Saturday, October 31, 2009

America's 'secret' mission to save 60 Yemeni Jews

The father of murdered Moshe Al-Nahari outside the courtroom with his burka-clad daughters (AFP)

Feature by Miriam Jordan for the Wall Street Journal on the not-so-secret rescue of 60 Jews from Yemen and their resettlement in Monsey, New York, USA. With the emigration of these Jews, who have neither seen a multiplication table nor an alarm clock, a 3,000 year-old pre-Islamic Jewish presence in Yemen is coming to an end (with thanks: Shaul):

MONSEY, N.Y. -- In his new suburban American home, Shaker Yakub, a Yemeni Jew, folded a large scarf in half, wrapped it around his head and tucked in his spiraling side curls. "This is how I passed for a Muslim," said the 59-year-old father of seven, improvising a turban that hid his black skullcap.

The ploy enabled Mr. Yakub and half a dozen members of his family to slip undetected out of their native town of Raida, Yemen, and travel to the capital 50 miles to the south. There, they met U.S. State Department officials conducting a clandestine operation to bring some of Yemen's last remaining Jews to America to escape rising anti-Semitic violence in his country.

In all, about 60 Yemeni Jews have resettled in the U.S. since July; officials say another 100 could still come. There were an estimated 350 in Yemen before the operation began. Some of the remainder may go to Israel and some will stay behind, most in a government enclave.


Moshe Nahari, murder victim, dancing at a wedding (Reuven Schwartz)

The secret evacuation of the Yemeni Jews -- considered by historians to be one of the oldest of the Jewish diaspora communities -- is a sign of America's growing concern about this Arabian Peninsula land of 23 million.

The operation followed a year of mounting harassment, and was plotted with Jewish relief groups while Washington was signaling alarm about Yemen. In July, Gen. David Petraeus was dispatched to Yemen to encourage President Ali Abdullah Saleh to be more aggressive against al-Qaeda terrorists in the country. Last month, President Barack Obama wrote in a letter to President Saleh that Yemen's security is vital to the region and the U.S.(...)

President Saleh has been trying to protect the Jews, but his inability to quell the rebellion in the country's north made it less likely he could do so, prompting the U.S. to step in. The alternative -- risking broader attacks on the Jews -- could well have undermined the Obama administration's efforts to rally support for President Saleh in the U.S. and abroad.

"If we had not done anything, we feared there would be bloodshed," says Gregg Rickman, former State Department Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.

Mr. Yakub says the operation saved his family from intimidation that had made life in Yemen unbearable. Violence toward the country's small remaining Jewish community began to intensify last year, when one of its most prominent members was gunned down outside his house. But the mission also hastens the demise of one of the oldest remaining Jewish communities in the Arab world.

Jews are believed to have reached what is now Yemen more than 2,500 years ago as traders for King Solomon. They survived -- and at times thrived -- over centuries of change, including the spread of Islam across the Arabian Peninsula.

"They were one of the oldest exiled groups out of Israel," says Hayim Tawil, a Yeshiva University professor who is an expert on Yemeni Jewry. "This is the end of the Jewish Diaspora of Yemen. That's it."

Centuries of near total isolation make Yemeni Jews a living link with the ancient world.

Many can recite passages of the Torah by heart and read Hebrew, but can't read their native tongue of Arabic. They live in stone houses, often without running water or electricity. One Yemeni woman showed up at the airport expecting to board her flight with a live chicken.

Through the centuries, the Jews earned a living as merchants, craftsmen and silversmiths known for designing djanbias, traditional daggers that only Muslims are allowed to carry. Jewish musical compositions became part of Yemeni culture, played at Muslim weddings and festivals.

"Yemeni Jews have always been a part of Yemeni society and have lived side by side in peace with their Muslim brothers and sisters," said a spokeswoman for the Embassy of Yemen in Washington.

In 1947, on the eve of the birth of the state of Israel, protests (now there's a euphemism - ed) in the port city of Aden resulted in the death of dozens of Jews and the destruction of their homes and shops. In 1949 and 1950 about 49,000 people -- the majority of Yemen's Jewish community -- were airlifted to Israel in "Operation Magic Carpet."

About 2,000 Jews stayed in Yemen. Some trickled out until 1962, when civil war erupted. After that, they were stuck there. "For three decades, there were no telephone calls, no letters, no traveling overseas. The fact there were Jews in Yemen was barely known outside Israel," says Prof. Tawil.

Read article in full

Reuters piece

Haaretz article

Jerusalem Post

Rescuing Yemenite Jewry (UJC)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Beware neighbours who turn into monsters

Arab-Jewish coexistence projects are all the rage - there is no shortage of them in Israel. But dialogue must be balanced and each side must recognise one another's pain, argues Lyn Julius in The Jewish Chronicle.

At the National Theatre in London, Our Class is telling the story of the 1941 massacre of the Jews of the Polish village Jedwabne — all the more painful for being true. What makes the play so hard to watch is that the murderers and victims knew each other. Catholics and Jews sat in class together, flirted, shared dreams and aspirations. Eventually, though, deep-seated antisemitism and prejudice caused one half of the class to turn on the other.

The idea that familiarity leads to mutual respect underpins the work of some 30 Arab-Jewish coexistence projects in Israel alone. If Jews and Arabs talk to each other, live together, play music together — so the thinking goes — there could be peace.

Coexistence is not new to the Middle East. Jews and Muslims lived cheek-by-jowl for 14 centuries. Arab mythology holds that the Golden Age in Muslim Spain was a model for peaceful coexistence. But the relationship was not equal. Jews were subjugated, self-abasing dhimmis, exploited for their talents. They had to buy their physical security from the ruler of the day. Maimonides fled from fanatical Muslims, not Christians.

In modern times, Jewish-Arab coexistence broke down completely. Roughly half the Jewish population came to Israel not as refugees from the Holocaust, but fleeing Arab and Muslim antisemitism. A million Jews once lived in Arab lands. Today, their communities, predating Islam by 1,000 years, are almost extinct.

The periodic violence that has erupted in the Middle East has tested interpersonal relations to the hilt. Just as Righteous Gentiles saved Jews from the Nazis, some Arabs saved Jews: 300 Jews sheltered in 28 Arab homes during the Hebron massacre of 1929. Honourable Muslims rescued Jews from rioting mobs in Arab countries. While the authorities failed to intervene to protect Jews — or even incited the rioting — the friendly neighbour stood as the last line of defence.

But familiarity also breeds contempt, resentment and greed. Among stories of neighbourly betrayal in Hebron was the Jewish doctor murdered by his own patients. The Makleff family near Jerusalem was slaughtered by the Arabs they worked with. Jews terrorised by the 1941 Farhoud in Iraq (179 Jews dead) and the Libyan pogrom in 1945 (130 Jews dead ) recognised, among their assailants, the local policeman, butcher and milkman.

Yet there must be a place for coexistence initiatives. Projects such as Daniel Barenboim’s East-West Divan Orchestra play a role in humanising Arabs to Israelis, and Israelis to Arabs — whose countries habitually demonise them. The cooperative village of Neve Shalom introduces Arabs and Jews to each other’s cultures.

Unless the dialogue is balanced, however, coexistence can become an exercise in Jewish self-abasement. It can lead to Jews suppressing their rights, identity and suffering while empowering Arab grievances. Jews may feel the pain of a Palestinian refugee and even “understand” terrorism, while there is no corresponding shift on the Arab side — because Jewish rights, suffering and the pain of expulsion of Jews by Arabs, may be ignored.

The prejudice at the root of rejectionism and terrorism can turn a neighbour into a monster. Only if we confront this unpalatable truth can people live as equals in true peace and mutual respect.

Read article in full

J-Street leads nowhere on Jewish refugees

You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who has not heard about J-Street, the new, hip 'pro-peace' lobby group that claims to speak for mainstream American Jews.

Sadly I must conclude that J-Steet have espoused the usual pro-Palestinian, Eurocentric distortions in the debate. These make 'Israeli occupation' and withdrawal from Jewish settlements in the West Bank the centrepiece of their agenda, not Arab rejectionism and incitement to hatred. They seem to espouse the principles of the Saudi peace initiative, complete with its ambiguity about 'solving' the Palestinian refugee problem with a possible 'return' to their homes in Israel.

I have looked in vain for any any expression of sympathy for the tragedy experienced by Mizrahi Jewish refugees driven out from Arab lands
. On the contrary, we have this astonishing statement from Michelle Goldberg, extollling J-Street on the Guardian's website Comment is Free:

How does a liberal justify the fact that a middle-class American, like me, has the right to become an Israeli citizen tomorrow, but that Arabs refugees born within its borders don't? If you don't believe in biblical claims, or in blood and soil nationalism, what's left is the fact that history has shown the necessity of the Jewish state, and Israel is the only one there is, and that not all political ideals are reconciliable.

What grudging Zionism from Michelle Goldberg. The phrase 'Jewish self-determination ' does not even figure in her vocabulary. How does a liberal weep for 'Arab refugees', but not the Jewish refugees that Arabs states persecuted and expelled - roughly half the Israeli Jewish population? History has certainly shown the necessity of a Jewish state for Jews fleeing antisemitism, not just in Europe but in the Arab and Muslim world. Goldberg, is like almost all similarly-aligned Jews on the Left, silent on what Israel has done to integrate these refugees, and what redress they deserve as part of a settlement of the conflict.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Beirut synagogue running out of restoration funds

A scheme to renovate Beirut’s last standing synagogue is running out of money. The project needs another £66,000, Josie Ensor reports for The Jewish Chronicle.

Maghen Abraham Synagogue, located in the former Jewish quarter of the Lebanese capital, was destroyed by Israeli shelling in 1982. It has been abandoned ever since, leaving Lebanese Jews without a synagogue building.

Renovation work began on the 85-year-old synagogue in August. The rusty padlocked gates were removed and benches once used for prayer were restored to their former state.

But now, the Lebanese Jewish Community Council (LJCC), the non-profit group in charge of the renovations, has been forced to appeal to the international community as funds run low.

“Your support for the synagogue is not merely a financial gesture, but a reaffirmation of your belief in Lebanon’s rich tradition of cultural pluralism and religious diversity,” said LJCC’s Aaron-Micaël Beydoun*. “Help us ensure we can continue with the renovation, be part of history and contribute today.”

Lebanon is officially estimated to have just 100-150 Jews, down from 24,000 in 1948 — although some believe the real count is higher, with many Jews afraid to identify as such. The synagogue’s last rabbi fled in 1997.

While there were once 17 synagogues operating in Beirut alone, there are now just four synagogue buildings remaining in the whole of Lebanon — all of them disused. Jews in the capital have spent the past 30 years praying in specially designated houses as they wait to have their places of worship restored.

The renovation project was first given the green light by the late Lebanese PM Rafik Hariri more than five years ago. It unexpectedly received the public support of Hizbollah, with a party spokesman welcoming the work.

Earlier this year Solidere, a major Lebanese construction firm owned by the Sunni Hariri family, agreed to pay $150,000 towards the renovations. This was part of a larger donation made to 14 religious groups to help them restore their places of worship.

But the LJCC is yet to receive the first of three promised payments.

Read article in full

*What is this gentleman doing on the Lebanese Jewish Community Council? Beydoun is not actually Jewish, but a Shi'a Muslim. However, he has been conducting a one-man campaign to revive the Lebanese Jewish community so that Lebanon can once more boast of its 'tolerance' and 'pluralism' - ed.

Two shot in Sephardi synagogue 'hate crime'

Two Jews arriving for prayers at the Sephardi synagogue of Adat Yeshurun Valley, Hollywood, California, USA, are in stable condition following a shooting today. Police are treating the incident as a hate crime, the LA Times reports (with thanks: Heather):

Two worshipers at a North Hollywood synagogue were shot this morning in an attack Los Angeles Police Department detectives are investigating as a hate crime.

The shooting occurred at 6:20 a.m. at the Adat Yeshurun Valley Sephardic synagogue, at 12405 Sylvan St.

LAPD Deputy Chief Michel Moore said the shootings occurred in the underground garage of the temple. A man coming to the temple for worship parked his car in the lot and was approached by suspect who Moore said was wearing a black hoodie.

"Without any words," Moore said, the suspect shot the man in the leg. Then the gunman fired on a second man who had arrived for prayers. That second victim was also wounded in the leg.

The gunman then fled from the garage. Witnesses called 911.

Moore described the victims as being in their 40s. He said both were in good condition.

Detectives are "working with [the victims] to understand more information," Moore said.

Detectives don't believe the motive was robbery, according to LAPD sources, who spoke to The Times on the condition that they not be named because the investigation is ongoing.

At about 7:40 a.m., Los Angeles police arrested a man near the synagogue but the sources say they don't believe he was the gunman.

LAPD officials have alerted other synagogues around Los Angeles about the shooting, and police have stepped up patrols at Jewish religious institutions.

The sources said detectives are trying to determine the motive, and whether the gunman acted alone or as part of a larger group.


The scene at the Adat Yeshurun Sephardi synagogue (LA Times)

Read article in full

Comment by Phyllis Chesler at Pajamas Media

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bahrain bill penalises contacts with Israel

Bahrain's parliament

Note that the politicians behind this move to penalise Bahrainis for contacts with Israel are Shia, and that the bill has little chance of being passed by the upper house, which is full of (Sunni) government supporters appointed by the King. Even so, who would have thought that this is the same country which appointed a Jewish woman as Bahrain's ambassador to Washington? (With thanks: Lily)

MANAMA (Reuters) - Bahrain's parliament on Tuesday approved legislation penalising contacts with Israel, a move which could complicate Gulf Arab leaders' efforts to promote peace talks with Israel.

"Whoever holds any communication or official talks with Israeli officials or travels to Israel will face a fine ... and/or a jail sentence of three to five years," member of parliament Jalal Fairooz from the Shi'ite Al-Wefaq bloc, an opposition group that was the driving force behind the move.

"The motivation is that steps are being taken by certain countries to allow certain talks to be held with Israeli officials. Israeli delegates have managed to participate in events in Arab countries with no treaties with Israel."

Diplomats and analysts say Arab governments have been pressured by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama to make steps towards normalising ties in order to help encourage Israel to enter peace talks with Palestinians.

But popular sentiment has been opposed to such moves. An Egyptian writer is facing disciplinary action by the journalists union for meeting the Israeli ambassador in Cairo.

Bahrain's Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa wrote in the Washington Post in July that Arabs had not done enough to communicate directly with Israelis.

Bahraini officials visited Israel in July in an official capacity for the first time to collect five of their nationals Israel was deporting after seizing them on a ship bound for the Palestinian territory of Gaza, blockaded by Israel.

Read article in full

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Egyptian liberals flaunt antisemitic credentials

Egyptian opposition politician Ayman Nour (photo AP)

There's one comforting aspect to this eloquent Wall Street Journal piece slamming Egyptian liberals as opportunistically or viscerally antisemitic: the authors, Amr Bargisi and Samuel Tadros, themselves Egyptian liberals, are not. (with thanks: Lily)

Later this week, Egypt will play host to the 56th Congress of Liberal International, which bills itself as the world federation of liberal and progressive democratic parties. Among the nearly 70 parties represented by LI are Britain's Liberal Democrats, Germany's Free Democrats, and the Liberal Party of Canada. In the U.S., LI's Web site cites the National Democratic Institute as a cooperating organization since 1986.

In Cairo, the visiting delegates will be hosted by the Al-Gabha, or Democratic Front Party. Western liberals (in the old-fashioned sense of that word) are always delighted to discover like-minded people in the Third World, and perhaps nowhere more so than in Arab countries. Yet, at least in Egypt, there's a dirty little secret about these self-described liberal parties: They are, for the most part, virulently anti-Semitic, sometimes opportunistically but just as often out of deeply-held rancorous convictions.

Consider the case of Sekina Fouad, a well-known journalist who also serves as the DFP's vice president. In an article published earlier this year, Ms. Fouad dismisses any distinction between Jews and Israelis, the reason for which is "the extremity of the doctrine of arrogance, distinctiveness and condescension [the Jews] set out from and seek to achieve by all means, and on top of which blood, killing, terrorizing and frightening." She corroborates this argument with an alleged statement by "President" Benjamin Franklin, asking Americans to expel Jews since they are "like locusts, never to get on a green land without leaving it deserted and barren."

Needless to say, Franklin never made any such statement, not that a journalist like Ms. Fouad would bother to check. She also asks the question "Are Zionists Human?" which offers backhanded credit to Jews for having "helped [her] understand a history full of examples of their expulsion, getting rid of them and their unethical and inhuman methods." In earlier writings, Ms. Fouad has written about what she calls "Talmudic teachings that determine types of purity unachievable by the Jew unless by using Christian human sacrifice" for the making of "blood pies." Not surprisingly, she also dismisses the Holocaust as part of an "arsenal of Jewish myths."

Nor is Ms. Fouad some kind of outlier in the Egyptian liberal movement. Take Ayman Nour, who contested the 2005 presidential election under the banner of his own party and was subsequently jailed for nearly four years, becoming something of a cause célèbre among Western officials, journalists and human-rights activists.

Immediately after his release earlier this year, he attended a celebration organized by opposition groups—including the Muslim Brotherhood—in the northern city of Port Said, commemorating "the first battalion of volunteers from the Egyptian People setting off to fight the Jews in 1948." The word "Jews" was stressed in bolded black lettering on the otherwise blue and red banner hanging above the conference panel. Yet far from trying to distance himself from that message, Mr. Nour got into the spirit of the conference, talking not only about his solidarity with Palestinians but also "the value of standing up to this enemy, behind which lies all evils, conspiracies, and threats that are spawned against Egypt."

Then there is the case of Egypt's oldest "liberal" party, Al-Wafd, whose eponymous daily newspaper is one of Egypt's most active platforms for anti-Semitism. Following President Obama's conciliatory Cairo speech to the Muslim world, columnist Ahmed Ezz El-Arab faulted Mr. Obama for insisting that the Holocaust was an actual historical event and gave nine historical "proofs" that it had never happened. He concluded that "the evil Jewish lies succeeded in creating an atmosphere of hatred for Germans that resulted in the death of millions."

These examples are, sadly, just the tip of an iceberg. What makes them all the more remarkable is that, contrary to stereotype, they do not have particularly ancient roots in Egypt. Until Egypt's Jews were expelled by Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s and '60s, Egypt had a millennia-old, thriving Jewish community. As late as the 1930s, Jewish politicians occupied ministerial posts in Egyptian governments and participated in nationalist politics.

But all that changed with the rise of totalitarian and fascist movements in Europe, which found more than their share of imitators in the Arab world, both among Islamists and secularists. When Egypt's monarchy was overthrown in 1952 by a military coup, anti-Semitism became an ideological pillar of the new totalitarian dispensation.

Since then, Egypt has evolved, coming to terms (of a sort) with Israel and adopting at least some elements of market-based economic principle. But anti-Semitism remains the political glue holding Egypt's disparate political forces together. Paradoxically, this is especially true of the so-called liberals, who think they can traffic on their anti-Semitism to gain favor in quarters where they would otherwise be suspect or unpopular. They have taken to demonizing Jews with the proverbial zeal of a convert.

Read article in full

Ayman Nour rejects antisemitism charge (with thanks: Lily)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Anti-Israelism clouds Egypt's view of Jewish past

Disinterest to outright hostility - that's the spectrum of interest in Egypt in its Jewish heritage, declares this disarmingly frank AP piece reprinted in Haaretz. How sad: (With thanks: bh, Lily)

The warren of slum alleys is called the Jews' Quarter, but no Jews live there. The ancient synagogue still stands, but its roof is gone. The government is renovating it, but is doing so at a moment when anti-Israel feeling is running especially high in Egypt.

The Ben Maimon synagogue exemplifies this country's conflicted relationship with its Jewish past.

The Jewish community that once flourished in the Arab world's most populous nation left behind physical traces ranging from grand temples in central Cairo and Alexandria to a holy man's humble grave in a Nile Delta village. But the modern-day Egyptian view of those relics lies within a narrow spectrum ranging from disinterest to outright hostility.

On a recent morning, teenage workers were busy lugging planks across what was once the Ben Maimon synagogue's sanctuary and pumping out greenish water flooding the dirt floor of an adjacent room.

The bimah, the lectern where the Torah scroll was once read, was visible under plastic sheeting, and a niche in the wall facing toward Jerusalem was all that remained of the elaborate wooden ark that held the scrolls.

Not everyone was pleased about the renovation.

"We are a nation that doesn't have enough to eat and doesn't have clean water," grumbled Mahmoud Fahim, a Muslim who runs a clothing store in the Jews' Quarter. "Why are we paying for these temples to be developed?"

He called it "a superficial act to make Egypt look good to the West and to Israel."

Fahim was touching on a sore point - the failed bid last month by Farouk Hosny, the Egyptian culture minister, to be elected head of UNESCO, the UN culture agency. The minister blamed his defeat on a Jewish conspiracy "cooked up in New York."

Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel. Though the peace has always been cool, the relationship is going through an especially rough patch because of the aftermath of Israel's bloody offensive in Gaza, compounded by the UNESCO affair and Hosny's remarks.

Egypt's Jewish community, which dates back millennia and in the 1940s numbered around 80,000, is down to several dozen, almost all of them elderly. The rest were driven out decades ago by mob violence and state-sponsored persecution tied in large part to the Israeli-Arab conflict, a story repeated across the Arab world.

Egypt and Israel fought a war every decade from the 1940s to the 1970s until the 1979 peace treaty was signed.

Despite that treaty, Egyptian sentiment remains deeply unfriendly to Israel, and anti-Semitic stereotypes still occasionally appear in the Egyptian media.

Some government officials take a more tolerant line.

"Jewish sites are an important part of our heritage, and we place as much importance on the maintenance and development of the Jewish temples as we do to the mosques and the churches in Egypt," said Zahi Hawass, Egypt's chief archaeologist and the official responsible for fixing up the synagogue.

Read article in full

Blog exclusive: 100 Israelis vote in Tunisian poll

With thanks: Shaul

The Tunisian president, Zine Ben Ali, is set to serve a fifth five-year term following a landslide win in the presidential elections held yesterday.

Point of No Return can reveal that 100 Israelis of Tunisian origin cast their votes. The voting took place in a polling station in Jerusalem in the presence of the Tunisian ambassador to the Palestinian Authority.

The vast majority are thought to have voted for the ever youthful-looking Ben Ali, 73, pictured below.

The Paris-based Association of Tunisian Jews in France had urged Jews to support Ben Ali. It praised him for his wise and clear-sighted social and economic policies, which had enhanced Tunisia's international standing.


In a message addressed to the Head of State, the association said it "prides itself on the welfare and dignity benefiting Tunisians, as well as the indicators of development and progress recorded by Tunisia in a climate of openness, tolerance and solidarity."

Some 2,000 Jews still live in Tunisia of a community which once numbered over 100,000. They comprise one percent of the inhabitants of the island of Djerba. Many have relatives in Israel and can and do visit them, although there are no direct links.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Barmitzvah in Baghdad

With thanks: Ellis

This precious Youtube clip shows how Barmitzvahs used to be celebrated in Baghdad in the early 1960s: an intimate affair at home. No swanky, catered affair in a top hotel, this. The Haham, or chief rabbi (why do they always wear dark classes?) is on hand, in traditional head-dress, to help the Barmitzvah boy put on his teffilin. The ritual marks the moment when the boy becomes a man, with all the duties becoming an adult Jew entails. In this clip two friends share their Barmitzvah, as the mother of one of the boys was too sick to organise her son's.

There is plenty of home-made food for the guests, young and old (including the traditional, triangular cheese-, chickpea- or meat-stuffed sambusek), and a huge cake conveying 'Best Wiches' to the Barmitzvah boy. By the 1960s, only 5,000 Jews were still living in Iraq - 90 percent of the community having fled to Israel in 1950-51.

There are four clips of Jews enjoying their leisure in 1960s Iraq here. Clip Three shows Jewish families enjoying a picnic at the ancient temple of Hatra, south-west of Mosul. Great fun, even if you also need to change a tyre on your car.

Friday, October 23, 2009

'Sephardi Spielberg' project collects testimonies

They call it the 'Sephardi Spielberg' project. An international effort to gather the oral testimonies of Jews displaced from Arab countries before they all disappear, and record these stories on videotape, is gathering steam. JTA News reports from California:

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) -- Joseph Samuels, born Yosef Sasson in Baghdad, was 18 when he fled Iraq for the new state of Israel.

It was 1949, and life was becoming increasingly difficult for Jews in Iraq, as it was throughout the Arab world. The Sasson family’s good relations with their Muslim neighbors changed with Israel’s creation in 1948, and Yosef’s parents urged him to leave, promising they would follow when they could.

Unable to secure an exit visa, Yosef escaped Iraq with his younger brother in tow, taking the train to Basra, then cramming into a smuggler’s boat with 16 other young Jews, rowing to Iran and finally making his way to Tehran. There he joined a massive airlift to Israel, landing in time for Purim that year.

“That Passover was the first time I celebrated as a free man,” says Samuels, who served in the Israeli navy and now lives near Los Angeles.

Like many Holocaust survivors, Samuels only shared bits and pieces of his story with his children.

“I didn’t want to seem like a victim, so I didn’t tell them,” he explains.

Unlike Holocaust survivors, however, his story -- as well as those of more than 800,000 other Jewish refugees from North Africa and the Middle East -- is not widely known. These Jews, part of large, ancient communities in nine Arab countries, were victimized and persecuted, stripped of their rights and property, and in some cases forcibly expelled from the lands of their birth from the 1940s through the 1970s.

Finding refuge mainly in Israel, France and North America, they became the forgotten refugees of the Middle East conflict.

Jimena, a San Francisco-based organization for Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, is trying to change that.

As part of an international consortium led by Hebrew University and the University of Miami that is collecting and documenting testimony from these Mizrahim, or Jews from Arabic-speaking countries, Jimena has launched a visual history project to interview those now living on the West Coast.

Jimena's East Coast partner, the American Sephardi Federation in New York, began its interviews of New York-area Sephardim in September, while partners in several other countries are working to collect oral testimonies in their regions. Each project is responsible for its own funding.

The goal, organizers say, is to do for Jewish refugees from Arab lands what Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation Institute has done for Holocaust survivors: preserve their stories and dignify their heritage.

“Their stories have not been documented,” says Sarah Levin, Jimena’s program director. “We want to collect as many stories as we can. These people are getting older, and soon it will be too late.”

On Oct. 18, a dozen Jews born in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco and other lands of the Maghreb gathered at the Jewish federation offices in San Francisco to learn how they could become a part of the project.

Filmmaker Avi Goldwasser, director of “The Forgotten Refugees,” says that when he grew up in Israel, he learned nothing about this history. In the United States, where the Jewish community is overwhelmingly Ashkenazi, it is even lesser known.

“We want to get people like yourselves to share your personal stories,” he told the group. “We have to get the word out that Palestinians were not the only people displaced by the conflict.”

It’s not about denying Palestinian suffering, Goldwasser said, but about presenting all sides of the history as a precursor to real peace and reconciliation.

Rachel Wahba of San Raphael, Calif., nods her head. The child of an Iraqi mother and Egyptian father, Wahba was born in 1946 in India, where her mother’s family had fled after Iraq’s June 1941 pogroms.

“My mother heard the screams for 48 hours until the British finally put a stop to it,” she recalls.

Expelled from India, as they had no papers, the family ended up in Japan as stateless refugees. They finally reached California in 1968 and rebuilt their lives.

Wahba used to lecture about her family’s history, but she tired of the hostility and ignorance she encountered.

“I’d tell my story, and people would say, 'so, your grandmother spoke Yiddish.' As if they hadn’t heard me," she said. "I said no, we spoke Judeo-Arabic. The non-Jews would listen more openly than the Jews -- they just couldn’t get it.”

Read article in full

If you would like to have your story recorded please contact bataween@gmail for details.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bukharian Jews reign over Queensistan

Interesting article in Haaretz about the 50,000 Bukharian Jews of central Asia who now live in New York's Borough of Queens: (with thanks: Lily)

For two decades, Aron Aronov has transported embroidered garments, oil portraits of rabbis and other examples of traditional Bukharian Jewish culture from his native Uzbekistan to a small museum in New York.

"Here is all my money, all my life, all my time," Aronov, 71, said as he unbolted the door to the crowded, three-room Bukharian Jewish Museum, which he said is the only such museum in the world.

It tells the 2,500-year history of the Bukharian Jews of Central Asia, where they lived as a pious, insular ethnic community until leaving the region in droves in the early 1990s after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

They come mostly from Uzbekistan, and were concentrated in the Uzbek city of Bukhara.

"This museum is a desperate attempt to stop time," said Aronov, gesturing to an elaborate display of a Bukharian yard, including a wooden sofa covered with colorful rugs, cooking pots and an outdoor stove. "I don't want all this to go."

Bukharians had lived in relative harmony with their Muslim neighbors, but fled Central Asia as soon as it became possible to leave the Soviet Union, whose secular policies had long frustrated pious Bukharian Jews.

Now, they are struggling to protect an ancient culture they fear could vanish. Unlike some other ethnic communities in Queens, New York City's most ethnically diverse borough, Bukharians have no real homeland.

Most of the estimated 300,000 Bukharian Jews have settled in Israel but the second-largest concentration of about 50,000 live in the Queens neighborhoods of Rego Park and Forest Hills - earning the area the nickname Queensistan.

Only a few hundred remain in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, local leaders say.

Today, a stretch of Queens Boulevard is dotted with Bukharian synagogues, restaurants and cultural centers. There is also a theater staging plays in Bukhori, a Jewish dialect of Farsi, a newspaper, a cemetery and the museum.

Malika Kalantarova, a Bukharian from Tajikistan, was a celebrated dancer in the Soviet Union and now operates a dance studio in a Queens subway station.

"It's like a new Bukhara in New York City," said Itzhak Yehoshua, the head rabbi for Bukharians in America, a reference to the Uzbek city that gave Bukharians their name.

Bukharians attribute their success in keeping their heritage to their strong tendency to marry within the community and stick together. Of the 500 Bukharian weddings registered in 2007, Yehoshua said 400 were among Bukharians, 60 were between Bukharians and other Jews and 40 were between Bukharians and non-Jews.

Read article in full

New class on Bukharian Jewish history opens

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mizrahi Open Letter closed to Europeans

Remember Obama's speech in Cairo ? In what now seems a false dawn, the Left hailed it as a new beginning for relations between the US and the Muslim world.

At the time, so excited was a small group of leftist Mizrahim in Israel about the wind of change that Obama seemed to promise, that they drafted an Open Letter, directed at the Arab and Muslim world, called A new spirit .The letter did the rounds of blogs and email networks. It seemed to die a death and nothing more was heard about it, until it resurfaced this month in the Palestine Chronicle., revealing the anti-European,anti-Zionist agenda behind it.

An interview by Sherri Muzher with one of the signatories, self-styled Arab Jew and activist Mati Shemoelof, begins with a disingenuous reference to how Nasser demonstrated his regard for the Jews by choosing Leila Murad over Um Kalthoum as the Revolution's official singer - even as he expelled 25,000 Jews from Egypt. (Muzher forgets to mention that accusations of disloyalty to Egypt dogged Murad until she died.) The Palestine Chronicle reveals the Open Letter's signatories to be 'social activists' who seek to decolonise Israel - ie divest its of its European nature. In reaching out to the Arabs, bringing down the 'apartheid' wall between Judaism and Islam, they are prepared to drive a wedge between themselves and European Jews - an act of apparent racism.

The letter glosses over the antisemitism which caused the parents of these signatories to flee the Middle East and North Africa. It was a 'temporary crack'. The signatories are saying, "we are Arabs like you - Arabs of the Jewish religion. We have more in common with you than with the European Jews that fate has lumped us together with in Israel. We know something bad happened between you Muslims and us Jews but it's nothing really, nothing in the overall scheme of things."

At first sight, the letter is full of lofty sentiments:

" we express our support for the new spirit presented by president Obama in his Cairo speech. A spirit of reconciliation, realistic vision, striving for justice and dignity, respect for different religions, cultures and human beings, whoever and wherever they are."

You can't argue with any of that.

We were born in Israel and we are Israelis. Our country is important to us, and we would like to see it secure, just, and prosperous for the benefit of its inhabitants. Yet, the recent conflict into which we were born cannot erase the long history of hundreds and thousands of years, during which our parents and ancestors lived in Muslim and Arab countries. Not only they have lived in the region from time immemorial, but were also part of the fabric of daily life and have contributed to the development of the region and its culture.

These are younger Mizrahi Israelis with no direct experience of life in an Arab or Islamic country except for a romantic notion of the Arabic language and culture. They call themselves 'descendants of Jews from Islamic countries'. They are Jews from Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan, where Arabic is not the national language, as well as Morocco and Libya. Quite what all these Jews have in common is not clear. It is enough that they are not Europeans.

Nowadays, the cultures of the lands of Islam, Middle East, and the Arab world, are all still part of our identity; a part which we cannot, and do not wish to repress nor uproot.

A mighty strange way of referring to oneself. Imagine if Ashkenazi Jews were to say that they come from the 'lands of Christendom'. To say that you belong to the Middle East is one thing; to say your identity is rooted in the Arab world, and what's more, the lands of Islam, means that you define the region you come from primarily by its religion, a religion that conquered the region 1,000 years after your Jewish ancestors settled there.

Surely, the Jews living in Muslim countries endured some difficult times. Nevertheless, those painful moments should not conceal nor erase the well known and documented history of shared life. Muslim rule over the Jews was much more tolerant and lenient compared with non-Muslim countries. The fate of Jews in Muslim regions cannot be compared with the tragic fate of Jews in other regions, Europe in particular.

...endured some difficult times. The euphemism of the year. Jews were ethnically cleansed, robbed, their 2,000-year-old civilisation destroyed. Imagine the Ladino-speaking Jews of Spain telling the Spaniards - we endured some difficult times. The odd pogrom, denunciation, inquisition or auto-da-fe, but hey! it wasn't as bad as what Jews went through in other places. Our nostalgia for Spain and its glorious culture and language, which we still speak, more than makes up for any 'bad stuff'. And we adore borekas.

One can view the last decades as a period during which a deep chasm has been opened between the Jews and Israel and the Arab and Muslim world. We however, prefer to perceive these last decades as a painful yet temporary crack in a history that goes longer than that. We have a shared past and a shared future. Thus, when we look at the map, we see Israel as part of the Middle East, and not solely from a geographical perspective.

Judaism and Islam are not far apart from religious, spiritual, historical and cultural point of views. The alliance between these two religions dates back many generations. Yet the memory of this partnership and the unique history of Jews originated from the Muslim and Arab world (which today constitutes 50% of the Jewish population in Israel!) has unfortunately faded, both in Israel as well as in the majority of the Muslim world. In the necessary reconciliation process between West and East, oriental Jews can and should embody a live bridge of remembrance, healing and partnership.

From our point of view the rift between Israel/Jews and the Arab/Muslim world cannot last forever, it is splitting our identities and our souls. As for the tragic Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we hope that a fair solution of mutual respect and mutual recognition will be reached very soon. A solution that considers the hopes, fears and pains of the Palestinian side, as well as those of the Israeli side.

Anyone who believes that Judaism and Islam are not that far apart has little knowledge of either religion or the dhimmi status suffered for centuries by Jews who lived among Muslims. Do Jews really want to return to that permanent sense of inferiority and vulnerability? The letter-writers don't hold humans responsible for that deep chasm - It must have just happened. Arab governments bear no responsibility for persecuting their Jews, it was an act of God or Mother Nature. Note that in the last sentence Palestinian pain takes precedence over Israeli pain. But for true reconciliation to take place, the Arabs and Muslims must feel Israeli pain, and recognise that they are responsible for it.

Irony of ironies, these Mizrahim have taken on a guilt-ridden Eurocentric vew of the conflict, where Israel is the coloniser, the Arabs and Muslims lack agency for all the 'bad stuff' and the Palestinians are the main victims. The letter-writers' own Mizrahi history has been erased, lost in a cloud of warm, fuzzy nostalgia.

Crossposted on the
Israel News blog

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Saga of Islamist harassment goes on in Djerba

The El-Griba synagogue, Djerba

The scandal of alleged Islamist harassment, first reported on Point of No Return, continues to dog the Djerba Synagogue and Yeshiva in Tunisia.

For the last four or five years a seamstress by the name of Vassila Ben Kirat, a member of an Islamist group, has been harassing teachers and visitors to the Yeshiva on Djerba from her premises nearby. She has repeatedly brought lawsuits against them for no apparent reason, forcing the rabbi to make almost weekly court appearances and engage a lawyer. Her shop is owned by the Yeshiva, but she has taken control. In spite of having apparently served a two-year prison term for assisting an Islamist murder gang targeting western hotel developers in Djerba, she has verbally and physically abused the Yeshiva head, Chief Rabbi Matsliah Haddad.

'Our man in Djerba' for the Succot holiday reports that there have been 100 complaints or police cases brought by both the woman and the rabbi. Rabbi Haddad alleges she has molested him and even tried to kidnap a child. He claims that she has friends and relatives in high places protecting her interests.

Supporters of Ben Kirat say that the allegations against her are lies, that the rabbi's accusations are unfounded and a pretext to get her out of her premises. The rabbi (who has his critics in the Jewish community) denies this. He believes only President Ben Ali himself can resolve the case, having already appealed to the Minister of the Interior.

There are 1,200 Jews still living in Djerba's Jewish quarter - one percent of the island's population. Except for one government- sponsored demonstration, there was no rioting against the Jews during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. The Jews are avid listeners to Kol Israel radio, and often visit relatives in Israel, flying via Istanbul.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Is it all over for the Jews of Turkey?

Last week, Turkey poured cold water over relations with Israel when it withdrew from a joint military exercise and stepped up its rhetoric on Israeli 'injustices' in Gaza. For Turkey's 17,000 Jews, is the writing finally on the wall?

The Turkish-Jewish community is that rare thing - a Jewish community still living in a Muslim-majority country. Yet, as expert Rifat N Bali observes, it has no political, cultural or intellectual impact on the host country. Between 1946 and 1961, a few Jewish MPs sat in parliament. Now there are none.

With hostility growing from the Islamist government, anti-Israelism and anti-Americanism, the climate is on the verge of tipping over into outright antisemitism. Turkish Jews will not speak up for Israel. They insist on their Turkishness, and keep their heads down. A population of 81,872 in 1921 is down to a quarter of its original size. Half the Jewish population left for Israel in the three years after 1948.

Between 1923 and 1948, Jews became increasingly marginalised as the country underwent Turkification. The community was resented for its economic success and for its failure to even speak Turkish. The Jews of Turkey are overwhelmingly Ladino-speaking Jews from post-Inquisition Spain. Although they have been in Turkey for 500 years they have never been able to shrug off a certain 'foreign-ness'.

Although Ataturk's Turkey was a secular, 'democratic' republic, it was a one-party state in its first 22 years and excluded Jews from public service jobs. After 1923, Turkish companies sacked 50 to 75 percent of their non-Muslim staff.

In June and July 1934, there erupted the Thracian events in the provinces of Edirne, Canakkale and Kirklareli. Jewish shops were boycotted, Jews stoned and Jewish women assaulted. There followed a mass migration of Jews to Istanbul.

In May 1941 all non-Muslim males between 27 and 40 were conscripted into forced labour gangs and made to build roads and airbases in Anatolia. This was the practice in Ottoman times - Turkey was reverting to type. It feared that non-Muslim soldiers - Armenians especially - would constitue a fifth column in case of a Nazi invasion.The entire minority male population was interned.

On 11 November 1942 Turkey passed a law taxing non-Muslims four times as heavily as Muslims. Those who could not pay had to do hard physical labour. In practice this was applied selectively to non-Muslims and foreigners.

Although Turkey now has a multiparty system, politicians have preferred to use populist methods to appeal to the great uneducated, rural, religious mass of electors. Following the 1980 military coup, the financial and economic gap between Jewish and Muslim businessmen narrowed, thus reducing 'economic' antisemitism; at the same time, and with the rise of radical Islam, 'conspiracy theories' about Jews and power have multiplied.

In 2003 the dentist Yasef Yahya was murdered for being a Jew. Three months later, Islamists attacked the two main synagogues of Istanbul. The authorities and media have since downplayed the Islamist threat.

Conspiracy theories concerning infiltration into positions of power by donmeh or crypto-Jews and agents in the pay of Israel and the US became rife following the American invasion of Kuwait.

Only if Turkish society in general liberalises is there any hope for the future survival of the Jewish community.

With acknowledgements to Entre nationalisme et islamisme: la lente disparition de la communaute juive de Turquie by Rifat N Bali ( La fin du judaisme en terres d'Islam - ed Shmuel Trigano)

Turkish state did great injustice to non-Muslim minorities - minister

Top photo : the Zulfaris synagogue, now the Jewish museum of Istanbul. Bottom:the 15th century Ahrida synagogue, Balat, Istanbul.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Living in the ruins of the Jewish West Bank

It is not the place of this blog to say who should rule those disputed lands that the media like to call 'the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank'. Often overlooked in the current debate, however, is the long pre-Arab history of the region, once again 'ethnically cleansed' between 1948 and 1967 of its Jewish inhabitants. Here Bat Yeor, the groundbreaking historian of the dhimmi, lyrically evokes Jewish Judea and Samaria in an article she wrote in 1978:

"Silence. We have taken cover in the shade of an olive tree. Instantly the children have nestled in the branches, listening solemnly to our guide. Somewhere a fig tree perfumes the air...or is it merely the breeze of the Judean hills? Circular gesture by Ya'acov Meshorer, chief curator of archaeology at the Israel Museum, renowned numismatist and former supervisor of excavations in Judea-Samaria.

"Excavations in Judea have brought to light flourishing towns possessing numerous synagogues. The architecture as well as the ornamental patterns are typical of the attractive pre-Islamic Hebrew civilisation, represented in Galilee by the synagogues of Capernaum, Beth Shearim, Chorazim, Kefar Baram, Meron and other places. Between the years 70 AD and the Arab invasion and occupation in 640, these hills were dotted with Hebrew towns and villages where an intense national, religious and cultural life prospered. Deprived of its indepdendence, the nation concentrated its genius by reflecting upon the richness of the national past. This the period in which the Mishnah was elaborated and completed in the second century, shortly to be followed by the Talmud - monumental religious, legal and social compendia. Completed in about 400, this work was continued for another two centuries, keeping alive an intense Messianic fervour whose force was to be felt as far as Arabia.

"The Arab occupation scarcely modified the Hebrew place-names and the Jewish inhabitants, now considered dhimmis, remained on their land. It was only later that the relentless mechanism typical of every colonisation gradually wiped out the indigenous population, thereby encouraging a progressive Arabisation of the soil."

"In the former Jewish town of Bethar, there are now 1500 Arabs. They call the place where the Jewish vestiges stand Khirbet al-Yahud, the ruins of the Jews. Nevertheless, were the Israelis to return, the Arabs would not hesitate to chase them away with indignation, referring to them as foreign intruders. Mystery of the Oriental mind or logic of the occupant? These Arabs, hardly interested in a past which is not theirs, ignore totally the history of the places where they live. Of course they know that the spot was inhabited formerly by Jews, as the name indicates, but these ruins, relating to a people dispossessed and driven out, are only of interest as a quarry conveniently providing stones which others have hewn. But the excited comments from the olive tree taught me that many a Jewish child knows more about the history of this place than its Arab inhabitants.

"In Eshtemoa, a bibical name Arabised by the occupations into Es-Samoa, the Arab inhabitants still live in houses built practically fifteen centuries earlier. The architectural elements and decorative designs, including the menorah, are all typical of pre-Islamic Hebrew art. It is common to find Arab villagers cooking on ancient mosaic floors. In the centre of the village was once a three-storied synagogue, of which only two ruined floors remain. The size of the synagogue suggests that there flourished here an important community. Like many other indigenous monuments, the synagogue was destroyed at the beginning of the Arab occupation. Its stones, particularly those decorated with bas-reliefs, were used by the Arabs and today adorn their door posts.

"At Yata, the biblical name of a Hebrew village, beautifully decorated Jewish ossuaries typical of the 1st and 2nd centuries are scattered around Arab houses and used as drinking-troughs for their cattle. Many troves of coins dating from the 2nd Temple and Hasmonean periods have been found in this area.

"The discrepancy between history and population in Judea and Samaria troubles the traveller constantly. It is true that the Hebrew place-names have been Arabised, that Jewish religious shrines have bene Islamised - as in Hebron and elsewhere - and that Arabisation has succeeded in erasing all traces of Hebrew nationalism. It is also true that from afar the Arab villages seem picturesque. This is only a superficial impression, however, for the traveller, endeavouring to account for his troubled spirit, were to look more closely he would discover a mere heap of ruins. The neglect of the surrounding vegetation is so general that one is reminded not of a biblical landscape of wooded hillsides, but of the sandy wastes of Arabia. One is struck with pity, for people do not generally live in ruins, however poor they are. Ruins are seen everywhere, so much so they are no longer noticed. (...)

"Today the populations of these regions are Muslims, with the exception of a few pockets of Arabised Chrstians, remnants of the Byzantine occupation or of Crusader times, which have survived thanks to the protection of European Christendom. The Samaritans have been reduced in their homeland to 470 survivors*, of whom 250 still live in Nablus. Up until 1948, Jewish inhabitants of the region were massacred or expelled and the right to reside was prohibited to them until 1967. The Arabisation of the region resulted in a judenrein Arab province, ie 'cleaned' of all trace of its pre-Arab culture.

"The indigenous peoples were replaced by Greeks, Arab-Beduins, Persians, Druze, Circassians, Turks and Slavs, who were thus able to benefit from the Arabised land of the dhimmis. Yet since 1967, these peaceful villagers, with unperturbed consciences, who justified their Arab rights established by the martyrdom of the banished or annihilated native peoples, are now experiencing a nightmare. The Hebrew, exiled in the wake of successive waves of occupation and its sequels, or tolerated in his own homeland but in a state of subjection - this Hebrew now returns. And he comes back, no longer a dhimmi - the sole status acceptable for a native - but as a citizen enjoying all the rights of a free man."

From Dhimmi peoples: oppressed nations by Bat Yeor (1978). Scroll down to link

* Today the Samaritans number about 700, divided between Nablus and the Israeli city of Holon

Friday, October 16, 2009

Turkish TV show may boost antisemitism

A Turkish TV drama showing Israeli soldiers as child-killers may boost incitement against the country's 26,000 Jews. Meanwhile relations between Turkey and Israel have taken a turn for the worse:

( Turkey, Israel’s erstwhile ally in the north which abruptly called off a joint air exercise with Israel this week, is broadcasting a TV series depicting IDF soldiers as child killers.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman responded sharply: “The television series broadcast on Turkish TV constitutes the most serious level of incitement,” he said, “and it is being done with state sponsorship.” Lieberman has issued instructions to summon the Turkish Ambassador to a meeting with Foreign Ministry officials to protest the broadcasting of the series.

The TV shows “bear no connection whatsoever to reality,” a Foreign Ministry announcement stated, “presenting IDF soldiers as murderers of innocent children. It is not worthy of broadcast even in hostile states - and certainly not in a state that maintains full diplomatic relations with Israel.”

Email readers, please click here to view the video.

Scenes on the shows include “Israeli soldiers” cold-bloodedly shooting an Arab girl to death, killing Arab youngsters who throw rocks, kicking and pushing elderly Arabs, and the like. A brief scene is even shown of a line of Palestinian Authority Arabs standing before an Israeli firing squad.

Broadcasts of the weekly series, entitled “Separation (Ayrilik) ,” began this past Tuesday on the Turkish public television station TRT1.(...)

The direction of future Turkish-Israeli relations is not clear; until now, Turkey's army has led an approach that is sympathetic to Israel, but of late, the increasingly anti-Israel government appears to be setting the tone. Turkey also announced this week that it would soon hold a joint military exercise with Syria.

Jews in Turkey say the incitement is nothing new. “Israelis are always depicted as the bad guys and the Palestinians are the good guys,” a Turkish Jewish leader told Ynet. “During the Gaza War, they never showed both sides – only the Palestinian side… But we sense no change in how Turkey relates to us both as Jews and as Israelis.”

Read article in full

The Jerusalem Post reports:

(Beniz) Saporta (of the Jewish community leadership) said Ayrilik depicted the Israeli-Palestinian conflict differently than how some of the Jews of Istanbul view it.

"It was being portrayed as a war of religion," she said. "But it's a war over land. It's a political problem."

Saporta said she was wary of a potentially dangerous future for Turkey's Jews. "This is bothering us, because we think it may increase anti-Semitism," Saporta said, although she did not know of any recent anti-Semitic occurrences stemming from the events of the past week.

Ayrilik producer Selcuk Cobanoglu told Israel Radio on Thursday that the soldiers depicted in the drama "are not Israeli soldiers," but it was clear to Saporta what was being presented.

No pro-Israel rallies or educational programs are being planned by community members or the Rabbinate at this time, according to Saporta, although the Rabbinate was still formulating an organized response to the media on Thursday.

The Israeli Embassy in Ankara sounded cautious, with one representative saying, "The situation is problematic, but we don't want to blow it out of proportion."

A representative from the Jewish Agency said that its emissary in Istanbul would not be allowed to speak on the topic of Jews in Istanbul because the matter was "very delicate."

According to the Chief Rabbinate of Turkey's Web site, there are around 26,000 Jews in Turkey. The vast majority live in Istanbul, with Sephardim making up 96 percent of the community.

There are about 100 Karaites, an independent group that does not accept the authority of Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva, known as the hahambasi.

There are currently 19 synagogues in Turkey, with Neve Shalom in Istanbul's Galata district being the largest.

Read article in full

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Israel sets up new Jewish property rights Council

The Israeli government has given renewed impetus to the pursuit of Jewish property claims worldwide by setting up a new National Council for the restoration of Jewish property rights. (With thanks: Edwin, Yitzhak)

The Council, set up recently by government resolution, will advise the Israeli Prime Minister and government on policy regarding property lost or seized from Holocaust victims in Europe and North Africa and from Jews who left Arab countries as refugees. Such property ranges from real estate, financial assets, art and Judaica to private and communal property.

The Council will submit recommendations to the government at least every six months. Of the eight members serving for four years on the Council, two will be experts representing Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Nine members will come from government ministries.

Under the Olmert government, a new ministry for Senior Citizens' Affairs, reporting to the Prime Minister, was created under the leadership of Rafi Eitan, head of the Pensioners' party.

The government resolution formalises the transfer of responsibility for Jewish property rights and registration from the Ministry of Justice to the Ministry for Senior Citizens' Affairs.

Read announcement by the Prime Minister's Office (Hebrew)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The dark side of Abe Hayeem, Iraqi Jew

Over at The Guardian, Abe Hayeem, an architect and member of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, has been busy taking the glitz off the celebrations for Tel Aviv's hundreth anniversary by rewriting its history as a dark tale of colonialism and conquest.

He disingenuously omits a key reason for the founding and growth of Tel Aviv: Jews wished to escape the predominantly Arab city of Jaffa. Nowhere does he refer to the Jaffa Riots, when an Arab mob killed dozens of Jaffa's Jewish residents. Thereafter many Jews left Jaffa for Tel Aviv.

The irony that Abe Hayeem comes from a family of Iraq Jews, themselves, 'ethnically cleansed' from their homeland, has not escaped commenters:


Perhaps next week you will write an article condemning the mistreatment and expropriation of the Jews of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Egypt ....

And perhaps pigs might fly.

If the Arab regimes had not driven out their Jewish populations, then there might not have been the same need for Israel to house them all.

And Tom Wonacott comments:

Having noted that you are a Jew from Iraq which numbered in 1948 about 120,000, would you care to discuss why the Arabs in Iraq (and everywhere else in the Middle East) chose to persecute, harass and evict the Jews? Today, fewer than 100 Jews remain in Iraq. What had the Jews in Iraq done to deserve being run off from their homes, and their possessions confiscated? Did any Arab take the time to ask these Jews even if they were Zionist? I know that this is off topic to a "peace activist" interested in the "occupation", but you are the one discussing the "dark secrets" of Tel Aviv. What about the dark secrets of the Arab world? How about your own family? Certainly, your family history would be interesting on this subject. The Arabs held all Jews at "gunpoint" to discourage the creation of a Jewish state as the quotes below so obviously show. Maybe as a non Zionist(?) Jew, you feel that the Arabs had every right to blame all Jews for the creation of Israel?:

November 24, 1947 In a key address to the Political Committee of the U.N. General Assembly on the morning of November 24, 1947, just five days before that body voted on the partician plan for Palestine, Heykal Pasha, an Egyptian delegate, made the following statement: The United Nations ... should not lose sight of the fact that the proposed solution might endanger a million Jews living in the Moslem countries. ... If the United Nations decided to partition Palestine they might be responsible for very grave disorders and for the massacre of a large number of Jews.

November 24, 1947
In an afternoon session of the Political Committee of the U.N. General Assembly on November 24, 1947, the Palestinian delegate to the UN, Jamal Husseini, representing the Arab Higher Committee of Palestine to the UN General Assembly, made the following threat:

"It should be remembered that there were as many Jews in the Arab world as there are in Palestine whose positions might become very precarious. November 28, 1947 Iraq's Foreign Minister Fadil Jamali, at the 126th Plenary Meeting of the UN General Assembly stated: "Not only the uprising of the Arabs in Palestine is to be expected but the masses in the Arab world cannot be restrained. The Arab-Jewish relationship in the Arab world will greatly deteriorate.

I would be interested in your comments on this subject.

Sadly, Abe Hayeem's reply betrays a woeful ignorance of why his own family was forced out of Iraq, recycling the old propaganda myths that the community was forced out by Zionist bombs, and quoting Rachel Shabi's theory that Jews and Muslims coexisted in perfect harmony until those evil European colonialists forced the Iraqi Jews to live under their yoke in Israel. Both myths have been debunked here and here. See also here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Aladdin conference bolsters coexistence myth

The Aladdin conference held earlier this year spawned an alarming development. Jewish organisations were complicit in reinforcing the 'Golden Age' myth of harmonious coexistence between Jews, Christians and Muslims in order to get the Arab and Muslim world to condemn Holocaust denial. Just as worrying, Jewish speakers joined Arabs and Muslims in whitewashing the Arab/Muslim link with Nazism, portraying the Holocaust as a purely European phenomenon. The conference concealed the Sephardi/Mizrahi 'forgotten exodus' from Arab countries. In other words, Ashkenazi and Sephardi narratives of suffering were made to compete: the Ashkenazi 'won'. The Arab/Muslim world condemned Holocaust denial, but at the expense of historical truth, and with dubious dividends to Jews and Israel. Read Veronique Chemla's impassioned analysis in Front Page magazine.

"A recent example of the vitality of that myth was offered by the launch conference of the Aladdin Project at UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) Headquarters on March 27, 2009[11].

"About 800 diplomats, including Israeli ambassadors, ministers, presidents of Jewish associations, rabbis, bishop, imams, media, especially from the Muslim world, and artists attended that prestigious conference.

"In compliance with the myth, Jewish, Christian and Muslim orators concealed Islamic Anti-Semitism[12], dhimmitude and the Jewish “Forgotten Exodus”[13] from the Muslim world. They whitewashed the Islamic world from any participation in the Holocaust or any link with Nazis[14], and praised Muslim Righteous among the Nations as well as King Muhammed V of Morocco and the Bey of Tunisia who had protected “their” Jews. So, Muslims officials easily condemned Holocaust denial and expressed their sympathy for the Jewish victims.

"Let’s hear Abdoulaye Wade, President of the Republic of Senegal and current President of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), asserting the myth:

There have never been historical contentions among Muslims and Jews. On the contrary, from the Charter of Medina in 622 to Arab-ruled medieval Spain and the Ottoman Empire, history teaches us that in different periods Jews and Muslims have been able to live together in peace and respect each other. Jews were often protected by Muslim monarchs.

"It was quite bizarre to hear that ode before Muslim Judenrein countries’ officials.

"Orators committed shocking confusions, West-bashing and Israel-bashing stances, which are parts of the myth.

"For instance, controversial and anti-Israeli Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosny[15] said on President Hosni Mubarak's behalf that the Holocaust was a “transgression against Islam and Muslims (. . . ) because their Semitic brothers were killed in such a great number”. By qualifying Jews and Muslims as “Semites”, that speech denies both what “anti-Semitism” means - Jew-hating - and the existence of a Jewish people. In 2001, Farouk Hosni had invited convicted French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy to speak in Cairo. On May 21, 2009, philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, director Claude Lanzmann and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel expressed outrage at Hosny’s candidacy for UNESCO Director General[16]. On September 9, 2009, Serge Klarsfeld, the famous Nazi hunter, backed Hosni “because of his public position on the Holocaust[17]. He also said that Hosny had expressed repentance for his speech about burning Israeli books and that he took recent measures in favour of the Jewish culture in Egypt, such as restoring synagogues and communication of the Egyptian Jewish community’s archives. Paris vaut bien une messe (“Paris is well worth a mass”), as King Henry IV is said to have declared…

"Another example. Controversial Grand Mufti of Bosnia Mustafa Cerić reading a speech on behalf of the President of Bosnia, and André Azoulay[18], member of the Aladdin Project Experts Committee and advisor of the King of Morocco, exhorted to fight both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Islamophobia is a term used against the West in order to prevent any critical discussion of Islam[19].

"The West was stigmatized too through slavery and imperialism. President Wade vilified [Transatlantic] “slavery which lasted for five centuries”; that historical period of time corresponds to the European trade slaveries and avoids evoking the lasting Transafrican and transoceanic trade slaveries led by Muslims. That discourse has victimized Africans in a claiming position demanding repentance towards Europe. Muslim orators denounced French or British empires, but presented the “Arab empire” as a quite natural fact. The reason is that the European empires were not led by Muslims and did not intend the expansion of Islam.

"President Wade also advocated cultural relativism which actually seeks to destroy universal human rights considered as Western concepts:

Beyond worldwide admitted norms, nothing is more relative than a value of culture and civilization. The truth of an era is not necessarily the one of another. What is the norm of a society may be a counter value in another one. The dialogue of cultures and civilizations can only blossom and prosper in the nuance and the relativism”.

"Concerning the Near-East, Mauritania’s Former President Ely Ould Mohamed Vall evoked his “Palestinian brothers”’ sufferings.

"And, while ignoring the Palestinian Autority’s revisionism[20] and President Mahmoud Abbas’ Holocaust denial writings[21] Jacques Chirac, Former President of France declared:

I told the Israelis that settlement building was a mistake. You don’t make peace with your neighbour by expropriating his land, uprooting his trees, and cordoning off his roads.

"Jacques Chirac’s reference to Israel revealed how the audience was divided: pro-Israeli stances were cheered by Jews, and Israel-bashing was applauded by Muslims.

A Myth-Endorsed “Call to Conscience”:

"A “Call to Conscience” to fight Holocaust denial was then signed by Jacques Chirac, Simone Veil, Honorary President of the FMS and former deportee, and President Wade. Hundreds of intellectuals signed it.

"That “Call” endorses too that myth by alleging that “Muslims and Jews (…) for centuries - in Persia, throughout the Middle East, in North Africa and across the Ottoman Empire – (…) lived together often in harmony”. So, the rule is “harmony”.

"That “Call” also refers to “values of justice and fraternity”, and not to liberty and equality, because Muslims must not consider dhimmis as equals. It evokes “intolerance and racism”, but not “anti-Semitism” or “anti-Judaism”.

"In accordance with the myth, it asserted that the authors of the Holocaust were “Nazi Germany and its European accomplices. It recalls the actions of the Righteous in Europe and in the Arab and Muslim world[22].

"Moreover, it supports the “two-state solution” to the conflict between “Israelis and Palestinians”, as if the Muslim world had accepted Israel's legitimacy as a Jewish state. Thus, that Call politicizes the Holocaust without reason, and ignores other solutions[23].

A Myth vs. History

"Muslim orators opposed that myth to Jews for all the above reasons and in order to prevent any claim related to the Jewish Exodus.

"Is that myth the basis for Islamic acceptance of fighting Holocaust denial? Will the Islamic world book fairs accept books dealing with taboo topics, such as the alliance of Nazis and Muslim leaders, the Muslim Bosnian SS division’s participation in the Holocaust or Arab leaders’ Nazi councillors[24]? Will the OIC condemn the pro-Nazi past of some of its Member States? Will it make act of repentance for Arafat’s “hero[25], Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini, striving to persuade the Nazis to kill Jews living in the Middle East? The Holocaust remains a sensitive topic, and some Muslim leaders, such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, instrumentalize and trivialize it[26].

"Why did Jews endorse that myth which denies their history -- some Jewish leaders privately expressed critics about Farouk Hosni --? Extreme politeness? For the sake of the “Muslim sensitiveness”? However, Jews are sensitive too…

"That myth has also been endorsed by Public authorities for the sake of social peace or public order. If Jewish organizations contradict that myth, they may be blamed for a possible interreligious clash and its consequences in terms of anti-Semitic incidents.

"The FMS did not challenge the myth because of its dynamic progressive strategy. It aims to fight against the Holocaust denial, which fuels anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, through gaining Muslim leaders’ support in order to present its books in the Islamic world Book Fairs and to introduce history of the Holocaust in the Muslim world’s school textbooks.

"By ignoring the Sephardic history, the FMS fuelled a “concurrence des mémoires” (rivalry of memories) between Sephardim, a generic word used to refer to Jews from Spain, Portugal, North Africa and Middle East descent, and Ashkenazim, a generic term used to refer to Jews from Central and Eastern Europe descent[27]. It seems quite contradictory for Jewish organizations both to endorse that myth[28] and to advocate in favour of exiled Jews from Arab countries, Turkey and Iran, before Muslim leaders.

"That myth has been repeated for decades with no positive effect upon the situation of European Jews and Israelis. It has not allowed an improvement in Jewish-Muslim dialogue[29]. It marginalizes moderate Muslims, because it denies the need for a critical discussion or a reform of Islam. It has also failed in upgrading the relations between the Jewish state and the Muslim world."

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