be honored.

Warren Metzger, 87, an Alaska Airlines pilot from Washington, will be honored Nov. 1 by the Yemenite Jewish Federation of America.

Metzger was one of the pilots in Operation Magic Carpet, the secret mission that transported virtually all of Yemenite Jewry to the newly established State of Israel in 1949. Metzger's wife, Marion, a flight attendant for the airline, also will be honored.

Read Warren Metzger's story here

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Armenian 'genocide' bill: blame the Jews

It's the Jewish lobby. How else can Turks explain US efforts to push a bill through Congress calling the massacre of 1.5 million Armenians during World War 1 'genocide' ? JTA News reports:

ISTANBUL (JTA) -- When a U.S. congressional committee approved a resolution recognizing the World War I-era massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as genocide, Turkey’s reaction was swift and harsh: Blame the Jews.

In an interview with the liberal Islamic Zaman newspaper on the eve of the resolution’s approval Oct. 10 by the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said he told American Jewish leaders that a genocide bill would strengthen the public perception in Turkey that “Armenian and Jewish lobbies unite forces against Turks.”

Babacan added, “We have told them that we cannot explain it to the public in Turkey if a road accident happens. We have told them that we cannot keep the Jewish people out of this.”

Read article in full

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Arab states colluded to use Jews as hostages

Documents from 1948 revealing that Arab states colluded to use their Jews as virtual hostages in the conflict against Israel will be unveiled at an international conference in New York at the beginning of November.

New York, NY (PRWEB) October 24, 2007 -- They have been called the 'forgotten refugees' of the Middle East but after a landmark summit and press conference in New York early next month, the narrative and plight of displaced Jews from Arab lands will be difficult to forget.

On Nov. 4 -5, 2007, 40 delegates from 8 countries and 5 cities across the United States will travel thousands of miles to attend the groundbreaking New York Summit, organized by Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC).

The highlight of JJAC's New York Summit will be a press conference on Monday, November 5th at the offices of the American Jewish Committee (165 East 56th St. Manhattan, 12:30pm). At the conference, the Hon. Irwin Cotler, former Justice Minister of Canada, will release documents from 1948, recently discovered in U.N. archives, that reveal collusion among Arab countries to use their Jewish populations as virtual hostages in their struggle against the creation of the State of Israel.

The proof of such documentation broadens the narrative of the Jewish refugees from Arab Lands, revealing gross human rights violations.

When the issue of refugees is raised within the context of the Middle East, people invariably refer to Palestinian refugees. Neither the mass violations of human rights, nor the displacement of up to one million Jews from Arab countries, have ever been adequately addressed by the international community.

Rectifying this moral injustice is one of the goals of the New York Summit, said Stanley A. Urman, executive director of JJAC. "It is about recognizing the fundamental reality that Jews were an indigenous people that lived in North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf region for 2,600 years…1,000 years before Islam, before Mohammed walked the face of the earth."

Read press release in full

'We saw the revolution coming': Jewish novelist

The 1979 Iranian revolution did not surprise Gina Nahai's family, who had felt that Iran was more volatile than it seemed. In this interview with Canadian Jewish News the Iranian-Jewish novelist says that even under the 'golden age' of the Shah, Muslims and Jews were sharply divided, and antisemitism recurrent.

When Gina Nahai thinks of Iran’s Islamic revolution, she cringes.

“The revolution was a tragedy,” said the Iranian-born Jewish novelist, who was in Toronto last week as a guest of the International Festival of Authors. “The mullahs erased what is wonderful about Iranian culture, which is tolerant, forward-looking and open to new ideas.”

Born in Tehran, Nahai, 46, left Iran in 1977, two years before the pro-Western Pahlavi monarchy was swept away by Islamic revolutionaries. (...)

Iranian Jews – the storied descendants of Babylonia slaves who settled in Persia about 2,500 years ago and now form the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world – feared that the overthrow of the monarchy would probably be disastrous, said Nahai, whose wealthy family owned a chain of clothing stores.

“We were always concerned that if the shah – Mohammed Reza Pahlavi – fell, there would be blood on the streets,” said Nahai, whose maiden name was Barkhordar.

Nahai’s parents emigrated because they wanted to give her and her sisters access to better opportunities abroad and because they were convinced that an upheaval in the guise of regime change was inevitable. “They had a sense that Iran was far more volatile than people thought. The shah was not an ‘island of stability in the Middle East,’ as [former U.S. president] Jimmy Carter claimed during a visit in 1977.”

She added, “We were shocked that the revolution happened so quickly, but we weren’t surprised.”

During the Pahlavi dynasty, which lasted from 1925 until 1979, restrictions on Jews and other religious minorities were lifted as the power and influence of the mullahs were curtailed.

As well, the monarchy prohibited the practice of the mass conversions of Jews to Islam and eliminated the Shiite concept that non-Muslims were ritually unclean.

“Things were going well for Jews under the shah and his father,” said Nahai. “They protected us. The Jewish community was generally prosperous, but there were deep class divisions.”

Until 1925, Jews were ghettoized as second-class citizens and considered impure. “On rainy days, we weren’t allowed out of the ghetto, lest the rain wash off our impurities.”

As a tolerated minority (dhimmis), Jews were permitted to practise Judaism but had to pay special taxes. “We weren’t considered real Iranians,” she said.

Iran was home to some 150,000 Jews in 1948, when David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s statehood. Many Jews immigrated to Israel, and now about 75,000 Iranian Jews live in the Jewish state.

Although the Pahlavi period was a golden era for Jews, compared to the Safavid and Qajar dynasties from the 16th century onward, anti-Semitism was a recurring problem.

“We felt it all the time,” she said. “Our servants refused to eat food in our house because they assumed it was impure.”

Citing two other examples, she recalled that her husband, David (Hamid), would be singled out as a Jew during roll call at the secular school he attended, and that mobs ran amok when an Israeli soccer team playing a World Cup qualifying game against Iran in Tehran scored the first goal.

“The divisions between Muslims and Jews were sharp and clear,” Nahai said.

The riots touched off by that World Cup match stunned Nahai, given her emotional connection to Israel and Israel’s then cordial relations with Iran.

With the revolution, Iran promptly severed relations with Israel, and now its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, regularly calls for Israel’s destruction and denies the Holocaust.

In 1974, five years before the monarchy fell, Nahai was sent to a private school in Switzerland, her parents believing that a western education would better prepare her for a good career. “It was not easy being a woman in Iran.” she said. (...)

When Nahai’s family immigrated, her father intended to commute between the United States and Iran, but after the revolution, he revised his plan. In another blow, the new authorities confiscated the Nahai family home and business.

At least 30,000 Jews left Iran in the aftermath of the revolution, even though its spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa declaring Jews as a protected minority.

Thirty-five thousand to 40,000 Jews still remain in Iran today, despite the fact that several Iranian Jews have been charged with being Israeli spies and executed and 13 Jews from the city of Shiraz were arrested after being accused of maintaining illegal contact with Israel.

Nahai’s uncle and aunt continue live in Iran, though they are free to depart. Her husband’s family left in the early 1980s after an uncle, a Zionist leader, was imprisoned.

She doubts whether the Jewish community will dwindle in the years ahead. “Most Jews in Iran today feel secure enough,” she said. “They don’t feel threatened enough to abandon their lives and go into exile.”

Nor does she think that the community will eventually vanish. “We’ve been there for more than 2,000 years. Jews have always lasted.”

Read article in full

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Turkish Jews lobby against Armenian 'genocide' bill

The Turkish Jewish community last week took the unusual step of placing an ad in the Washington Times calling US support for a Congressional bill on the Armenian 'genocide' 'anti-Turkish'. Were they acting under pressure from the Turkish government? Marc Perelman reports in The Forward.

"In its bare-knuckled lobbying to defeat a congressional resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide, Turkey has gained a valuable ally: its own Jews.

"Last week an advertisement from the “Jewish community of Turkey” was published in the conservative Washington Times and was quickly passed around the capital by Turkey’s lobbyists. The ad warned that the overwhelming majority of Turks view Congress’s intervention as “inappropriate, unjust, and gratuitously anti-Turkish.”

"The Turkish Jewish community’s ad appeared just before an October 10 vote in which the House’s Committee on Foreign Affairs adopted Resolution 106, which characterizes the Ottoman massacre of Armenians during World War I as “genocide.” The Democratic leadership is planning to submit the bill to a full House vote by mid-November, and a similar resolution has been introduced in the Senate with 32 co-sponsors.

“We cannot help but note that the world recognizes the Holocaust because of the overwhelming evidence, not because of the declarations of parliaments,” read the ad. “However, we have a more immediate concern, which is the viability of U.S.-Turkish bilateral relations.”

"The ad, as well as previous statements from the Turkish Jewish community and a trip by its leaders to Washington this past spring, is part of a strategy by Ankara to stress that the Armenian issue is one that galvanizes Turkish society as a whole, and not just the government. The patriarch of the Armenian Church of Turkey recently came to the United States to convey a similar message, and several civil society organizations have supported the government’s view.

"Turkish Jewish officials, however, have insisted that the initiative to weigh in on the issue has been theirs. (..)

"Last week’s ad took a direct stab at the Anti-Defamation League, whose national director Abraham Foxman said in August that the massacre of Armenians was “tantamount to genocide” and then subsequently stated that a congressional resolution would be a “counterproductive diversion” that may “put at risk the Turkish Jewish community and the important multilateral relationship between Turkey, Israel and the United States.” In the ad, the Jewish community stressed that it is “deeply perturbed” by the claim that their safety and well-being in Turkey could be put at risk by the resolution.

"The ad was not the community’s first pointed criticism of an American Jewish group on the Armenian issue. In a private letter this summer, reported here for the first time, to American Jewish Committee executive director David Harris, Turkish Jewish leaders criticized him for writing in a blog posting that not recognizing the Armenian genocide could open the door to more Holocaust denial."

Read article in full

Let Congress vote on refugees' Resolution now

The time is ripe for the Congressional House of Representatives to take a vote on Resolution 185, which calls for justice for Jews from Arab Countries.The vote should take place, ideally, in the next 10 days, before campaigning organisations meet in New York for an international conference.

The Justice for Jews from Arab Countries campaign is calling on Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos to move quickly to push the resolution* through to the full House for a vote. It claims that all prior conditions have been met.

"Chairman Lantos gave us some benchmarks to reach before he would send the Resolution to the full House. We have reached them!" declares Emily Blanck, director of Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA).

"One was to secure 25 co-sponsors for the Resolution. We have done that. The other was that 10 of them had to be from the Foreign Affairs committee. We have achieved that as well.

"So now we need to remind the Chairman, politely that he now needs to move the Resolution through the Foreign Affairs Committee to the full House for a vote.

"Ideally we want to have this passed just before the International Conference for Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, to be held in New York on November 4th and 5th.

JIMENA calls on US citizens to ring the Chairman (Washington D.C. Office 202-225-5021), and ask family members or friends to call their own Congressional Representative to urge the Chair to move the Resolution through the process.

* Full details on both House and Senate resolutions and their sponsors here

Monday, October 22, 2007

Christian group offers cash to Iranian Jews to move

The news that an evangelical Christian charity is offering $10,000 to each Iranian Jew to move to Israel is splashed all over the media today: (with thanks: a reader)

(AP):"Evangelical Christians in the U.S. have helped convince dozens of Iranian Jews to move to Israel in recent months, offering cash incentives and claiming that Iran's tiny Jewish community is in grave danger.

"The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a charity that funnels millions of dollars in evangelical donations to Israel every year, is promising $10,000 to every Iranian Jew who comes to Israel, said the group's director, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein.

"The project is another example of the alliance between the Jewish state and evangelical American Christians, many of whom see the existence of Israel and the return of Jews to the Holy Land as a realization of biblical prophesy that will culminate with Christ's Second Coming.

"But an Iran expert said the money would not be enough to draw Iranian Jews, who generally do not perceive themselves to be in great danger in the Islamic republic.

About 25,000 Jews are left in Iran — an overwhelmingly Muslim nation of 65 million — the remnants of a community with origins dating to biblical times. Most Iranian Jews left for Israel or the U.S. over the last 50 years.

"Still, Iran's Jewish community is the largest in the Middle East outside Israel, and Iranian Jews have some legal protection. But Israel and Iran are staunch enemies and do not have diplomatic relations. Eckstein argued that calls by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for Israel's elimination, coupled with Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program, represent danger.

"Is this not similar to the situation in Nazi Germany in the late '30s, where they (Jews) also felt they could weather the storm?" he asked. Instead, 6 million were killed in the Holocaust, which Ahmadinejad has called a "myth."

"Eckstein said his group has helped bring 82 Jews to Israel from Iran since the project began this year, and hopes to bring 60 more by year's end.

"The charity, based in Jerusalem and Chicago, has raised $1.4 million for the project, Eckstein said. The IFCJ initially offered $5,000 per immigrant, but doubled the amount when response was lower than expected, he said. Immigrants also receive government aid upon arriving in Israel.

"One of the recent arrivals, a 31-year-old widow with three children, said she was not in danger in Iran but was concerned for her children's future.

"At the end of the day, this is the place for the Jewish people," she said, referring to Israel. She is living in the southern port city of Ashdod. Though she claimed to have felt safe in her hometown of Isfahan, she asked that her name be withheld to protect family remaining in Iran.

"The grant from the IFCJ was what enabled her to come to Israel, she said. Most Jews in Iran have heard about the grant through word-of-mouth and Israel Radio's broadcasts in Farsi, she said.

"Iranian government officials would not comment on the new project.

"Iran's Jewish community is technically protected by the Islamic Republic's constitution, and has one representative in a 290-seat parliament.

"In a speech at Columbia University in New York last month, the Iranian president insisted that Iranians "are friends of the Jewish people. There are many Jews in Iran living peacefully with security."

"Nonetheless, the Jewish community has led an uneasy existence under Iran's Islamic government.

"In 2000, Iranian authorities arrested 10 Jews, convicted them of spying for Israel and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from four to 13 years. An appeals court later reduced their sentences under international pressure and eventually freed them.

"Generally, Jews are free to practice Judaism inside Iran," said Meir Javedanfar, an Israeli analyst whose family emigrated from Iran in the 1980s. Iranian Jews, however, are increasingly concerned about the intensity of attacks on Israel by the Iranian press, which they view as bordering on anti-Semitism, he said.

"Such attacks have not led to a mass exodus from Iran, because the majority of Iranians are hospitable to the Jews and most Jews in Iran are economically comfortable, Javedanfar said. However, he noted, "the level of concern has increased" because of Ahmadinejad's statements.

"This is not the first time evangelical Christians have taken part in bringing people to Israel. Eckstein's charity also played a role in funding the immigration to Israel of 7,000 members of the Bnei Menashe, a group in India claiming descent from one of the Biblical "lost tribes" of the Jews.

Read article in full

Same article in The Jerusalem Post

Same article in Haaretz

Iranian-Jewish journalist Karmel Melamed comments:

"While the International fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) may be engaging in a noble cause because the Jews of Iran live in potential danger from a regime that might turn on them, their efforts in this instance may also indirectly be playing into the hands of the Iranian government. The regime in Tehran loves to use stories about offers to lure the Jews out of Iran because it gives them a chance to spread their propaganda about how "peace-loving" and "tolerant" Iran is since non of its Jews want to leave the country.

"I do know that since the 1980's there have been quiet and successful efforts by various Jewish groups in the U.S. to help slowly bring out Jews living in Iran. But these groups have accomplished this work outside the media spotlight, so as not to create a public relations bonanza for the Iranian government.

"The Iranian regime clearly does not want to get rid of their Jewish population because they can use them for both propaganda purposes and as potential hostages if Israel were to attack their country. The regime's radical Islamic leaders know that the best way to scare off the Jews in Iran is to begin executing them or randomly taking away their assets-- and this is exactly what they successfully accomplished in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These actions caused a mass exodus of Jews to flee Iran for Israel, Europe and the U.S.. As a result the regime was able to cash in on millions of dollars' worth of Jewish assets left behind."

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Some much-needed perspective on refugees

Not many people know that President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan was born in India. Yet he and 7.5 million Muslim refugees are not clamouring to return. So why does the world take seriously the demand to return of Palestinian Arab refugees ? Tom Carew has been pointing out these and other neglected truths to the media.

"The UK Episcopalian leader, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, had recent wide-ranging contacts with official figures in Lebanon, Syria and Armenia and also visited refugee camps. That Arab refugees are languishing in camps since 1948 is appalling but the responsibility for this sad state of affairs is seldom mentioned.

In 1947 when the UK granted independence to India and Pakistan some 7.5 million Muslims were displaced moving from India to Pakistan while some 711, 000 Arabs (UN estimate) left Israel. An equal number of Hindus and Sikhs moved in the opposite direction - exactly as happened with the rarely-mentioned Jewish refugees fleeing Arab lands and Iran to Israel. There was no mention ever of any "right of return" for those Muslims to India or for the nearly 1 million Jews displaced from the Arab world and Iran.

"The 12th Pakistani president Gen. Pervez Musharraf was born in India (Delhi 1943) while the first Sikh to become India's 14th PM Dr. Manmohan Singh was born in Pakistan (Punjab 1932). The 15 million displaced persons on the Indian sub-continent were not cynically and callously left to rot in camps; nor were the Jewish refugees who came to Israel. In addition to those who fled to Israel many more Jews fled elsewhere such as to the US; and in 1962 to France from Algeria.

The nearly 1 million Jews in the Arab world and Iran in 1947 have been reduced to 1% of that figure but Israel alone has more Arabs than those in the whole of British- administered Palestine in 1947 (1.4m. against 1.2m.).

"These very relevant facts are often forgotten and little used even by official Israeli spokespersons - yet they provide essential perspective. The unique creation of UNRWA, a UN agency dedicated solely to the Palestinian Arabs may ultimately have hindered, not facilitated their reintegration into society. The 15m. refugees on the Indian sub-continent [21 times the number of Palestinian Arab refugees] enjoyed no such agency. And Muslim oil revenues, even without any US, Israeli or European funding, would be more than sufficient to integrate all Palestinian Arabs into their host societies and/or into Gaza and the West Bank."

Dublin, 6, Ireland.

Winning party helped drive Moroccan Jews away

The victory of the nationalist Istiqlal party in Morocco in the recent elections has prompted Information juive magazine (October 2007) to look into the part that Istiqlal played in causing the exodus of the Jewish community in the 1960s.

The Jews were then faced with difficult choices. On the one hand they had not actively contributed to the struggle for Moroccan independence. On the other they were genuinely attached to the country. The Istiqlal party kept picking on the Jews, calling them dhimmis and not full citizens. They were banned from emigrating. It was virtually impossible to obtain a passport.

On 10 January 1961, the Pisces sank off Tangier without a single survivor. The ship was carrying 44 Moroccan Jewish illegal emigrants, 24 of them children. Every family was thinking only of how they might leave this land, which had become so inhospitable to them.

The leader of the Istiqlal party, who had by then become minister of Islamic affairs, authorised the conversion to Islam of young Jewish girls. Each day the party newspaper Al Alam would publish photographs of these 12 to 13 year-olds, under the headline, They freely converted to Islam.

According to Information Juive, it was the beginning of the end for the Jewish community - a historic calamity. If you subtract this period in which the Istiqlal played with fire, Morocco could have been one of the few Arab countries which could have maintained relations of friendship and mutual respect with its Jewish population.

Iranian soap opera 'flips facts on Holocaust'

Iranian Jews in the USA who have analysed a popular Persian-language drama on Iranian state-run television dealing with the Holocaust conclude that the show contains anti-Semitic and anti-Israel themes, Karmel Melamed writes in The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles.

"News publications, including The Wall Street Journal, have hailed the new show, "Zero Degree Turn" as sympathetic to the plight of Jews during the Shoah, but Jewish experts fluent in Persian have analyzed the program more closely and have come to a different conclusion.

"This TV program lists in its credits a man named Abdollah Shabazi, who was an ideological strategist for the Iranian government, and he gave this idea to make this propaganda film to show that Iranians are 'good with the Jews,'" said Bijan Khalili, a Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish activist and Persian-language book publisher. "But in reality, this man is the author of many anti-Semitic and anti-Bahai [Persian-language] books."

"The show focuses on an Iranian Palestinian Muslim man who, over the course of 22 episodes, helps his French Jewish lover and her family escape Nazi-occupied France by providing them with forged passports. Khalili and other L.A.-area Iranian Jews say the program is laced with blatant historical inaccuracies and messages of hate for Jews and Zionists.

"One of the objectives of this program is to show that Jews are corrupt, because they are shown as both giving bribes and accepting bribes," Khalili said. The story includes a character called Homayoun Talab, an Iranian diplomat, who accepts bribes in order to provide false papers to Jews."

Read article in full

Friday, October 19, 2007

Jews risk Turkish fury over Armenian 'genocide' bill

Oct. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Turkey's rage over a U.S. congressional resolution accusing it of genocide against Armenians nearly a century ago is being felt in quarters far removed from Washington: its own Jewish community.

Turkish Jews' concerns for their safety have been fanned by comments from Foreign Minister Ali Babacan that there's a perception in the country that Jews and Armenians "are now hand-in-hand trying to defame Turkey.'' Turkey's complaint: Its usual allies among pro-Israel U.S. lobbyists didn't work hard enough to block the resolution.

Even as support for the measure fades in Congress -- U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday backed off her promise to bring it to a floor vote -- it has intensified feelings of vulnerability among Turkey's 23,000 Jews, who have been subjected to terrorist bombings.

"There have been insinuations that our security and well- being in Turkey is linked to the fate of the resolution, Jewish leaders said in a half-page ad in the Washington Times urging its rejection.

"Public opinion is so emotional on the issue that they seem to blame everyone who may not have been able to block it,'' Sami Kohen, a prominent member of the Jewish community in Istanbul and a columnist for the Milliyet newspaper, said in an interview. ``Some elements -- Islamists and ultranationalists -- might use the Jews as a scapegoat and say they have failed, they have done nothing.''

Armenian groups say 1.5 million Armenians were killed in a campaign of genocide as the Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of World War I and a new Turkish republic was established. Turkey says that number is inflated and that Turks and Armenians alike were killed in large numbers.

Turkey, which has close ties with Israel, has long relied on lobbying from Jewish groups in Washington to aid in fending off proposals like the one endorsed by a House of Representatives panel Oct. 10. But the alliance suffered a blow when the Anti-Defamation League, the largest U.S. organization aimed at combating anti-Semitism, issued a statement on Aug. 21 saying the killings of Armenians were ``tantamount to genocide,'' though it still opposed the congressional resolution.

Babacan, in an Oct. 6 interview with Turkey's Vatan newspaper, said that "we would not be able to keep the Jews out of this business'' if the resolution is adopted.

Three days later, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, he said that ``the perception in Turkey right now is that the Jewish people, or the Jewish organizations let's say, and the Armenian diaspora, the Armenian lobbies, are now hand-in-hand trying to defame Turkey.''

Foreign Ministry spokesman Levent Bilmen issued a statement the day after the Jerusalem Post interview, saying that leaders of the ``Jewish community, which is a part of our society, have from the beginning rejected the unjust and wrong contents'' of the genocide resolution.

Even so, Kohen said, for the Jewish community, ``this publicity could make their life difficult.''

On the website of the Islamic-leaning Zaman newspaper, 22 percent of the 869 people who had responded to an online survey by yesterday blamed "Jews having legitimized the genocide claims'' for the resolution getting as far as it has.

"This perception has to be fought by the government, which must de-link the American Jews and the resolution,'' said Soner Cagaptay, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "A lot of Jewish groups are working to defeat the resolution.''

So is President George W. Bush, who called Pelosi Oct. 16 to urge her to cancel plans for a vote and said yesterday that Congress "has more important work to do than antagonizing a democratic ally in the Muslim world.''

The Turkish government recalled its ambassador after last week's panel vote. U.S. relations with Turkey, the only Muslim member of NATO and a key supply route for troops in Iraq, were further strained by yesterday's vote by the Turkish parliament to approve a possible attack on Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq.

"Leaders of the Jewish community in Turkey declined to be interviewed. While there have been no reports of increased security at Jewish sites, security is already extremely high. Most synagogues in Turkey are unmarked and guarded by police.

In November 2003, terrorists linked to al-Qaeda slammed truck bombs into two synagogues in Istanbul, killing 25 people, mostly Muslim bystanders and nearby shopkeepers. In 1986, Palestinian gunmen entered the main synagogue, firing guns and lobbing grenades at Sabbath worshippers. Twenty-two were killed.

The land that is now Turkey has been home to a Jewish community for at least 2,000 years. Ottoman Sultan Beyazit II invited Spanish Jews to settle in Istanbul after they were expelled in 1492.

"The community -- numbering about 100,000 in 1900 -- dwindled after Turkey imposed special taxes on minorities during World War II that destroyed many businesses. The creation of Israel in 1948 attracted many Jewish immigrants from Turkey, one of the factors that helped forge good relations between the two countries."

Read article in full

Film on Afghanistan's feuding Jews fails to impress

First the play. Now the film. The story of the last two Jews of Afghanistan, drowning in a sea of mutual loathing, continues to mesmerise. The latest to fall for it is Dan Alexe, a Franco-Belgian documentary film-maker. Alexe has just made Cabale a Kaboul. (With thanks: a reader)

Le Monde's famously blunt film critic, Jacques Mandelbaum, is not impressed, however. This film, he says, "feeds on the hatred between two men who accuse each other of selling out to the Taliban. It displays neither curiosity nor understanding for them. If there are only two Jews left in Afghanistan and neither could stand the other, the least the director could do would be to show us the courtesy of explaining how they got to this point: why did they not follow their families into exile; their culture, hopes and fears. Instead the film is content to show us two grotesque puppets engaging in a fierce war, diminishing their characters and exploiting their weakness with spine-chilling disregard for the truth."

Le Monde's verdict: Missable.

Read article (in French)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

'Letters to Jews of Iran urge them to leave': report

A report has appeared on the (not always reliable) DEBKAfile website that thousands of letters have been sent from addresses in the USA and Europe urging Jewish families in Iran to leave.

"The letters, according to DEBKAfile’s Iranian sources, have been posted to Jewish families in Tehran (where the community numbers some 13,000), Isfahan (under 2,000) and Shiraz (some 4,000). They are captioned: Danger! Danger! Danger! and tell recipients to try and reach the West with all possible speed. Iranian Jews like the rest of the population face grave danger from impending events, the anonymous writers warn.

"The letters posted to Iranian Jews, our sources report, are not signed; they were postmarked from different towns in America and Europe and from private addresses so as not to raise the suspicions of Iranian security services.

"All the same, some were discovered and confiscated, prompting Tehran to accuse Israel and World Zionist organizations of a campaign to scare its Jewish citizens.

"In recent months, Iranian officials angrily held up a new Israeli offer of a one-time grant of $10,000 to every Iranian Jew migrating to Israel over and above the regular grants for other immigrants. Learning of these incentives, the Iranian authorities not long ago ordered the Jewish deputy in the Majlis, Maurice Motamed, to declare that the Jews of Iran cannot be bought for money and would never forsake their country."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Henry Mourad's bitter memories of Egypt

Henry Mourad's family had lived in Egypt for five generations. Last year, he published his memoir of childhood and young adulthood in Cairo, Exodus ll The Promised Land. Here he tells Joseph Abdel Wahad of the turbulent times he had experienced until he was forced to leave in 1964 (Via JIMENA VOICE) .

During the 18 years I lived in Egypt, until 1964, I experienced hatred, brutality, humiliation and abuse that most people do not hear about in their lifetime. As early as the age of three, I experienced immense fright every Friday afternoon when the Muslim Brotherhood took to the streets in riots and demonstrations against the Jews. Threats of slaughter and mutilation were vehemently shouted denouncing the Jews. The uproar intensified after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Routinely, bombs were placed in the Jewish quarters and casualties were in the hundreds. As a result, I lived through repeated nightmares, leaving me with indelible scars, especially after a bomb was placed in my school.

When I was seven, in 1952, the Muslim brotherhood orchestrated a coordinated inferno, which inflicted severe damage on prominent Jewish stores, banks, movie theaters and synagogues. My school - the Israelite Community School of Cairo - was, of course, targeted. Out of our dining room window, I watched in disbelief the unfolding drama before my eyes. Engulfing flames roared loudly and towered into the sky, sending pillars of black smoke. Our synagogue's ornate interior, its beautiful stained glass, its lavish woodcarving and the sacred Torah scrolls, all were reduced to smoldering ashes. On the way to school, I was physically attacked several times, showered with pebbles and called every four-letter word that existed in the Arabic language followed by "dirty Jew." No matter which route I took for school, the violence remained unabated.

At the age of eleven, I changed school to the Lycee Francais whose curriculum was in French. In 1954, Nasser assumed power as President two years later, and soon after that, he illegally nationalized the Suez Canal and in a casus belli, blocked the entrance to the Canal. As a result, war broke out between Egypt and Britain, France and Israel. Nasser began confiscating Jewish-owned businesses, including our family's. Worse, my uncle was interned in a detention camp and my aunt was evicted from Egypt with 48 hours' notice. Every spiteful act was condoned because we were Jewish. To boost his popularity, Nasser gave long and passionate speeches of hatred, arousing the masses against the Jews. In planting the seed of anger in the minds of the population, he put the blame on the Jews and made them responsible for the masses' poor economic and social conditions.

At the end of the Suez war in late 1956, all my foreign teachers were evicted and replaced with Egyptian nationals. We were forced to absorb new patriotic slogans and anyone who did not conform was severely punished. When the school implemented religious classes for Muslims and Christians students in its curriculum, we were sent to an empty room, shunned for being Jewish,until the conclusion of the class. As a result, I was identified as a Jew to my fanatic Arabicteacher. Before I was identified as a Jew, I consistently ranked first in class, obtaining the top grade in Arabic studies, but afterward the teacher consistently gave his Muslim students higher grades. In addition, he made every effort to degrade and humiliate me in class.

At the age of sixteen, I graduated from high school and ranked first in the national exam - a test given in a different school to mask the student identity - not only in my school, but also in the overall school district. Because of my high score, I was admitted to Cairo University School of Engineering. Because Cairo University is a public entity, I did not have to disclose my religion. I remained undercover for nearly three years, pretending to be a Muslim, and avoided the risk of any possible confrontation. However, at the beginning of my third year in college, the family business was nationalized without, of course, any possible reparation or compensation. My father was given a meager salary, and thus, we had no choice but to get ready to leave Egypt. This was economic strangulation.

Worse yet, the government boasted in the newspapers the seizure of the family's business and thus exposed our religion. I was finally discovered as being a Jew. A difficult confrontation with my friends arose at the University. And as soon as we applied to leave Egypt, we were stripped of our Egyptian nationality, which we had through five generations. Our personal assets - bank accounts, homes, etc--- were also confiscated, and we were told never to return.

The peak humiliation, took place at our departure at Cairo Airport. For example, the officers in charge harrassed and insulted us during the inspection. This left me with difficult emotional scars but after that scary episode, we finally were allowed to leave. The thought of arriving to freedom in France lifted our spirits and gave us hope. And although we were quite poor there, we made up for it mostly with peace of mind.

When I arrived in the United States, my struggle as an immigrant began. I was indeed the poor, the tired and I was yearning to breathe freely. After several months of determined effort, I landed a job at IBM, which paid me a comfortable wage. But I vowed to pursue my education as well. After completing both my Bachelor and Masters degrees, I began my career as a design engineer in the Silicon Valley. My career advanced rapidly and I became the Chief Engineer.

Life was sweet and the ugly experience of my formative years in Egypt became a distant memory. After several years of contented married life, I was blessed with the birth of my daughters, Joelle and Michelle. Also, feeling secure and confident, I took a courageous step and founded my own telecommunications company. With diligent hard work and many sacrifices, the company flourished and became a public entity. Rapid economic growth in the telecommunications industry sharply expanded my business.

It was as if I wanted to prove to the world that whatever Egypt took away was inconsequential. I had to leave the past behind for I did not have the power to change it. Instead, my attention was focused on the future.

Last Jew of Hebron 'never waived property rights'

The case of Yosef Ezra, whose Jewish family was the last to leave Hebron in 1947, has ramifications for all Jews whose property was taken over by Arabs. Nadav Shragai of Haaretz reports.

By the time Yosef Ezra was four years old, his family was the only Jewish family still in Hebron following the 1929 massacre. They left only in 1947, a day after the UN voted to establish the state of Israel. He still has clear memories of his 15 years in the city.

Today, Ezra is 75 and lives in Jerusalem. But he still has registration documents for the Hebron lands and houses owned by both his family and Magen Avot, an umbrella organization of Sephardi yeshivas in the city. So this morning, he intends to publicly come to the aid of today's Jewish residents of Hebron, at a High Court of Justice hearing on whether those residents should be allowed to remain in the so-called "Triangle Market."

A Civil Administration appeals committee decided a few months ago that the families could continue living in the market, until a final decision was made on the legality of their presence. It thereby rejected the position of the custodian of government property in the West Bank, who had wanted them evicted immediately. Peace Now then petitioned the court against the committee's decision, and the State Prosecutor's Office announced that it sided with Peace Now.

When Ezra heard that, he decided to go to court today and request permission to speak. The settlers have asked that he be added to the petition as a respondent.

"I never waived my rights, and those of my family, in these properties," he said. "But until we get this property back, I and descendants of other families expelled from Hebron have allowed the Hebron settlers to maintain them and use them."

Ezra claims that unlike other Jewish property in Hebron, his family's property was never taken over by the Jordanian custodian of absentee property.

"I personally traveled to Jordan and checked whether there was an expropriation order for those stores in the Triangle Market," he said. "There is no such thing. Thus the Israeli custodian is not the successor of the Jordanian custodian. This belongs to my family, and we want Jews to continue to live there; we want the Jewish community of Hebron to continue to exist."

Read article in full

Arutz sheva article

Report by Hebron Jewish community

Hebron's Peace house, bought by a US Jew of Syrian origin

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Israeli doctors screen 40 Iraqi children

Three Israeli doctors working in Jordan on Tuesday screened 40 Iraqi children suffering from heart disease in a rare instance of cooperation between people from Israel and the Arab country, Haaretz reports.

"The doctors said they hoped their actions will improve relations between the two Mideast nations and ease tensions between Israel and the rest of the Arab world.

"Dr. Sion Houri, director of the pediatric intensive care unit at Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, Israel, said he thought ties and friendship were being built through his work in Jordan with the Iraqi children."Our only previous exchanges with the Iraqis are the Scud missiles", he said, referring to the missiles Iraq, under former dictator Saddam Hussein, fired on Israel during the 1991 Gulf War.

"But the Iraqis we met here have been very receptive and cooperative, which makes me believe that the animosity and war aren't between the people", he said as he and two colleagues screened the Iraqi children, whose ages ranged from a few months to 14 years old.

"Following the U.S.-led war that ousted Saddam in 2003, diplomats discussed the possibility of improved relations between Israel and Iraq.

"But in 2004, then Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi vowed that Iraq would not break Arab ranks and sign a separate peace deal with Israel. Jordan and Egypt are the only two Arab countries to have signed peace treaties with Israel."

Read article in full

Monday, October 15, 2007

Acknowledging suffering is the key to peace

Jalal Ghazi, an Arab-American who attended a 'peacemaker' camp at the university of Berkeley, California, is open-minded enough to realise that injustice in the Middle East is not a one-way street. If only more participants in Jewish-Palestinian dialogue thought like him.

"I felt that it was important to show that not all Arabs are the same, and that Palestinians are treated badly in Lebanon – even though I also believe that Israel is responsible for the suffering and expulsion of the refugees. It became clear to me that the Arab American community isn’t quite ready for self-criticism, yet. As the weekend progressed, I met a number of Arab Jews that really made me realize how important the dialogue between Arabs and Jews really is.

"Elad, a 35-year-old Israeli man, whose grandparents and parents originally came from Morocco, had no problem introducing himself to me as an Arab Jew – even though it is not easy for an Israeli to identify himself as an Arab. Almost half of the current Israeli population are Jews who originally came from Arab countries, though they do not see themselves as Arabs. The Israeli government strongly discouraged Arab Jews from keeping their Arab names, learning their language, or even learning their history. Also, many Jews – those from Iraq, Syria and Egypt – left under unfortunate conditions. For example, many Iraqi Jews were stripped of their property and Iraqi citizenship before being forced to go to Israel. Anti-Jewish laws were passed by the Iraqi parliament in the name of Arab nationalism. As a result, one of the oldest and richest Jewish communities in the Middle East was uprooted.

"I believe that if Arabs acknowledged the suffering inflicted on Jews who lived in Arab countries, this would help those who live in Israel to have an affinity with the Arab world. (My emphasis -ed). As Elad explained: “I struggle a lot whenever I have to serve in the army, especially when I was ordered to enter Palestinian villages. People looked just like me.”

"Like many Jewish Israelis, 28-year-old Reut is uncomfortable acknowledging she has Arab roots. The Egyptian government imprisoned her grandfather for attending a meeting arranged by Zionists. After two months in prison, Ruet said her grandfather was released and given 24 hours to leave the country.

"I just couldn’t help but wonder what the region would be like if the grandparents of Elad, Ruet and millions of other Jews living in Israel had not been forced to escape their Arab countries.

"We Arab Americans must learn from our past mistakes. We are obligated to extend our arms to Jewish Americans even if they do not agree with us. We have no choice but to open a dialogue with all Jews, regardless of their political views. If we want to change their minds about an issue, we must meet with them first. After all, better relations with the Jewish community can influence some Israeli policies towards the Palestinians."

Read article in full

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Both Arab and Iranian Islamism inspired by Nazism

In a seminal lecture finally delivered at Leeds University last week, the German scholar Matthias Kuntzel traces the unbroken connection between the Nazi-inspired Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in the 1930s, and today's Islamist terrorists in the West. Although an anti-colonial movement, the Brotherhood's first target was not the British, but the Jews of Egypt and Palestine.

The Islamists’ answer to everything was the call for a new order based on sharia. But the Brotherhood’s jihad was not directed primarily against the British. Rather, it focused almost exclusively on Zionism and the Jews. Membership in the Brotherhood shot up from 800 to 200,000 between 1936 and 1938. In those two years the Brotherhood conducted only one major campaign in Egypt, a campaign directed against Zionism and the Jews.

The starting shot for this campaign, which established the Brotherhood as an antisemitic mass movement, was fired by a rebellion in Palestine directed against Jewish immigration and initiated by the notorious Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini. The Brotherhood organized mass demonstrations in Egyptian cities under the slogans “Down With the Jews!” and “Jews Get Out of Egypt and Palestine!” Their Jew-hatred drew on the one hand on Islamic sources. First, Islamists considered, and still consider, Palestine an Islamic territory, Dar al-Islam, where Jews must not run a single village, let alone a state. Second, Islamists justify their aspiration to eliminate the Jews of Palestine by invoking the example of Muhammad, who in the 7th century not only expelled two Jewish tribes from Medina, but also beheaded the entire male population of a third Jewish tribe, before proceeding to sell all the women and children into slavery. Third, they find support and encouragement for their actions and plans in the Koranic dictum that Jews are to be considered the worst enemy of the believers.

Their Jew-hatred was also inspired by Nazi influences: Leaflets called for a boycott of Jewish goods and Jewish shops, and the Brotherhood’s newspaper, al-Nadhir, carried a regular column on “The Danger of the Jews of Egypt,” which published the names and addresses of Jewish businessmen and allegedly Jewish newspaper publishers all over the world, attributing every evil, from communism to brothels, to the “Jewish danger.”

The Brotherhood’s campaign used not only Nazi-like patterns of action and slogans but also German funding. As the historian Brynjar Lia recounts in his monograph on the Brotherhood, “Documents seized in the flat of Wilhelm Stellbogen, the Director of the German News Agency affiliated to the German Legation in Cairo, show that prior to October 1939 the Muslim Brothers received subsidies from this organization. Stellbogen was instrumental in transferring these funds to the Brothers, which were considerably larger than the subsidies offered to other anti-British activists. These transfers appear to have been coordinated by Hajj Amin al-Husseini and some of his Palestinian contacts in Cairo.”

To summarize our first trip into history: We saw that the rise of Nazism and Islamism took place in the same period. This was no accident, for both movements represented attempts to answer the world economic crisis of 1929 and the crisis of liberal capitalism. However different their answers may have been, they shared a crucial central feature: in both cases the sense of belonging to a homogeneous community was created through mobilizing against the Jews.

In 1937, the Nazis began to welcome the Mufti of Jerusalem's advances, ceasing to treat the Arabs as racial inferiors. They were now allies:

In June 1937 the Nazis changed course. The trigger was the Peel Plan’s two-state solution. Berlin wanted at all costs to prevent the birth of a Jewish state and thus welcomed the Mufti’s advances. Arab antisemitism would now get a powerful new promoter.

A central role in the propaganda offensive was played by a Nazi wireless station, now almost totally forgotten. Since the 1936 Berlin Olympics a village called Zeesen, located to the south of Berlin, had been home to what was at the time the world’s most powerful short-wave radio transmitter. Between April 1939 and April 1945, Radio Zeesen reached out to the illiterate Muslim masses through daily Arabic programmes, which also went out in Persian and Turkish. At that time listening to the radio in the Arab world took place primarily in public squares or bazaars and coffee houses. No other station was more popular than this Nazi Zeesen service, which skilfully mingled antisemitic propaganda with quotations from the Koran and Arabic music. The Second World War allies were presented as lackeys of the Jews and the picture of the “United Jewish Nations” drummed into the audience. At the same time, the Jews were attacked as the worst enemies of Islam: “The Jew since the time of Muhammad has never been a friend of the Muslim, the Jew is the enemy and it pleases Allah to kill him”.

Since 1941, Zeesen’s Arabic programming had been directed by the Mufti of Jerusalem who had emigrated to Berlin. The Mufti’s aim was to “unite all the Arab lands in a common hatred of the British and Jews”, as he wrote in a letter to Adolf Hitler. Antisemitism, based on the notion of a Jewish world conspiracy, however, was not rooted in Islamic tradition but, rather, in European ideological models.

The Mufti therefore seized on the only instrument that really moved the Arab masses: Islam. He invented a new form of Jew-hatred by recasting it in an Islamic mould. He was the first to translate Christian antisemitism into Islamic language, thus creating an “Islamic antisemitism”. (...)

Radio Zeesen was a success not only in Cairo; it made an impact in Tehran as well:

One of its regular listeners was a certain Ruhollah Khomeini. When in the winter of 1938 the 36-year-old Khomeini returned to the Iranian city of Qom from Iraq he “had brought with him a radio receiver set made by the British company Pye … The radio proved a good buy… Many mullahs would gather at his home, often on the terrace, in the evenings to listen to Radio Berlin and the BBC”, writes his biographer Amir Taheri. Even the German consulate in Tehran was surprised by the success of this propaganda. “Throughout the country spiritual leaders are coming out and saying ‘that the twelfth Imam has been sent into the world by God in the form of Adolf Hitler’” we learn from a report to Berlin in February 1941.

Read article in full

Kuntzel in The Weekly Standard

Friday, October 12, 2007

Little Tunis: an island of coexistence

Relations in France between Jews and Arabs in general may be cool, but in the Belleville quarter of Paris Tunisian Jews and Muslims get on famously, Reuters reports: (with thanks: Jonathan)

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - On the map, it's a tiny strip of eastern Paris along Boulevard de Belleville. But for the Tunisian immigrants who call it home, the packed Arabic-and Hebrew-lettered storefronts mark out 'Little Tunis.'

In a country where relations between Arabs and Jews is often cool, the neighborhood is an island of peaceful coexistence where bakeries, grills and butcher shops sit side-by-side preparing food according to Muslim and Jewish dietary laws.

For the first time in years, Muslims are observing the holy month of Ramadan, when they fast from dawn to dusk, at the same time as the Jewish high holidays when Jews observe the holiest day of their calendar, the Day of Atonement fast day.

Eighty year-old Maurice Cohen, who has lived here for 25 years, said both religions were observing a time of reflection and solemnity side by side in Little Tunis.

"Despite what goes on in the Middle East, this is a Tunisian neighborhood par excellence, an example of good neighborly relations," he said.

Many of the customs here are similar, brought over to France from North Africa.

At the Arab-owned Lamama pastry shop, a queue of people spill onto the street as bakers rush to keep up with orders for honey-soaked baklava, almond-stuffed cakes, and hot beignets.

Many immigrants reminisce about their times back in the old country, when Tunisia, which once had a large Jewish population and is home to the biggest synagogue (the Ghriba on Djerba is certainly the oldest - ed) in the region, was a shining example of peaceful coexistence.

Here, this nostalgia seems to play out on the street, where Muslim and Jewish men wearing traditional skullcaps stroll side-by-side during the pre-sundown shopping promenade.

"Both groups came here en masse following the successive Arab-Israeli wars ( the Jews did, at any rate - ed) but once they arrived in France they realized that Tunisian customs left them with much in common," said Jean-Michel Rosenfeld, an official at the local city hall.

"I can't think of any place in France where relations between Jews and Muslims are better," he said. "I even know a Jewish-owned restaurant that stays open on the (Jewish) Sabbath because the owner passes the keys over to a Muslim friend."

Read article in full

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Morocco's Jews: royal advisers, far-left militants

In addition to a vibrant Jewish community with several synagogues and schools, Moroccan Jewry can boast of a royal adviser, an ambassador-at-large, candidates for parliament and even a smattering of far-left militants. But is the picture quite as idyllic as it seems? Marc Perelman of The Forward investigates.

"While the vast majority of Morocco’s quarter-million Jews left the country between 1948 and 1967 to immigrate to Israel, France or the United States, for the most part they felt they had not been chased out and as a result many retained a strong emotional bond to their homeland. Moroccan authorities, for their part, are eager to show off the community as an example of the kingdom’s moderate nature, particularly at a time when Muslim countries are often associated in Western minds with terrorism.

"While Moroccan Jewry is unquestionably far better off than communities elsewhere in the Arab world, the picture may not be quite as idyllic as is often painted. To begin with, community leaders’ claims that 5,000 Jews live in Morocco are likely inflated. The Jewish Agency for Israel has put the figure at 3,000, and according to most accounts a sizable proportion of them split time between Morocco and elsewhere.

"Moreover, while Jews and Muslims may be friendly neighbors they rarely talk about Israel. Moroccans are staunchly pro-Palestinian, and 1 million of them demonstrated in the streets in the spring of 2002 to protest Israeli military operations in the West Bank and Gaza. And Morocco itself has not been immune to terrorism: When a dozen suicide bombers blew themselves up in Casablanca in May 2003, three of the targets were Jewish or Jewish-owned.

"Shortly after the 2003 attacks, Berdugo, who in addition to leading the community serves as the king’s ambassador at large, blasted the Jewish Agency for encouraging Moroccan Jews to leave the country. He now claims Jews are no more at risk from a “foreign-inspired” lethal ideology than ordinary Moroccans. And he is keen to recount that when he told parents of Muslim children attending a Jewish school they could switch schools, they all demurred.

"In recent years, both Israel and American Jewish officials have expressed concern over the safety of Moroccan Jews. But a variety of Jews interviewed here brush off such worries, expressing confidence in the Moroccan security services’ ability to thwart attacks.

"Joseph Levy, a furniture maker who was among five Jewish candidates running in last month’s parliamentary elections, said he feels perfectly at ease as a Jew in Morocco. He noted that the Moroccan Jewish diaspora has kept a strong attachment not only to the country, but also to the king, whose grandfather Mohamed V protected Jews during World War II.

"For much of the last half-century there have been at least a handful of Jews working closely with the palace. These days it’s Berdugo, who previously served as tourism minister, and Azoulay, a former banker who became a financial adviser to the late King Hassan II in 1991 and continues to serve his son. The two men are often at odds with each other, but both recoil at the suggestion that they serve as Morocco’s “court Jews.”

“I don’t consider myself a ‘Court Jew,’ and I believe I was appointed because I had some personal qualities,” Azoulay said. “It’s a caricature that reflects a deep ignorance about the realities of this country.”

"In addition to well-heeled businessmen and entrepreneurs who split time between Casablanca and Paris, Morocco is also home to a rather different sort of Jew: far-left and often anti-Zionist activists who spent years in jail or in exile for fighting the monarchy.

"The most famous among them is Abraham Serfaty, the head of an erstwhile Marxist-Leninist group called “Forward.” Serfaty was jailed for 17 years and exiled for eight years under the iron rule of Hassan II. After the king’s death in 2000 and the accession of his son Mohammed VI, Serfaty was allowed to return to Morocco as a symbolic gesture of the country’s turn toward a more democratic rule.

"Another member of this circle is Sion Assidon, who spent 12-and-a-half years in jail for his far-leftist anti-regime advocacy as a student. Now an entrepreneur, he founded the local branch of Transparency, an anti-corruption organization. Assidon, who was born a week before Israel gained independence and is married to an American of Palestinian descent, is a staunch proponent of a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Assidon shares such views with his friend Simon Levy, a veteran Communist party leader who founded and runs a polished Jewish museum in a leafy neighborhood of Casablanca called Oasis. Levy, who refuses to give his age, is eager to denounce the absurdity of Zionism — “bringing Jews to a Muslim region and sowing hatred for a 1,000 years!”, he told the Forward, before musing about the Jewish state’s dim future: “Barricading the country behind a wall in the era of nuclear weapons is not what I call smart.”

"Levy bemoans what he called the Jewish Agency’s draining Morocco of its Jews after reaching a financial agreement with the kingdom in the 1960s. But the old socialist noticeably mellows when he gives personal tours of his Jewish museum’s pictures, artifacts and books, pausing to convey the need to renovate the country’s crumbling synagogues and to restore old bibles written in Arabic.

“Our community has shrunk dramatically but it is still here,” Levy said. “We are the heirs of the old Jewish-Muslim coexistence. We need to save this heritage, and the museum is a way to make sure it doesn’t die.”

Read article in full

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Inside the mind of Avi Shlaim: update

Avi Shlaim, an Israeli academic born in Baghdad, will speak for the anti-Zionist side at a forthcoming debate at the Oxford Union. This blog has already tried to explain the mysterious workings of the Shlaim mind. Now, however, a commenter on the Oxford Union debate thread at Harry's Place adds an astonishing personal insight: even as a 15-year old schoolboy Shlaim blamed Israel for the downturn in his family's fortunes. (With thanks: Avril)

"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