Monday, August 31, 2009

Muslims who rescued Jews from the Nazis

With thanks: Lily

The only Muslims who have been recognised as Righteous Gentiles by Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Israel, have been Albanian. Some 65 people saved some 2,000 Jews during the wartime occupation because of their code of honour, Besa. At the end of the war in 1945, there were more Jews in Albania than in 1939.

Norman Gershman, an American photographer, spent five years documenting this neglected story in his book Besa: Muslims who saved Jews in World War 11.

The popular blog Harry's Place has this link to an interview of Gershman on NPR radio."There are more good people in the world than Muslim terrorists," he says. Albanian Muslims tend to belong to the Bektashi sect, a Sufi subset of Shi'a Islam viewed as heretical by Sunni Islam.

The comments thread is worth reading. It features a heated discussion between hasan prishtina, who says that Gershman's book is valuable because the Albanians who saved Jews were persecuted by the subsequent Communist regime, and Philo-semite, who claims that Jews were saved mostly through Albanian inertia and failure to implement Nazi deportation procedures.

Read post in full

Julia Gorin in World Jewish Revew

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Yemen Jews 'marginalised' by racist practices

Jews and other 'marginalised' people, known as Akhdam, are being segregated at school, forced to do menial jobs, and their women raped, the Yemeni Observatory for Human Rights charges in the Yemen Post:

"Yemeni Jews, Rabbi Yahya Moussa told media outlets that dozens of Jews have fled their homes in Al-Salem of Sa'ada governorate earlier this year after being received letter threats from Houthi's followers.

"Houthis attacked our property, confiscated our religious books and then give us ten days to leave the village," Moussa was cited as saying." Houthis threat us to be kidnapped or murdered if not fled our village," he added.

"According to the same sources, Jews of Al-Salem village were evacuated from their rural community to the city of Sana'a.(..)

"This story comes on the heels of a similarly shocking exposure of racist practice in a government school in Sana'a city. Earlier this year, in a state public school's staff ordered one of the marginalized people (Akhdam)'s students to clean the class everyday.

"What is happening in the most of public school is nothing less than the formalization of racism, said a garbage worker and Akhdam's affiliate who spoke in anonymity, adding that private school implements a policy in which Akhdam students are not allowed to be in a class with other students.

"Yemeni Observatory for Human Rights (YOHR) is warning of the increased violence against marginalized people and is calling for a rapid solution. "Large numbers of marginalized women have been categorically raped and in many cases, killed afterwards."

Read article in full

Friday, August 28, 2009

Pro-Nazi Mufti exhibition panels removed in Berlin

Haj Amin al-Husseini with Adolf Hitler

The Jerusalem Post reports that fear of protests from the 'German-Muslim' community was the likely reason for three panels showing the collaboration of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem with Adolph Hitler were removed from an exhibit in Berlin (with thanks: Lily):

The publicly funded Multicultural Center's (Werkstatt der Kulturen) decision to remove educational panels of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Muhammad Amin al-Husseini, who was an ally of Adolf Hitler, from a planned exhibit, sparked outrage on Thursday among a district mayor, the curator of the exhibit, and the Berlin Jewish community.

The curator, Karl Rössler, told The Jerusalem Post that it is a "scandal" that the director of the Werkstatt, Philippa Ebéné, sought to censor the exhibit.

"One must, of course, name that al-Husseini, a SS functionary, participated in the Holocaust," said Rössler.

The exhibit covers the "The Third World during the Second World War" and three exhibit panels of 96 are devoted to the mufti's collaboration with the Nazis.

The grand mufti delivered a talk to the imams of the Bosnian SS division in 1944, and was a key Islamic supporter of Nazi Germany's destruction of European Jewry.

Ebéné denied that there was an "agreement " reached with the local German-Muslim community to shut down the exhibit. She termed media queries regarding an agreement as "Eurocentric."

She told the Post that the exhibit was intended as a "homage to soldiers from African" countries who fought against the Nazis.

When asked about her opposition to the inclusion of the mufti panels, she asked, "was there ever a commemoration event in Israel to honor the [African] soldiers?"

Rössler was notified last Friday that Ebéné wanted to take out the panels dealing with the grand mufti, but he rejected her demand to remove them.

Meanwhile, the exhibit in its uncensored version has been relocated to the UferHallen gallery.

Maya Zehden, a spokeswoman for the 12,000-strong Berlin Jewish community, told the Post that Ebéné's rejection of the exhibit showed "intolerance," and a director who is "incapable of acting in a democratic" manner.

Zehden urged that the Berlin government consider replacing Ebéné as director. Zehden also sharply criticized Günter Piening, Berlin's commissioner for integration and migration, for defending Ebéné's decision to censor the exhibit.

Piening told the large daily Tagesspiegel that, "We need, in a community like Neukölln, a differentiated presentation of the involvement of the Arabic world in the Second World War."

Zehden termed his statement "an appeasement attempt" to ignore the fact that "there was no official resistance from the Arabic world against the persecution of Jews" during the Shoah.

She accused Piening of showing a false tolerance to German-Arabs in the neighborhood by not wanting to deal with disturbances from the local community.

Read article in full

How US Holocaust museum whitewashes Mufti

Farouk Hosni reflects judeophobia of Egypt's elite

This depressing article by Raymond Stock in Foreign Policy spotlights Egypt's judeophobic intelligentsia, of which culture minister Farouk Hosni (above) is the most prominent example. Hosni has lately being trying to convince the world that he is the right man to head UNESCO, disseminating this clip of the Maimonides synagogue in Cairo being restored at Egyptian government expense:

"To say that Farouk Hosni doesn't much like Israel is putting it lightly. According to the Anti-Defamation League, he has called it "inhuman," and "an aggressive, racist, and arrogant culture, based on robbing other people's rights and the denial of such rights." He has accused Jews of "infiltrating" world media. And in May 2008, Hosni outdid even himself, telling the Egyptian parliament that he would "burn right in front of you" any Israeli books found in the country's libraries.

"What's shocking is not just that Hosni has said these things, but that he is Egypt's culture minister -- and even more scandalous, that he is the likely next head of UNESCO, the arm of the United Nations sworn to defend cultural diversity and international artistic cooperation. Less surprising but also sadly true is that Hosni's opinions about Israeli culture are par for the course among Egypt's intelligentsia, for whom 30 years of official peace with the Jewish state, the longest of any Arab country, have done virtually nothing to moderate its rampant Judeophobia. If anything, the opposite might be true.

"This affair has sparked protests from prominent intellectuals and politicians in Israel and around the world. And the only reason Hosni even has a shot at the UNESCO job, which he'd be the first Arab to hold, is because, in a major reversal, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently lifted his country's opposition to the Egyptian's candidacy*. How this came to pass remains shrouded in mystery. All that's known is that on May 11, Netanyahu met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and was convinced not to block the culture minister's candidacy in return for some unpublicized conditions. A few weeks later, Farouk Hosni penned an apologetic article in Le Monde, retracting his statement on book burning. Soon after that, he pledged that Egypt's culture ministry would translate literary works by two Israelis, Amos Oz and David Grossman. This seemed like a significant concession because official Egyptian policy mostly bars translation from Hebrew to Arabic -- or at least any dealings with Israeli publishers.

"But what appeared to be signs of positive change in Egypt's literary elite were actually just reflections of its deep-seated hostility to Jewish and Israeli culture. Hosni was quickly and widely attacked as "courting Zionist influence" by his fellow members of the Egyptian intelligentsia. In fact, Gaber Asfour, the head of Egypt's National Translation Center, immediately denied any link between the translations and Hosni's UNESCO campaign. He clarified that there would be no translation of the Israeli authors from Hebrew at all, but rather from existing European translations, so as not to have to actually deal with the Israeli rights-holders themselves. Although there are certainly a lot of books about Israel on the market in Egypt -- most of them full of conspiracy theories or tendentious views of Jewish history -- Egypt's head translator said he wanted to publish more, if not directly from the Hebrew. For his justification, he quoted an Arabic proverb: "Who knows the language of a people is safe from their evil."

Read article in full

*A report in Maariv (28 August Musaf shel shabbat) by Jackie Hougi claims that part of the quid pro quo for Israel withdrawing its objection to Hosni's UNESCO bid is that Egypt will allow Israeli submarines and fleet vessels through the Suez Canal. To request the full article in Hebrew please Email bataween@gmail.com. (With thanks: Levana)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lessons of the Hebron massacre for 'coexistence'

This week marks 80 years since the Hebron massacre, in which 67 Jews were murdered and 70 wounded. The Hebron massacre revealed the ugly face of pure bigotry: the Arab mob did not single out the 'Zionists' among the Jews they killed. They did not single out the Ashkenazim. All Jews were fair game, including the non-Zionists of the old Sephardi Yishuv who had 'lived in peace with Arabs' for generations.

False rumours began reaching Hebron from Jerusalem that the blood of thousands of Muslims was flowing like water. The Arabs of Hebron were called on to avenge their brothers. Early on Saturday 24 August 1929, the Jewish Sabbath, Arab mobs, armed with clubs, knives, and axes, began to gather. The Arab women and children threw stones, the men ransacked Jewish houses and destroyed Jewish property. With only a single British police officer in Hebron (Raymond Cafferata), the Arabs entered Jewish courtyards unopposed.

According to this article, the head of the Sephardi community in Hebron "Rabbi (Ya'akov) Slonim, who had tried to shelter much of the Jewish population in his own home, was approached by the rioters and offered a deal. If all the Ashkenazi yeshiva students were given over to the Arabs, the rioters would spare the lives of the Sephardi community. Rabbi Slonim refused to turn over any of the students and was killed on the spot, along with his wife and young child. In the end, 12 Sephardi Jews and 55 Ashkenazi Jews were murdered."

Slonims

According to Rabbi Slonim's son, his family's only survivor of the Hebron massacre:

Given the good relationship he enjoyed with his Arab neighbors (my emphasis-ed), local Jews believed they would be safe in his home."

"They were wrong. As the Arabs came to the home, the people inside tried to bar the door with their bodies, but they couldn't hold back the mob, he said.

"After bursting in, the Arabs killed 24 people with knives and machetes. Among them were Slonim's father, his mother, Hannah, 24, and her parents who were visiting for Shabbat. They also fatally wounded his older brother, who was only four. He succumbed to his wounds several days later in Jerusalem and was buried there."

Another story of betrayal is that of Ben-tzion Gershon, a doctor and pharmacist who treated Jews and Arabs in Hebron. He opened the door to an Arab woman who feigned that she was about to give birth. The woman moved aside, and a murderous mob stormed in and gang-raped his wife. When Dr. Gershon begged them to stop, they answered: "If you don't want to see it, you don't have to" – and gouged his eyes out before killing him, according to the testimony of one of Gershon's daughters.

Of course, there is no doubt that some Arabs acted honourably and saved Jews. Indeed it has become almost fashionable, as the Haaretz columnist Tom Segev does, to emphasise that Arabs hid over 300 Jews in 28 homes.

"Some Arabs showed great courage in protecting Jews that day. One Arab landlord refused to allow his Jewish tenants to be murdered. He stood fast outside the door of their home, even when a fellow Arab put a sword to his throat and drew blood. The landlord refused to budge and finally the mob relented."

Examples abound of Arabs saving Jews in the Iraqi pogrom of 1941 known as the Farhoud, which claimed the lives of 179 Jews and in the Libyan pogrom of 1945, in which 130 Jews were murdered.

In her book, A sense of purpose, Suzy Eban describes how in 1929 her grandparents in their farmhouse on the road to Jerusalem at Motza were forewarned by an Arab employee of the approaching mob. Thanks to her, they were able to barricade themselves in, and survived unscathed.

On the other hand, their neighbours, the Makleff family, who worked closely with Arabs, were not so lucky. Their 'involvement with Arabs', as Suzy Eban puts it, did not save them from being murdered. Only two members of the Makleff family survived.

The idea that familiarity leads to mutual respect underpins umpteen modern interfaith and coexistence initiatives. If Arabs and Jews live together, talk to each other, play music together, so the thinking goes, then harmonious relations, and ultimately, peace, will follow.

Events such as the Hebron massacre also show that familiarity can breed contempt or festering resentment. Jews caught up in the Farhoud and the Libyan pogrom recognised among their Arab assailants the butcher, the milkman, the gardener.

The lessons of the Hebron massacre are that coexistence is not simply a matter of living together. They are that incitement fuelled by false rumours, unchecked anger at grievances real or imagined, and sheer greed and opportunism, can turn ordinary people into violent monsters.

Remembering the Hebron massacre (Wall St Journal - with thanks: Heather)

Anti-Jewish violence in Palestine (CAMERA)

Pierre van Paassen's article: Days of our Years (excerpt)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tiny Yemen community shrinks even further

Three more families will move to Israel from Yemen this week, as the Yemen Jewish community shrinks still further, Reuters reports (with thanks: Jonathan):

SANAA, Aug 23 (Reuters) - Three more Jewish families will leave Yemen for Israel this week, according to a Yemeni rabbi who laments the dwindling of an ancient community unnerved by threats and by the murder of a Jew last year.

A Shi'ite revolt in the strongly tribal northern mountains and the growth of Sunni Islamist fervour in Yemen have made Jews uncomfortable in a land where they have deep roots.
Only 200 to 300 Jews still live among Yemen's 23 million Muslims, mostly in the north.

Rabbi Yahya Yusuf Musa, 31, told Reuters the three families were from Raida, a town about 70 km (45 miles) north of the capital Sanaa, where a Jew was killed in December by a Muslim compatriot who has been sentenced to death for the crime.

Sixteen Yemeni Jews from Raidah moved to Israel in June, including relatives of the victim, Mashaa Yaeesh al-Nahari.
An official at Israel's immigration ministry declined to comment due to the sensitivity of the subject.

Israel organised the departure of about 50,000 Jews, the bulk of a once-vibrant minority famed for its craftsmen, to the newly created Jewish state in 1949.

Last year Rabbi Musa was among 67 Jews forced to leave the village of Al Salem in the northern province of Saada after threats by Shi'ite rebels known as Houthis, whose intermittent five-year-old revolt flared again this month.

"The Houthis kicked us out," Musa said, recounting attacks on property, theft of religious books and other abuses. "They gave us 10 days to leave, or they would kidnap and kill us."
Evacuated to Saada city and then flown by helicopter to Sanaa, the Jews of Al Salem now live in government-supplied housing with a small monthly stipend and food rations.

The government accuses rebels, led by Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, of seeking to restore Islamic rule by the Zaydi imamate which was overthrown in 1962. Zaydis, which belong to a branch of Shi'ism, are a minority in mainly Sunni Muslim Yemen.

Musa, who works as a silversmith, said the 15 families from Al Salem felt secure in Sanaa, unlike their counterparts in Raida. Their children go to school and play with young Muslims.
"We have no intention of leaving the country because our birthplace is beloved," he said when asked if they planned to go to Israel. "We prefer to live in safety and security in Sanaa."

Read article in full

Monday, August 24, 2009

My house is your house: Jewish rights denied

Lately, the Egyptian authorities have been fighting a build-up of adverse publicity with a media blitz of their own. But over at Harry's Place, Lyn Julius keeps up the pressure with this post about the mass dispossession of Jews from Egypt:

A daughter of the wealthy Jewish Castro family from Egypt once attended a lecture by Anwar Sadat’s widow Jehan in New York City. Congratulating her afterwards on her excellent speech, the Egyptian Jewess exchanged pleasantries with Mrs Sadat. “But you must come back to visit (Egypt) and to show it to your children”, Mrs Sadat said, adding the traditional Egyptian courtesy, beti betak - ” My house is your house”.

Little did she appreciate the irony, but the presidential villa Jehan Sadat lived in had literally belonged to the Castro family expelled by Nasser in 1956. Observers of the Middle East conflict frequently talk of trampled Palestinian rights, but suffer a blindspot when it comes to the mass dispossession of a greater number of Jews across 10 Arab countries. Few Jews lived as opulently as the Castros, but all over the Middle East and North Africa, Jewish homes, shops and businesses were seized or sold for well under market value as fearful Jews left in haste. Schools, synagogues and hospitals were abandoned as some 850,000 Jews were scapegoated as Zionists after 1948. A ghostly Jewish presence, a reminder of a more pluralistic, tolerant age, still haunts the Arab world today like a severed limb.

So reports last week that President Mubarak, paying his first visit to Washington since 2004, might have discussed with President Obama a plan for Palestinian refugees to be compensated, in exchange for a waiver of their ‘right of return’, has left Jews exiled from the Arab world gasping: “what about us?”

The US-based Historical Society of Jews from Egypt fired off an open letter to President Mubarak seething with indignation:

“If Nasser had not persecuted us, stolen all our property, and expelled us ignominiously with only the shirts on our backs, we would still be living in Egypt and contributing to its greatness as we always have. Indeed, we care about our heritage and cherish it openly. It will be a good day when Egypt finally recognizes our many positive contributions to its history. Sadly, it does not appear this day is near. We wish to bring to your attention, again, as we have many times in the past, a number of grievances. So far, not only have they not been satisfied, but they have not even been addressed.The Egyptian establishment believes that if they just ignore us, we will simply go away.”

Clauses in the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty allowing for the settlement of Jewish claims have never been implemented, perhaps because the Israeli government did not want to be blamed for sinking an already-floundering Egyptian economy. But Egypt is haunted that some day the Jews - once a community of 80,000 - will demand their property back. In May 2008 a group of elderly Jews from Israel had their planned ‘roots’ visit to Cairo and Alexandria cancelled after just such scaremongering.

The fate of Egypt’s priceless Jewish heritage is effectively being determined by some few dozen elderly Jewish ladies, mostly widowed or married to non-Jews. Decisions are postponed as the tiny and timorous local community and the authorities engage in endless buck-passing. Most recently, Jews outside Egypt were alarmed by reports in the Egyptian press that developers were fighting over the extremely valuable site of a derelict synagogue-cum-religious school in the old Jewish quarter of Cairo. Although some 10 synagogues and a mausoleum in Cairo and Alexandria are under preservation order and the Egyptian government is paying for the restoration of major Jewish tourist sites such as the Rambam synagogue, images in the press of a mural of the great 12th century rabbi Maimonides and prayer books strewn amid the rubble have suggested that the Egyptian Jewish community’s decaying heritage may not be in such safe hands. The Egyptians, however, have been quick to deny such charges of neglect.

On the other hand, documents, treasures and Torah scrolls are classified as antiquities as ‘Egyptian’ as the Sphinx or the Pyramids. They are being left to deteriorate in storage, and may not be restored to their rightful Jewish owners.

A major grievance is that Egyptian Jews in exile are denied access to their communal archives. Jews of Egyptian descent in Israel, Europe, the Americas and Australia requiring their ancestors’ certificates of birth, marriage or death cannot even obtain photocopies. Appeals by associations of Egyptian Jews abroad for UNESCO to take over these precious records have so far gone unheeded.

To add insult to injury, the next UNESCO director-general, to be elected in September, is likely to be the Egyptian culture minister Farouk Hosni. Although he has since apologised and retracted his statement as ‘hyperbole’, Mr Hosni is on record as saying that ‘Israeli’ books in Egyptian libraries should be burned. In 1997, at the height of the Oslo accords, he told the newspaper Ruz Al Yusef:

“the Jews steal our history and our civilisation ; they haven’t any civilisation of their own; they haven’t a country of their own and don’t deserve to have one. So they tried to create one by force.”

No compensation in sight for seized property, no access to their history, and the prospect of a known antisemite in charge of their heritage: for the Jews from Egypt, these grievances compound the original injustice of their uprooting. The rights of Jews forced out from Arab countries continue to be denied.

Read post in full

Sunday, August 23, 2009

'A Jewish return for a Palestinian return'

With thanks: Iraqijews

Saleh al-Qallab, writing in the London-based Arabic newspaper Sharq-al-Awsat, says a peace settlement should honour the right of Jews to return to Arab countries and receive compensation for their property, as it should for Palestinians to return to their homes in Israel and get compensation, in accordance with UN resolution 194.

Al-Qallab claims that Iraqi Jews would reintegrate easily into Iraq because they had been living there since the Babylonian exile and had taken a full part in the rebirth of the country. They do not harbour hatred of Arabs or Palestinians. Moreover they are not as resentful as Moroccan or Yemeni Jews.

He claims that some Iraqi Jews have thought 'seriously to return'. He cites the example of Moshe Shahal, a former Israeli MK and minister of Police in Yitzhak Rabin's government. Shahal had changed his name from Fattal; a branch of the Fattal family had prospered in London. Shahal had remained faithful to his Iraqi heritage, teaching his children Arabic. His mother cooked the Arabic dish pacha for the whole family.

Shahal had apparently asked Hosni Mubarak, on his becoming Egyptian president, to arrange for him to return to Saddam's Iraq and claim his property back. He was shocked to be told that he could. But Saddam retracted his promise.

The article concludes that there are encouraging grounds to believe that Iraqi jews from Iraqi Kurdistan might seriously consider returning to Iraq, and some of them will actually do so if granted the necessary security guarantees.

Read article in full (Google translation from Arabic)

Summary in JCPA piece (Hebrew)

Point of No Return comments: Al-Qallab is to be commended for raising the issue of Jews from Arab countries, but is unrealistic to call for an exchange 'right of return' 60 years after the event. The descendants of Jews from Arab countries are now Hebrew-, English- or French- speaking Jews fully integrated in Israel and the West. Moreover, Arab countries are far from guaranteeing physical security and equal rights for returning Jews, when they cannot even guarantee them for fellow Muslims or Christians.

OK, say I - for every Jew returning to an Arab country let one Palestinian return to Israel - and see how many take up the offer.

Na-Na-Nahman from Iraq (with thanks: Iraqijews)
Yediot Aharonot (Musaf shel shabbat) of 22 August carries the curious revelation that the Hassidim of Breslav (Ukraine), who revere Rabbi Nahman from Uman, are planning to make group visits from Israel to tombs of Jewish Prophets and Sages in Iraq. According to the article, Haifa University and the Babylonian Jewish Center at Or Yehuda has started training tour guides to accompany the groups. No online link available.

Sidon and Aley to follow Beirut temple restoration

Renovation work has started on the Beirut synagogue (Photo: AFP)

The restoration of the war-damaged Maghen Abraham synagogue in Beirut to its previous ornate standards, complete with carpets and chandeliers, will take up to 15 months. This AFP piece reports that the cemetery in Beirut, the Sidon synagogue, and the oldest synagogue in the country at Aley, are also slated for restoration. (With thanks: Binhaddou, Lily)

"Arcades bearing the Star of David and Hebrew inscriptions once hidden by the wild vegetation are now emerging from the shadows.

"But political graffiti scrawled by militiamen on the arcades and at the entrance to the temple during the civil war still bear testimony to a time when it was caught in the crossfire of rival factions.

"The red-tiled roof also needs restoring as well as the abandoned office of the rabbi which lies close to the entrance of the synagogue.

"The temple is located in Wadi Abu Jmil -- once known as Wadi al-Yahud or the 'Valley of the Jews' in Arabic -- a neighbourhood that abuts the restored city centre of Beirut, where battles raged during the civil war.

"It also lies close to the prime minister's office and parliament and Lebanese authorities have given their blessings for the renovation project at the synagogue.

"The renovation of Magen Abraham has given hope to Jews who have chosen to stay in their native Lebanon despite the upheavals of the past decades.

"If all goes well, we expect the renovation to be completed within 12 to 15 months," Arazi said.

"The Lebanese Jewish Community Council has called for donations to help cover renovation costs, which Arazi estimates will reach one million dollars. Some Lebanese Jews who live abroad are financing the project.

"We want to restore the synagogue to the way it was before, with all its furniture, carpets and chandeliers," Arazi said.

"Looters had stripped the synagogue of everything during war: benches, windows, tiles and even the marble altar were stolen.

"We really would like those who stole them to return them, because they date back 80 years," Arazi said.

"He also expects the council to renovate a Jewish cemetery in Beirut and two other synagogues -- one in the southern coastal city of Sidon and another in the southeastern mountain resort of Aley.

"The Aley synagogue is the country's oldest temple built in 1870.

"In principle, we start work on the cemetery next week," he added.

"A Talmud-Torah school that stood behind Magen Abraham was razed to the ground at the end of the devastating civil war by real estate giant Solidere which oversaw the reconstruction of Beirut's city centre.

"Arazi said that none of Lebanon's religious communities and political parties, including the militant Shiite group Hezbollah, have expressed any reservations concerning the reconstruction project.

"Nobody has protested and we have not received any threats."

Read article in full

Friday, August 21, 2009

Egypt stung by charges of neglect over Jewish site

Prayer books strewn across the rubble of this Cairo synagogue/yeshiva (Photo: Yom al-sabeth)

The Egyptian authorities have been stung by a critical open letter issued by Egyptian Jews as president Mubarak visited Washington this week, and pictures of a derelict Jewish site appearing on weblogs such as Point of No Return. They are at pains to state that the site is not a synagogue but a yeshiva.

To show that accusations of neglect of Egypt's Jewish heritage are unfounded, they are trumpeting their plans to restore the Maimonides* synagogue. The timing is not linked, they say in this AFP report, to the culture minister Farouk Hosni's bid to head UNESCO. Hosni once said he would 'burn Israeli books.'


CAIRO — Egypt denied on Thursday that it was restoring its Jewish antiquities only to help bolster a controversial bid by Culture Minister Faruq Hosni to head UNESCO.

Antiquities chief Zahi Hawass was responding to complaints by Jewish groups after recent pictures circulating on the Internet reportedly showed religious books scattered on the floor of a synagogue.

"There have been some pictures published in newspapers and on Internet sites implying that Egypt has neglected its duties towards Jewish temples and this is not true," Hawass told reporters at the Musa bin Maymun (or Maimonides) synagogue in Cairo?s ancient Jewish Quarter.

"The pictures published are not of the synagogues and are aimed at tarnishing the image of Culture Minister Faruq Hosni, whom Egypt has put forward as a candidate to head UNESCO," Hawass said.

"Egypt deals with the Jewish synagogues and antiquities as part of its own," Hawass said.

His claims were backed up by the head of Egypt's Jewish community, Rauf Fuad Tawfiq**, who said pictures showing religious books strewn on a floor were taken in a house once used as a Jewish school and not in the Maimonides synagogue.

"The restoration of the Ibn Maymun temple began over 14 months ago, before Egypt announced the candidacy of Faruq Hosni," he added.

Hosni's candidacy for the post of director general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation has been mired in controversy amid charges of anti-Semitism after comments he made in May 2008.

"I'd burn Israeli books myself if I found any in libraries in Egypt," he said in response to a question in parliament.

He later retracted his words and apologised.

Israel initially protested but has since lifted its opposition to Hosni, who has been culture minister for more than two decades. A vote on the UNESCO job is to be held in October.

Egypt has 13 Jewish houses of worship. Some of them have already been restored, such as the Ben Ezer synagogue in Old Cairo and the Shaar Hashamayim in downtown Cairo.

Scholar, philosopher and physician Musa Ibn Maymun was born in Cordoba, Spain in 1135 and fled from persecution to Egypt, where he died in 1204.

Read article in full

* referred to by his Muslim name, Musa ibn Maymun
**Jewish groups say they have not heard of this gentleman before

Thursday, August 20, 2009

120 Yemeni Jews to move to Israel, 100 to the US

Israeli sources confirmed on Thursday Yemeni media reports that the overwhelming majority of the final remnant of Yemen's ancient Jewish community, numbering some 250 people, are looking to leave the country due to persecution and violence (with thanks binhaddou, Lily):

Yemenite Jew Simha Ben...

Yemenite Jew Simha Ben-Yisrael, back, and her children arrive at Ben Gurion airport on Thursday.
Photo: AP

"About 120 of the Yemeni Jews want to move to Israel, 100 want to move to the US" - where there is a small Yemenite Jewish community - "and between 20 and 30 want to stay," the source said, citing information obtained from the community.

Some of the Jews wishing to leave are unable to do so because they are having trouble selling their property, the source said.

Saba, Yemen's official state news agency, reported Wednesday on a "mini-exodus" of Jews from the country "triggered by alleged harassment" and "fear of persecution."

The article quoted Rabbi Yahya Yaish, chief rabbi of the Ridah and Amran districts, who said that "all Jews in the area are preparing to leave for Israel within the next [few] days."

Yaish is the brother of Moshe Yaish al-Nahari, a community leader who was murdered in December by a local man who demanded that he convert to Islam. Nahari's three daughters moved to Israel shortly after his murder, while his three sons made aliya in recent days with the help of the Jewish Agency, according to reports in the Yemeni media.
His killer was sentenced to death in June.

According to Saba, Yaish warned that "harassment has been stepped up against Jews in the districts of Amran and Kharef, with some of the Jews killed and others kidnapped."

Read article in full

Jewish teenage protester to face trial in Iran

A Jewish teenager is among 25 post-electoral protesters being put on trial by the Iranian regime, Haaretz reports (with thanks: Lily):

Iran put on trial Sunday 25 more activists and opposition supporters, including a Jewish teenager, for their alleged involvement in the post-election turmoil.

The prosecutor began the trial with a general indictment for all 25 defendants, accusing them of plotting the post-election turmoil years ahead of time, said the state news agency.

During the trial, authorities played a film showing attacks on public property, cars and a mosque by protesters.

Earlier this month Iran held two other court sessions for more than 100 reformist politicians and activists accused of attempting to overthrow Iran's Islamic system. Protests erupted after many believe President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the June 12 elections through fraud.

The hard-line semi-official Fars news agency reported one of the people on trial belongs to Iran's tiny Jewish community.

Yaghoghil Shaolian, 19, was quoted as saying he did not join the protests, but just threw some stones at a bank branch in central Tehran on June 14, resulting in his arrest.

The report said lawyer of Shaolian asked the court for a reasonable and fair prosecution due to Shaolian's youth.

Iran's sole Jewish parliamentarian, Siamak Mereh Sedq, confirmed the detention of Shaolian and his Jewish identity to The Associated Press.

"I have been pursuing his case since we learned about his detention," said Mereh Sedq. He said Shaolian's detention was not related to his religion.

"He is innocent, we hope to see his release soon based on Islamic mercy," he said.

Shaolian's trial is the first time a Jew has been tried in Iran since 2000 when 13 Jews were charged with spying for Israel.

Read article in full

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Obama, Mubarak to discuss refugee compensation

The good news, according to Roee Nahmias of Ynet News, is that Presidents Obama and Mubarak are to discuss compensation for Palestinian refugees if they drop their 'right of return'. The bad news is, as the indignant talkback comments point out, that compensation for Jewish refugees does not figure anywhere on their agenda. Did the 'Jewish lobby' whose leaders met Mubarak even know to mention the issue? (With thanks: Suzanne, Eliyahu)

Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper reports US, Egyptian leaders' White House meeting Tuesday will focus on initiative for resolving Israeli-Arabs conflict, in which Palestinians will waive right of return in exchange for compensation.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his American counterpart, Barack Obama, are expected during their White House meeting Tuesday to discuss "an initiative of leaders" for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Middle East, in which the Palestinians will waive the right of return in exchange for compensation, the London-based Arabic-language al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper reported Tuesday.(..)

Mubarak arrived in Washington on Monday and met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Advisor James Jones. He also held a meeting with leaders of the Jewish lobby in the United States.

According to the newspaper, commentators estimated that Mubarak's meeting with the Jewish lobby is a manifestation of the warming relations between Egypt and the Netanyahu government, which have been expressed in a series of issues in recent months, including allowing Israeli submarines to cross the Suez Canal and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres' visits to Egypt.

Read article in full

Open letter to President Mubarak from The Historical Society of Jews from Egypt:

Your Excellency,

We, Jews from Egypt residing in the United States, wish to welcome you to our country. We wish you well on your visit with President Obama.

If Nasser had not persecuted us, stolen all our property, and expelled us ignominiously with only the shirts on our backs, we would still be living in Egypt and contributing to its greatness as we always have. Indeed, we care about our heritage and cherish it openly. It will be a good day when Egypt finally recognizes our many positive contributions to its history. Sadly, it does not appear this day is near.

We wish to bring to your attention, again, as we have many times in the past, a number of grievances. So far, not only have they not been satisfied, but they have not even been addressed.

The Egyptian establishment believes that if they just ignore us, we will simply go away.

1. Why is Egypt refusing us access to our communal archives, our records, our religious court decisions, our libraries, or even allow us to scan them for computer storage? They are the massive evidence of a significant Jewish presence in Egypt, unbroken since the dawn of time. Is this what you don't want the world to know about?

2. Why is Egypt denying our request to relocate our Torah scrolls and religious artifacts? They belong to us. We paid for them. Your government has confiscated them and stored them in poor conditions, which will hasten their deterioration. Your government decreed that they are part of the Egyptian heritage, by placing them under your Department of Antiquities, on a par with the Sphinx and the Pyramids. Antiquities! When only a generation ago they were used in daily services, as intended by the families who paid for them! What is the difference between this and highway robbery?

Read letter in full (also PDF)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Only 12 % Moroccan Muslims feel 'close' to Jews

Despite Morocco's long symbiosis with the Jews, the average Moroccan identifies more closely with an Afghan Muslim than a Moroccan Jew. This is one of the findings in Paul Vermeren's new book, Le Maroc de Mohammed Vl: La transition inachevee (Editions la Decouverte) summarised in Information Juive (July/August 2009). Here is a potted translation:

Morocco is something of an exception in the Arab world. It's got the largest Jewish community - 2,500 ( which is not saying much when you consider it once had 260,000 - ed). It attracts 5,000 Israeli-Moroccan visitors every year. The Moroccans are the second biggest community in Israel - after the Russians. In spite of Morocco's passionate support for the Palestinian cause, Morocco has always kept channels open to Israel. The liaison office was closed in 2000 due to the intifada, but in 2003, Mohammed Vl received the Israeli foreign minister.

Morocco knows that it suffered a tremendous loss with the rapid exodus of this hardworking but mostly very poor population. Seventy percent went to Israel, with the remainder moving to France, Canada and the US. The country is proud of its Jewish sons 'done good' abroad, be it an Israeli minister or an artist like the stand-up comic Gad Elmaleh.

The problem for Morocco's Jews has been the constant conflation in Muslim minds of 'Jew' with 'Zionist' and 'Israeli'. This confusion caused a profound unease, and hastened the departure of young Jews. They were off as soon as they had their school-leaving certificate in their pockets. Much blame lies with antisemitic textbooks, but no-one dares turn the clock back.

Several groups have tried to reverse this state of affairs - a handful of Jewish anti-Zionist and Marxist intellectuals (A. Serfaty, E Amrane El Maleh, Sion Assidon, Simon Levy) stayed on in Morocco and have been especially active. Another group of Moroccan-born French interface between the palace, business interests abroad and western allies like France,the US and Israel.

Moroccan intellectuals such as Mohammed Kenbib, Mohammed Hatmi and Jamaa Baida, together with Hebrew language specialists in Arabic studies departments and journalists, try to keep the memory of a shared past alive. Tel Quel (November 2008) published a supplement called 'The Jew within us: at the heart of Moroccan identity'.

But a survey on religious attitudes in 2007 showed the limitations of such an approach: 63 percent of all Moroccans questioned felt closer to a Muslim Afghan than to a Moroccan Jew (12 percent). The exodus of the Jews from towns and villages has given way to an antisemitism largely fed by anti-Israeli feeling. If the younger generation only rediscovered the forgotten Jewish element of their national identity might the dam be shored up - assuming that the state is willing to incorporate it in its school textbooks and syllabi.

Point of No Return received this moving comment from Mohammed:

'I hate hatred so much'

"Even though I was only 8 years old in 1962, I was absolutely horrified and shocked when my Moroccan mate Jabran's mum told me and her son that she wished that we both grew up to become soldiers and kill 10 Jews each.

"I lived in Fes (Morocco) for 7 years since 1957. My parents were Iraqi University lecturers training new teachers for the newly independent Morocco.

"I was shocked by the hate that Jabran's mum had for people just because they had the "wrong" religion.

"What surprised me more was the acceptance and approval expressed by Jabran to his mum's opinion which became clear to me when I questioned him later to see if he agreed with what she had to say. He said "off course he would!" and "what a silly question?".

"I initially felt a bit guilty as I did not conform and perhaps I should have also approved. But I just couldn't.

"I knew at the time a couple of Moroccan Jewish children and they were quite decent and normal and did not seem to me that they deserved to be killed at all.

"My mother’s obstetrician was Jewish (Dr Migwar) and my father said at the time that he would not trust anyone else to circumcise my newly born brother.

"I am glad that I grew up to find that my disapproval with Jabran's mum was right.

"I can envisage that there may also be some Western or Israeli people who similarly feel that "nuking the bloody Arabs or Moslems" was a wonderful idea.

"I'm afraid some of those misinformed and brainwashed people from both sides may end up carrying arms and would not feel guilty to kill innocent people on the other side.

"How many lives and livelihoods have been destroyed in the name of religion over the millennia? John Lennon was spot on when imagining peaceful world without religion.

"I just hate hatred so much.

"Peace be upon everyone."


Mohammed

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Solving the problem as an exchange of refugees


At long last, someone is taking a serious look at resolving the Arab refugee problem, which has always been shoved into the far distance as 'a final status issue'. Ruth King and Rael Jean Isaac, the authors of 'Solving the Arab refugee problem' in Family Security matters are right to see the refugee issue as an exchange populations, and the integrated Jewish refugees a model for resettlement of the Arab refugees. Where I find their analysis flawed is when they try to apportion responsibility among Arab states. Better to hold the 22-member Arab League collectively responsible, since it originated this whole mess. Host Arab states should give citizenship rights to Palestinians of all generations, not just the 'original' refugees, and the right to work and to own property. The costs of resettlement should be worked out among all the members of the Arab League. The authors also let Jordan rather too easily off the hook, when a recent report suggests that the Hashemite kingdom has been stripping citizenship from its Palestinian population. (With thanks: Lily)

"Although long forgotten by the media and general public, the number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries was substantially greater. On May 16, 1948, the day following Israel's declaration of independence, the New York Times headlined an article: "Jews in Grave Danger in All Moslem Lands: Nine Hundred Thousand in Africa and Asia Face Wrath of Their Foes." And indeed within 15 years (the last great wave was from Algeria, after it gained independence from France in 1962), Jews had fled the Arab world en masse (until the Shah's ouster, in 1979, there remained one viable Jewish community in the Moslem world, in non-Arab Iran). Today there are barely 5,000, chiefly elderly, Jews in the entire Arab world.

"One reason the expulsion and flight of these Jews even then attracted little attention was that Israel never referred to them as refugees – they were welcomed as an "ingathering of the exiles," given citizenship on the spot. Yet these Jews had lived in the countries from which they were forced to flee far longer than the vast majority of those who left the small territory that became Israel. In Iraq, for example, the Jewish community dated back to the Babylonian exile. In contrast, most of the Arabs leaving Israel in 1948 were recent arrivals, attracted to what had been an empty and desolate territory by the economic opportunities opened up by Zionist colonization of Palestine in the 20th century.

"What happened in Israel was a replay, on a far smaller scale, of the vast population exchange that took place on the Indian subcontinent when England gave up rule of its last great colony. In that case, 8,500,000 Hindus fled Pakistan to India and 6,500,000 Muslims fled to Pakistan. (...)

"The fairest, most equitable, way to end the problem of the refugees is to base their resettlement on the population exchange that followed the 1948 Arab-Israel war. If 1948 is the starting point for the Arabs, it must also be the starting point for the Jews. Because so many Arab states had a substantial Jewish population, this also has the advantage of forcing a number of Arab states to take some share of responsibility for the refugees, without singling out or overwhelming any one of them. Wealthy countries like Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, that did not have a Jewish population, could shoulder a disproportionate share of the cost.

"Returning to the population exchange also has the merit of throwing out reparations claims. The Jews left far more property behind in Arab lands than Arabs in what became Israel; generously, Israel can offer to declare a washout.* Making the Arab states face up to the task of resettlement will also have the merit of encouraging them to evaluate honestly claims to refugee status. While the international community footed the bill and the larger the number of refugees, the greater pressure on Israel, the attitude of the Arab states was "the more the better." Once the burden is on them, phony claims are no longer welcome and it is safe to assume it will rapidly be discovered that there are far fewer refugees than UNRWA now claims.

"What, then, would refugee resettlement look like? Iraq, Morocco and Algeria between them had almost half the population of expelled Jews; they should proportionately take responsibility for half the number of Arab refugees. Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Syria, in that order, also had substantial Jewish populations; they would also take in substantial number of refugees***. (Since Syria already hosts 409,000 refugees, it would need to permanently absorb them, not take in any more.) The burden on these states would not be as great as it sounds because Jordan has 1,718,767 registered refugees, only 304,000 of whom are in camps. Jordan has behaved better than any other Arab state toward the refugees, making them full citizens, in effect absorbing them (indeed they form a majority of Jordan's population). Of course, those so-called refugees in Jordan are, strictly and historically speaking, in Palestine, bearing in mind the 1922 partition of Mandatory Palestine which gave the Hashemites 80 percent of the land. Thus almost half the refugees are off the table.

"Lebanon, with close to 400,000 refugees, over half in camps, is a special case. It did not expel* its small Jewish population in 1948 and is desperate to rid itself of the Palestinian Arab refugee population, who have served as persistent troublemakers and would totally destroy the balance between Muslims and Christians, should they become citizens. The other overwhelmingly Muslim Arab states should resettle the refugees now in Lebanon. (If any of the Arab states had insuperable difficulties with absorbing their "fair share" of refugees, they could, if need be with the help of international funds, find Muslim states which would absorb a portion of their "quota.")

"Once the refugees were resettled away from Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and the entire refugee issue had dissolved, the Arab-Israel conflict would become manageable.

Read article in full

*The reparations issue is rather too easily dismissed as a washout. It has been proposed that individual Jewish and Arab refugees be entitled to compensation from an international fund, as mooted by President Clinton in 2000 - ed.

**Neither did Morocco and Tunisia technically expel their Jews. Another reason why the resettlement is best handed over to the Arab League - ed.

***What about Kuwait and the Gulf States? They have substantial numbers of Palestinians, but no Jews - ed.

A contrasting tale of two refugees

Criticizing how the Palestinian refugees have been treated by the Arab countries in which they live, Daoud Al-Shiryan, Al-Hayat columnist and deputy secretary-general of Al-Arabiya TV, contrasts the treatment received by two refugees - one Jewish, the other Palestinian - from Lebanon. He called on these countries to integrate Palestinian refugees into their societies and to resettle them before they are forced to do so by the international community. Via MEMRI (With thanks: Jerusalem Posts):

"In the third article on the subject of refugee resettlement, Al-Shiryan related the stories of two Lebanese women, one Palestinian and the other Jewish. He wrote: "The [Jewish] Lebanese woman, Hannah [Efraim], invited the Palestinian woman, Umm Bilal, to come spend the weekend at her house… [saying], 'I want you to help me pack my things, since I have decided to emigrate to the U.S. As you can see, the political and social situation after the 1958 [Lebanese civil] war does not encourage one to stay [in Lebanon], and intensifies sectarianism here. I prefer my son to live far away from Lebanon.' [Shortly thereafter,] Hannah left [Lebanon] and lost touch with Umm Bilal.

"Upon her arrival in New York, Hannah received assistance from Jewish organizations. A short time later, she received U.S. citizenship, enrolled her son in a private school, and started working in a bank, earning a good salary. [Her son] Avraham grew up, finished university, and advanced at his job, becoming director-general of a reputable bank. Ten years after completing his degree he married, had three children, and bought a fine house in a New Jersey suburb [for himself], and another for his mother.

"In 1995, Hannah decided to visit Lebanon and spend her summer vacation there. She arrived in Beirut and moved into a luxurious hotel. The next day, she asked her driver to take her to the refugee camp where Umm Bilal lived. She entered the camp and inquired after her. By nightfall, she managed to find her - [living] in a dilapidated hut with fabric-covered windows, her body ravaged by tuberculosis.

"Hannah asked Umm Bilal about [her husband], Abu Bilal; Umm Bilal replied that he had died in the civil war. 'And what about [your son] Bilal?' [Hannah asked]. [Umm Bilal] replied, 'He is working at a bicycle repair shop down the street. His salary is barely enough to cover my basic needs and those of his three sisters.' 'Is Bilal married?' Hannah asked. 'In this hole, where would we get the money to feed another mouth?' [answered Umm Bilal].

"'Aisha [Umm Bilal] is just one example among the thousands of Palestinian mothers [like her], and Hannah is just one example among the Jewish mothers [like her]. The Arabs kept the Palestinians in refugee camps and made into a people defeated both morally and materially. In contrast, the West welcomed the Jews and made them a leading [force] in science, arts, literature, economics, and politics.

"Are we capable of reassessing the idea of the refugee camps, [thereby] saving the next generation of Palestinians from a fate [similar to that of] Bilal and his contemporaries? There is still an opportunity to do so. The Palestinians do not want to be resettled. All they want is to be treated the same way the West treated the Jews. Then they will win and recover their rights."

Read article in full

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Victim's sons go to Israel: more Jews to follow

Picture: Yemen News Agency

Two sons of the murdered Yemeni Jew, Moshe al-Nahari, have left Yemen to resettle in Israel, the
Associated Press reports (with thanks: binhaddou):

A prominent leader of Yemen's Jewish community said on Tuesday that two sons of a Yemeni Jew who was killed by a Muslim have left the country to resettle in Israel.

Yahya Yaish al-Qedeimi said that Moshe Nahari's sons left Yemen on Tuesday to escape harassment and threats against the country's small Jewish community.

Al-Qedeimi, the head of the Jewish community in Omran province, where most of Yemen's roughly 400 Jews live, told The Associated Press that the hostile environment would eventually force all of them to emigrate to Israel.

Nahari was gunned down in December by Abdel Aziz al-Abdi, who was eventually sentenced to death for the murder. Al-Abdi admitted to the crime and told the court he had warned other Jews to convert to Islam or be killed.

Same article in Haaretz (With thanks: Lily)

'All Jews in Amran preparing to leave for Israel': Yemen News Agency

Derelict Cairo synagogue may have been sold

From left: An engineer from the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) gives a presentation on Jewish sites to Cilly Kugelman of the Berlin Jewish Museum, Roger Bilboul of Nebi Daniel and Rabbi Andrew Baker of the American Jewish Committee, while the head of the Jewish section of the SCA records the scene with his camera.

A dispute over the future of a synagogue in the old Jewish Quarter of Cairo has sparked alarm among Jews outside Egypt who fear for the preservation of their heritage.

Update: Nebi Daniel has now heard from the local Jewish community. They claim that this is not a synagogue, it is an old building in Haret el Yahoud that was used as a Yeshiva prior to the 60s. In the 60s and 70s the Community used it as temporary accommodation for those in need prior to their emigration. All the books, pictures, etc. (which were part of the Yeshiva) were strewn throughout the building. The building has been abandoned for a long time. Through lack of funds the Community did not maintain or guard the building. Some three years ago squatters and other unsavoury characters tried to occupy the building. At the request of the Community, the government has sealed the building since.

Associations of Egyptian Jews outside Egypt are seeking confirmation that this was a synagogue sold by the community sometime ago. A problem could have arisen with title registration, leading to the dispute reported in Yom - el Sabeth. The Egyptian government is to determine the fate of the site.

According to rabbinic law, synagogues must not be put up for sale. In those rare cases where synagogues are sold, the proceeds must be used for the restoration of other synagogues.

Below is a list of all Jewish monuments in Egypt under the care of the Alexandria and Cairo communities. Those marked with an asterisk are under a government preservation order. They cannot be altered without the permission of the government nor can they be sold for any other purpose but to serve as a synagogue.

Synagogues and monuments in Cairo:

Meir Enaim (Mayer Bitton) - Maadi

Vitali Madjar - Heliopolis

*Moussa El Derei (Karaite)

*Ets Haim (Hanan)

*Pahad Ishak (Kreim)

*Shaar Hashamaim (Adly)

*Ben Ezra

Synagogue Ada - Kubbeh

*Synagogue Ashkenazi - Ataba

*Nessim Ishkenazi - Daher

*Maimonides Synagogue (Rav Moshe ben Maimon)

*Rav Haim Capucci

Synagogue El Amshati a Mehalla el Kobra (very poor state of repair)

* + Mosseri Mausoleum in Bassatine

Synagogues and monuments in Alexandria

* Eliahou Hanabi

Menasce

Abou Hassira Shrine in Demitiouh - recently (2008) renovated by Jews of Moroccan origin

Eliahou Hazan - sold by Community

Green - sold by Community

Jacob Sasson - sold by Community

Zaradel - sold by Community

Temple Castro - sold by Community

*= Preservation Order

Roger Bilboul of Nebi Daniel adds:

"Of the 10 synagogues plus the mausoleum under preservation order, the government has decided to use its own funds to renovate them. The Maimonides synagogue is in a very poor state and is in an area that is flooded by rising water levels. The government scheme is to drain the whole area and restore the synagogue and the Maimonides yeshiva as near as possible to its original state.

I have seen with my own eyes the restoration programme in progress. The picture above shows an engineer from the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) giving us a detailed presentation, showing us the plans and the budgets for all the 11 sites under their aegis.

"The Abu Hassira shrine has recently been renovated with monies donated by Moroccan Jews. Israeli engineers came to supervise the work to the specification of the donors.

"To my knowledge, the only synagogues that have been sold have been sold by the communities. In Alexandria, in particular, the bulk of the synagogues were sold by the community and the monies reinvested in preserving and maintaining the main synagogue and the cemeteries.
One must also realise that it is quite unique to have a government in the Arab world (let alone the world as a whole) devote public resources to restoring synagogues.

"What we have still not achieved is obtaining permission to copy our archives and to be involved in the future management of Jewish communal assets when there are no more local Jews to take care of them."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Kurdish newspaper calls on Jews to 'come home'

Southern commander Zvika Zamir teaching a Kurdish fighter how to assemble a Galil rifle (1969)

Update: AFP has now got hold of the story. The magazine's editor-in-chief has a political motive : to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

ARBIL, Iraq — A new magazine in Iraq's Kurdistan region has caused furore among conservative Muslims with a rousing call for Jews to leave Israel -- and come back to Iraq.

The magazine, "Israel-Kurd", is the brainchild of Dawood Baghestani, the 62-year-old former chief of the autonomous northern region's human rights commission.

The glossy, full-colour monthly in Kurdish and English has a lofty mission: to help solve the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict by convincing more than 150,000 Kurdish Jews living in Israel to return to Iraqi Kurdistan, Baghestani told AFP.

The magazine's front cover shows a girl draped in the Israeli flag

"The biggest reason behind the complexity of the Palestinian problem is the unjust practices of Arab regimes against the Jews -- there are more than 1.5 million Jews originally from Arab countries in Israel," Baghestani said. (My emphasis - ed)

"If the Jews had not been subject to an exodus, the Palestinians wouldn't have been either," he said, referring to the flight of 700,000 Palestinians from the newly created Jewish state in 1948 during the first Arab-Israeli war."

Read article in full


In contradiction to an earlier report, a new Kurdish newspaper has called on Kurdish Jews in Israel to 'come back home'. Here is a summary in English of a Maariv NRG article. (With thanks: iraqijews)

The monthly newspaper (Israel- Kurd) - print run 1,500 - praises the Jews and seeks to re-establish close relations between Kurds and Jews.

Daoud Bagstani spent ten years in Abu-Ghreib prison. He has visited Israel four times. He is secure in the knowledge that as Iraq becomes a democratic country Kurdish Jews will want to return.

Bagstani thinks that Kurdish leaders support the return of the Jews. "If all the Arab states take back their Jews, restitute their property and give them guarantees that they will not be harmed further, this will ease their return." (A tall order - ed)

But Kurdish member of Parliament Zana Rostani is suspicious." What's the point?" he says. "The Kurdish people is part of the Islamic nation. Such initiatives are contrary to the law and Iraqi foreign policy. They may cause harm to Kurds, especially from their (Iranian) neighbours."


Read article in full (Hebrew)

The Jerusalem Post's version has this extra quote (with thanks: Lily):

If the Jews had not been subject to an exodus, the Palestinians wouldn't have been either. If every Arab country allowed the Jews to return, ensured their safety and gave them back their land, Palestinian refugees would be able to return to their territory because Israel would not need so much land."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Getty Museum leaves out the Jews of Algiers

Algiers viewed from the Casbah in 1847

Is the Getty Museum engaged in rewriting history or is it simply ignorant? Why did it leave out the Jewish population of Algiers in 1830 on its Walls of Algeria exhibition webpage? In his letter of complaint to them Elliott Green points out that smaller populations are mentioned, but the Jews - who then made up seven per cent of the city's inhabitants - have been airbrushed out.

Dear Sirs,

I read your web page on the Walls of Algiers. Your account of the city before the French conquest curiously fails to mention the significant Jewish population in the city at that time. You mention groups that I believe were smaller than the Jews, such as Turkish soldiers, their children with Algerian women, Black Africans, etc. Yet you do not mention the native Jewish population of the city, most of whose ancestors were there before the Arabs conquered that country.

Why did you leave out the Jews in your account?

Is this failure to mention the Jews part of a loathsome attempt to rewrite history? Were you ignorant of the Jewish presence? Does the Getty Museum have scholarly standards when presenting history? Or does the Getty have political standards, that is, the purpose of making pro-Arab propaganda by leaving out the Jews??

Sincerely yours,
Elliott A Green

Update: since Point of no Return posted Elliott Green's letter, the Getty Museum have taken note of his complaint and rectified their website entry. Here is the curator's message to readers:

"
While we haven't received Mr. Green's letter, we read with interest your posting of Monday, August 10, about the Getty Research Institute exhibition, Walls of Algiers.

"You're right, regrettably, we did fail to mention the significant Jewish community in the brief Website description, but the exhibition itself prominently features the Jewish population in Algiers. We've remedied the omission on our Website. Because many of your readers might not be able to see the exhibition in Los Angeles, we also are attaching a sample image of a Jewish feast featured in the exhibition. I hope some of your readers have an opportunity to see the exhibition in person. Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention. "

Many thanks,

Frances Terpak, curator

BBC Bowen omits 'non-political' Jewish refugees

On 3 March 2009, the BBC Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) ruled that the BBC Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen had violated BBC guidelines calling for accuracy and impartiality in a piece on the effects of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. In its 'inside look' at the investigation, the media watchdog CAMERA noted Bowen's silence on the thousands of Jewish refugees exiled from Arab countries after the 1967 war. Bowen justified his mention of Palestinian and 'internally displaced' Syrian refugees because they were a 'political issue', while Jewish refugees were not. (Pardon my ignorance, but I thought a BBC reporter's job was to report the facts, not to attach value judgments). Regrettably the adjudicating committee did not find Bowen's assertion on refugees had violated its guidelines.

From the CAMERA report:


"Regarding CAMERA's point that Bowen mentioned Palestinian and Syrian refugees but ignored the Jewish refugees from 1967, the ECU (Editorial Complaints Unit) stated that, "in an article about the consequences of 1967, it seems reasonable to me to concentrate on the Palestinians."

It added,

... it seems to me that [Jewish refugees] have not given rise to the kind of major political problems that the Palestinian refugees have raised, specifically their claim of a right of return to homes now within the State of Israel. Looking at the text of the "Road Map", there is some discussion of "refugees", but none of it refers to Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

"It is telling that the ECU views it as "reasonable" to focus on how 1967 affected Palestinians and not the war's effect on Israelis and Jews. That aside, Jews expelled from their countries in 1967 are certainly no less of a political issue than than the Syrians from the Golan Heights who were internally displaced that year; yet Bowen saw it fit to mention these Syrians while ignoring the Jewish refugees.

"The ECU's assertion that the "road map" peace plan does not mention Jews is true, but extremely misleading. The peace plan does not explicitly mention Palestinian refugees either. It refers only to "refugees" in general.

Palestinian, Syrian and Jewish Refugees: Bowen told the adviser that his article did not mention Jewish refugees along with Syrian and Palestinian refugees because he felt the Palestinians, and not the Jews, are a political issue:

Jewish refugees from the Arab world have made homes in a strong and prosperous state. There may one day be the matter of compensation for them as part of an overall settlement, but they are not a political issue. The Palestinian refugees are a political issue because they live in limbo, usually in very bad conditions. Look at Gaza. Most of its population of 1.4 million are Palestinian refugees.

"Bowen's reference to refugees in Gaza is strange. Most Palestinians escaping the fighting in 1967 fled from the West Bank, where they had lived as Jordanian citizens under Jordanian rule, to the "East Bank" of Jordan proper, where they remained Jordanian citizens under Jordanian rule. Refugees in Gaza, on the other hand, are almost exlusively from the 1948 war.

"Moreover, Bowen's explanation did not address why he felt it was appropriate to mention the Syrian internally displaced. But even though Bowen said nothing about the Syrians here, it seems that he nonetheless led the adviser to wrongly believe the Syrian displaced of 1967 constitute some sort of "political stumbling block." The adviser summarized the section on refugees as follows:

The ESC will want to assess whether the article mentioning only Palestinian and Syrian refugees because it is those that have been the political stumbling block - not any Jewish refugees either then or now – is duly impartial in the context of a piece looking at the problems resulting from the six day war. And to ask if is fair that this sentence is cast as it is in spite of the "many thousands of Jews expelled from Arab countries as a result of the 1967 war" that Mr Ini mentions.

"(The BBC Trust, following the adviser's framing, would later rule that Bowen's assertion on refugees did not violate the accuracy guideline.)"

Read CAMERA report in full

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Derelict Cairo synagogue focus of property dispute







A synagogue in central Cairo is at the heart of a tussle between the Egyptian authorities and property developers because it stands on land worth tens of millions of dollars, the Egyptian newspaper Yom el sabeth (The Seventh Day) reports. The question is: why is the Jewish community not speaking up for the preservation of its heritage? Will the Israeli government raise this issue with Egypt? (With thanks: Ahron Cohen)

Update:
UNESCO has already been approached on this matter, and Egyptian Jews in Israel are contacting the Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Ovadia Yosef.

The fate of the synagogue, on two floors and in the Jewish Quarter, in the Gamalia area of Cairo, is to be decided by Egyptian Minister Abd Alat.

Rubbish piled high on the ground floor meant that journalists had to enter the building from the upper floor of adjacent houses.

The photos show a mural of the 11th century rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides), the most famous of the community's leaders, a relief menorah and Star of David. A plaque records a donation by Joseph Antebi. Prayer books and a cantor's robe were also photographed in the ruins.

Read post and comments in Hebrew

Original piece in Arabic posted at Historical Society of Jews from Egypt.

HSJE links to a second report that a public official had tried to sell a synagogue, claiming he was the owner:

Update: Today's edition of Yom el Sabeth reports that Amer Badr has been remanded in custody accused of fraud and appropriating the property of the Jewish community in Cairo. The case will be heard in 15 days.


Full list of Egyptian synagogues under preservation order

Friday, August 07, 2009

Beirut synagogue restoration is underfunded


Photo: AP

Curiouser and curiouser. As workmen move in, the Lebanese Jewish Community admits that it has not raised enough money to restore the Maghen Avraham synagogue in Beirut. No overseas Jewish donors have contributed to the project either*, according to this Associated Press report:

"BEIRUT — Laborers have torn down the disintegrating roof, cleared the debris and erected scaffolding, showing Wednesday that the long delayed renovation of Lebanon's oldest and most important synagogue has finally begun.

"Beirut's imposing Magen Abraham synagogue was badly damaged during Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war and remained devastated long after the rest of the downtown was rebuilt with new shopping arcades and gleaming skyscrapers rising from tree-lined streets.

"Solidere, the giant company that has taken the lead in flattening and then rebuilding much of downtown has said it is up to each religious sect to restore their own places of worship — a tall order for a dwindling community of only 200 Jews.

"On Wednesday, about a dozen laborers worked on the building, stockpiling wood and clearing debris, stones and weeds.

"The project might take a year or so to complete depending how much money we can collect," an official of the Lebanese Jewish Community Council told The Associated Press Wednesday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the renovation, which began about 10 days ago, is estimated to cost between $1 million and $1.5 million.

Renovation was scheduled to begin in 2006, but work was put off due to turmoil in the country following the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah summer war. It was delayed further by the global financial crisis last year as potential Jewish donors overseas, who were to provide the bulk of the funds, decided to wait.

The Jewish official said the council, which cares for the remnants of Lebanon's Jewish community, does not yet have the necessary funds to complete the renovation.

"So far, no donations have come from Jewish donors overseas," he said. He added that the money to begin restoring the synagogue's roof came from the Jewish Council's own budget, while declining to elaborate on the exact amount."

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*This is contradicted by other reports of two donors in Geneva.

US Syrian Jews becoming ever more insular

Haaretz takes an in-depth look at the Syrian-Jewish community in the US, which is reeling from a financial scandal embroiling its rabbis. Instead of assimilating like other US Jewish communities, the Syrians have become ever more insular: (with thanks: Binhaddou)

"Solidarity is how this community has survived intact even as other, less insular, Sephardic communities - the Greeks, for example - have scattered and assimilated in America. The Syrians' communal trajectory has traced the reverse course of Ashkenazic Jewry, in which each generation of the mainstream has been more assimilated than the last. With the Syrian Jews, each generation has been more insular.

"It is an insularity reinforced in no small part by a rabbinic edict from the 1930s - since updated and strengthened - that, in its current interpretation, forbids community members from marrying converts to Judaism, even if validly converted by an Orthodox rabbi elsewhere. It is an insularity that has grown, even as their wealth has burgeoned due to their elaborate, family-linked network of mutual aid in business and philanthropy.

"This has led some wags to describe the community as medieval minds in Armani designs. But its defenders point, instead, to the unparalleled benefits community member share.

"No community has been as successful in building such an extensive infrastructure for its members," noted Sarina Roffe, a writer and researcher whose work focuses on her community - and who was one of the few sources willing to speak on the record.

"Now this community's absolute fealty to its rabbis will face a test unlike any it has faced before. And no one knows for sure in which direction its members will turn - toward greater openness to the outside or further fortification against it. "

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