Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How the Left was hoodwinked about Israel

The anti-semitism spread in the 1920s by the Mufti of Jerusalem (seen here with Adolph Hitler) and his Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers has never left the Arab world

Two cheers for Colin Shindler  in the New York Times, who calls out the anti-Zionist 'red-green' alliance between the Left and Islamists on its antisemitism masquerading as anti-Zionism. But the spillover of anti-Zionism into anti-semitism goes back to the 1920s, the rise of the Mufti of Jerusalem and the foundation of the Muslim Brotherhood, argues Lyn Julius in the Times of Israel. And rather than a colonial-settler state, Israel represents the national liberation of the region's dhimmi Jews, exploited and colonised for 14 centuries by Muslim conquerors.   

There was a time when the Left could simultaneously support Israel and the fight for Algerian independence. Not any more. So what has changed?

Part of the answer lies in a rich and thoughtful New York Times article, “The European Left and its trouble with the Jews” by Colin Shindler, emeritus professor at the School for Asian and African Studies (SOAS) in London. Professor Shindler has made a specialism of studying the Left, and in particular, its attitude to Israel. (...)
There is much worth reading in Shindler’s article, but some aspects I disagree with. Firstly, the point at which anti-Zionism spilled over into anti-semitism dates back, not to the rise of Hezbollah, but to the 1920s, when the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, instigated riots in Palestine. Secondly, Arab supporters of accommodation with Jewish self-determination were sidelined not 10, nor even 20 years ago, but in the first half of the 20th century. The real schism between Arab moderates and extremists took place as the Mufti consolidated his hold over his rivals in Palestine. Later, he was to exert influence on Arab leaders to the point when ridding Palestine of the Jews became a pan-Arab cause.

The Mufti ensured that Jew-hatred was not limited to Palestine: he incited anti-semitism in Iraq, culminating in the 1941 Farhud pogrom in which some 180 Jews were murdered. The Mufti kept in close touch with Hassan al-Banna, who founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, and whose supporters attacked Egyptian Jews and Copts from the 1930s. This fact alone should have woken the Left up to the reactionary nature of Nazi-inspired Islamism.

Nazi-style anti-Jewish hatred was imported from Europe to become the central plank of Muslim Brotherhood philosophy. Such anti-Jewish hatred never fell into disrepute, because, after World War ll, the Allies failed to discredit the Arab-Nazi alliance by trying the Mufti as a war criminal. Today, the hatred of Jews among Arabs is a hundred times worse.

With Islamist parties in the ascendant following the Arab Spring, their brand of anti-Jewish hatred, drawing also on Koranic sources of anti-semitism such as Mohammed’s defeat of the Jewish tribes at the battle of Khaybar, has once again turned the conflict with Israel into a religious war. In spite of a ‘rebranding’ of the Palestinian cause in the 1960s as a dispute over rival claims to the same land, the heart of the conflict has always been ideological – Arab and Muslim rejection and ostracism of the Jewish state – and not a struggle over acreage or settlements.

The second trope favoured by the Left – that Israel is a colonial-settler state – is one that even Jews don’t bother to refute. They should. Yes, Ashkenazi Jews came from Europe to settle in Israel, but the Jews, unique among ancient peoples, have, through the centuries, maintained their separate ethnic identity, religious, cultural and linguistic Middle Eastern roots, and links with their ancestral homeland.

And how do the fifty percent of Israel’s Jews – the Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews who were forced by Arab anti-semitism to relocate to Israel – fit into the colonial-settler paradigm?

They don’t. Indigenous Jews of the Middle East, whose presence pre-dated Islam by 1,000 years, can plausibly argue that it is they who were colonised by Muslim conquerors, exploited as vassal/chattels (dhimmis) with limited security and rights. Jews deserve national liberation from Arab/Muslim rule as much as Algeria deserved independence from French colonialism in 1962, and as much as other native peoples of the region – Kurds, Berbers, Maronites. The question of land ‘stolen’ from the Palestinians pales into insignificance compared to the mass dispossession of almost a million Jews in Arab lands.

It is a distortion eagerly espoused by the Left – and Colin Shindler, regrettably, believes it – that historic Islam has often been benevolent toward Jews compared to Christianity. According to the eminent historian Bernard Lewis, this was a 19th century myth spread by Jews themselves. “When it was good it was good. When it was bad it was awful”, is how Professor Paul Fenton describes the horrors and humiliations which could afflict the ‘dhimmi’ Jews under Muslim rule. 

Tunisian plot in Zarzis to kidnap Jews is foiled

 With thanks: Kouichi
An army truck has been stationed protecting the entrance to the Zarzis Jewish quarter since the plot was foiled. The synagogue is 30 metres behind  (with thanks: Kouichi)

A terrorist plot to kidnap and ransom Jews in the Tunisian resort of Zarzis and encourage the remaining Jews to leave the country has been foiled. The ring has been broken up and its members arrested and sent for trial in Tunis.

According to Tunisian news sources, a Salafist (hardline Islamist) police officer masterminded the plot. The officer was a member of a special security unit set up by the previous Ben Ali regime to protect the Jews. The policeman borrowed money from the bank to finance the operation and recruit young Tunisians to his plan.

Zarzis is a town in southwestern Tunisia not far from the island of Djerba where 1, 500 Jews still live. The plan was to kidnap the Jews on a Friday evening when they were having their seaside walk. The police officer had bought firearms and a car registered in Libya, and rented other vehicles.

UPI article (Arabic - with thanks: Lily) 

JTA report 


Ynet News

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

On this day, a pogrom in Shiraz

 Bazaar in Shiraz (Wikipedia)

 Plus ca change in the Muslim world: a rumour that the Jews have desecrated the Koran, or ritually murdered a gentile spreads like wildfire and ends in tragedy. Rather than quell the disturbance, the authorities connive with the mob to loot Jewish property. On this day, 30 October, 102  years ago, it was the turn of the Jews of Shiraz to suffer.  Haaretz reports:

On October 30, 1910, 12 members of the Jewish community of Shiraz, Iran, were killed and the city’s Jewish quarter plundered, as angry mobs responded to an accusation that Jews had ritually murdered a Muslim girl.

Records of a Jewish presence in Shiraz, a large city in southern Persia, go back to the 10th century, and in the 12th century the traveler Benjamin of Tudela reported a community of some 10,000. By the 20th century, that number was far smaller, and many Jews had converted to Islam or carried out their faith in secret because of persecution. Pogroms were not unusual, and the events of October 30 were not unique.

The pogrom of that day followed rumors of Jewish desecration of a Koran. Despite the efforts of a representative of the French human-rights organization (actually a schools network founded on human rights principles - ed) Alliance Israelite Universelle in Shiraz to alleviate tensions, the situation worsened when the body of Muslim girl was reported to have been found near the Jewish cemetery. (The Alliance representative later reported that the decayed remains found turned out to belong to a Jewish girl who had died some time before.)

An angry mob gathered, and rather than being dispersed by government troops, was actually led by them in surrounding and then attacking the Jewish quarter. Over the course of the following hours, every home in the quarter was looted, and everything with valuable belonging to the quarter’s residents was stolen.

Although most of the Jews escaped, among those who remained or tried to defend themselves, a dozen were killed and more than 50 wounded. According to the first-hand account filed the next day by the Alliance representative, “the 5,000 to 6,000 people comprising the Shiraz community now possess nothing in the world but the few tatters they were wearing when their quarter was invaded.”

Read article in full

Egyptians seize Jewish documents (update)

 In Cairo's Jewish quarter

 Update: there are inconsistencies in the story since it first broke in the Egyptian press on 18 October. The French -Jewish woman was said to have been arrested, and the press photo showed many small bags, such as a woman might carry. An Al-Ahram article of 28 October said the French-Jewish lady had escaped: they seized large suitcases. Only two top Egyptian officials close to the Mubarak regime have been arrested to-date. The Lebanese businessman mentioned below is non-Jewish.

Levana Zamir of the Association of Jews from Egypt in Israel comments:
This is good news, because those 1,7 million documents belonging to the Jews from Egypt are the best proof that we left behind millions of our assets.
Since all those documents belong to us, and since there are no Jews left in Egypt - except for one man in Alexandria and one woman in Cairo - all this must be transmitted to one of the three Associations of Jews from Egypt: in the USA (HSJE), in Paris (Nebi Daniel) or in Israel.

Point of No Return has already mentioned the story about two tonnes of Jewish documents confiscated in Cairo ( Elder of Ziyon found a report in the Egyptian press). At the time, we said the story was probably leaked to deter any Jew contemplating a freelance operation to demand restitution, a prospect terrifying to Egypt now that Israel has launched an official campaign for refugee rights. According to this report in the Times of Israel, it now seems a means of embarrassing  members of the Mubarak regime, two of whom have been arrested - and accounts for why President Morsi is closely following the case.  (With thanks: Lily)

"Egyptian authorities confiscated some 1.7 million documents reportedly proving Jewish ownership of land and assets in Cairo. The documents were reportedly about to be shipped out of the country to Israel, in what the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram is calling “the most dangerous case of security breach in history.”

"The documents were found in 13 large cases, ready to be transported to Jordan and from there to Israel, Egyptian media reported Sunday.

"Elaph, a Saudi-owned news site, reported that Egyptian police received notice that the packages were being held at a shipping company in the Nasser City district of Cairo. Upon arriving at the scene, police found over 1.7 million documents dating back to the 19th century, dealing with Jewish ownership of assets in Cairo. The documents, according to the security source speaking to the Saudi site, weighed over two tons.
"Preliminary investigations have revealed that the documents were supposed to be used in an Israeli lawsuit involving Jewish property lost in Egypt’s 1952 revolution, the site reported. According to Elaph, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is personally following the case, which it said affects Egypt’s national security.

"The documents were reportedly stolen on December 16, 2011, from a Cairo research institution, the Institut d’Égypte, during public riots that erupted following president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.
According to Al-Ahram, an unnamed senior member of former Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) was involved in the efforts at smuggling the documents out of the country, in the service of a French-Jewish woman. Another man implicated by Al-Ahram is a Jewish Lebanese businessman named Robert Khalil Sarsaq, who also holds other nationalities. Elaph’s source claimed that the two are suspected of having ties with the Mossad.

"The source noted that some of the documents, containing Jewish ownership deeds for banks, companies and real estate, date back to 1863. The documents are now being held by Egypt’s general prosecution."

Read article in full 

Jewish Chronicle report 

The Jerusalem Post : Danny Ayalon denies  the story: "we have all the documentation we need."

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Egyptian diplomat : 'Jews had never lived in Egypt'

The Jews of Egypt  bear the brunt of double denial: Denial by Egyptians who are convinced that Jews never lived in Egypt; and the other by archeologists like Israel Finkelstein, who maintains that the First Exodus under Pharaoh might not ever have happened.

The first form of denial is the more pernicious because there are still Jews alive who were born and bred in Egypt, such as the psychoanalyst and writer Tobie Nathan (pictured).

In the October 2012 issue of Information juive, Nathan recalls meeting an Egyptian diplomat  in Tel Aviv, a friendly and educated man, by all accounts.

" I don't want to accuse him, but he sincerely believed that there had never been Jews in Egypt," Nathan says. "When I told him that not only was I one, but my family had been settled there for centuries, perhaps longer, he replied: "if you were there, it wasn't as Egyptians". He could not conceive that Egyptians of the Jewish faith had actually existed." Nathan blames ignorance - 60 years, in fact of relentless propaganda.

The Jews of Egypt, erased from the country almost to a man - only a few elderly ladies in old age homes remain - relived the myth of the Exodus. Some archaeologists deny that the First Exodus  had ever taken place. The Second Exodus was really the one and only, and people like Nathan the only ones to have experienced it.

Maimonides once wrote: A Jew is permitted to live anywhere in the world, except for Egypt. Bizarrely, he did not practise what he preached, ending up in Fostat, old Cairo. Every year at the Passover seder, Nathan experienced the paradox, as a child, of celebrating leaving Egypt, while still being there. What were we doing in Egypt?And now that we have left, why do Jews have only one wish - to go back there?

Once Nathan himself had left and suffered the tribulations of exile, he too felt that 'nostalgia'. "A king who hadn't known Joseph - he called himself Nasser - had chased us out having robbed us first (Exodus 1-8). "

Read article in full (French)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

'We already feel more secure': Yemenites in Israel

Yizyeh Zidani (32), Eli (48) and Hodaya Yatom (25), Shoshanna (28), Moshe (21) and Hodaya Zidani (22); arriving from Yemen.

The last of the Yemeni Jews are leaving for Israel: the absorption centre in Beersheva is full. The Zindani  family had more reason than most to flee the country, after Aharon Zindani was murdered in May 2012. Haaretz interviewed his family as they arrived in Israel at the beginning of October:

Shalom, what have you brought with you?

Moshe: In these boxes we brought a special oven of the Yemenites, a taboun oven; stools that you sit on while preparing khat and then also while chewing it; and blankets from Yemen.

It looks as though you are immigrating to Israel.

Moshe: Correct, we came from Sana’a.

You have excellent Hebrew for a new immigrant.

Because there was already a period when we lived in Israel; in 2000, I also learned how to be a butcher here. I am a ritual slaughterer in Sana’a: sheep, calves, everything.

But you didn’t stay here.

After a year I returned to Yemen with my brothers. But my sisters, Shoshanna and Hodaya, live here. They came to the airport with their husbands.

Why didn’t you stay?

Yihyeh: At that time they still had it good there, so they went back. But not afterward. The whole mess with Al-Qaida started. That was the uncle’s fate.

Moshe: Things are much better here. My father was murdered not long ago.

My condolences. Was your father the one who was murdered in the Sana’a market in May?

Yes. We lived in Sana’a for a few years. My father would go to the market and wander around freely. He knew the sellers and he knew Arabs there, and suddenly an Arab came up to him and stabbed him.

Was it someone he knew?

I don’t know who it was.

Do you know why he was murdered?

Because he is a Jew, and Jews are hated.

Do you have more family in Yemen?

Yes. My brothers are still there, and also my cousin. We hope to bring them to Israel, too.

Where is your mother?

My mother lives here, in Be’er Sheva.

Shoshanna: I immigrated 13 years ago, after I met Yihyeh and we were married.

Yihyeh: I immigrated in 1993. I came to Israel, did army service and then went to Yemen, where I met my wife and asked her parents for her hand.

Moshe: We weren’t living in Sana’a then. We lived in northern Yemen. We only moved to Sana’a a few years ago.

Why did you move to Sana’a?

Yihyeh: They moved after all that Al-Qaida chaos started in 2001. They were harassed. They got letters, and people told them to leave before something bad happened. Fortunately for them, the president of Yemen intervened and helped. He smuggled them to Sana’a and sent aid.

Was the situation in Sana’a better?

The situation for Jews in Sana’a was better a few years ago. But two years ago, when I visited there, it was already pretty scary. Right now, things are bad everywhere there. I am not just talking about the Jews. They are persecuting all the foreigners − Germans, Americans. At least now they are allowing the Jews to leave. They know where we are going and the authorities want us to leave. Fifteen years ago, it was very hard to get out.

Moshe: There are not many Jews in Yemen now. But things are tough for the Jews, for the Arabs and for the government, too. It’s hard to cope with the extremists.

Where are you going now?

Shoshanna: They are going to an absorption center in Be’er Sheva. They have an apartment there, provided by the Jewish Agency − like all new immigrants receive − until they get settled. With God’s help we will find them an apartment in Rehovot, close to us. The main thing is that we will be celebrating the holiday together.

Eli: All the families will be there. True-blue Yemenites, with genuine Yemenite food. It’ll be fun. You should come.

Have a happy holiday. I hope everything works out for you in Israel.

Moshe: We already feel more secure.

Yihyeh: I only hope his brothers get here. We have a few problems here, too, but we are coping, for good and for ill. At least everyone is a Jew.
Shoshanna: And maybe when they come, we will go on “The Race to the Million” and win apartments [laughs].

Read article in full

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Sephardi precursor of modern Zionism

To say that modern Zionism is a largely Ashkenazi creation would be doing a grave injustice to Sephardi Jews - notably to Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai, a 19th century Sephardi Jew from Sarajevo (Bosnia). Michael Freund writes in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Michelle):

Modern Zionism is largely an Ashkenazi creation, or so popular thinking goes. After all, the World Zionist Organization was founded in Europe in 1897 and dominated by Ashkenazi Jews, who also made up the bulk of the pioneers who built the land and later declared the establishment of the state.

So it should come as no surprise that it is possible to read histories of the emergence of the Zionist movement in the early 20th century without encountering the word “Sephardi” other than in passing.

But to ignore the contribution made by Sephardi Jews to the return to Zion is a grave injustice, not only to our eastern brethren but to Jewish history itself. Though it has gone largely unacknowledged, the Sephardi role in preserving Zionist yearnings throughout the long centuries of Jewish exile was indispensable, dating back to the 12th-century Spanish rabbi and poet Yehuda HaLevi, whose poem “My heart is in the east” still resonates today.

Indeed, this month’s anniversary of the passing in October 1878 (4 Tishrei on the Hebrew calendar) of Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai, a Sephardi Jew from Serbia (Bosnia - ed), presents an opportunity to correct the record and restore the Sephardi impact on Zionist renewal to its rightful place.

While his name may not be overly familiar to most Israelis, his intellectual legacy laid the groundwork for the modern rebirth of Israel.

Though he was born in Sarajevo in 1798, Alkalai’s formative years were spent in Jerusalem, where he delved into ancient Jewish texts and became steeped in Jewish mysticism.

At the young age of 27, he was offered the post of rabbi in the town of Zemun, which is today part of the Serbian capital of Belgrade. At the time, however, it fell within the boundaries of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and straddled the border of Turkish-occupied Serbia.

Nationalism was on the rise in the Balkans, as Serbs and others chafed under the heavy hand of Ottoman control. This had a profound effect on Rabbi Alkalai, whose Serbian neighbors longed for liberation and increasingly agitated for independence. As Prof. Arthur Hertzberg noted in The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader: “ideas of national freedom and restoration came easily to Alkalai’s mind from the atmosphere of his time and place.”

Within a decade, in 1834, he produced a booklet called Shema Yisrael (Hear, O Israel) proposing something which at the time was considered radical: to create Jewish colonies in the land of Israel as a prelude to redemption.

In other words, Rabbi Alkalai advocated that man take action to bring about Jewish national emancipation.

This notion ran counter to conventional wisdom, which primarily believed that Jews should wait passively for Messianic deliverance.

Nonetheless, he developed the concept further, writing additional books and pamphlets and traveling throughout Europe to spread his message.

IN HIS 1845 work Minhat Yehudah, Rabbi Alkalai wrote, “In the first conquest, under Joshua, the Almighty brought the children of Israel into a land that was prepared: its houses were then full of useful things, its wells were giving water, and its vineyards and olive groves were laden with fruit. This new Redemption will – alas, because of our sins – be different: our land is waste and desolate, and we shall have to build houses, dig wells, and plant vines and olive trees.”

“Redemption,” he wrote, “must come slowly. The land must, by degrees, be built up and prepared.”

To accomplish this, Rabbi Alkalai offered novel, and highly prescient, suggestions, which included the launch of a national fund to purchase land in Israel, the convening of a “Great Assembly” to oversee Jewish national affairs, and a redoubling of efforts to revive Hebrew as a spoken language.

At a time when many Jews were beginning to despair after centuries of persecution, Rabbi Alkalai offered concrete hope.

More importantly, by highlighting practical measures that Jews could take, he empowered people throughout the Jewish world to become involved in a national act of self-redemption which would engender Divine mercy. In 1874, at the age of 76, Rabbi Alkalai and his wife made aliya, settling in Jerusalem to fulfill his life-long dream. He passed away four years later.

Read article in full

Refugee round-up: published articles

 Yemeni Jews board a plane to Israel on Operation Magic Carpet (1949). From the American Joint Distribution archives (with thanks: Michelle Malca)

This last month has seen an unprecedented number of articles on the question of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Here are some I missed earlier:

'Forgotten Refugees' by Leo Rennert in the American Thinker
'Levellling the refugee playing field' by Gila Gamliel in Israel Hayom 
'Who isn't a refugee?' by Jerold Auerbach in the Algemeiner
'Victimhood as foreign policy' by Gidon Ben-Zvi in the Algemeiner
'Jewish refugees want justice just like Palestinians, some say it's a ploy' by Michele Chabin in USA Today 
 'Israel wants to tie peace with Palestinians to reparations for Middle Eastern Jews who fled to Israel'
 in PRI News 
Fact Sheet: Jewish refugees from Arab countries (September 2012)

*Point of No Return has highlighted the following articles:
Lucette Lagnado in the Wall St Journal, Christa Case Bryant in the Christian Science Monitor,
Elizabeth Blade in Israel Hayom

*Haaretz has published the most articles on this topic, both pro- and anti-:
Zvi Gabay (Hebrew)
Adi Schwartz
Esther Meir-Glitzenstein
Jerrold Nadler
Alan Dershowitz

Dimitry Shumsky rebutted here
Oudeh Basharat  rebutted here 
 Rachel Shabi rebutted here
Gideon Levy

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The BBC admits forced exodus from Arab countries

 Inside the Al-Ghriba synagogue, Djerba, Tunisia

Thank you, Magdi Abdelhadi - you have finally said it - on the BBC: none of the 800,000 Jews who left Arab countries had wanted to leave - theirs was a forced exodus. In this piece distilled from the second part of his World Service radio programme ( listen to the first here) Abdelhadi interviews Tunisian Jews (with thanks: Robin):

Tunisia has a long Jewish history - Jews were present in North Africa before the arrival of Islam or Christianity. In good times they prospered and in hard times they bore the brunt of discrimination, but now they are at risk of extinction. Of 100,000 before the creation of Israel in 1948, only about 1,500 are left.

After the revolution that ousted President Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali last year, there have been ominous signs. More than once, hardline Salafists have staged demonstrations shouting "Death to the Jews".
This has alarmed many in Tunis's tiny Jewish community.

"In around 15 years, we start to speak about the Jewish community in the past tense," says Jacob Lellouche, the only Jew who tried to win a seat on the assembly drafting Tunisia's new constitution. (He didn't succeed.)

But while he is gloomy about the future he is also a dreamer, and the centrepiece of his dream is a small villa in the seaside suburb of La Goulette.

The white two-storey colonial era house has a blue metal gate that carries a big sign - Mamie Lily Restaurant. Lily is his 85-year-old mother and the master chef.

"She is the heart and the memory of Jewish cooking in Tunisia," says the chain-smoking Lellouche.
He left Tunisia in 1978 to study marketing and economics in France but decided to return to his roots in 1996, to live with his mother and to found "the last kosher restaurant in Tunisia".

"I want to invite my clients to a cultural trip… to an old Jewish house with a Jewish mamie in the kitchen," he says.

"When she speaks to the clients it's like a Jewish mother speaking to her kids. 'Don't put salt on this, it's not good… No, it's enough, you don't have to eat this or that,'" he adds, letting out a croaky laugh.
Lellouche says there are traces of Jewish culture everywhere in Tunisia, in music, handicraft, literature and names. He hopes that all Tunisians will one day become aware of their common culture and history regardless of their religion.

In the kitchen, Lily sits on a low stool. In front of her is a big bowl of okra - the dish of the day.
She has sparkling brown eyes, a deep voice and an unmistakable air of authority. Like most Tunisians she mixes Arabic with French freely. How is life in Tunisia today, I ask?

"On etait mieux avec Ben Ali," she says. ("Things were better under Ben Ali.")

Why was it better before?

"On a peur de Salafis," is her short answer. ("We are afraid of the Salafists.")

The emergence of the hardline Salafists - a brand of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia which adopts a literalist interpretation of the Koran and preaches strict separation of the sexes, and rejection of Western lifestyles - has taken everyone by surprise.

By all accounts they are a tiny minority, but they are vocal, active and prone to violence.
Lellouche foresees the end of Jewish life in Tunis - though he thinks it will survive on the island of Djerba in the south.

A few blocks away from Mamie's restaurant is Beit Mordechai, a small modern synagogue that is difficult to distinguish from the other residential houses on the narrow street.
When I arrive during the evening prayer the atmosphere is warm and informal. The grown-ups are praying, the kids are running around. It's a small congregation and someone has prepared a cake to share after the prayer. 

Ellie Attoun, a 39-year-old businessman, is originally from the south, but during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 there were demonstrations against the Jews there and his family relocated to the capital.

He says he was optimistic when the revolution broke out last year, the first episode of the Arab Spring.

"At the beginning we wanted to see Tunisia open, modern with all what we see in Western Europe. We wanted to look like the modern world. But unfortunately, a few weeks and months after there's a small part of Tunisian people [who] are against the modernism that the big majority of Tunisian people want."

One of his concerns now is that "we don't see a real will from the government to act against those people".

I put those concerns to the leader of the Nahda movement, Rachid Ghannouchi, the mainstream Islamist party that leads the current coalition government.

Ghannouchi says Tunisian law prohibits incitement to violence against any group, and that he has reassured representatives of the Jewish community that those responsible will be tried.
No-one has been tried yet, he concedes, but it took America 10 years to hunt down Bin Laden, he points out.

Nahda's attitude is regarded by some Tunisians as a form of double-speak. They accuse it of paying lip service to democratic values - freedom of expression, equal rights to all citizens, rule of law - while in reality having much in common with the ultra-conservative Salafists.

On Djerba, the heartland of Judaism in Tunisia and home to one of oldest synagogues in the world, El-Ghriba, the Salafists do not seem to have a presence, but the news of their threats has reached the small Jewish community.

A Jewish man, a 53-year-old father of six, says he has seen "Death to the Jews" scrawled on the wall. He writes over it "Death to those who want death to the Jews," he tells me.
He lived in the West for nine years, but he came back, he says, because he loves his traditional lifestyle.

I ask him what he feels about the future. He say it is all in the hands of the government - if it creates safety and stability then the Jews have nothing to fear. 

None of those I asked said they wanted to leave Tunisia or have made such plans.
But none of the 800,000 or so Jews who used to live in Arab societies before 1948 had wanted to leave.

In most cases theirs was a forced departure. The majority went to Israel, while some 200,000 fled to the West. Now, it is thought there are less than 20,000 left.

Read article in full

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Minister vows refugees will remain on the agenda

  Avigdor Liberman in the tie pin and Danny Ayalon (behind) with representatives of the organisations representing Jewish communities from Arab lands at the first ministerial meeting of its kind (Photo: A Perry)

Two important new developments in the campaign for Jewish refugees: Israel's foreign minister Avigdor Liberman has promised that the Jewish refugees will be part of his party's election manifesto, (Yisrael Beitenu); and a coordinator for Jewish refugee rights is to be appointed  within the ministry. This means that, whatever the outcome of the January elections in Israel, Jewish refugees will occupy a permanent place on the foreign ministry's agenda. The Jerusalem Post reports:

 “We will not give up on this goal,” Liberman told representatives from the Central Organization for Jews from Arab Countries and Iran on Tuesday afternoon in reference recent developments on his ministry’s efforts to bring the issue of Jewish refugee rights to public and diplomatic attention.

“Whenever the issue of Palestinian refugees is raised in the context of peace negotiations, we will raise the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.”

He noted that the Jewish refugees “came to Israel and were successfully absorbed by the state, as opposed to the Arab states who kept Palestinian refugees in refugee camps to tear Israel apart.”

Liberman, who heads Yisrael Beytenu, also said the issue would be part of his party’s election platform and that he would insist that the campaign be advanced as part of any coalition agreement after the general election in January.

The meeting with the delegates was the first to take place at the ministerial level.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon also announced that a coordinator for Jewish refugee rights had been appointed within the ministry, and that the coordinator would meet regularly with the relevant government departments to advance the issue.

According to the ministry, more than 850,000 Jews from Arab states fled their countries of birth following persecution that ensued after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Many also had their property confiscated.

The ministry, along with the World Jewish Congress, has embarked on a campaign in recent months to raise awareness of the Jewish exodus from Middle Eastern countries.

In September, Ayalon, ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor and World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder held a press conference presenting the campaign at the UN. Foreign diplomats, activists and journalists were in attendance.

Critics of the campaign, including former Jewish refugees from the Middle East, have claimed that it is designed merely to forestall negotiations with the Palestinians.

Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting at the Foreign Ministry, Ayalon – who has taken the lead on the issue – denied that this was the objective of the campaign.

Read article in full

Israel lobby fetes Syrian saviour Judy Feld Carr

With thanks Elsie; Gideon

It's taken decades, but Judy Feld Carr is finally being give the credit she deserves: the prestigious America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) summit recently showed this video to delegates.

The Toronto grandmother kept a secret lifeline going to the hostage Syrian-Jewish community from the 1970s onwards. Mrs Feld Carr raised money to ransom dozens of Jews to safety.

 While the AIPAC video has an undoubted Zionist message, validating Israel for giving refuge to these desperate Jews, the truth is more complex. Comparatively few Syrian Jews resettled in Israel.

In the 1990s the Assad regime eventually allowed the 3,000 remnant to leave for the US on tourist visas on condition that they did not go to Israel. The breakthrough occurred less as a result of Mrs Feld Carr's efforts, and more because the regime wanted to mend fences with the Americans in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The majority of these Jews now live in Brooklyn and New Jersey, USA.

Judy Feld Carr's rescue story becomes a film

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How many homelands do Palestinians need?

 Jewish refugees from Iraq (Photo: Pavel Wolberg)

There is no end in sight to the relentless stream of Haaretz critiques of the Israeli government's campaign for justice for Jewish refugees: Dimitry Shumsky ( 19 October) argues against the concept of an exchange of refugee populations.  The Palestinians were not guilty of the expulsion of Jews in other Arab countries, he claims, because they were not part of a unitary Arab state. My comments appear below.

"Let's consider the following hypothetical scenario: At the end of World War I the Allied Powers decide to offer national self-determination to the Arab entity of the Ottoman Empire, and give their blessing to the founding of a single, broad Arab state in the region. Immediately upon establishment, this new state halts Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel and begins a relentless persecution of the local Zionism movement, claiming that it threatens to rip the historic land from the Islamic nation.  

"Following waves of illegal Jewish immigration, supported by those in the international community who reject self-determination for the Arabs at the expense of the Jews, the Zionist yishuv rebels against the Arab rulers. In the wake of a protracted war of independence, the Jews defeat the foreign ruler and carve out a Jewish national homeland alongside the Arab one.  

"In the course of this war, the Arabs living in the Land of Israel flee to the safer regions of the Arab state, while the Jewish inhabitants of the Arab state flee to the Jewish territory. After the war these demographic trends are completed and formalized in a population transfer agreement, along the lines of the Greek-Turkish one in the 1920s.

"If the national struggle for the Land of Israel/Palestine in the last century unfolded according to this scenario, the comparison between the issue of Palestinian refugees and Jewish refugees from the Arab lands, which Israel's National Security Council is trying to create, would have been entirely acceptable. With all due respect to the pain experienced by the Palestinians, it is entirely possible to have envisioned a parallel refugee situation in which Jews from the Arab entity returned to the Jewish national homeland, while Arabs living in the Land of Israel returned to the Arab state.  

"Luckily for Zionism, a sovereign Arab state did not arise in place of the Ottoman Empire.  Instead the Arab territories were severed by the Western powers into separate countries in a process that strengthened tribe loyalties and deepened the cultural alienation among different Arab populations, creating or shaping new Arab national identities based on local territory.

"Despite shared language and religion, there is more that separates the Arabs of Palestine from the Arabs of Morocco, Egypt or Iraq than unites them, just like for hundreds of years there was more that separated Bavarian Germans from Saxon Germans, or Tyrolean  Italians from Neapolitan than united them.
"In this context, it’s understandable that the Palestinians -- who did not reject the justified Israeli demands that Arab countries compensate Jewish refugees -- do not accept the comparison between Jewish refugees from Arab lands and Palestinian refugees from the Land of Israel/ Palestine.   

"Despite absorption difficulties and exclusion at the hands of the Ashkenazi establishment, the immigrant-refugees from Arab states ended up in their national and political homeland.  In contrast, the Palestinian refugees have continued their refugee existence in Arab states, both because of rejection by the residents of those states, whose ethnic identities and interests have nothing in common with the Palestinians, and because of their own ongoing connection with their homeland.   

"That being the case, it is best not to blur the reality. In the eyes of Palestinians, Palestine, not other Arab states, is their national homeland – and not just in a symbolic way. It is incumbent upon Israel to recognize that reality, just as it is incumbent upon the Palestinians to recognize the parallel reality that the entire Land of Israel will remain, in the eyes of Jews, their national homeland – and not just symbolically.  "

My comments:

Arab states began acting in concert from 1945, with the formation of the Arab League. Even before the Palestinian exodus, the Political Committee of the Arab League hatched a plan for the official victimisation of Jewish citizens in Arab states, identified as citizens of the ‘Jewish minority of Palestine’. Before the mass exodus of Palestinians, It drafted a law in December 1947 freezing bank accounts, confiscating assets and stripping Jews of citizenship.

As well as persecuting Jews, the Arab League is responsible for the non-resettlement of Palestinian refugees in their own countries: a 1949 law  denying Palestinian refugees the right to citizenship has yet to be repealed.  The issue has nothing to do with 'ethnic identities and interests different to Palestinian' ones, but is a matter of elementary human and civil rights.

The pro-Nazi Palestinian leader, Haj Amin al-Husseini, together with some 500 Palestinians and Syrians, incited Jew-hatred leading to the Farhud pogrom  against the Jews of Iraq in 1941. He sought Nazi license to exterminate Jews in Arab countries as well as Palestine “ in the same way as the problem was resolved in the Axis Countries".

The Palestinian leadership cannot be absolved from responsibility for the exodus of Jews from Arab lands that followed within 10 years. The Mufti dragged the other Arab states into war against the nascent Jewish state in 1948. Thousands of Palestinian Jews fled areas conquered by the Arab legion -  Jerusalem and the West Bank.

 It must also be said that the Arab side were the first to link the two sets of refugees by proposing the exchange of Palestinian refugees for Iraqi Jews – an exchange they were later to renege on.

Shumsky argues unconvincingly that  what separates the Arabs of Palestine from the Arabs of Morocco for instance, is greater than what unites them.  Yet the PLO national charter  states Palestine is an indivisible part of the Arab homeland, and the Palestinian  people are an integral part of the Arab nation.

To quote Ahmed Tibi’s immortal words: "how many homelands do you need"? There are 21 Arab states; Jordan already has a majority of Palestinans. The Palestinians have consistently refused all offers to partition the land west of the Jordan.

 What divides Israeli Jews of Moroccan origin and German origin is a good deal greater than what divides Arabs of Morocco and Iraq – differences of language, culture and mentality - yet Shumsky insists that  all Jewish immigrants belong to the Jewish homeland.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Egyptians scared that Jews want restitution

 The Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria

The Nebi Daniel Association, which strives to preserve Jewish heritage in Alexandria, is to resume its attempts to negotiate with the Islamist-dominated Egyptian government. One of their longstanding grievances is that Jews outside Egypt can have no access to communal registers, which are considered the property of the Egyptian state. The Association has also obtained the local community's approval to ask the World Monument Fund to put the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria on its 'watchlist'.

 The news comes against a background of scaremongering in the Egyptian press.

It is clear that the Egyptians and other Arabs are worried stiff at the current Israeli government campaign for Jewish refugee rights. To the Egyptians, this can only mean that 'the Jews are coming back to reclaim their property.' This has led to the Egyptians imagining all sorts of conspiracies.

On Friday  blogger Elder of Ziyon uncovered this report in the Egyptian press:

Cairo police seized 13 parcels in large suitcases in Nasr City containing private books and papers of Jews in Egypt. These parcels were intended to be sent out of the country, where investigations revealed that they were en route to Jordan.

The newspaper Al-Ahram said it is likely that these files and papers were from the government, and intense efforts to catch the owner of these shipments are underway, after it was discovered the existence of the name of an unknown foreign woman on the parcels.

...These papers and books are very old, and contain information about the Jews in Egypt.

Investigations have revealed that these packages would go out of the country on behalf of a foreign woman to Jordan and from there to Israel, and then used in the prosecution of Egypt...
It is impossible to establish whether the story is true or a flight of Egyptian fancy. As Elder of Ziyon says, it seems highly unlikely that anyone might want to smuggle out Jewish documents through Jordan rather through an European country. More plausibly,  the Egyptians are framing a  woman in order to send a warning signal to anyone who might be engaged in a freelance operation to smuggle out Jewish documents or anybody contemplating helping them.

*The related fear that vast amounts of abandoned Jewish property might be open to exploitation or abuse at home surfaced in July in this television news report: between 10 and 50 'evil-doers' have been trying to extort 10,000 Egyptian pounds from each of the Egyptian tenants living in sequestered Jewish property in Cairo's Jewish Quarter, where 7, 000 Jews once lived. If the tenants, who pay the government a low rent, can't pay the sum demanded, the 'evil-doers' themselves move in, claiming that they bought the property from the sequestration authorities.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Will Labour be the new Sephardi party?

 (Libyan-born) Moshe Kahlon being lionised by Sephardi Likud supporters. He is withdrawing from politics

Surprisingly for a party voted into office by a large number of Sephardim, the government centre-right party Likud will have only one Sephardi on its Knesset list come the January elections in Israel. Avi Shushan suspects a 'purge', and tells Ynet News Sephardi readers to vote Labor - the new Likud. But whatever's wrong with Yisrael Beteynu (which has the Sephardi Danny Ayalon), and Shas, the Sephardi party par excellence? (With thanks: Michelle)

My father Morris, God rest his soul, taught me the importance of education, helping others, responsibility and one other thing – he taught me to be aware and proud of my Sephardic roots. "The Moroccans are the best," he used to say, and would vote accordingly: David Levy's Likud, Abu Hatzera's TAMI party, Meir Sheetrit and Shaul Amor, Aryeh Deri's Shas and Moshe Kahlon's Likud. Kahlon is not Moroccan, but my father liked him just the same. He was the true voice of Sephardics in Israel in the new millennium.

"We have to support our ethnic group and the Sephardics. We are just as good as anyone else," my father would say. The fact that ahead of the early elections Likud has only one Sephardic on its roster, Silvan Shalom, is and insult to the party's support base, which consists of a large number of Sephardics.

One has to wonder why Likud is kicking out its Sephardic representatives one after the other. David Levy was continuously humiliated. "David Levy jokes" they used to call them in the 80s. Today people remember how he stood up for his principles and fought for social justice. Meir Sheetrit fled to Kadima when Likud turned into a radical rightist party and gave up on peace for Feiglinism.

 Amor was a humble man who said that Bibi stuck a knife in his back and twisted it. Netanyahu buried Silvan Shalom in a small office with little influence. Kahlon is behind the cellular revolution that helped every Israeli financially, but he has left politics. For now, no one knows why. I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out that his decision was related to pressure from his colleagues in Likud and an attempt to hurt his status within the party.

 During Kahlon's recent farewell speech before the Likud Central Committee, he asked a number of activists to stop shouting out "stay" and "Kahlon is the king of Israel." He addressed these activists by name – Zaguri, Asulin, Amsalem – all Moroccan. How many Sephardics are currently on Likud's Knesset list? Just one. And yet, this does not stop Sephardics from voting Likud. They are stupid for voting for a party that has abandoned them for names such as Feiglin. To my father, who said Moroccans were "the best," I say: Dad, you were wrong.

Read article in full

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Well done to the BBC on a Tunisian triumph

 Restauranteur Jacob Lellouche - sees the end of the community outside Djerba in 15 years' time

More often than not, this blog has been critical of the BBC's almost institutional bias. But Point of No Return cannot but take its hat off for the second part of the pioneering World Service programme Heart and Soul: Arab Jews - the Forgotten  Exodus (repeated Sunday 21 and Monday 22 October and on demand for the next year), a triumph of incisive reporting. Fronted by Egyptian Magdi Abdelhadi and produced by Helena Selby, the programme pulled no punches in examining the extremist Muslim threat to what remains of Jewish life in Tunisia.

Hesitating to delve into antisemitism predating the creation of Israel in the first programme, Abdelhadi seemed to be on altogether surer ground in this second part. The intimidation of the Jews by Salafist demonstrators was the thin end of the wedge threatening all minorities and women.  Abdel Hadi bravely challenged the Prime Minister and leader of the Islamist An Nahda party, Rachid Al Ghannouchi, accusing him of failing to implement the rule of law, and of a 'revolving door' policy releasing suspects almost as soon they were arrested. Tunisia was caught up in a worrying culture of 'blaming the victim'.

Several Jews, including the 86-year-old community leader Roger Bismuth, a survivor of wartime labour camps, made the point that they were anxious or afraid, that the climate had changed since the Ben Ali regime,  and Jewish ties with Israel had become sensitive. 'Death to the Jews ' had been scrawled on Djerba walls, but one man prided himself on adding 'Death to those who call for death to the Jews.'
Jacob Lellouche in his mother's Tunis restaurant Mamma Lily -  the excitable lady herself was comically told to 'calm down' in the background - gave the 2,300 year-old Jewish community outside Djerba just 15 years before it became extinct. He was busy trying to preserve what he could of Tunisia's Jewish heritage, which he claimed accounted for a staggering '75 percent' of the whole.

All in all, this was the BBC at its best. More please!

BBC radio explores Jewish refugees for the first time   

BBC Watch comments on Part 2

Friday, October 19, 2012

'I accuse' Israel of shafting refugees, says WOJAC

                                                                     Dr Heskel Haddad

The World Organisation  of Jews from Arab Countries disassociated itself from JJAC and the campaign for Jewish refugees some six years ago - for reasons still unclear. This letter to The Jewish Voice from Heskel Haddad, WOJAC president, reflects his decades-long frustration with both Israeli and Arab leaders at their inability to recognise Jews fleeing Arab countries as refugees. But now that Israel is pushing for recognition of these Jews as refugees, it is less easy to understand why Haddad is tilting at windmills, taking up the mantra of the campaign's critics: he is accusing the government of 'cheating' Jews from Arab countries by attempting to 'offset' their claims against Palestinian claims. Has Haddad not heard that the Israeli government is advocating an international fund, as proposed by President Clinton in 2000? This fund would compensate both Jewish and Palestinian refugees.       

"Soon after my arrival to Israel as a stateless person, i.e. refugee, from Iraq, in 1951, I met with Israeli ministers and politicians, even I had interview with the late Mr. Ben Gurion, the prime minister then, the minister of health, and the late Mr. Begin the leader of Herut. (...) I tried to convince them that the Jews of Arab countries, almost one million of them, who arrived to Israel penniless, were refugees. The response was NO, they were Zionists. I challenged that assertion time and again, by asking audiences whom I addressed, if any of them would leave all their properties and assets and go to Israel because of the Zionist ideal.

"Not a single person ever responded affirmatively.

"WOJAC was established as an organization, by Mr. Mordekhai Ben Porat, then minister without portfolio, in the early seventies. I was one of the principal organizers, as I represented WOJAC in the USA. As such, I tried to block the PLO from appearing before the UN Security Council, when Israel boycotted that meeting, I served to save Jews from hanging in Iraq and to get Jews out of Iraq of the Ammash-Baker regime, by the help of the High Commissioner of Refugees, the late Prince Sadrudin Agha Khan, and UN Secretary General Mr. U Thant and his successor Mr. Waldheim, and the Canadian government with the wheat deal. All this was done without fanfares and publicity. WOJAC was instrumental in blocking Israel from offsetting the oil Israel used from Sinai by the property and assets of Egyptian Jews.

"I pressed the issue of the rights of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries before the UN Security Council after the Six Day War, with Judge Goldberg, and then US representative at the UN, to include, though indirectly, the issue of the Jewish refugees in resolution 242, by mentioning refugees and not Palestinian refugees, thus indirectly including the Jewish refugees.

"Arab leaders and diplomats repeat the lie of the Israeli government that the Jews left of their own volition and will. As a matter of fact President Sadat told me “the Jews came to us and wanted to leave and we told them they are free to leave,” the same I heard from the Moroccan foreign minister. Yet when you confront them with the history of their persecution of the Jews they nod their head.

"Besides the Farhood (pogrom) of June 2, 1941 in Baghdad, Iraq, there were 27 major pogroms in the major Arab cities, in Casablanca, Rabat, Marakish and Fass in Morocco, in Constantine in Algeria, in Jerba and Tunis in Tunisia, in Tripoli and Bengazi in King Sanusi’s Libya, in Cairo and Ismailia of Egypt, in Allepo, Damascus and Kamishli of Syria and of course Baghdad, Mosul and Basra of “Royal pro- Western” Iraq.

"The turning point for the Jews in Iraq was not the Farhood, as it is wrongly assumed. It was May 15, 1948 after Israel’s declaration of independence. A dark curtain fell on the Jewish community of Iraq, because military rule was imposed: 10,000 Jews were jailed and another 10,000 were interned in detention camps in Amara. All Jewish government employees were fired. Jewish merchants could not do business without a Muslin partner. A tax to ‘liberate Palestine’ was imposed on the Jews. The real turning point for Iraqi Jewry was the hanging of the late Mr. Shafik Adas in the summer of 1948, after a sham trial. This sole event created the greatest of fear among the Jews of Iraq that their lives were in danger in Iraq, because there was no Jew wealthier and more ingratiated by the Iraqi royalty and politicians than Mr. Adas. Just few days before he was arrested, I met with him with my father, who was the contractor to build Mr. Adas’ palace in Basra. He voiced his opposition to the creation of Israel, because he feared it will just a ghetto of Jews and can be easily annihilated. He was no Zionist.

"Thus my answer to Israel’s governments and to the Arab leaders and diplomats is ‘when your house is on fire you try to escape at all costs’. Besides, the Arab League had a resolution of 1949 ‘to facilitate the exodus of the Jews from the Arab countries,’ an aphorism for their expulsion.
I pressed the issue with President Sadat before the Camp David and the peace agreements between Israel and Egypt, when President Sadat invited me to meet with him in Ismaelia as what I was called ‘president of the Arab Jews’ (“Raees El Yahood El Arab”). This resulted in the special item of the peace agreement dealing with compensation issues.

"I pressed with the Arab League, meeting with Mr. Ismat Abd el Mageed, when he was secretary general of the league, and most recently with Mr. Amr Musa, to rescind the Arab League’s resolution, of 1949 prohibiting Arab governments from granting citizenship to the Palestinian Arab refugees. I was told that I was trying to dilute the Palestinian problem. Of course my main purpose was to facilitate peace by reducing the impact of the Arab refugees and their demand of return, which has blocked every effort to make peace, whether the Oslo accords, the River Wei agreement and camp David II.

"Now the Israeli government, through the Israeli foreign office, and supported by the World Jewish Congress and JJAC an organization seeking so called justice for the Jews from Arab countries, is trying to rename these Jews from Arab countries as refugees, no longer Zionists, for its own purposes of ‘kizzuz,’ i.e. offsetting the demands of the Arab refugees with the rights of the Jewish refugees in terms of reparations.

"Yet the same government not only refuses to cooperate with me and WOJAC, but blocking every effort I am working on to recover some of the Jewish assets which were frozen in the banks, usually foreign banks, which functioned in the various Arab countries. Two prominent Israel lawyers and I have communicated with officials of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Retirees, the Prime Minister’s office, etc. etc. with no avail.

"The Israeli government with the help of the WJC and JJAC is trying to cheat the Jews of Arab countries of their legitimate rights, by falsely championing their cause.

I accuse."

Prof. Heskel M. Haddad, M.D

Read letter in full

Flight from Babylon by Heskel Haddad - book review

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Forgotten refugees are forgotten no more

 Jewish refugees in an Israeli transit camp or ma'abara

We have Danny Ayalon and the current Israeli government to thank for putting Jewish refugees from Arab countries firmly on the international agenda, argues Michelle Huberman of Harif in the Jerusalem Post.

 If you have been following the work of my organisation Harif, (representing Jews from the Middle East and North Africa in the UK) you will know that campaigning for Jewish Refugees from Arab countries has, until last month, been an uphill struggle. However,the issue has moved to the mainstream since the "Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries conference last month in Jerusalem and the meeting at the UN building in New York telling their untold story, and featuring leading advocates Alan Dershowitz and Irwin Cotler.

Some 64 years after the creation of the State of Israel in what is often referred to as the forgotten exodus, 850,000 Jews were forced to leave Arab countries as refugees, leaving their property behind. Over 600,000 went to Israel and until the Russia aliyah of the 1990's  the largest communities in Israel were Moroccan and Iraqi. The rest went mostly to France, Canada, the Americas, Australia and the UK.

Today just over half of the Israeli population is  made up of Jews from Arab and Muslim countries. The big question everyone is asking is why are recognition and redress  being discussed now? Why didn't previous Israeli governments bring the issue to the UN years ago?

In Israel the issue is hardly known. Many of the older generation who have traumatic memories of witnessing murders, torture and fleeing or being expelled from with only a suitcase from Arab countries have found the experiences too painful to retell to their children and grandchildren.

Other reasons why the Israeli government did not tell the Jewish refugee story were the Eurocentricism of the Israeli establishment, the desire to integrate the refugees as immigrants returning to their ancestral homeland, and the belief, especially on the Left during the Oslo years, that the Jewish refugees were a stumbling block to peace.

 The issue of refugee rights is now a hot topic with the national and  international media.   Arab spokesmen and media have been thrown onto the back foot Hardly a day goes by without an opinion piece in Haaretz, criticising  or extolling  the Israeli governments diplomatic initiative.

 Israels stance on Jewish refugees only changed since the Yisrael Beytenu party joined the coalition government in 2009 on a platform of rights-based diplomacy.  Building on a US Congressional resolution demanding parity for Jewish and Palestinian refugees in 2008 and a 2010 Knesset law making compensation for Jewish refugees a condition of a peace settlement, the initiative to make  Jewish refugees  a policy issue came from Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, the son of an Algerian refugee father. 

In 2010 he penned an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post headlined "I Am A Refugee". That was followed with international op-eds and an information video The Truth about Refugees’that has already had over a million views. Danny Ayalon was the driving force behind last months conference and UN meeting.

At the same time  the Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched a Facebook page called ‘I am a refugee’ : any refugee could upload his or her story online, giving the lie to  allegations that Jews left Arab countries of their own free will.   

Describing the Jerusalem conference as historic, Danny Ayalon said: we will work on achieving justice to Jewish refugees, who were expelled and tortured, and their rights were taken away. The conference produced a declaration, pledging the Israeli government to include the history of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa in the school curriculum, to build a museum commemorating their rich heritage, and to add a memorial day to the calendar.  

In Israel, the lack of elementary knowledge, along with many of the older generation withholding their stories, has led to naive young Israelis ignoring their own rights, while peddling the narrative of  Israel's enemies.

The work is not over, it is only just beginning. and we are waiting to announce the date for a Jewish Refugee day to be inserted into the Jewish calendar. The real challenge is to produce an education programme not only for Israeli schools, but also to teach Jews in the Diaspora the history of the Jews from Arab countries.

Organisations like JJAC , Harif and JIMENA  will continue to work alongside the Israeli Foreign Ministry to instigate education programmes in the UK and America.

We have Danny  Ayalon  and the current government to thank for putting this issue  firmly on the international agenda. The forgotten refugees are forgotten no more.

Read article in full

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

'Chaabi' music of Algeria revived in France

 Chris Silver of Jewish Morocco blog is on a musical journey of discovery: in France this summer, he attended a concert of chaabi music, popularised by the recently-reconstituted Arab-Jewish band El Gusto. Touring with El Gusto is  Algerian-Jewish musician Luc Cherki, whose compositions seem to epitomise estrangement and exile. (With thanks: Michelle)

While in France, I had the tremendous opportunity to see live music as well. Thanks to the kindness of Safinez and Nabila I met with members of the recently reconstituted 1950s-era Algerian chaabi orchestra El Gusto. I was privileged to have ftour (Ramadan break-fast meal) with these master musicians and glean hidden nuggets of music history from the likes of Algerian pianist Maurice El Medioni through informal interviews backstage. The concert itself, in an amphitheater on the water in beautiful Sète (also interestingly a ferry point for North Africa), was electric. A couple observations from the concert before I jump to our artist of interest.

  • Throughout the concert, Abdelmajid Meksoud referred to Maurice El Medioni as Cheikh.
  • The set list included a majority of songs popularized or written by Algerian Jews including Mchate Aaliya (Lili Boniche), Alger Alger (Line Monty-Maurice El Medioni), and one of my favorites - Ghir Ajini Ajini (Lili Labassi). (..)
Monsieur Luc Cherki: In the lead up to the concert I chatted with Luc (sometimes Lili) Cherki, a musician who had long been a curiosity of mine but whom I had never written about. Luc was born on August 8, 1936 and spent his formative years in Algiers, Algeria. He came of musical age in the 1950s at a time when chaabi music across the Maghreb was on the ascent. What made him special (in part) was that he could not only jam on the guitar in a number of styles but could also sing distinctively in Arabic, French, and Hebrew. As the end of the decade approached, his identity as an Algerian Jew of French citizenship became increasingly complex. Like most of his fellow coreligionists Luc Cherki left Algeria for France by 1962 and has never returned. He increasingly sang in French and became associated musically and politically with his French hit Je Suis Pied Noir.

Luc Cherki recorded for a variety of labels in France including Kahlaoui's Dounia. His Arabic music was often forgotten as the years wore on and by the end of the 1980s he seemed to distance himself from music all together. He took a nearly 15 year musical break before returning to the performing stage in the 2000s and now tours with El Gusto.

Luc Cherki. L'Mouèma. Dounia. 1970s.
L’Mouèma: Yes, I'm posting a song about a Jewish mother, an Algerian Jewish mother to be exact. L’mouèma is the affectionate word for mom in darija, North African Arabic. The album artwork from this 1970s Luc Cherki release features a dedication to children deprived of their mothers' love. When I asked my friend Jawad (check out his Juifs Berberes photo blog) for some help with the lyrics, he concurred that the song was written about a mother but he offered another explanation. L’mouèma can also stand in for the motherland, he said. In other words, it's possible that Luc Cherki is singing here about his longing for Algeria. The song begins with, "separation is worse than death." Take a listen. I hear hints of Cheikh Zouzou's Bensoussan here in the music. The theme of exile, estrangement is ominpresent. What I also find fascinating about this song (and really El Gusto as a concept) is how much it complicates the narrative. Cheers.

What's happened to the Aleppo Great Synagogue?

 Model of the Great Synagogue, Aleppo at the Beit Hatefutsot museum, Tel Aviv

Whatever has happened to the Great synagogue of Aleppo? So far, there has been no news if the current fighting has damaged the historic building. Matti Friedman reports in The Times of Israel:

 Aleppo is one of the world’s oldest and most beautiful cities, its entire Old City recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. A recent Lonely Planet guide, now quite useless, described Aleppo as a “fragile treasure” with the “air of an Arabian bazaar city.”

Today, Aleppo appears to be suffering irreparable damage as its people battle inconclusively to control it. (For a gut-wrenching look at the effects of the violence, see The Atlantic’s recent compilation of photos from the city.)

For centuries a cosmopolitan trading center with populations of Muslims, Syrian Christians, Armenians, and foreign traders, Aleppo was also once home to one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities. The Aleppo Jews had been there for centuries by the time the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome in 70 CE.

This week, reports emerged that the 12th-century Ummayad mosque in Aleppo, used as a base by government troops, was badly damaged. The Citadel, the fortress that dominates the Old City, has also been harmed. A large fire consumed swaths of the medieval souks. But there has been no news of the Great Synagogue, a structure that dates back 1,500 years and was as recently as two decades ago the world’s oldest continually functioning Jewish house of prayer. For the Jews of Aleppo, it was the traditional center of communal life and a symbol of their unique continuity in this Syrian city.
Since the last Jews left two decades ago, the outwardly inconspicuous building — which sits behind a wall off an alleyway in what used to be the Jewish Quarter — has been locked, accessible only with the permission of the regime. Occasionally visited by foreigners, it was intact before the fighting started.

Accurate reports of the extent and location of the damage in Aleppo are hard to come by, and since there are no Jews left in the city, the synagogue has drawn no notice amid the more famous sites threatened or damaged in the fighting.

“This is one of the oldest synagogues in the world, and it served one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world outside Israel,” said Ezra Kassin, a researcher with the Aleppo Jewish community’s heritage center in Tel Aviv. The destruction of the building, he said, would be a “huge sentimental and historical loss for the Jewish people and for humanity.”

The heritage center has received no information on the building’s fate, Kassin said, or on the several dozen other Jewish sites — empty synagogues and schools, as well as cemeteries and other communal properties — that remain in the city under government custodianship.

The oldest part of the Great Synagogue, a basilica, dates to the 5th or 6th centuries CE, when the city was under Byzantine rule. Jews are thought to have been in Aleppo for 800 years or more by that time. Local traditions claimed the building’s foundations had actually been laid by Yoav, King David’s general, who captured Aleppo — known in Hebrew as Aram Tzova — in an episode briefly mentioned in the Bible.

Over the years, the synagogue was expanded several times. It was repaired after a Mongol invasion and massacre, and again after a later earthquake devastated the city. Beginning in the 14th century, the synagogue housed the Aleppo Codex, the most accurate copy of the Hebrew Bible and Judaism’s most important manuscript.

The synagogue, with its dark grottoes, interlocking chambers, seven arks of the Torah, and sunlit courtyard where prayers were held in summer, was the scene of many of the stories and legends recounted by local Jews. One of the more popular ones involved a mythical snake which lived inside a walled-off niche known as the “Sealed Ark,” and which was said to emerge to protect the community in times of danger.

After the United Nations vote on November 29, 1947, to partition Palestine, mobs in Aleppo attacked the Jewish community. The rioters burned stores, schools, homes, and 18 synagogues, according to contemporary reports. The Great Synagogue was torched. The Aleppo Codex disappeared, resurfacing mysteriously in Jerusalem ten years later. The riot marked the beginning of the end for Aleppo’s Jews, who began fleeing Syria for Israel or the West. Most were gone by the mid-1950s, part of a great exodus of Jews from Islamic countries in those years. The synagogue fell further into disrepair.

Read article in full