Monday, October 31, 2011
Jerry Gordon: Bat Ye’or, thank you for consenting to this interview.
Bat Ye’or: Thank you for inviting me.
Jerry Gordon: You were born and raised in Egypt. Could you tell us about your family’s heritage?
Bat Ye’or: I was born in a family of mixed heritage. My mother was French and grew up in Paris. Her mother, who was British, had married a Frenchman. They were emancipated and non-observant Jews, well integrated into French culture, counting among their family painters and writers. Members of my mother’s family were also living in Egypt and were prominent leaders of the Alexandrine Jewish community.The picture was very different on my father’s side. The Orebi were observant Italian Jews, who spoke Arabic, several other languages and were less Westernized. My grand-father received the title of Bey under the last Ottoman sultan. He died when my father was thirteen years old.Both families were related and belonged to the same educated and wealthy Westernized Jewish bourgeoisie, sharing the same social milieu. My mother loved reading and followed the cultural events in France. She gave us her taste for literature. We always had plenty of books at home. As far as I can remember, I was always reading.
After the Italian racial laws were decreed by Mussolini in 1938, my father requested Egyptian nationality that had been established only in 1924. Usually it was denied to Jews, but he did obtain it. He could hardly guess then, that less then 20 years later he would leave Egypt stripped of everything, including his nationality.
Jerry Gordon: What was it like growing up as a Jew in Egypt prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948?
Bat Ye’or: In my childhood we were more worried by the Nazi advance toward Alexandria and the war in Europe. In Egypt we knew about the extermination of European Jewry, my mother worried about her parents living in occupied Paris, wearing the yellow star. Her two brothers and uncles were hiding in the so-called free zone. When the Germans approached Alexandria, the populace around us grew menacing and we left Cairo and hide in the countryside. Later, after the war, the Muslim Brotherhood and the nationalists triggered a wave of assassinations and violent demonstrations against the British and mainly against Jews. I only knew of the ordeals suffered by the Jews living in the poor quarters from my parents. We lived in a residential area, with many Europeans. We were protected children, going out only with our nannies and chauffeur.
My parents recommended that we never speak of Israel or of any policy even with friends. We had the feeling of being spied upon, even by our Muslim servant. Then when Jews were arbitrarily jailed or expelled from their jobs, or the country, a climate of fear and insecurity shrouded us. Violent pogroms erupted; mobs killed Jews in the street, raped Jewish women, vandalized Jewish shops, and burned Jewish schools and hospitals. All Jewish assets were sequestered, including those of my father. Jews were fired from administrative jobs and liberal professions. We lived with the fear that life could end at any moment.
During WWII, the Jewish Palestinian soldiers in the British army had trained the young Egyptian Jews for self-defense and as Zionists. Hence the Jewish quarter could be defended when attacked and young Zionists could clandestinely reach Palestine.
Jerry Gordon: After the Revolt of the Free Officers Movement in 1952 and toppling of the aristocracy under King Farouk I, were restrictions placed on the Egyptian Jewish community?
Bat Ye’or: The restrictions of 1947-48 were never totally removed. Jews could hardly find a job and were under police supervision. The anti-Jewish hatred became customary, especially with the arrivals of numerous German Nazi criminals who organized the anti Jewish policy of the new government. Jews were attacked and humiliated in public places and they could not answer or defend themselves. They found themselves at the mercy of anonymous denunciations. Young people realized they had no future in Egypt and many left for Israel or to study in Europe. The community was already organizing the last phase of its 3.000 years of history.
Jerry Gordon: What affect did the Israeli spy scandal, the Lavon Affair of 1954, have on the status of Egypt’s Jews and your family? It increased the animosity against the Jews, their segregation, isolation and close watch by the secret police. What happened to you and your family after the outbreak of the Suez Crisis and First Sinai War in 1956?
Bat Ye’or: The anti-Jewish apartheid system deepened. Jews were expelled from clubs, forbidden to go to restaurants, cinemas and public places. Many were immediately expelled from the country or thrown into jail. The secret police would come at night to arrest them. Others, like my mother, were under house arrest and their bank assets frozen. Their telephones were suppressed. Many Jews were isolated and could not communicate. Many left the country immediately, abandoning everything. I remember seeing their flats and beautiful villas ransacked. Each one was leaving in secret, fearing to be prevented from leaving their country which had become a jail.
Just before my mother was put under house arrest, I accompanied her to the bank where she quickly withdrew her jewels. We sold our flat for nothing since the pillage of Jewish homes had lowered prices. I choose twenty books among the hundreds we had and we sold all the rest. This was heart-breaking, as I always wanted to be a writer. I had accumulated many diaries since an early age, and later essays and literary criticisms. I realized that I was witnessing the agony of the Egyptian Jewish community and I made notes for a book. One night I burnt them all in the chimney. It was like dying. I knew we could only leave with two cases each and that the censors would read every piece of paper.
Families were dispersed in all directions. One sister went to London with her husband and child, another planned to go to Belgium, cousins went to Brazil, others went to Switzerland and France. As people were leaving secretly, I never knew whether I would be seeing them for the last time. I was living through the death of a world, not knowing if I would survive the next day. While the mob rejoiced in pillaging, I observed closely the inner destruction of family, friendships, bonds, society and the dignity and resolve of the victims.
By then, I had very few friends remaining. For me they belonged to a beloved and disappearing world that was dying with a part of my life, where everything being so transient also became so precious. In the last months preceding our departure, I walked alone throughout Cairo and Alexandria, their old quarters, their museums and every place that now was deserted of friends and family. For years I was fascinated by Egyptology, art and history. I knew I would never see these treasures again.
We left at night in secret. My father and mother could hardly walk. Thanks to a lawyer my father had at last sold a parcel of land. The proceeds from this sale, together with my mother’s jewels were sent out of the country through a clandestine channel. The Swiss consulate gave us a Nansen passport since Egyptian Jews were allowed to leave Egypt only on condition that they renounce their nationality and all their belongings in Egypt and never come back. We all signed such a declaration.
We had reservations on a KLM flight. We were kept at the airport for hours, our bodies searched, our cases emptied on the floor, insulted, humiliated and threatened by an Egyptian Sudanese officer who was cracking a whip (curbash) around us. My meager twenty Egyptian pounds were confiscated. Finally, they let us depart. We stopped at Amsterdam where my other sister came from Belgium, with her husband and baby to see us and tell us that money and jewels were safely deposited in a bank.It was strange to see them in an Amsterdam hotel. We were now refugees, homeless, stateless, in a world where we knew no one. We were full of apprehension on the threshold of a new life, where we would destroy our past to build the future. It was my first night in exile.
Read article in full
Sunday, October 30, 2011
If anyone is going to prove that Jews in Tunisia have a future after last week's elections - it is Patrick Sebag.
While Sebag's interests - pig-farming and distilling alcohol, among others - may be unusual to us, to the resurgent Islamists of the Ennahda party, winners of 40 percent of the vote, they will seem a red rag to a bull - breaking two Muslim taboos at once.
Yet according to an upbeat article in the Tunisian magazine Tunisie-Mag, Sebag, who owns one of Tunis' top disco-bars and a tourist village, has chosen this critical time in Tunisian politics to announce that he will be investing 250,000 dinars in G'est Hotel, a new tourist village.
Another Tunisian-Jewish property developer active in Djerba, Gabriel Kabla is about to invest 150,000 dinars.
The article triumphantly declares that despite predictions of a mass exodus when the Arab Spring erupted, Tunisia is still home to some 1,500 Jews. This is all the more remarkable as the Jews are strongly identified with the deposed Ben Ali regime.
But Jews are attempting to engage with the new political reality. Not one, but two Jews have stood in the elections - Elie Trabelsi and Gilles-Jacob Lellouche. (Neither was elected.)
The article also reveals that the leader of the Jewish community, Roger Bismuth, has had discreet talks with the Ennahda party to seek reassurances that the Jewish community has a future.
This accounts for his mealy-mouthed pronouncements to journalists, trying to put a brave face on the election results.
It would be nice to share in Tunisie-Mag's optimism, but the Ennahda party intends to impose an Islamic state governed by Shari'a law. The Jewish entrepreneurs are secure in the knowledge that they can always decamp to France if things don't work out. And Roger Bismuth would do well to remember Churchill's words, “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile - hoping it will eat him last”.
Read article in full (French)
Friday, October 28, 2011
The David Gerbi case demonstrated that one Jew in Libya was one too many. Elsewhere in the region too, the Arab Spring has so far been a bitter disappointment as far as the safeguarding of human and minority rights is concerned. Lyn Julius writing in The Jewish Chronicle says antisemitism is at fever pitch:
Two days after Yom Kippur, a man called David Gerbi was bundled out of Tripoli in a military plane. Was any hope that post-Gaddafi Libya could become a tolerant and pluralistic society flown out with him?
Gerbi, a 56-year old Jewish psychiatrist, had returned to his native Libya after 44 years of exile in Rome to assist the anti-Gaddafi rebels. His dream was to spend the high holidays praying in Tripoli's Dar al-Bishi synagogue.
With the blessing of a local sheikh, Gerbi took a sledgehammer to the sealed entrance. The building had stood derelict since the remaining Jews were expelled in 1967, his family among them. The international news media captured the incongruous sight of Gerbi, wrapped in his tallit, praying amid the rubble.
Gerbi's hurried exit had to be arranged by the Italian government after he received death threats. Hundreds of angry protesters gathered in Tripoli and Benghazi to call for his deportation. Crowds tried to storm his hotel. His crime? He had broken into an "archaelogical site" without permission.
Call him a hero or a madman, Gerbi showed that the Libyan National Transitional Council may not be ready to "walk the walk" of democracy, pluralism and human rights. To Gerbi, the international community's huge investment in Libyan regime change had been repaid with duplicity.
What is shocking is that those calling for his deportation did not pretend to be only against Zionists. They shamelessly advertised their bigotry, holding signs that said: "There is no place for the Jews in Libya." One Jew is one too many in a country that has done everything possible to be rid of them.
The Jews had a place in Libya long before the Arabs. The community goes back 2,300 years, predating Islam by a millenium. But, after hundreds died during the Second World War and in a devastating pogrom in 1945, more than 90 per cent of the 38,000-strong community fled to Israel. The remaining 6,000 Jews were driven out in 1967, their property confiscated by Gaddafi.
From almost one million Jews in Arab lands in 1948, only 4,000 remain. Antisemitism has reached fever pitch. Arabs are so unlikely to meet a Jew that satanic conspiracy theories flourish. In Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began, this year has seen attacks on two synagogues and a raid on a wedding party on the island of Djerba, still home to 1,500 Jews. After this week's election the Islamist Ennahda party is the largest single political group in Tunisia; a new constitution may well criminalise
normalisation with Israel.
The 2,500-member Jewish community in Morocco is a useful showcase for interfaith coexistence. But as in Bahrain, where King Hamid bin Isa al-Khalifa protects his country's 36 Jews, the Jews stand or fall with the monarchy. In Yemen, the 250-member remnant is dwindling fast, its future tied to the precarious rule of President Saleh.
Those who had high hopes that the Arab Spring would usher in an era of freedom and tolerance for minorities should have learned from post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. Iraqi Jews living in Israel and the West wished for nothing more than to be compensated for their lost property and a chance to visit.
One did visit Baghdad in 2004. Marina Benjamin observed in her book The Last Jews of Babylon: "In the postwar atmosphere of hatred and suspicion Jews were once again the bogeyman. Variously portrayed as friends of the foreign occupier, Zionist spies, or simply as individuals returning under cover of false identities to reclaim property stolen from them in 1951, the Jews were not to be trusted." The antisemitism she witnessed in Iraq is now so virulent that there are desperate efforts to get the seven remaining Iraqi Jews out to safety after their names were revealed by Wikileaks.
In Egypt, where the "Jewish community" is now just a handful of old ladies, "Jew" is a term of abuse employed to smear political opponents or foreigners. In February, it was enough for the CBS reporter Lara Logan to be mistaken for a Jew: 200 men assaulted her, chanting "Jew, Jew" in Tahrir Square.
What begins with the Jews never ends with them. Middle East Christians are being targeted as never before - with or without the connivance of the authorities. In the latest violence in Cairo, 26 were massacred, mainly Coptic Christians. Joining the conspiracy theorists, Egypt's Prime Minister said, " There are hidden hands involved." Translation: the Jews were behind it.
As far as the safeguarding of human and minority rights is concerned, the Arab Spring has been a bitter disappointment.The Gerbi case offered the interim Libyan government the chance to break with the Jew-hating past and reset Libya's relationship with its Jews. So far, it has failed the test.Read article in full
Did Libya deceive the West ? (JCPA)
Creating a place for Libya's Jews by R. Abraham Cooper (National Post)
Rachel Shabi, author of Not the enemy, has something of a reputation for pushing the myth of Jewish-Arab coexistence - an idyll, she believes, cruelly shattered by Israel's creation. Perhaps she was not the best person for The Jewish Chronicle to ask to report on the aftermath of the Islamist victory in the Tunisian elections. My 'fisking' appears in italics:
"They naturally have a majority," says Tunisia's Jewish community leader, Roger Bismuth. "But more important is what is going to happen in the next few weeks."
As the Islamist Nahda party secured about 40 per cent of the vote in Tunisia's historic elections this week, the country's tiny Jewish community was wondering what this means for them.
These were the first free elections in Tunisia, and the first in the Arab Spring after a string of uprisings brought down reviled dictators earlier this year.
Now, the Nahda party will need to form a coalition with secular, centre-left parties - and already has pledged to put in place a democratic system that will safeguard minorities.
Oh yes? How can a democratic system safeguarding minority rights be compatible with Shari'a law?
Among a national population of just over 10 million, Tunisia's Jewish community stands at around 1,500. Once it was 100,000, but Israel's creation in 1948 and Tunisia's independence from French rule in 1956 together resulted in a Jewish exodus.
It was not Israel's creation which resulted in a Jewish exodus - it was the Arab response to Israel's creation, scapegoating their innocent Jewish citizens. It was not Tunisian independence, per se, it was the deliberate policy of Arabisation and marginalisation of the Jews.
Tunisia's remaining Jewish community is relatively well-integrated. Shoppers at a kosher butcher in Tunis wear conspicuous Hebrew-lettered jewellery; the store bears both Hebrew and Arabic lettering and has been owned by a Muslim family since the early 1950s.
This example does not illustrate coexistence and interfaith harmony as Ms Shabi would have us believe, it's simply a desire to grab a share of the profits. In almost all Arab and Muslim countries from the late 1940s Jews had to have Muslim business partners, by law. Presumably the Jewish partner in the Kosher butcher's business departed Tunisia leaving his Muslim partner in charge.
Along the road, the Grand Synagogue is still functional, although it has a shrunken congregation, whose prayer-song does not make full use of the acoustics of the giant, bright blue- and-orange dome.
Security outside the synagogue was increased earlier this year, after a crowd of extremists demonstrated there, chanting anti-Jewish slogans.
Immediately after the revolution that brought down former president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, Israel wanted Tunisia's Jews to migrate. But the suggestion did not generate much enthusiasm. "People living in Tunisia now don't want to go," says Mr Bismuth, who is 85. "I love to live here and will never leave my community. We are very attached to our country and want to remain normal citizens."
Roger Bismuth is dhimmi-in-chief of the Jewish community. Would you really expect him to say anything else?
Most of Tunisia's Jews live on the island of Djerba, whose Jewish history, including one of the oldest synagogues in the world, is carefully preserved.
There is a good reason for the preservation of the Djerba synagogue - it is the island's only tourist attraction.
Another community, in the port town of La Goulette, near Tunis, is home to the country's only Jewish candidate in the recent elections: Jacob Lellouche, representing the Republican People's Union (UPR), a small, leftist party.
He did not win a seat in the new assembly, which is mandated to draft the country's constitution and set an election date within a year. "But I am really proud to have participated," says the 50-year-old, who owns a kosher restaurant in La Goulette. "Now we all have a lot of work to do, to get Tunisia on its feet."
Mr Lellouche, who is secular, does not believe that politics and religion go together. Still, he says: "I'm not afraid of Nahda, there is nothing to worry about, not yet." He is setting up a project to teach young people traditional skills, and says: "If minorities want to be part of Tunisian society, they have to be involved."
Mr Lellouche's initiative is commendable, but are the Tunisians listening? Neither he nor his party got elected to Parliament.
This community, proud of its long history in Tunisia, hopes it will continue. "We are brothers and big friends," says Albert Chiche, who runs a Jewish retirement home, of relations between Muslims and Jews. "We celebrate each other's festivals, we hug. We hope that this will not change."
Albert Chiche could have said, 'we hug, but the embrace is squeezing the lifeblood out of us.' The Jewish community in Tunisia is one percent of what it was, and any attempt to put a positive spin on this massive exercise in ethnic cleansing is disingenuous.
This story from the Jewish Journal of LA is two years old now, but I am posting it to put on record the rise of antisemitism in Indonesia, ' the world's most populous Muslim democracy'. The community in Surabaya was founded by Iraqi Jews. There are only two dozen, intermarried, Jews living there now: (with thanks: Andrew)
Last October (2009), when Muslim extremists threatened to burn down the only synagogue still standing in the Republic of Indonesia, Saul Abraham, 69, the synagogue’s caretaker, and his younger brother, Alfred, 66, fled the country.
“We left the same night,” Saul said, in the LAX lounge with his Los Angeles-based relatives, waiting for the flight that will carry the brothers off to what they believe is their only real haven: Israel.
Fearing for their lives, the brothers, both retired technicians, booked the first flight to the West Coast via Singapore without any time to pack or say goodbye to friends in their native Surabaya. They were welcomed in Los Angeles by their eldest brother, Jacob (real name withheld upon request), an L.A. resident since 1976, and sister Lily, 67, an L.A. resident since 1990. Lily decided to move to Israel, too.
'The Islam is very bad there,” Alfred said of Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population. Saul and Alfred are fluent in Dutch and Indonesian and proficient in Arabic. They speak some English and no Hebrew. Jacob, a retired lawyer, served as the family’s unofficial spokesman and translator. The Muslims never torched the 60-year-old synagogue and the million-dollar property on which it is situated, Jacob said. Indigent Indonesian Jews who are housed on the property protested. The Muslims are expected to leave the synagogue alone in part because it is now under the care of an assimilated Jewish couple whose children are intermarried. An estimated 25 to 30 Jews live in Surabaya today.
Read article in full
Being Jewish in Indonesia
Thursday, October 27, 2011
A Jewish shrine in Iraq has been converted into a mosque 'for commercial reasons', although the local Shi'as had no tradition of revering the shrine as a Muslim holy place. (With thanks: Sami)
An Iraqi gentleman by the name of Hussain Hilli wrote to Professor Shmuel Moreh, formerly head of the Arabic studies department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, quoting an article in the Arabic press by Ali Elumeiri alleging that the ignorance of simple Iraqis is being abused by 'turbaned people' (ie mullahs) on the make. These mullahs are "far from the real Islam and its sublime principles. This intention to keep people ignorant, is in order to acquire illegal and forbidden wealth," Elumeiri writes.
Elumeiri recalls visiting the shrine of Ezra the Scribe at al-Uzair in Amarah province as a child. No one used to visit it as a religious Muslim shrine, he reported, but Muslims treated it as a historic site and came to see its ornamentation and Hebrew inscriptions.
By turning the site into a Muslim shrine the 'turbaned religious people' were able to split the income earned from the visitors with the local rabbi. "What is important is that they get some profit in their pockets. This is what is happening in Iraq since the US invasion."
The Los Angeles Times blog and Israel National News carred reports three years ago revealing the fact that the shrine was now being revered as a Muslim holy site. Repairs to the shrine in 2000 were thought to have been paid for by the tiny Jewish community in Baghdad.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry document from 1961, recently reprinted here, provides a useful overview of the plight of each Jewish community in Arab lands. The blog Elder of Ziyon focuses on the proposed exchange of 100,000 Iraqi Jews for 100,000 Palestinian Arab refugees. The Iraqi government soon dropped the idea: it was easier to terrorise the Jews into leaving. Here's an extract of the document, via Elder of Ziyon:
How the Jews of Iraq Became Refugees: An eye-witness account, written by a visitor from overseas early in 1949 shortly after the conclusion of the Arab war against Israel, presents a graphic picture of the position of Iraqi Jewry at that time: “The Jews of Iraq” it stated, “are in a state of panic. They have been attacked in the streets, have had their businesses broken into and an alarming number have been murdered in cold blood. They have been dismissed from all branches of public and civil service, must submit to a curfew every evening and have been barred from most of the general amenities available to the ordinary citizen. Many have made desperate attempts to escape, but without success.”
When the United Nations Economic Survey Commission for the Middle East visited Baghdad in October 1949, the then Iraqi Premier was reported to have proposed that 100,000 Iraqi Jews out of some 160,000 to 180,000 be sent to Israel in exchange for 100,000 Palestine Arab refugees. The Jews were to leave their property in Iraq and take over the property in Israel of 100,000 Arabs. If this suggestion of a population transfer and mutual financial compensation was really made, it was soon dropped by the Iraqi Government. It was apparently found easier to terrorize the Jews into leaving by fixing a time limit for their departure and enacting legislation to seize their possessions for the benefit of the Iraqi exchequer.
In the third week of December 1949, a second wave of anti-Jewish pogroms began. Thousands were imprisoned on charges of “Zionism” or taken into “protective custody.” When, as expected, large numbers thereupon applied for exit permits to Israel, legislation was rushed through freezing Jewish accounts in the banks and forbidding the sale of property without special permit. Jews were permitted to leave with only 50 kgs of luggage per person. On 10 March, 1950, the Iraqi Government issued a decree blocking the property of all Jews who, on leaving the country, “had relinquished their nationality.” A special custodian of Jewish property was appointed, who began immediately to sell it by public auction.
To speed up the departure of the Jewish community, the Iraqi Government set a time limit for it, fixing 21 June as the final date. As a further incentive a series of laws was enacted designed to make the position of the Jews in the country untenable. Restrictions were imposed on their movements. They were barred from schools, hospitals and other public institutions. They were refused import and export licences for carrying on their business. At the same time the arrests continued. So effective were these oppressive measures that by mid-July 1950 over 110,000 Iraqi Jews had registered for emigration and by June 1951 had left for Israel. By the end of 1951, the number of Iraqi Jews transferred to Israel amounted approximately to 125,000. Most of them were brought over by chartered aircraft. They arrived utterly destitute, carrying small bags which held all their belongings. Such was the end of what had been for centuries the most prosperous and cultured Jewish community of the East--a community which could trace its history back for more than 2,000 years, centuries before the Arabs had come to Iraq.
Operation “Magic Carpet”: The mass transfer of the Jews of Yemen to Israel differed in significant aspects from that of Iraqi Jewry. The modern immigration of Yemenite Jews had begun in the eighteen-eighties, when about 2,500 of them made their homes in Jerusalem and Jaffa. During the last few years before the First World War another 1,500 entered the country and settled in the villages of Judaea, Samaria and Galilee. The outbreak of the war interrupted this movement. When, after the First World War, Yemen became fully independent, the degrading anti-Jewish decrees were re-enacted, in particular that which required the compulsory conversion of Jewish orphans to Islam. There was a renewal of immigration to the Holy Land, though this involved the confiscation of the property of those who left.
After the Palestine Arab riots of 1929, the Imam of Yemen forbade the emigration of Jews to the Holy Land, so they had to escape secretly to the British-held port of Aden. There they lived for years in utter penury. In the final phase of the Second World War, when Jewish immigration from Europe was blocked, about 4,000 Yemenite Jews who had so escaped to Aden were admitted to Palestine. Altogether 17,000 Jews entered the country by way of Aden from 1923 to 1945, bringing the total of Yemenite Jews in Palestine in that year to approximately 22,000.
At the end of the Second World War, the trek to the Holy Land was resumed. Thousands of Jews streamed to Aden, but the Palestine immigration restrictions hindered their transfer, and they languished for several years in Aden, their number steadily increased by newcomers from the interior. After the UN decision of November, 1947, to partition Palestine, serious riots broke out in Aden itself. Many Jews were killed and the Jewish quarter was burned down. It was only in September 1948, five months after the establishment of the State of Israel, that the authorities in Aden permitted the refugees to proceed to their destination. As the sea passage was closed to these immigrants because the Egyptians controlled the Suez Canal and the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba, they had to be brought over by plane. By March 1949, all the Yemenite refugees in Aden had been transferred to Israel.
In the meantime, there had been a palace revolution in Yemen. The aged Imam Yahya had been murdered and two of his sons contested the throne. Anarchy prevailed and the Jews were the prime sufferers by it, robbed left and right by the troops of either side. After lengthy negotiations, the British authorities in Aden agreed to permit the departure of Jewish emigrants from that port, whereupon the Sultans under their protection who controlled the route from Yemen to Aden gave permission for departing Jews to pass through the Protectorate.
It was now that the total exodus of the Jews of Yemen began. Thousands managed to reach Aden, traversing an uncharted desert, leaving their homes and chattels, taking away little more than the Scrolls of the Law from their synagogues, to bring with them to the Holy Land. Most of them, men, women and children, came on foot. Many fell sick on the way. There were no doctors, no medicines, no food supplies. Malaria was rampant. Notwithstanding all this, the great venture succeeded and approximately 45,000 Jews were flown from Aden to Israel in what came to be known as “Operation Magic Carpet.”
That was the end of yet another great Jewish community in the Arab world whose origins went back to the days of the Bible. “In spite of all the difficulties encountered,” wrote a visitor from Israel, “it was a very different liquidation from that in the countries under Nazi control. No graves were dug, no doxology was sung. A whole living community with their Holy Books were saved from peril and degradation and brought over to Israel 'on the wings of eagles', as they themselves termed it in biblical phrase.”
Syria and Lebanon: At the time of the last census in 1943, the Jewish community of Syria numbered approximately 29,000, of whom 11,000 lived in Damascus and 17,000 in Aleppo. Four years later, the total had dwindled to 13,000. By 1960, only slightly more than 6,000 remained. The majority of those who had left the country proceeded to Israel.
It had been very difficult for them to obtain exit permits, the fees and taxes exacted by the authorities being far beyond their capacity. The Syrian frontier guards had instructions to fire on any Jew attempting to cross the border. If caught, the escaping Jews were liable to heavy fines and imprisonment. In spite of this, thousands took the risk and fled to Israel. Many Syrian Jews were arrested on charges of having helped others to leave. Arab policemen, detectives and informers are reported to have taken advantage of the situation and to have blackmailed well-to-do Jews, threatening to denounce them as having been involved in illegal emigration.
In the meantime, all kinds of restrictions had been imposed on the Syrian Jews. They were no longer permitted to buy and sell property, and their bank accounts were frozen. Some of these restrictions have now been lifted, but anyone desiring to leave the country is still required to turn over his immovable property to the Government. The economic condition of the small Jewish remnant is such that it has to rely on assistance from abroad to maintain its communal institutions.
Arab smugglers sometimes cruelly exploited the Jews who put their fate into their hands. In November 1950, 30 Syrian Jews were smuggled out of Syria by a band of Arab seamen who promised to bring them to Israel. Halfway between Beirut and Haifa, the Arabs turned on their passengers, stripped them of their valuables, murdered them in cold blood and threw their bodies overboard.
Libya: Iraq and Yemen were not the only Arab countries from which the Jewish communities had to be transferred.
In Libya there lived about 35,000 Jews, of whom two-thirds were resident in Tripoli and the remainder in Benghazi and the smaller towns. They had suffered terribly during the war years, when the country was under Axis control, many of them having died in the concentration camp at Giado from ill-treatment and disease. After its liberation, Libya came under British occupation, but the anti-Jewish propaganda conducted by the Arab League created new frictions and dangers for the Jews. A leading part in this campaign of incitement was taken by the Egyptian teachers and businessmen who came to Tripoli as officials of the British occupying authorities. When, in November 1945, anti-Jewish riots broke out in Egypt, organized Moslem mobs also attacked the Jewish quarter in Tripoli. In a pogrom which lasted three days, from 4 to 7 November, 130 Jews, women and children among them, were brutally murdered. Many were compelled to abjure their faith and embrace Islam in order to save their lives. Houses, shops and cinemas were looted and burnt down. In the wake of this savagery more than 31,000 Jews left for Israel. Since then, another 2,000 have come to settle here. Like the Jewish communities of Iraq and Yemen, Libyan Jewry has practically ceased to exist.
Egypt: At the time of the last Egyptian census held in 1947, 65,639 Jews were reported to be resident there. Unofficial estimates put the number as high as 90,000, which included Jews possessing British, French, Greek or Italian citizenship. The figure has now dwindled to 14,000, When, in 1948, Egypt joined the other Arab countries in invading Israel, it promulgated a series of anti-Jewish decrees and took severe measures against those suspected of “Zionist” activities. Much Jewish property was confiscated. Hundreds of Jewish families were driven out of their homes. Bombs were thrown into Jewish houses, causing heavy casualties in dead or wounded. On several occasions there were mob invasions of the Jewish quarter of Cairo, in which a number of Jews were killed and their houses and shops pillaged. The Jews of Egypt have since lived in a state of constant terror. A precipitate night began. By October-November 1950, approximately 27,000 had left the country. Of these, over 21,000 found sanctuary in Israel.
In November 1956, following the Sinai crisis, a ruthless expulsion of the Jewish community began. Hundreds were arrested and imprisoned under wretched conditions in Cairo and other cities. They included practically every leader in Egyptian-Jewish communal life. In the approved Nazi fashion they were led through the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, stoned and vilified by Arab hooligans. During the first three days of internment the men were kept without food. At the same time, a mass eviction of Jews began; thousands were notified that they had to go or face imprisonment. In the beginning, these measures were confined to the families of foreign Jews, many of whom had been resident in Egypt for generations past but had not been granted Egyptian citizenship. Gradually, however, the Egyptian Government began to enlarge its target. At the end of November 1956, its Minister for Religious Affairs caused an order of the Government to be read out in every mosque, stating that all Jews in Egypt were regarded as enemies of the country who would soon be expelled, and urging the population to refrain from any contact with them. Many Jews were interned and released only after signing formal declarations to the effect that they were ready to leave the country and would never return to it. They were also required to renounce all financial claims and to transfer to the Egyptian Government all assets they had left behind. Many of them were forced at gun-point to sign these declarations or beaten up till they agreed to do so. Those fortunate enough to get a passage were allowed to take with them only one suitcase of clothing and twenty Egyptian pounds. Following these steps, a whole complex of anti-Jewish measures was enforced; bank accounts were blocked, private and commercial property was confiscated, business firms were liquidated and Jewish employees dismissed. Jewish department stores, banks and other firms of long standing were sequestered. The value of the Jewish assets so confiscated or frozen ran into hundreds of millions of dollars. A special proclamation authorized the appointment of an administrator of the sequestered business firms with power to dispose of their claims and assets. The proclamation prohibited all direct or indirect transactions with any establishment whose property had been sequestered, and barred the execution of any contract concluded by them or for their benefit. These decrees were drastically enforced. The bulk of Jewish property in Egypt thus passed into Government hands.
The Jewish community was stripped of its communal assets as well. Jewish hospitals were taken over by the Egyptian army. The famous old synagogue in Cairo ceased to be an institution for religious worship and was turned into a Government-sponsored tourist attraction. Most of the smaller synagogues were closed. The activities of the Rabbinate were reduced to a minimum because of the lack of funds and the continued departure of large numbers of the community. Jewish lawyers who were Egyptian nationals were expelled from the bar. Jewish engineers were denied the right to exercise their profession. The Egyptian populace was directed by the Medical Association of Egypt not to consult Jewish physicians or surgeons. Many of the Jews who went abroad left behind large fortunes, apartment houses, land and commercial enterprises. Before departing they were searched and had to surrender all their personal belongings. Of those who went out of Egypt as a result of these official measures, 15,000 Jews came to settle in Israel. All in all, some 36,000 Jews from Egypt have come to live in Israel since the establishment of the State.
The Maghreb: In the three Moslem countries of Northwest Africa known as the Maghreb--Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco--populous Jewish communities had been settled for many centuries. Their total number, according to recent official estimates, was approximately 400,000. For centuries they were exposed to every form of arbitrary oppression and ill-treatment.1 The majority of them lived in circumstances of great poverty, many of them below the subsistence minimum. In some of the cities of Morocco they were herded together in overcrowded and shut-in quarters, the so-called Mellahs. “The squalor, decay and hopelessness of these quarters,” writes a recent eye-witness, “defy description. Heaps of refuse and dirt cover the whole area, in which thousands of human beings, men, women and children, are crammed together. Trachoma, tuberculosis, leprosy, and other skin diseases are endemic. Emaciated women surrounded by sick children lead half-blind men down narrow alleys. At Casablanca, about 50,000 Jews out of a total of 85,000 live in the Mellah; at Marrakesh over 17,000. Of an aggregate Jewish community of 220,000 in Morocco, over 100,000 are beggars living in conditions of utter destitution.”2
The spread of Arab nationalism to the countries of North Africa has further aggravated the position of the Jewish communities there. The legal status and economic position they had enjoyed under French rule became imperilled. According to official estimates, the Jews of Algeria until recently had numbered between 120,000 and 130,000. The prolonged conflict between the French authorities and the “Front de la Liberation Nationale” rendered their situation most difficult and led to a progressive exodus from the country. Wedged in between the extremists on both sides, the Jews suffered many fatalities at the hands of terrorists. Since synagogues and Jewish schools were often located in Arab neighbourhoods, access to them became unsafe. In Algiers, the Great Synagogue had to be closed. During the anti-French outbreaks which occurred at the time of President de Gaulle's visit to Algiers in December 1960, that ancient House of Prayer was invaded by Arab mobs who tore the Holy Scrolls to pieces, broke the memorial stones for the dead off the walls and turned the whole place into a shambles. What the future may hold in store for the Jews of Algeria was indicated by a statement made on 27 January, 1961, by a spokesman of the “Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic” in Tunisia, in which he declared that the FLN was opposed to the emigration of Jews to Israel. In the light of the present position of the Jews in Morocco and other Arab countries which have attained independence, this statement strikes an ominous note.
The crisis in Algeria had disastrous consequences also for the Jews of Morocco. They live in constant fear of what the next day may bring. Whoever could, tried to get away. Altogether 150,000 Jews from Morocco settled in Israel between 1948 and 1957. During the last few years their emigration has been rendered ever more difficult. The recent tragedy of a boat full of Jewish refugees from Morocco which capsized off Gibraltar and in which about 40 men, women and children were drowned, illustrates to what straits Moroccan Jewry has come. As the Israel Minister for Foreign Affairs recently stated: “Basic civil rights which are granted to every man are arbitrarily denied to the Jews of Morocco, in contravention of the solemn undertakings given by that State when it attained independence and was admitted to the United Nations Organization. Freedom of movement and emigration does not exist for Jews. Postal and telegraphic communications between the Jews who live in Morocco and their families in Israel have been severed by the Government of Morocco. Jewish schools are being progressively taken over. Jewish families live in constant dread of detention and assault, of kidnapping and violence. An atmosphere of terror and insecurity, both physical and mental, prevails among the quarter of a million Jews of Morocco, and it is no wonder that they seek to flee for their lives and join their near and dear ones in Israel. They take flight in the full knowledge of the dangers that lie in wait for them, but the authorities of Morocco leave them no choice.”
How Israel Absorbed the Newcomers: Of the approximately half a million Jews from the countries of the Middle East and North Africa who entered Israel since 1948, the great majority arrived practically without any means of their own. The newcomers had to be provided with housing and employment, schools and medical services, many of them also with welfare assistance. No immigration restrictions were imposed by Israel on account of age, health, or physical defects. Many of them were “hard-core” cases--chronic invalids, blind people, backward children. A great many were of advanced age. Their arrival coincided with the transfer to Israel of another half million Jews from Central and Eastern Europe, among them the exhausted survivors of the concentration and DP camps. They all arrived at a time when the State was still in its infancy, struggling for its political and economic survival, and the country was suffering from a great dearth of food, equipment and buildings. The administrative, educational, social and health services of the new State were still in the process of being built up. The rehabilitation and integration of the newcomers constituted a major charge on the financial resources of the country. In fact, the entire economic and fiscal policy of the State was geared to the overriding task of providing them with homes and work. It has involved heavy sacrifices, lengthy periods of unemployment and a regime of severe austerity for the entire population. The integration was assisted by the generous financial support of the Jewish communities throughout the world, in particular of American Jewry, and by the economic aid of friendly Governments, but the brunt of this unprecedented challenge inevitably had to be borne by the people of Israel themselves.
Refugee settlement in Israel has not been the work of a select group of philanthropists and social workers. It has been a national effort. It could not have succeeded if it had not been so. The refugees were accepted from the moment of their arrival as free and equal members of society. They were not, as elsewhere, confined in camps. They were allowed to go freely to work.
During the initial phase they were temporarily housed on the outskirts of the towns and in rural areas, where they remained until work and permanent housing could be found for them. No less than 80% of the 125,000 Jews who came from Iraq, for instance, were at first so accommodated. The remaining 20% were either fixed up provisionally with relatives and friends in towns and villages or, if they were social cases, taken to hospitals and institutions. The same procedure was followed in the case of the immigrants from the Yemen, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Egypt and other Moslem countries. Until work could be found for them, the Jewish Agency bore the expenses of their maintenance, but as the rural development and public works schemes of the Government matured, they had little difficulty in securing employment.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
'Happily and freely' is how the Jews have always lived in Tunisia, and the rise to power of the Islamists ('moderate and pluralist') is only a little worrying. Well, Roger Bismuth, the Jewish community leader, would say that, wouldn't he? Rachel Shabi's bland and lazy piece in The Independent, quoting Bismuth at length, harks back to a mythical age of coexistence at variance with other accounts (See here and here). Contrast with the Ynet News article below.
Tunisia’s Jewish community, which dates back three millennia, used to number over 100,000 but has dwindled to 1500, in a country with a population of over 10 million. The creation of Israel in 1948 and Tunisian independence from French rule in 1956 were both factors in the exodus, mostly to those two countries. Now, after the ouster of reviled dictator Zine el AbidineBen Ali and as the country counts the votes for its first free elections, which were held on Sunday and have left the country's moderate islamist party Ennahda with the greatest share of the vote, this tiny community is cautious over what lies ahead.
“We have absolutely no problems living here,” says Roger Bismuth, 85, head of Tunisia’s Jewish community. “In periods like this we worry a little, because of the [Islamist] religious parties who have an agenda that may not be so good for us.”
The concerns are over a potential rise in power of Tunisia ’s previously banned Islamic Ennahda Renaissance) party, predicted to take a chunk of the votes. Ennahda campaigned over moderate, pluralist credentials, but secular Tunisians worry it could impose a religious agenda on a society that is one of the most liberal in the Arab world.
Ben Ali, for all his corruption and abuses, maintained the Tunisian rulers’ tradition of safeguarding the Jewish community. “If the situation remains OK, we can continue to live freely and happily,” says Bismuth.Read article in full
Avi Magnezi in Ynet News seeks a greater variety of Jewish views:
While Ghannouchi is considered a moderate leader, many of his party members and no less important – many of his voters support extreme Islamist views, something which could affect the country's Jewish minority. Tunisia's Jewish community now numbers less than 2,000 Jews following years of persecution in a community that once numbered over 100,000 Jews. Israel, does not even factor into the elections. Rabbi Hatab noted that as a whole the contenders declared that they have no business with Israel, and he accepts this: "We've lived with Muslims our entire lives and we believe things will be ok."
Haim Damari, who made aliyah from Tunisia when he was eight years old and conducts tours in Tunisia, believes that Tunisia will remain on relatively good terms with its Jewish population. Much of this stance is based on the economic reality in Tunisia. "Tunisia doesn't have oil or other resources, all it has its tourism industry – 10 million tourists a year… I don't see any leader endangering that."
While Ghannouchi is considered a moderate leader, many of his party members and no less important – many of his voters support extreme Islamist views, something which could affect the country's Jewish minority.
Tunisia's Jewish community now numbers less than 2,000 Jews following years of persecution in a community that once numbered over 100,000 Jews.
Israel, does not even factor into the elections. Rabbi Hatab noted that as a whole the contenders declared that they have no business with Israel, and he accepts this: "We've lived with Muslims our entire lives and we believe things will be ok."
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
It will not be good news for Jews and other minorities that the Islamist party in Tunisia has emerged as the largest party in the elections: it will therefore have a big say in drafting the new constitution. In Libya, the leader of the National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul Jalil, lost no time is affirming Islam as the main source of legislation in post-Gaddafi Libya.
This is nothing new, you might say, as all 'secular' Arab regimes with the exception of Lebanon already base their constitutions on Shari'a law, and minorities have not fared well under them. But further Islamisation will only make matters worse.
The Washington Post reports:
TUNIS, Tunisia — A moderate Islamist party claimed victory Monday in Tunisia’s landmark elections as preliminary results indicated it had won the biggest share of votes, assuring it will have a strong say in the future constitution of the country whose popular revolution led to the Arab Spring. (..)
Ennahda says it wants Islamic law, to be the source of the country’s legislation, but also insists that the country’s progressive personal status code is compatible with its ideals and that it respects all religions and creeds. The party’s ability to gain votes by moderating its message in a country with a progressive social history could be a model for Islamist parties elsewhere.
Richard Spencer writes in The Telegraph:
Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, the chairman of the National Transitional Council and de fact president, had already declared that Libyan laws in future would have Sharia, the Islamic code, as its "basic source".
But that formulation can be interpreted in many ways - it was also the basis of Egypt's largely secular constitution under President Hosni Mubarak, and remains so after his fall.
Mr Abdul-Jalil went further, specifically lifting immediately, by decree, one law from Col. Gaddafi's era that he said was in conflict with Sharia - that banning polygamy.
In a blow to those who hoped to see Libya's economy integrate further into the western world, he announced that in future bank regulations would ban the charging of interest, in line with Sharia. "Interest creates disease and hatred among people," he said.
Gulf states like the United Arab Emirates, and other Muslim countries, have pioneered the development of Sharia-compliant banks which charge fees rather than interest for loans but they normally run alongside western-style banks.
Tunisian constitution may ban ties with Israel
Monday, October 24, 2011
Is Jacob Lellouche the Tunisian David Gerbi? Both men, in different ways, are trying to test the waters in the emerging 'democracies' of North Africa. The Jewish restauranteur Lellouche is standing in the Tunisian elections, his goal to show that the Jewish minority wants to participate fully in political life. Report in the Jerusalem Post (With thanks: Andrew):
Update: Jacob Lellouche did not get elected, and his party did not even get a seat in the Tunisian parliament.
Jacob Lellouche might have been the only non-Muslim running for public office in Tunisia’s first free elections held on Sunday but he didn’t go around kissing babies and shaking voter’s hands as one might expect.
Instead, the would-be parliamentarian spent his day like almost any other – serving clients traditional Tunisian dishes at his restaurant Mamie Lili, the only kosher venue in Tunis.
“I don’t know if I will be elected, and it isn’t my objective,” admitted the 51-year-old Jewish Tunisian in an interview over the phone. “I wanted to break some ideas in the Tunisian minds that a minority can involve itself in the struggle for political life in the country, and this is my only goal.”
Lellouche is placed second on the list of the Union, Popular and Republican Party, a moderate outfit that he said was “neither right nor left.”
If elected, he vowed to speak on behalf of all the country’s minorities.
“I will try to represent in this assembly the minorities, not the Jewish one alone, because I think I am the only non-Muslim guy running in the election,” he said.
The historic day began at 7 a.m. for Lellouche, when he paid a visit to the polling station in the Tunis suburb of La Goulette where he lives, escorted by his 85-yearold mother.
“She insisted on being the first to cast her vote,” he said.
From there he continued to his restaurant where he serves regular local fare like couscous with meat and vegetables to dozens of hungry clients. The rookie politician said he planned to spend the rest of the day walking around town soaking up the festive atmosphere.
When the revolution first broke out last year there was concern the country’s Jews might be targeted by Islamic extremists. However, with few exceptions – like the torching of a makeshift synagogue in the South and the harassment of Jewish worshipers by Muslim protesters in Tunis – there has been little to no violence directed at the country’s Jewish community so far, which numbers about 1,500 out of a population of more than 10 million.*
Lellouche said he never felt he was in serious danger.
“Lag Ba’omer festivities on the island of Jerba were canceled by the rabbi of Tunis, Haim Bitan, and with the agreement of the Tunisian government, but that was because there were safety problems in the beginning of the revolution in all Tunisia,” he explained. “The Jewish authorities didn’t want to organize a fete when people were dying around the country and also in nearby Libya. It’s like your neighbor’s mother dies and you make a bar mitzva.”
The old regime, he said, “used the Jews of Tunisia as an instrument, like an alibi, to give a better picture of Tunisia, but the Jews of Tunisia don’t need this.
We are perfectly safe and are all Tunisian people.”
Lellouche also dismissed speculation that local Islamists might win considerable backing in the first ever free elections held in the country.
Read article in full
The only Jewish restaurant in Tunis (Philadelphia Inquirer)
Jews fail to win seats in Moroccan elections
* In fact two synagogues have been attacked.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
'The Jewish Nakbah' has come to Facebook. Film-maker Pierre Rehov (pictured) is clocking up friends fast for the page he has just created to commemorate the destruction of the Jewish communities of the Arab world.
Pierre Rehov is the man who made the first film on the forgotten Jewish refugees from Arab lands: 'The Silent Exodus' in 2004. 'The Jewish Nakbah' page has links to the film, as well as to arresting images of Jews fleeing the Arab world. As you would expect, Rehov, who fled Algeria with his Jewish family aged nine, has quite a bit of archive material on the subject.
The intention is publically to mark the uprooting of the ancient Jewish communities on a specific day in the calendar. The suggestion came originally from Ada Aharoni, an Egyptian-born professor at Haifa university. Professor Aharoni wishes to persuade Prime Minister Netanyahu to declare an official memorial day in Israel.
Harif, an Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa, held the first Jewish Nakba event in London, this year. Interest and support for the idea on The Jewish Nakbah Facebook page is building such momentum that the Day may well go global next year, and become a regular fixture. If you think it is a good idea to hold such a Day, please add your name to the Friends of the Jewish Nakbah page and sign and circulate any petition that might come your way.
What date should be chosen? The current favourite - and one endorsed by Professor Aharoni - is 15 May, to coincide with Palestinian Nakba Day.
Not everybody is agreed that the Day should be called 'Jewish Nakba Day'. Suggestions on this very blog range from Jewish Refugee Day, Jewish Exodus Day, Jewish Catastrophe, Tragedy or Ethnic Cleansing Day.
Some object to borrowing from the language of our enemies, especially since the Palestinian Nakba really refers not so much to the catastrophic flight of Palestinian Arabs, but to their catastrophic failure to commit genocide on the Jews.
But the expression seems to have caught on. On Youtube there are several publicity videos using the term Jewish Nakba. The ex-Justice minister of Canada and human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler and Israel's deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon have used it. Leading Israeli columnist Ben Dror Yemini employed the term. So did Lela Gilbert in The Jerusalem Post, Charlie Wolf in Jewish News and Lyn Julius, writing on The Guardian website. And Ada Aharoni used the expression quite liberally herself, until she encountered fierce resistance from some quarters in Israel.
The expression Jewish Nakba does seem to make people sit up and listen simply because it has provocative associations with the Arab Nakba. One pro-Israel activist of Muslim background gave Naqba (or Nakba) his seal of approval:
"From a non Jewish point of view, the name ‘Jewish Naqba’ instantly sparked my interest. I know that a lot of people just don’t know what happened to the Jewish communities all over the Middle East, this would be a great idea, in using the name it will raise eyebrows and cause people to look in to it, it’s something quite specific and not just some sort of generic name. That’s just my opinion."
One man's opinion, but worth taking seriously.
AFP has interviewed one of the seven Jews to flee Baghdad since the disclosure of their names in a Wikileaks cable recently put their lives in jeopardy. The man (whose name has probably been arabised from Amir Moshe Nissim) is in Jordan, waiting to join his mother and sister in Britain - but his visa application has four times been rejected (presumably because the UK, absurdly, does not consider him an 'asylum seeker'). The article is an exercise in cognitive dissonance: the Jew yearns for Iraq and yet has been driven out of the country; a spokesman for the 'Iraqi ministry of human rights' declares Judenrein Iraq 'a tolerant country' and lies about the causes of the great Jewish exodus, blaming Zionism.
AMMAN — Amer Musa Nasim, once one of the last seven remaining Jews in Baghdad, says he finally had to leave violence-stricken Iraq to live a peaceful life even though he loves his country.
"I have always tried to hide my identity to avoid trouble," said Nasim, 38, who arrived in Jordan earlier this year.
"But I am Iraqi and I love Iraq," he said, adding that he could not, however, keep his religion secret because it was marked on his national identity papers.
"My friends and some neighbours in Baghdad knew I was Jewish and they treated me with kindness and respect. After all, I liked them. We are all Iraqi, and Iraqi Jews have never harmed the country," said the merchant, who sold clothes and perfume.
"I had no future. I could not get married because I could not find a bride. The last Jewish wedding in Iraq was held in 1978."
Today, Nasim dreams of a better life in Britain, where his mother and sister live. But his visa application has been rejected four times.
He proudly recalls his great uncle, Mir Basri, author and renowned economist, who was secretary general of the Iraqi foreign ministry back in the 1940s.
There were about 150,000 Iraqi Jews before the 1948 creation of Israel. But between 1948 and 1951, nearly all of the country's 2,500-year-old Jewish community fled amid a region-wide outbreak of nationalist violence.
"The issue of Jews in Iraq dates back to 1948 and the organised work of Zionism to relocate them to a different place," said Kamel al-Amin, spokesman for the Iraqi ministry of human rights.
"Iraq is a tolerant country that does not oppose the presence of Jews. There are no official plans or actions against them. Iraq is undergoing difficult circumstances and situation, and that's why only a few of them remained in the country."
In the violence that erupted after the US-led invasion of 2003, Iraq's few remaining Jews went into hiding as sectarian militias marauded across the country, slaughtering Muslim rivals as well as Christians and other minorities.
Last month, a leaked US diplomatic cable released by whistleblower website Wikileaks quoted a woman who spoke with a US embassy staff member in October 2009 as saying "there are now eight remaining members of the Iraqi Jewish community in Baghdad," including herself.
"She stated that the community had numbered 20 persons in 2003, but that the number has declined as a result of old age, emigration, and sectarian violence," according to the cable.
It said the woman, a dentist, was "one of the last remaining Jews in Iraq".
Her mother, she said, had died the previous year, while her husband was kidnapped by Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants in 2005, and was most likely murdered.
She said a synagogue and Jewish cemetery in Baghdad have been shut since 2004. Another synagogue in the southern port city of Basra had been turned into a warehouse.
When asked about Iraqi Jews living abroad returning to visit or re-establish connections, the woman "was pessimistic, saying that latent anti-Semitism within Iraqi society would prevent this from happening anytime soon."
Nasim said that "in 2007, a Jewish jeweller was kidnapped in 2009, and another had to flee Iraq following that."
That departure left left only seven Jews in Baghdad until Nasim decided to pack up and leave.
"Despite all the pessimism that surrounds us, I dream of the day when all Jews return to Iraq ... which they loved and remained loyal to," he said.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Muammar Gaddafi's policies brought about the elimination of Libya's Jewish community, as David Gerbi explains in this interview with The Jerusalem Post. But now that the dictator is dead, it is easy to forget that the Jews were the objects of violence and marginalisation well before Gaddafi seized power - denied citizenship, voting rights and the right to run their own institutions.
David Gerbi recalled on Thursday his first and last face-to-face encounter with Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator killed earlier in the day by rebel forces in his hometown of Sirte.
In 2009, Gerbi, a Libyan-born Jew, accepted an invitation to meet Gaddafi in Rome to speak about improving relations between the regime and Libya’s Jewish Diaspora.
“I can see his face in front of me now,” Gerbi related in an interview conducted via Skype from Rome. “He had the eyes of a Beduin, someone who could find water in the desert, but he could not connect with our reality.”
Gerbi was one of the few members of the Jewish Libyan community in Rome who came to the meeting. The rest had boycotted the gathering because it was provocatively held on a Saturday, the Jewish day of rest. During the meeting, Gerbi said he pressed the autocrat to restore the rights of Jews and permit the reopening of the country’s synagogues, which lay in waste.
“He said, ‘Yes, yes, there would be no problem,’” Gerbi recalled, “but nothing happened.”
The killing of the Libyan leader on Thursday marked the final chapter in the troubled history between Gaddafi and Libyan Jewry.
When the young colonel came to power in 1969 the Jewish community of Libya, which traced its history back to antiquity, had already been decimated by pogroms carried out by Muslims angered over the Israeli-Arab conflict. From a peak of around 30,000 during the 1930s, only a few hundred remained, but it was Gaddafi’s policies that brought about the community’s elimination. He confiscated private and communal Jewish property, withheld civil rights for Jews and forbade those who had taken refuge abroad from returning.
“The damage he did in 1969 was that he did not allow Jewish people to come back; he did not allow them to renew the passports,” said Gerbi.
“He destroyed the Jewish cemeteries in Tripoli and Benghazi. He converted synagogues into mosques. He wanted to eliminate our memory of 2,000 years of Jewish people in Libya.”
The few Jews who were still in Libya fled. By 2002, none remained.
In recent years Gaddafi held irregular talks with Libyan Jews in the Diaspora, preferring to deal with those in Italy over their brethren in Israel, the “Zionist entity” he would often vilify in his lengthy tirades. The self-styled “Brother Leader” and “King of Kings” would sometimes promise to consider returning their rights and property, and allowed a few individuals to visit, but nothing ever came to fruition.
By the time the revolution against his regime came late last year there was talk of progress, but it was too little, too late.
Read article in full
Thursday, October 20, 2011
David Meidan (smiling, wearing glasses) stands behind Gilad Shalit as the young soldier salutes Prime Minister Netanyahu on arrival in Israel (with thanks: Levana)
Egyptian Jews can be proud that one of their own was instrumental in successfully negotiating the release of Gilad Shalit after five years of captivity in Gaza.
His name is David Meidan (Mosseri), who has worked for Mossad for 30 years. The Arabic-speaking head of Tevel, the branch in charge of cooperation and intelligence-sharing with foreign intelligence services, Meidan was appointed by Prime Minister Netanyahu as his special envoy to take part in the Shalit negotiations six months ago. Israeli TV has said he played a major part in securing the young hostage's freedom, his contacts with Egyptian intelligence proving crucial.
Meidan was born in Egypt in 1955. At the age of two he was brought to Israel by his parents Rose and Nathan Mosseri, and later changed his name to Meidan.
What begins with the Jews, never ends with them. Last week's massacre of Copts in Egypt (let's call a spade a spade: 'clashes' suggest that both sides were responsible for the violence) prompted Joseph Wahed, co-founder of JIMENA, to write the following letter to the Wall St Journal. It was published on October 17.
As an Egyptian Jew, I read with special interest Matt Bradley's article "Clashes between Christians, Police rock Cairo," Monday, October 10.
This reminded me of what our Coptic neighbor told my family as we were being expelled from Egypt in November 1952.: "After Saturday comes Sunday." He accurately predicted that the Coptic community also would feel the wrath and hatred of Egyptians, much of it inspired by radical Muslims.
Mr. Bradley also commented that "Egyptians have long prided themselves on a shared sense of citizenship that straddles religious boundaries."
Indeed, some individual Copts and Muslims have strong personal ties, but Mr. Bradley's statement is not based on historical fact; rather, it's based on a fantasy typical of Egyptian culture. Mr. Bradley needed to research why Egyptians' so-called "shared sense of pride" did not apply to the 80,000 Jews who once lived in Egypt and who were all kicked out.
There was no sense of pride when Egypt's nationality laws made it virtually impossible for Jews, and some Christians, born in Egypt to acquire Egyptian nationality thus rendering many stateless. In addition, Jews were restricted from certain government Jobs.
Nowadays, Christians are being victimized by the Muslim community in Iraq, Pakistan, Gaza, Bethlehem, Lebanon, Nigeria and elsewhere.
Sadly, just like when Jews were being ethnically cleansed, there's the same stone silence from the U.N., Human Rights Organizations, religious leaders and the world's Christian community.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Here is a must-see sequel to the Skype interview by Rabbi Abraham Cooper (from the Simon Wiesenthal Institute) of David Gerbi. Gerbi is the lone Libyan Jew who returned to his homeland, but was forced to leave after his physical security was put at risk by crowds protesting outside his hotel.
Here he is back in his Rome study, looking tidy and refreshed, and sounding a good deal more upbeat than when Rabbi Cooper last spoke to him in his beleaguered hotel room in Tripoli.
He tells how he refused several attempts to persuade him to leave over the fast of Yom Kippur: " "I have my dignity, I will not run away like Jews have done in the past, like a rabbit," he says.
Gerbi's attitude to the National Transitional Council seems to have mellowed - they gave him 48 hours to reach a solution. If it was to ease the tension caused by his presence, he would agree to go, but on condition he was allowed to come back to Libya.
What sustained him through the harrowing 25-hour fast with jeering crowds outside his hotel window was his book of Tehilim (Psalms): "It saved my life."
Young people who understood that Libya was now at a crossroads between liberalism and Islamism came to see Gerbi to give him their support, having understood that the Jew represents their fight for rights. "My presence will guarantee their democracy," he says, calling for the US Congress and the Jewish establishment to put pressure on the interim government to allow Jewish freedom of worship.
But he was soon brought down to earth with a thud not in Libya, but back in Rome. Here his efforts to help wounded Libyan soldiers were stymied when in hospital he encountered the same old Gaddafi-esque anti-Jewish hostility in the shape of a certain Dr Ali. Dr Ali wanted the Jew Gerbi off the premises.
I must confess that I was once sceptical of what David Gerbi was trying to achieve. Yet one man can make a difference. In the same way that one finds pride in the released hostage Gilad Shalit's quiet Jewish nobility, so Gerbi is an inspiration. One cannot help be impressed and moved by the dignity, simple faith, humanity and bravery of this man.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
The David Gerbi case is reverberating around the blogosphere. He's the Libyan-born Jew, you'll remember, who was hurriedly deported from Tripoli after threats on his life and angry demonstrations declaring " There is no place for Jews in Libya". The two Michaels (Totten and Rubin) have been pondering its significance for the future of Arab-Jewish relations on Contentions, the Commentary blog.
Michael Totten writes:
It’s a depressing story, but it isn’t surprising. Anyone who believes anti-Semitism—not opposition to Israeli policies, but outright hatred of Jews—isn’t rampant in the Arab world is kidding themselves.
It wasn’t always this way. Jews lived in Libya for thousands of years. They didn’t live there without incident, but they lived there. They lived throughout what is now the Arab world for thousands of years, and they lived in these places alongside an Arab majority for more than 1,000 years. The Arab world has been more bigoted against Jews in the last hundred years than it was at any time during the previous thousand.
If relations between Jews and Arabs were better in the past, they can be better again. But they aren’t getting better right now.
Michael Rubin writes:
In Libya, it wasn’t always this way, of course. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing Maurice Roumani’s The Jews of Libya, and subsequently of meeting this brilliant scholar. Roumani explains how the Libyan crackdown on its own Jewish population accelerated through the 20th century, as well as the tensions that sometimes existed between the Libyan Jewish population and their Italian counterparts across the Mediterranean. As with the Palestinians and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem’s flirtation with the Nazis, so much in Libya dates back to the legacy of World War II. As I summarize Roumani in my review:
As anti-Semitism grew in Italy during the fascist period, anti-Jewish incidents increased in Libya, and as the Axis oriented its foreign policy toward the Arabs, Italian leaders privileged Libya’s Arabs over its Jews. As the Axis solidified in the late 1930s, Rome imposed anti-Semitic race laws on both Italy and Libya. Libyan Jews were interned in local labor camps, deported, and, in some cases, transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
The real treat of Roumani’s work is his final chapter, however:
Roumani’s final chapter, tracing the Libyan Jews who chose to remain in their country after Israel’s independence, is one of the best case studies of Arab nationalist intolerance. Tripoli closed Jewish schools, forced Jews with relatives in Israel to register, and even placed the Jewish community’s administration under Muslim trusteeship. Jews could not vote, serve in public capacities, or purchase property. Violence was commonplace. On the first day of the Six-Day War in June 1967, Libyan mobs destroyed 60 percent of Jewish communal property. The Libyan government placed Jews in protective custody in a detainment camp from which they were quickly evacuated by air and sea. With Muammar al-Qaddafi’s rise two years later, the final nail was put into the community’s coffin.
Let’s hope a new, more optimistic chapter can be written. The transitional government in Tripoli must realize tolerance should never be put off, for the longer extremism is tolerated, the more it will metathesize (sic - metastasize).