Tuesday, June 09, 2009

What about me, Mr President? - Andre Aciman

Andre Aciman (The New York Times)

Talking to Egyptians in Cairo without mentioning the exodus of 800,000 Jews from the Arab world is like talking to the people of Berlin without mentioning World War ll. The celebrated author of Out of Egypt, Andre Aciman, adds his reaction to President Obama's speech last week in this significant New York Times op-ed:

"President Obama's speech to the Islamic world was a groundbreaking event. Never before has a young, dynamic American president, beloved both by his countrymen and the nations of the world, extended so timely and eager a hand to a part of the globe that, recently, had seen fewer and fewer reasons to trust us or to wish us well. (..)

"And yet, for all the president’s talk of “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world” and shared “principles of justice and progress,” neither he nor anyone around him, and certainly no one in the audience, bothered to notice one small detail missing from the speech: he forgot me.

"The president never said a word about me. Or, for that matter, about any of the other 800,000 or so Jews born in the Middle East who fled the Arab and Muslim world or who were summarily expelled for being Jewish in the 20th century. With all his references to the history of Islam and to its (questionable) “proud tradition of tolerance” of other faiths, Mr. Obama never said anything about those Jews whose ancestors had been living in Arab lands long before the advent of Islam but were its first victims once rampant nationalism swept over the Arab world.

"Nor did he bother to mention that with this flight and expulsion, Jewish assets were — let’s call it by its proper name — looted. Mr. Obama never mentioned the belongings I still own in Egypt and will never recover. My mother’s house, my father’s factory, our life in Egypt, our friends, our books, our cars, my bicycle. We are, each one of us, not just defined by the arrangement of protein molecules in our cells, but also by the things we call our own. Take away our things and something in us dies. Losing his wealth, his home, the life he had built, killed my father. He didn’t die right away; it took four decades of exile to finish him off.

"Mr. Obama had harsh things to say to the Arab world about its treatment of women. And he said much about America’s debt to Islam. But he failed to remind the Egyptians in his audience that until 50 years ago a strong and vibrant Jewish community thrived in their midst. Or that many of Egypt’s finest hospitals and other institutions were founded and financed by Jews. It is a shame that he did not remind the Egyptians in the audience of this, because, in most cases — and especially among those younger than 50 — their memory banks have been conveniently expunged of deadweight and guilt. They have no recollections of Jews.

"In Alexandria, my birthplace and my home, all streets bearing Jewish names have been renamed. A few years ago, the Library of Alexandria put on display an Arabic translation of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” perhaps the most anti-Semitic piece of prose ever written. Today, for the record, there are perhaps four Jews left in Alexandria.

"When the last Jew dies, the temples and religious artifacts and books that were the property of what was once probably the wealthiest Jewish community on the Mediterranean will go to the Egyptian government — not to me, or to my children, or to any of the numberless descendants of Egyptian Jews.

"It is strange that our president, a man so versed in history and so committed to the truth, should have omitted mentioning the Jews of Egypt. He either forgot, or just didn’t know, or just thought it wasn’t expedient or appropriate for this venue. But for him to speak in Cairo of a shared effort “to find common ground ... and to respect the dignity of all human beings” without mentioning people in my position would be like his speaking to the residents of Berlin about the future of Germany and forgetting to mention a small detail called World War II."

Read article in full

16 comments:

SnoopyTheGoon said...

"a man so versed in history"? Hmm... where did he get this impression?

Victor said...

I'm so glad this was a New York Times op-ed piece. Hopefully, it will be widely read.

Victor David said...

André, it's been a very meaningful article. I think Obama DOES know about the Egyptian Armenians or Jews whose possessions were looted. It was not just politically savvy to talk about it.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Victor D is saying that Obama knows more relevant history than he revealed in his Cairo speech. If Victor D is right it means that Obama is very cynical. It means that he's willing to lie in order to please the Arabs or encourage the Arabs or whitewash the Arabs. No real peace can come out such an approach.

By the way, Obama's supporters [or maybe the US govt itself] are trying to build a popular movement to back his sinister policy towards Israel. They put an ad on the HaAretz today, which HaAretz sent out to registered users. The Obamanoids want people to sign up as backers of Obama's approach to "Midde East peace." I believe that people should be discouraged from registering on that ad or even from sending a message of disagreement through the the "return to sender" feature. If you make any kind of communication with the pro-Obama organization, they are likely to put you down as a supporter whatever your opinions may be. So you should not let them have your name or email address.

sammish said...

I would be very surprised if President Obama is not aware of the demise of Judaism in the arab lands and the plights and demise of jews from those lands.

They (politicians) all know about it... but are not willing to acknowledge it to the fullest and accept it as fact and use it in debate for fear of losing a possible diplomatic arab rapprochement.....

Anonymous said...

Andre

you forgot to mention why the "exodus" (of Egyptian Jews) came about. How about talking about the Lavon affaire and Israel being in war with Egypt (Suez)? It was Zionists who caused the breakup between Egypt and Egyptian Jews.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Anon, so why did Nasser confiscate property from and essentially drive out the hundreds of thousands of Greeks in Egypt in that same period, although the Greeks were praised after nationalization of the canal because the Suez Canal pilots [Greeks] had stayed on the job? Were those Greeks and the Armenians and Italians etc etc. also Israeli agents?

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Anon, What about the pogrom against Jews in Cairo before Israeli independence?

Anonymous said...

This all happened at about the same time... Egypt was trying to get republican with Superpowers opposing... (Israel elected stick with Powers)

David said...

I welcome not only this Aciman's piece, but this blog. I've always wondered why the Israeli government hasn't made more out of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries in international forums.

Not that the refugees necessarily wanted to return, especially after fleeing for their lives and in many cases leaving behind slaughtered relatives and confiscated property. But the story needs to be repeated so that descendants can be compensated, so that Arab governments can be held to account, so that dishonest double standards can be exposed, and as a counterweight against the endlessly repeated Palestinian narrative.

All the Arab countries need to rectify this "forgetting." Every claim they make on behalf of the Palestinians is matched or overmatched by claims on behalf of expelled Jews that have never been addressed or rectified. Unlike the Palestinians, the Jewish refugees were never showered with billions in international aid and the plaudits of the intellectual class.

Levana Zamir said...

Excellent article, and many thanks to President Obama for his omission. Finally the world is talking about us, the Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
Levana

Anonymous said...

When Andre Anciman published his book, the NYT reviewed it with abominable malice. The reviewer stated that the Anciman family deserved to be stripped of their possessions and expelled because they had exploited the non-Jews of Egypt. I wouldn't be surprised if this theme is returned to in any riposte to his article.

Anonymous said...

Apologies for my misspelling.

When Andre Aciman published his book, the NYT reviewed it with abominable malice. The reviewer stated that the Aciman family deserved to be stripped of their possessions and expelled because they had exploited the non-Jews of Egypt. I wouldn't be surprised if this theme is returned to in any riposte to his article.

Suzanne said...

@Eliyahu m'Tsiyon, he tried his best to please everyone with his speech - especially those who cannot deal well with a critical approach - , resulting in him not saying anything extremely negative.

I still do not know what to think of his speech. I find it weird that he spoke out words as a muslim (Holy Koran, Isra-story, etcetera) which you would not expect from a christian to do so - especially as the Copts in Egypt, e.g. also have a hard time. To me this speech was too friendly towards the muslim world - but perhaps he had his reasons. I cannot figure out what that reason might be. Either he sympathizes more with them, than with anyone else - or he tries to steal their hearts to let them change positively. I hope the latter, of course as that is much needed for Jews, Christians, Bahai and all other non-muslims who suffer in islamic states as they have no equal rights.

amie said...

Not so versed in history, as this post points out:

http://www.hurryupharry.org/2009/06/04/the-history-of-andalusia-and-cordoba-during-the-inquisition/

Anonymous said...

They talk about a 2 states solution (in Palestine) but there are already 4 states,legally and/or in fact. They are: Jordan, Israel, The West Bank of the Palestinian Authority of Fatah and Gaza of Hamas. In his speech in Cairo the president mentioned the Palestinian refugees, Muslims and Christians, but there were more, other Palestinians he did not mentioned, including the Jews of Palestine, the Druzes, the Samaritans and more. Also the Christians are not monolitics. There are in addition to the Catholics, the Orthodox (Greeks and Armenians etc...)and others who lived in Palestine, indeed perhaps all these people should also have their countries. Example: Let us have a 2 states solutions in Syria to compensate the Syrians Jews, they could have The Golan Heights, the Egyptians Jews could have their own land carved from part of the Sinai Peninsula, The Lebanese Jewish refugees would be given likewise a part of Lebanon (perhaps The Bekaa Valley) and so forth for all jews and other refugees from each Arab countries respectively etc... etc... That might be a fair solution, to begin with.
Also let us not blame the Arabs for all the problems in the Middle East. Let us remember the British with their "divide and conquer" policy, They promised the same things to both arabs and Jews and put them against each others or the USA whose sole policy is their own self interest -Oil and control of that region in opposition of then Communist Russia... and so forth...

Albert I. B.