Friday, May 31, 2013

BBC ignores Jewish claims in Abu Dis

 Not content with reporting the news, the BBC is making it: its Middle East correspondent Yolande Knell has waded in to support Ali Ayyad's campaign to reclaim ownership of the Cliff Hotel in the Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis, now in the custodianship of the Israel Absentee Property Law.  BBC Watch argues convincingly that Knell makes no attempt at balance or context: she has failed to point out that Jewish-owned lands in Abu Dis were taken over by the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property.

Knell devotes a considerable portion of her written article to the subject of the Israeli Absentee Property Law. Significantly – especially in this case – she makes no effort to inform readers of the fact that during the 19 year Jordanian occupation of Judea, Samaria and parts of Jerusalem (the later annexation of which was not recognized by the international community), there existed a body called the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property which was established to handle property seized from Jews during the War of Independence.

“During the war of independence, the mandatory Jordanian legions conquered the area of Judea and Samaria, and in 1950 annexed the area. In the aftermath of the Jordanian occupation of the area, the appointed Jordanian governor published proclamation 55, declaring all residents of Israel as “enemies” of the state. This declaration enabled the application of the Trading with the Enemy Act, 1939, to the property of Israelis in the area.

According to the act, a Jordanian custodian was appointed to manage enemy property including all the “Jewish Lands”. In turn the authorities of the Jordanian Kingdom used the lands for various purposes, including leasing and renting the land to the citizens.”

After the Six Day War and the subsequent end of the Jordanian occupation, property previously administered by the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property was transferred to the administration of the Israeli Custodian of Absentee Property, but the fact that the Jordanian authorities had frequently leased or sold Jewish-owned land to Jordanian citizens further complicated the legal situation. 
In Abu Dis – as is acknowledged even by Palestinian organisations – some 598 dunams of land are actually Jewish-owned. 

During the years 1920-30 the ‘Agudat HaDayarim’ Jewish Cooperative Society was established in Jerusalem in order to establish Jewish neighborhoods outside of the Old City for its members. The Society had over 210 members, from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds including Persians, Iraqis and Yemenites.  In 1928 the Aguda purchased 598 dunams of land in the area known today as Abu Dis – due to its proximity to the city centre – in order to build a ‘Garden Community’ (homes with agricultural plots). Although it acquired a legal title to the area, the Arab revolts of 1929 and 1936-9 prevented the Aguda from establishing the new community.  

The War of Independence resulted in the Jewish-owned lands in Abu Dis coming under the control of the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property. After the Six Day War and the subsequent reunification of Jerusalem, most of the Jewish-owned land in Abu Dis (some 540 dunams) remained outside of the city’s municipal boundaries and part of modern Abu Dis is built upon that land. Some 60 dunams of the land originally owned by ‘Agudat HaDayarim’ in Abu Dis does fall within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries. 

Of course the BBC (strangely, for an organisation committed to accuracy) does not make a practice of informing its audiences about the subject of Jewish-owned lands in what it terms “the West Bank”, but the Jewish-owned lands in Abu Dis certainly should have been part of Yolande Knell’s research before she elected to co-opt the BBC to Ali Ayyad’s prolific media campaign.

Read post in full 

Tangled web of Jewish-owned land in 'Arab' areas 

Palestinians have more restitution rights than Jews

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cairo belly dance music is 'hip' - in London

With thanks: Gil  
Guy Schalom (left) with his Baladi Blues Band

It's official.

 'Music to belly dance to' is no longer confined to sleazy, smoke-filled cabarets in Cairo. Known as Baladi -  Egyptian urban dance music -  it is becoming increasingly 'hip' - in Europe.

Listening to one of the main popularisers of Baladi - percussionist Guy Schalom - causes an irresistible urge to shake your hips, shimmy and girate your torso. The cookery writer Claudia Roden, a contemporary of Guy's grandparents, Jews exiled from Egypt in the 1950s, is a great Baladi fan.

Guy Schalom's Baladi Blues Band is a fusion of East and West. They play not just traditional Middle Eastern instruments such as darbuka, tabla and oud, but alto sax and piano accordion.

'Baladi' means 'country'. As Egyptians flocked to the cities from the countryside, they brought the music with them. But what has always been regarded as a strongly Egyptian music form was in fact exposed to many outside influences. In this radio podcast by the Jewish Music Institute, Guy explains that it is now forgotten that the Jewish influence on Baladi music was considerable. Jews performed it and composed it. "There are Jewish connections, and for me this is quite powerful," says the Israeli-born musician, who was brought up in the UK.

If you are in London you can hear Guy and his Baladi Blues Band perform at King's Place on Thursday 6 June.

Other JMI  podcasts  feature the Sephardi and Mizrahi musicians of El Gusto, the Jewish-Arab Algiers Band reunited after 50 years (full details of their 3 June concert at the Barbican here) ; you can also listen to interviews with Ladino singer Yasmin Levy and the Sephardi band Los Desterrados.

The Jewish divas of the Arabic music scene

Kurds could blaze the trail for Jews

 Kurds demonstrate in Iraq (photo: Reuters)

The disintegration of Syria could provide an opportunity for the Kurds - and that could be good for the Jews, and other minorities, Dan Diker and Harold Rhode write in the Jerusalem Post.

  What stands behind most of the violence in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and other areas is Arab Sunni fundamentalism in its various forms – whether Salafi, Wahhabi, or Muslim Brotherhood. All forms of radical Islam threaten the existence of the Alawites, Kurds, Lebanese Shi’ites, Christians, and other members of the non-Sunni ethnic and religious groups, including non-fundamentalist Sunnis.

This Arab Muslim “zero-sum game” culture defines their view of Kurds and other minorities, including Israel. Just as the Arab Sunni Muslims in general relentlessly “hunt” Israel, they would only accept a permanent solution in the Middle East by which they conquer and control the region, and – according to classical Islamic dogma – eventually the entire world.

But tectonic shifts triggered by the Islamic revolutions over the past few years may succeed in liberating the region from Sunni Arab imperialism and create a better future for the region’s minorities. The Kurds, while overwhelmingly Sunni, see the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wahhabis by and large as Arab imperialists trying to force them to abandon their Kurdish identity and become Arabs – probably the reason most Kurds loathe the Muslim Brotherhood.

For the Brotherhood, being Sunni is not enough. In their view, only Arabs can be true Muslims. Non-Arabs must abandon their languages and cultures and adopt an Arab identity – the same attitude which explains how most of the Middle East became Arab and Muslim during the first century of Islam.

The shifts are important to the Kurdish future. The Kurdish self-governing authority in Northern Iraq, Syria’s unraveling into geographical units comprised of Alawites, Kurds, Arab Sunnis and other ethnic groups, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent outreach to Turkey’s Kurds could result in a more pluralistic governing structure for a new Middle East whose centers of power are more dispersed.

In this context, the legitimacy and success of the Kurdish national project across the region could blaze a new path for other minorities. It could also help Israel.

For example, Iraqi Kurdistan’s success as an autonomous area or a potentially independent state may influence a process of self-determination for other sects, tribes, ethnic and religious groups.

Shared challenges make Kurds and the Jewish state good potential allies. Like Jews, the Kurdish people have lived under foreign domination for millennia.

Kurdish suffering under Arab, Turkish and Iranian rule infuses them with a natural affinity for Jews and Israel.

There are an estimated 35 to 45 million Kurds in the Middle East, many of whom have been secretly sympathetic to Israel for years and have even been labeled “Zionist agents” in Iraq, Syria and Iran.

The addition of millions of potential Kurdish friends, for micro-sized Israel with a mere eight million inhabitants, could enhance the Jewish state’s security and regional position. While Jews were always considered politically and socially inferior in the Arab Middle East, Kurds generally did not discriminate against Jews, nor have they demonized Israel. In short, geography, history and destiny create natural affinities and interests between Kurds and Israelis.

Read article in full

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Imams' Auschwitz visit tells half the story

Muslim leaders have travelled to Germany and Poland to see and hear for themselves about the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust, the BBC reports. While visits like this are vital in combating Holocaust denial in the Arab and Muslim world, they are more remarkable for what they conceal than reveal. They have the unfortunate side-effect of projecting the Holocaust as a purely European story.  I'll wager that the question of sympathy with Nazism, even complicity, of key Arab figures, is not touched on, nor is the postwar ethnic cleansing of Jewish communities in the Arab world as a result of Nuremberg-style laws mentioned; nor the legacy of Nazi-inspired Islamo-fascism, still very much with us today.

The 11 imams, sheiks and religious teachers from nine countries met a Holocaust survivor and Poles whose families risked execution to save Jews from the Nazis, in the Polish capital's Nozyk Synagogue as part of the tour.(..)

"The main aim is to get Muslims who are leaders all over the world, particularly in the Middle East, to acknowledge the reality of what happened here and to be able to teach it to the people that they lead," said trip organiser Rabbi Jack Bemporad, who is executive director of the US-based Center for Interreligious Understanding.

He was standing underneath the red brick watchtower over the main entrance to Birkenau, the largest of more than 40 camps that made up the Auschwitz complex. This was where the Nazis installed four gas chambers and crematoria to speed up the murder and disposal of people, who were mostly Jews, from across Europe.

Auschwitz-Birkenau, set up by the Germans in Nazi-occupied Poland, is largely intact and is now a museum. Historians estimate 1.1 million people were killed there - one million of them were Jews but there were also Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and others.

"I think that when someone wants to deny the Holocaust or think that it is exaggerated, which many of them do and certainly many of their followers do, when they come here and see it, their experience is such that they can no longer think that," Rabbi Bemporad said.

Muslims pray during a trip to Auschwitz  
The visitors stopped to pray beside an execution wall. 
Beside the ruins of one of the gas chambers - the Germans blew them up as they retreated, in an effort to hide their crimes - the Muslim leaders paused for a moment's silence.
"You may read every book about the Holocaust but it's nothing like when you see this place where people were burned," said Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America.
"This is the building, the bricks. If they were to speak to you and I, they would tell you how many cries and screams they have heard."

Mr Magid, who is originally from Sudan, first visited Auschwitz-Birkenau during a trip organised for American imams in 2010. He said the experience had led him to hold an annual Seder, a Jewish ceremonial meal, at his mosque in Virginia where he invites people to listen to the story of a Holocaust survivor who was saved by a Muslim family.

"We go back more committed to human rights and more understanding of conflicts and how to resolve them, but also to be careful of a curriculum that teaches racism and hatred," he said.

Earlier, the group had taken photos as they walked around an exhibition in the red brick barrack blocks at Auschwitz, about 2 miles (3kms) from Birkenau.

They made comments such as "Can you imagine?" and "It's beyond comprehension" as they saw a great pile of hair shorn from women prisoners that was used to make rudimentary textiles. They shook their heads as they saw faded children's shoes and dolls in glass cases.

After they had seen just two of the 14 exhibition blocks, some of the group asked for a break and they knelt in prayer beside the camp's execution wall.

Barakat Hasan, a Palestinian imam and director of the Center for Studies and Islamic Media in Jerusalem, said he "didn't know many details about the Holocaust" before the trip.

Barakat Hasan, a Palestinian imam and director of the Center for Studies and Islamic Media in Jerusalem  
 Barakat Hasan, a Palestinian imam, said he would share what he had learned on the visit
"I felt my heart bleeding when I was looking at all this. I was fighting back tears," he said through an interpreter. "As a Palestinian living under occupation, I feel sympathy for the pain and injustice that was inflicted on the Jews," he added.

Mr Hasan said he did not believe there were people in the Muslim world who denied the Holocaust happened, but he said there was discussion in his community about whether the commonly quoted figure of six million Jewish victims was correct.

"Maybe now after seeing what I've seen, maybe the numbers are correct also," he said, adding that he would write articles and mention his trip on Facebook.

As he walked along the railway line and unloading ramp at Birkenau - where the trains hauling cattle cars crammed with Jews arrived - Ahmet Muharrem Atlig, a Turkish imam and secretary general of the Journalists and Writers Foundation in Istanbul, said he wept when he saw a photograph that showed children looking scared as they got off a train.

"Unfortunately the Muslim communities and congregation don't know much about the Holocaust," he said.

"Yes, we've heard something. But we have to come and see what happened here. It's not just about Jews, or Christians, this is all about human beings because the human race suffered here."

Read article in full 

A Libyan Holocaust survivor's story 

Hitler has never left the Middle East 

Jews question Egyptian cutback - report

 Detail from an Egyptian synagogue

Blowback in Egypt Independent from reports of Egypt's decision to cut off funding from Egypt's tiny Jewish community: the community has written a letter to the Shura Council. It is apparently also demanding the appointment of an 'Arab' rabbi. It is not clear where this rabbi would come from - certainly not from inside a community of some 20 elderly Jewish women.

Egypt’s Jewish community on Tuesday demanded that the Shura Council explain itself regarding the alleged halt of government financial support to Egyptian Jews.

Anadolu Turkish news agency quoted on Wednesday an official from the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs who said that the government has revoked annual grants of LE100,000 (US$14,000) allocated to the Jewish community by former President Hosni Mubarak.

Mubarak had secretly granted the funds starting in 1988.

A letter submitted to the Shura Council on Tuesday inquired about the credibility of a report that the state would annul the funds, which were a classified component of the Ministry’s budget.

The letter was discussed during a meeting of the council’s Human Rights Committee. Mohamed Al-Azab, a committee member, said that the Jewish community had called for the funds to be an explicit part of the country’s budget. They had also called on the government to facilitate the appointment of an Arab rabbi (sic)  to help community members perform religious rites.

Read article in full

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Israel radio campaign collects testimonies

 Uri Orbach, Minister for Senior Citizens

 With thanks: Ian

Israelis from Arab lands are being encouraged to tell their stories as part of a project run by the Israeli Ministry for Senior Citizens.

The ministry are running a radio advertising campaign.

The project is called “V’higateta l’bincha”: 'And you will tell your children'. The saying comes from the Passover Haggadah: it enjoins Jews to pass on the story of their exodus from Egypt to succeeding generations.

 The purpose is to collect testimony of how life was for the Jews in Arab lands and what happened there while the people who remember it are still alive.

The Ministry of Senior Citizens has a key role in documenting and computerising data pertaining to Jews from Arab countries and their lost property.

The Minister of Senior Citizens is the comparatively youthful Uri Orbach, above. A journalist, author and satirist, he represents the Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) party, led by Naftali Bennett.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Israel is more Middle Eastern than ever

Ethan Bronner used to be the Jerusalem bureau chief for The New York Times. I found fascinating his impressions of how Middle Eastern Israel really had become as intermarriage between eastern and western Jews becomes the norm. But as the New York liberal he remains, he cannot understand why Israel can ignore the Palestinians. It would never occur to him to see anything remiss in the Palestinian refusal to talk to Israel, let alone extend a hand of friendship. 

"Back in Tel Aviv for a recent visit a year after ending my tour as Jerusalem bureau chief, I was struck by how antiquated that wisdom felt. At a fascinating and raucous wedding I attended and from numerous conversations with a range of Israelis, I came away with a very different impression.

 "Few even talk about the Palestinians or the Arab world on their borders, despite the tumult and the renewed peace efforts by Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been visiting the region in recent days. Instead of focusing on what has long been seen as their central challenge — how to share this land with another nation — Israelis are largely ignoring it, insisting that the problem is both insoluble for now and less significant than the world thinks. We cannot fix it, many say, but we can manage it. 

"The wedding took place near Ben-Gurion airport, where a set of event halls has gone up in the past seven years, including elaborate structures with a distinct Oriental décor of glistening chandeliers, mirrored place mats and sky-high ceilings with shifting digital displays. The groom’s grandparents emigrated from Yemen; the bride’s came from Eastern Europe, an example of continuing and increasing intermarriage between Sephardim and Ashkenazim. 

"The music was almost entirely Middle Eastern in beat, some of it in Arabic, some of it religious. The hundreds on the dance floor, many staying until dawn singing along with arms gesticulating, came from across a range of political, geographic and religious spectra — from miniskirted to ultra-Orthodox modesty. Frumpy settlers in oversize skullcaps mingled with Tel Aviv metrosexuals in severe eyewear. Some women hugged you; others declined to shake your hand. Everyone was celebrating. No one, especially the Orthodox rabbi who presided over the ceremony, mentioned that the young couple had been living together for more than three years. Some talked politics with me. No one mentioned the Palestinians. 

"Israel today offers a set of paradoxes: Jewish Israelis seem in some ways happier and more united than in the past, as if choosing not to solve their most difficult challenge has opened up a space for shalom bayit — peace at home. Yes, all those internal tensions still exist, but the shared belief that there is no solution to their biggest problem has forged an odd kind of solidarity. 

"Indeed, Israel has never been richer, safer, more culturally productive or more dynamic. Terrorism is on the wane. Yet the occupation grinds on next door with little attention to its consequences. Moreover, as the power balance has shifted from the European elite, Israel has never felt more Middle Eastern in its popular culture, music and public displays of religion."

Read article in full

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Post- Arab Spring, antisemitism is worse

 Hebrew inscription, Ezekiel's tomb, Iraq. The JJAC Report recommends that the US send a fact-finding mission to assess the state of 13 Jewish sites in Iraq.

"With the ‘Arab Spring’ came great hopes and expectations for democracy and greater freedoms for all citizens in the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf region", says a new report by Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) on antisemitism in Arab countries published this month. Sadly, matters are worse, especially for minorities in Arab countries.  Against this bleak background, Morocco stands out as an exception.
 ( Point of No Return was apparently the source for much of the material in this report.)

This Report cites media accounts of blatant anti-Semitism, incitement and discriminatory practices, specifically targeting Jews and Judaism, replicated in virtually all Arab countries. Taken individually, each act or statement may appear less than consequential; taken together, they represent a disquieting litany of antagonism against Jews.

It is true that in all Middle East Arab countries, Israel and Zionism are primary targets of Arab rancor. Yet, virtually all of the media references cited in this Report make no mention of Israel and/or Zionism. The antipathy is directed against Jews and Judaism – not Israel. The specious accusations foments hatred against all Jews, irrespective of where they may live.

This past year, the last Jew in Algeria assisted by a Jewish international aid society, Mrs. Esther Azoulay, passed away in July 2012. 2 Our sense of loss was magnified with the recent passing of Carmen Weinstein, the long-time leader of the Jewish Community of Egypt. These losses are symbolic of the inexorable march towards the extinguishing of the once-vibrant Jewish life and communities in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.
Yet to-day, in these countries virtually devoid of Jews, anti-Semitism continues to run rampant, incitement against Jews persists, and many Government leaders, party officials, clergy and academics seek to thwart normal relations between Muslims and Jews.(...)

Violence against Jews – There were three reported deaths of Jews in Tunisia, Yemen and Morocco. Government leaders, party officials, clergy and others regularly engage in ‘a call to violence’, urging their followers “to shoot the Jews”; “to kill the Jews – it’s a religious duty”; that Jews “deserved to be killed”; “annihilate them”; that Islam “instructs Jihad against Jews”; “drive them out of our countries”; “nurse hatred for them”; and that “loathing Jews is a form of worship of Allah”.

Anti-Semitism/Incitement Against Jews – There is an tendency to demonize and humiliate the Jews who are called “apes”, “pigs”, “monkeys”; “donkeys”; “dogs”; and a “cancer” on the world.
Moreover, the portrayal of Jews is fraught with conspiracy theories as Jews are accused of “trying to poison the Prophet Muhammad”; “a source of evil in human society”; that “Jews spread corruption on earth”; that “Jews spark Wars”; that “every catastrophe in the world is the handiwork of Jews”; that 9/11 was “a theatrical show run by Jews”; that Jews control the world’s gold”; that “Jews use porn to corrupt Muslims”; that “Jews support whorehouses”; that “Jews have no history”; that “the Jewish religion is a fairy tale”; that “Jews use slaughtered victims blood to make Purim sweets”; etc.

Thwarting Norman Relations with Jews – In media reports in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Yemen, Jews are singled out in the Arab press as “bloodthirsty”, “treacherous”, “slaughterers”, “deviant”, “corrupt”, “thugs”, “obstinate”, “frauds”, “warmongers”, “deceitful” and “exploitive”.

In light of these vile characterizations, many in Arab countries seek to thwart relations with Jews, including: the cancellation of a concert that a Jewish singer was to give in Algeria; Jews being jailed upon their return to Libya; cancellation of invitations to Jews to attend meetings and conferences in Arab countries; film on Jews causes an uproar in Egypt; Jews excluded from a National Dialogue Conference in Yemen; and threats made against any Jews wishing to return to Egypt.

Desecration of Holy Sites, Religious Articles – Instances include: graves being desecrated in Libya; converting Jewish tombs into mosques; leaving old Torah scrolls unpreserved in Iraq; two synagogues ransacked in Tunisia; and Jewish cemeteries vandalized in Tunisia.

Abrogating Freedom of Religion – As exemplified by the enforcing of Shari’a law in Egypt; blocking Jewish pilgrimages; preventing services in synagogues on Jewish holidays; issuing fatwas preventing Jews from visiting their own holy sites; and

Confiscation Of Jewish Assets and Archives – Taking control of Jewish community assets in Egypt; preventing Jews from retaining Jewish communal records from Iraq and Egypt.

The Report's conclusions are as follows: 
In the absence of previous such Reports, it cannot be statistically shown that anti-Semitism in Arab countries in 2012 differed from previous years. However, as an anecdote, before the advent of the ‘Arab Spring’, Jews were able, with some discretion, to visit virtually every Arab country. To-day, such travel is being discouraged by Arab regimes (e.g. forbidding pilgrimages; arresting returning Jews; etc.);

2) International efforts are required to underscore the need to preserve Jewish religious and/or holy sites in countries where there are no longer any Jews. The appropriate UN, international Jewish entities, human rights groups, etc. – must be called upon to assist in protecting Jewish holy sites, including tombs, cemeteries, synagogues, etc.; and

3) The United States should be requested to send a fact-finding mission to visit 13 Jewish holy sites in Iraq; assess their condition; and recommend ways to have the locations preserved and protected as Jewish holy sites.

To access the Report click on 'After the Arab Spring: Antisemitism against Jews in Arab Countries' on the JJAC website.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Moustaki will not be buried in Alexandria


Fans of Georges Moustaki will be saddened to hear of  the 79-year-old chansonnier's death two days ago. Born in Egypt when it was a Levantine melting pot, he was a universalist who sang in many languages. It looks like he will not be granted his wish, expressed in December, to be buried in his native Alexandria, with other 'free thinkers'. His last resting place will be the Pere Lachaise cemetery in  Paris, along with other great poets, authors, and personalities.

The Times of Israel reports (with thanks: Michelle):

JTA — Georges Moustaki, a French singer and songwriter known as “The Wandering Jew,” has died.
Moustaki’s Paris-based production company said he had died early Thursday at his home in Nice in southern France following a long illness, the French news agency AFP reported. He was 79. 

The Greece native won his nickname in France for his simple musical style and melancholic ballads that he sang himself, as well as wrote and composed in the 1960s for such renowned artists as Edith Piaf, Yves Montand and Juliette Greco.

Among the more famous of the hundreds of songs he wrote is “Les Meres Juives,” or “The Jewish Mothers.”

Moustaki told the RTL radio station in December that he wanted to be buried in Alexandria, where he grew up and lived until he was 17 with his Jewish parents, who came there from Corfu, Greece. They later moved to France, where he spent the rest of his life.

Friday, May 24, 2013

From Beirut to Brazil: here comes Chella Safra

 Here's a name to watch for - Chella Safra, the newly-elected treasurer of the World Jewish Congress. It would be nice to see this Beirut-born member of the well-heeled Safra banking family take a proactive role in the WJC's campaign for Justice for Jews from Arab Countries. Interview in Haaretz (with thanks: Michelle):

BUDAPEST – For Chella Safra, it’s a bit of déjà vu. That same uncomfortable feeling she had being a Jew in Beirut after the 1967 Six Day War is palpable in the streets of the Hungarian capital these days.

“Growing up, I never felt threatened,” Safra, the freshly elected treasurer of the World Jewish Congress, told Haaretz in an interview, “but we made sure never to mention Israel, Zionism or the Star of David. It got a little bit worse after the war when the Palestinians moved into South Lebanon. That was when being Jewish or pro-Israel became an issue.”

Safra, who moved with her family to Brazil in 1968, at the age of 18, is married to billionaire Moise Safra, also Lebanese-born, of the famed Jewish banking family. They have five children and 12 grandchildren and live in Sao Paolo. In 2006, her husband sold his stake in the family banking business to his brother Joseph for an estimated $2 billion, according to Forbes Magazine.

A well-known figure in the Brazilian Jewish philanthropic world, Safra said her new appointment is “the most important and international position I’ve held” and that in light of the recent surge in anti-Semitism in various European countries, she believes the World Jewish Congress, which lobbies governments around the world on behalf of Jewish causes, has its work cut out for it.

“The WJC must dedicate its attention now to try to stop these trends, intervene with the governments of the countries to find a solution and make available to everyone news of what is happening so that bad things will never happen again,” she said. (...)

Although she has very fond memories of her childhood years in Beirut, Safra said she has no desire to return for a visit and that it would make her upset “to go back and not recognize the city where I grew up, where I have memories of the best time in my childhood.” At the moment, she said, “It’s a project put on the side.”

Read article in full (Registration required)

WJC approves Jewish refugees motion 

UN hosts historic meeting on Jewish refugees

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Shasha: where are the Middle Eastern Jews?

David Shasha (pictured) is having a bad week.

Two articles on the trot have upset this director of the Sephardic Heritage Center in New York: the first by Columbia University professor Joseph Massad on Al-Jazeera managed to offend so many that it was briefly pulled; the second on Open Zion, 'Throw away that rusty Key',  a response to an article on the Palestinian Nakba, was featured on Point of No Return.

About the first article, a bizarre and twisted rant conflating antisemites, Nazis and Zionists - the less said the better. What bothers Shasha most, writing in Mondoweiss about Massad's piece, is that Sephardim are absent from pro-Palestinian discourse. Massad insists on identifying Jews as Ashkenazim in his desperation to equate Jews with white settler colonialists: 

  It is therefore ironic that Massad, in seeking to counter Zionism, affirms its basic dogma that Jews are Europeans and not Middle Easterners. The contentious, ugly, and hateful battle between pro-Israel and anti-Israel forces is thus underscored by a rejection of Arab Jewish history and identity. 

There are only two voices permitted in this discussion, Shasha laments: the Ashkenazi voice and the Arab voice. Thus far, we couldn't agree more.

Then his argument begins to unravel:

Sephardim have no allies in this battle and those Sephardim who remain convinced that they are a part of this discussion are seriously mistaken.

A perfect example of this, Shasha continues,  is The Open Zion article by Lyn Julius, co-founder of Harif.

 What we see in all of Lyn Julius’ articles is a deeply devoted commitment to Zionism. Her advocacy marks Arab Jews as victims and supports the idea that the Jews of Middle East are indeed just like the Palestinians; homeless refugees who were oppressed by their host countries. What the article misses is the larger history of Jewish life in the Arab-Muslim world and some articulation of the glorious culture that it produced. All that we see is the hatred of the Arabs in a way that parrots the standard Israeli-Zionist approach.

Here Shasha is on much shakier ground: the glorious culture of Jewish life in the Arab Muslim world appears something of a red herring when Jews were forced to run for their lives from Arab countries. It's like saying that no discussion of the Jews escaping Nazi Germany is possible without a mention of the glorious contribution to German culture of Heine, Mendelssohn and Marx.

This is not to say that Jews from Arab countries were all Zionists - many were not. But one thing is sure: the establishment of Israel made the difference between life and death, offering the great mass of  Jewish refugees an unconditional  safe haven -  be they rich or poor, old or young, sick or healthy, uneducated or skilled.

It would be nice to know what Shasha means by 'the standard Israeli-Zionist approach', when  Israeli politics contains every shade of opinion and sentiment. However, it's no accident that Jews from Arab countries are amongst the political hawks, deeply mistrustful of their erstwhile Arab masters and still smarting from their recent experience of persecution and violence.

Shasha's argument then proceeds to leave the rails altogether, as he charges that the organisations Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC),  JIMENA and Harif are there to 'do the Israeli  government's bidding.'

 "These are organizations that work hand in glove with the Zionist organizations in a way that seeks to aid Israel in its attempt to negate the claims of the Palestinian Arabs. In the course of this advocacy the matter of anti-Sephardi racism on the part of Ashkenazi Israel is completely ignored.

 So these 'Sephardi' organisations are actually working against the better interests of Sephardim as a whole. Using Shasha's twisted logic, Sephardim should not be asking for recognition or compensation, because that benefits the Ashkenazi-dominated establishment in Israel. (No mention of the rights of Jewish refugees outside Israel, either.)

As for Shasha's smear that the three resource-starved organisations named above, who have struggled for years for public  attention, are 'fronts' for the Israeli government,  Stan Urman of JJAC told Point of No Return:

"JJAC generally, and me personally, have been vitriolically attacked by David. We must be doing something right!"

For Gina Waldman of JIMENA,  'there would be no greater honor".

Lyn Julius of Harif found the idea hilarious: "I never laughed so hard in my life," she said.

Egypt cuts off funding to remaining Jews

 Magda Haroun.. unclear why she is not continuing Weinstein's role

The ever-vigilant Elder of Ziyon quotes  a report in the Egyptian press that the Egyptian government has stopped paying a grant to Egypt's Jewish community following the death in March of its president Carmen Weinstein. This is a slap in the face for her successor Magda Haroun, who has not ceased to profess her loyalty to Egypt. In September, the Egyptian government cut off funding earmarked for restoration of Alexandria's synagogues. It sounds like Egypt wants nothing more to do with Jews, whether living or dead.

"An official in Egypt's Ministry of Social Affairs has stated that the small annual stipend that Egypt had been spending on the tiny Jewish community has been eliminated in the newest budget.

"Suad Makki, head of the Central Department for Financial and Administrative Affairs, told a meeting of the Commission on Human Rights of the Shura Council that the Egyptian government had been paying some $14,000 to the Jewish community almost every year since 1988. After the death earlier this year of Carmen Weinstein, the head of the community, Makki says that there is no longer a liaison.

"Egypt has an estimated 20 remaining Jews, all elderly women, according to the report.

"Weinstein was officially succeeded by Magda Haroun, and it is unclear why she is not continuing Weinstein's role, or if the cash-strapped Egyptian government is using Weinstein's death as an excuse."

Read post in full

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Jewish archive exhibition to open in October


A Chumash dating back to 1568 and a Babylonian Talmud from 1793 are amongst items to be displayed as part of an exhibition of Jewish artefacts from Iraq at the National Archives building in Washington. The exhibition will open on 11 October 2013 and run until 5 January 2014. It could be the last time these items are seen in the US before they are shipped back to Iraq.

On May 6, 2003, just days after the Coalition forces took over Baghdad, 16 American soldiers from Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, a group assigned to search for nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, entered Saddam Hussein’s flooded intelligence building. In the basement, under four feet of water, they found thousands of books and documents relating to the Jewish community of Iraq – materials that had belonged to synagogues and Jewish organizations in Baghdad.

The water-logged materials quickly became moldy in Baghdad’s intense heat and humidity. Seeking guidance, the Coalition Provisional Authority placed an urgent call to the nation’s foremost conservation experts at the National Archives. Just a week later, National Archives Director of Preservation Programs Doris Hamburg and Conservation Chief Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler arrived in Baghdad via military transport to assess the damage and make recommendations for preservation of the materials. Both experts share this extraordinary story and take you “behind the scenes” in this brief video []. This video is in the public domain and not subject to any copyright restrictions. The National Archives encourages its use and free distribution.

Given limited treatment options in Baghdad, and with the agreement of Iraqi representatives, the materials were shipped to the United States for preservation and exhibition. Since then, these materials have been vacuum freeze-dried, preserved and photographed under the direction of the National Archives. The collection includes more than 2,700 Jewish books and tens of thousands of documents in Hebrew, Arabic, Judeo-Arabic and English, dating from 1540 to the 1970s. A special website to launch this fall will make these historic materials freely available to all online as they are digitized and catalogued. This work was made possible through the assistance of the Department of State, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Center for Jewish History.

The Jews of Iraq have a rich past, extending back to Babylonia. These materials provide a tangible link to this community that flourished there, but in the second half of the twentieth century dispersed throughout the world. Today, fewer than five Jews remain.

Display highlights include:

  • A Hebrew Bible with Commentaries from 1568 – one of the oldest books in the trove;
  • A Babylonian Talmud from 1793;
  • A Torah scroll fragment from Genesis - one of the 48 Torah scroll fragments found;
  • A Zohar from 1815 – a text for the mystical and spiritual Jewish movement known as “Kabbalah”;
  • An official 1918 letter to the Chief Rabbi regarding the allotment of sheep for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year);
  • Materials from Jewish schools in Baghdad, including exam grades and a letter to the College Entrance Examination Board in Princeton regarding SAT scores;
  • A Haggadah (Passover script) from 1902, hand lettered and decorated by an Iraqi Jewish youth ; and
  • A lunar calendar in both Hebrew and Arabic from the Jewish year 5732 (1972-1973) - one of the last examples of Hebrew printed items produced in Baghdad.
Full details here

Rabbi Yahya Youssef's last stand


Rabbi Yahya Youssef, minus the traditional peot (sidelocks), interviewed on Yemen TV (with thanks: Ahuva)

 Rabbi Yahya Youssef heads the last redoubt of Yemeni Jews - expelled from their hometown by the rebel Houthis in 2008 and locked in a compound in the capital San'a. His efforts to gain equality for his community seem sadly pathetic. Blogger Elder of Ziyon has this post:
A Yemen website reports that the leader of Yemen's Jewish community, Yahya Youssef, has urged that the nation halts its incitement against Jews published in the media and in school curricula.

Last week he said that the Jews of Yemen do not want a separate school system, but are happy to send their children to public schools where they learn Arabic and Islam; they learn English and Hebrew afterwards, it seems. Even so, he said that the Jewish children are harassed in school. Youssef is demanding equality.  (..)

Youssef also complained about the Houthis who drove the Jewish community out of the al-Salem area of Saada with little notice; they claimed that the Jews drank alcohol, a charge that Youssef denies - he says that Yemenite Jews don't even drink the wine that Judaism allows.

He says that a priceless library was left behind in Sadaa and he wants to ensure its safety.

Read post in full

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Throw away that rusty key!

 Maysoon Zayid's husband keeps the rusty key to his lost home near Jerusalem as a symbol of his 'Right of Return'. But a peace settlement should recognise there were two Nakbas - one Jewish and one Arab, and an irrevocable exchange of populations. Read Lyn Julius's reply to Maysoon in Open Zion (The Daily Beast):

Dear Maysoon,

I was moved to read your piece commemorating the flight of your husband from a village near Jerusalem in 1948. He has kept the rusty iron key to his home. Yours was one of hundreds of articles in the global media, together with demonstrations and marches, marking your Nakba—the flight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs in 1948.

A picture dated February 10, 2009 shows the entrance of an abandoned Jewish synagogue with a removed Star of David from the wall in Fallujah, west of Baghdad. (Saddam Hussein / AFP / Getty Images)

A picture dated February 10, 2009 shows the entrance of an abandoned Jewish synagogue with a removed Star of David from the wall in Fallujah, west of Baghdad. (Saddam Hussein / AFP / Getty Images)

But let me tell you a little known-fact: as your husband's family was fleeing their village, a greater number of Jewish refugees were streaming out of the Arab world with one suitcase—in the opposite direction.

Over 800,000 Jewish refugees fled in the years immediately following 1948. This is the Jewish Nakba—a forgotten tragedy shrouded in silence. One of those refugee families was mine. We lived in a comfortable house in a riverside Jewish neighbourhood in Baghdad.

"There is no place like home," as you say. Iraq was home to Jews for 2,600 years. A third of Baghdad was Jewish. But in 1948, persecution became so intolerable that my parents, along with 90 percent of Iraq's Jews, had no choice but to flee. The Jews lost everything—citizenship, homes, lands, businesses, synagogues, schools, hospitals and heritage. The same story repeated itself across the Arab world, as dispossessed Jews fled discrimination, abuse, riots and executions. Of a million Jews, only 4,000 remain.

You complain that there are Jews who deny the Arab Nakba. But plenty of Arabs and their supporters deny that Jews were ever refugees—let alone suffered a monumental injustice. They claim that Jews left the Arab world "of their own free will." Or they blame the Zionists—although a third of us resettled in the West.

If you are tempted to blame the Jewish exodus on Israel’s creation, let me assure you that Arab and Muslim anti-Semitism did not begin in 1948: If you then ask, what has the injustice against the Jewish refugees who fled Arab countries got to do with you Palestinians? The answer is: everything.

This Nakba Day happened to coincide with the 72nd anniversary of the Farhud against the Jews of Baghdad. The rape, mutilation and murder of hundreds of Jews was directly incited by the pro-Nazi Mufti of Jerusalem and 400 Palestinian teachers exiled to Iraq between 1939 and 1941. Seven years later, your leadership dragged five Arab states into a failed war to destroy Israel.

Israel is full of people who fled, not the German Nazis, but the Arabs: 52 percent of Israeli Jews descend from refugees from Muslim and Arab lands. Your husband's village—now renamed Musreya—was repopulated by Yemenite and Moroccan Jews.

Palestinians are not "red indians" and Israelis are not colonialists. Quite the opposite. We Jews of the Middle East and North Africa are indigenous—predating Islam in Palestine, and the region, by 1,000 years. Israel is not only the "largest and most successful refugee camp" in the region, but the authentic expression of a native Middle Eastern people.

Both sets of refugees suffered, with one glaring difference: the Arab refugees—and those 10,000 Jews chased out of Jerusalem and "the West Bank" by the Jordanian Arab Legion—fled the horrors of war. But the Jews living in Arab countries were non-combatants, targeted as members of the "Jewish minority of Palestine."

The Arab states continued to persecute Jews who stayed behind until the '60s and '70s, as a Canadian Parliamentary committee heard this month. The million Arabs who, as you put it, "held strong" and became Israelis—never suffered "ethnic cleansing" of this kind.

But let’s not get into a suffering contest. Let's see how we can best resolve the conflict between us and achieve peace.

Recognize that there were two Nakbas—one Jewish, one Arab. Stop clinging to that retrogressive yearning for "home." Will you correct the injustice done to you by committing another injustice—forcing the Jews who overcame great hardship to rebuild their lives in Musreya to return "home" to hostile Arab lands? They neither wish to return, nor are they able to.

Some 600,000 Jewish refugees—about the same number as the fleeing Palestinian refugees—were resettled in Israel. Let’s agree that an irrevocable exchange of populations occurred.

Palestinian refugees should be absorbed in the state of Palestine, or campaign for full civil rights in the Arab host countries where most were born. Both Arab and Jewish refugees ought to be able to claim compensation for lost assets from an international fund.

So throw away that rusty key, Maysoon. This obsession with the past is unhealthy. Get over it. We Jewish refugees did.

Read article and comments

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Jewish divas of the Arabic music scene

 The great Egyptian singer and actress Leila Murad

On the eve of a festival to celebrate their music in Israel, fascinating Haaretz article about the great female Jewish singers of the 1920s and 30s who dominated the Arabic music scene but whose fortunes plummeted on arrival in Israel. In its zeal to condemn Israeli society's 'contempt' and 'humiliation' of these 'bimbos' and their culture, the article fails to make clear that these Jewish women became prominent because Arab Muslim society was even more protective of its women. (With thanks: Orna)

They scorched the stages of Algeria and Tunis, in Casablanca and Baghdad, and also in Berlin and Paris. With bobbed hair − a daring style for the time − a thin cigarette in a holder between their fingers, they were among the leaders of the musical and cultural scene in their countries and even became international stars. They are the great Jewish female musicians and singers who were active in North Africa and the Middle East in the mid-20th century: Leila Mourad, Faiza Rushdi, Zohra El Fassia, Habiba Msika, Louisa Tounsia, Reinette L’Oranaise, Line Monty and Raymonde Abecassis. Msika, a Tunisian Jew, was an actress in the Arab world’s most prominent theater. El Fassia, a Moroccan Jew, was the first woman from that milieu to release a record album. Like many others, she too wrote the lyrics and music of the songs she performed.

Abecassis, the last of the giants of that generation, will be appearing Thursday with the Mediterranean Andalusian Orchestra of Ashkelon in a concert titled Ki Kolech Arev ‏(For Your Voice is Beautiful‏), conducted by Tom Cohen. The concert, which will be part of the Heart at the East Festival in Tel Aviv, will be dedicated to the women who were singing stars in Arab and Maghreb countries.

Why were Jewish female singers so prominent among the pioneers of modern Arab music? And how did it come about that in Morocco and other places, they are engraved in the collective memory and remembered with esteem − yet most Israelis never heard of them?

Shira Ohayon, the education director of the Mediterranean Andalusian Orchestra and a prominent Mizrahi feminist researcher and activist, conceived and produced the concert. She is researching the singers’ histories, has written essays about them on the Cafe Gibraltar website and plans to publish a book containing her findings. She says she started researching their stories when she started wondering why there were no female singers in the Andalusian Orchestra in Israel. Her father, who was born in Morocco, told her about the great singers of the past. The discovery that there were quite a few Jews among them surprised her. “I asked myself, Why Jewish women, specifically? After all, I know the conservative Moroccan Jewish way of life from home,” she says.

It turns out that the picture is a complex one. “Our knowledge here about Jews in Islamic countries is nourished by Zionist stereotypes that spoke about absorption by modernization, and portrayed the Jews who came from those backgrounds as coming from the back of beyond,” says Ohayon. “But of course, they didn’t all come from the same mold. They went through profound processes of secularization starting in the 1920s. Our history doesn’t start at the moment the Zionist movement discovered that it needed ‘natural workers’ and population distribution,” she says.

“These processes affected the women a great deal. Women began to study. In 1886 the first Alliance school for girls was established in Tetouan, the city my mother came from. The legal age at which girls could marry was raised. The development of colonialism at the time strengthened the financial position of the Jews, many of whom were merchants and had connections overseas, and increased their openness to new ideas.”

It was in this atmosphere of mixed cultures and languages that the female singers appeared. Their successful appearances in Europe also exposed them to the feminist ideas of the period, says Ohayon.
“Habiba Msika became a legend. She was an admired artist, a hot subject of conversation during the 1920s in the Maghreb, France and the Middle East,” musicologist Mohammed Emskeen writes in an essay published in honor of the Atlantic Andalusian Music Festival held in Essaouira, Morocco last October. The festival was dedicated to the female singers and their contribution to Jewish-Arab music and culture. Msika was the first Arab woman to perform onstage, in 1911. She appeared throughout Europe and the Maghreb, living and loving freely. Coco Chanel described her as having “a fiery temperament under her Eastern graces.” She met a tragic end: In 1930, a jealous lover murdered her by setting her ablaze. Books were written and films made about her life.

Another superstar was Leila Mourad, the daughter of a well-known Jewish family of cantors and liturgical poets. “To the Egyptians, she’s an Egyptian in every way, a cultural icon, alongside other stars of Arab music such as Umm Kulthum and Asmahan,” says Ohayon. The Jewish community distanced itself from Mourad when she converted to Islam to marry the well-known actor Anwar Wagdi. Other Jewish stars in Egyptian film and theater such as Raqia Ibrahim, Camelia ‏(Liliane Levy Cohen‏), Nagma Ibrahim and Nagwa Salem also won recognition from the musical establishment and the audience, even though they remained Jewish and some even expressed solidarity with the State of Israel and the Zionist movement.

Ohayon says that in addition to these stars, “in Iraq there was Salima Pasha, a hugely popular star, who was the wife of Iraq’s greatest singer, Nazem al-Ghazali. There was Maya Casabianca, a native of Morocco, who was the wife of Farid al-Atrash. We can wonder how that could happen. After all, she was a Jewish woman who went with a Muslim man. In those communities, families sat shiva for women who did that, mourning them as if they had died. But these women had a different status. They were already deeply involved in Arab life, and here, too, they crossed boundaries.”

There were also Line Monty, “the Algerian Edith Piaf”; Reinette L’Oranaise, a rabbi’s daughter who became blind and became a virtuoso oud player; Louisa Tounsia and others.

But Zohra El Fassia was fairly well known in Israel, if only because of the poem by Erez Biton lamenting her fate here.

El Fassia, who died in 1994, is a cultural heroine in Morocco. In the Atlantic Andalusian Music Festival in Essaouira, an evening was held in her honor, says Ohayon. “Among the Muslim leaders of culture in Morocco, she was seen as an integral part of Moroccan culture and collective memory, and her contribution to folk music ‏(the chaabi and malhun styles‏) is held in high esteem there.

“Erez Biton described the collapse of these stars here in Israel very well,” Ohayon says. “The poem ‘Zohra El Fassia’ is an excellent allegory for the culture of Morocco’s Jews, which was an object of mockery. It seems some of the singers realized what was in store for them here and didn’t immigrate to Israel. Line Monty moved to France. Salima Pasha stayed in Iraq. She never came to Israel, so she avoided that fate.

“In the case of the musicians, in addition to the contempt for Mizrahi culture, which the Zionist movement regarded as an inferior subculture or folklore at best, Israeli society held the Mizrahi women in contempt as well,” Ohayon continues. “The society regarded them as frehot ‏(bimbos‏) − in other words, as women who were cheap, vulgar, flighty and uneducated.”

Today, Ohayon says, Jewish Mizrahi women are humiliated twice: once by Israeli society, which was built on an ethos of a rejection of the East in general and rejection of Arab culture in particular, and again by Mizrahi men, who use religious or other explanations to exclude them from the field of culture and song, in direct opposition to what is transpiring in their countries of origin.

But the development of Jewish musicians will not be severed so easily. Young Israeli singers who did not grow up listening to Arabic music are returning to their roots, or embracing the genre as a kind of rebellion.

Read article in full

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Canadian refugee hearings: Gladys's story

 Gladys Daoud

The transcripts of the Canadian Parliamentary committee investigation into the plight of Jewish refugees on 2 and 7 May 2013 have now been published. The committee heard testimony from Libyan-born Gina Waldman and Iraqi-born Gladys Daoud and Lisette Shashoua. Here is Gladys's story (with thanks to all those who emailed me):

  After World War I, Iraq became independent from the Ottoman Empire. Jews played an important role in the financial, cultural, and political life of the new country. Iraqi Jews occupied prominent positions in the ministries of finance and justice and in Parliament. Furthermore, Jewish lawyers were instrumental in drafting the constitution of the new state.

    My grandfather sent my father and his two brothers to France for their education. My father became a doctor, and was lucky to return to Baghdad before World War II. His two brothers, one a real estate developer and the other a medical student, ended their short lives in a concentration camp in Germany, but that is another story.

    My father returned to Iraq and established his medical practice after serving in the Iraqi army as a colonel. My parents' life in Iraq until the creation of the State of Israel was relatively happy, even though it was marred by tragic events that occurred at various intervals. For example, my paternal grandfather was murdered. His murder was not investigated by the police, and his murderer was never brought to justice.

     In 1941 the people of Baghdad, encouraged by the pro-Nazi government at the time, went on a murderous rampage in the Jewish quarter, killing close to 200 Jews and pillaging homes and businesses. My maternal grandfather miraculously survived despite being hunted by rebels trying to get hold of the key to the country's treasury. In spite of that, my parents endured and prospered.

    After the creation of the State of Israel, the Iraqi government embarked on a policy of ethnic cleansing and persecution of its Jewish population. Prominent Jews were publicly hanged. Jewish businesses were confiscated. Import licences were cancelled. Jewish public servants were fired.

    Jews were forbidden from leaving the country under the pretense that they would join the Zionist enemy and attack Iraq. Under international pressure, the government finally relented, and allowed Jews to leave Iraq provided they abandoned all of their assets in favour of the state. Out of 150,000 Jews, 140,000 left the country, abandoning all of their possessions with the exception of one suitcase of clothes.

    Those who stayed behind were deluded optimists who believed that the violence directed at the Jews would pass, and that coexistence in harmony with their Muslim and Christian neighbours was still possible.

    Things took a turn for the worse in 1963, after the Baath regime took power. Their first priority was to embark on an ethnic cleansing policy towards the Iraqi Jews. They banned all exit visas for Jews, and actively promoted a culture of hatred and incitement towards them.

    I was a teenager going to school in 1967 when the Six Day War took place. I saw my entire world collapse around me. All Jews in Baghdad were declared spies and enemies of the people. The radio was blaring all day, calling the people to action to kill the Jews. Needless to say, we were terrified, and we had nowhere to go.

    The government proceeded with a plan of total isolation and economic strangulation. Employers were instructed to fire their Jewish employees. Christian and Muslim co-workers and business partners were terrified of being associated with enemies of the state, and thus all Jewish-owned businesses closed their doors, and our school lost all its teachers. Our Muslim and Christian friends whom we grew up with no longer dared to speak to us.

    My father's medical clinic was adjacent to the local government intelligence office. His patients were afraid of being seen there, so the only patients he treated were policemen and the intelligence officers who were treated free of charge while keeping a close watch on his movements.

    As Jewish students, we were refused admittance to any higher education. The few students who were already enrolled in university were regularly beaten by their classmates while the teachers and administration turned a blind eye.

    I finished my government high school exam in June 1967. I ranked second in all of Iraq and was immediately accepted into Baghdad University. In fact, I had also applied to McGill and MIT and was accepted at both of these universities. However, on learning that I was of the Jewish faith, my acceptance at Baghdad University was retracted and I was refused a passport to study abroad. For the four years that followed, I endured the life of a non-person and watched all my hopes and aspirations go to ashes as I sat confined to my room, between four walls, thinking of what other young people all over the world were doing.

    I applied for a secretarial job at the Belgian consulate and was accepted. Three weeks later, I was called into the consul's office and informed very politely that although I was not being asked to leave, they had received word that my father would be imprisoned should I not leave immediately. Needless to say, I did just that.

    My family's bank accounts were frozen, our property was confiscated, and we were only able to survive thanks to the money that my mother had the foresight to bury in our garden. We were forbidden to leave Baghdad. Our telephone line was cancelled, and we could not meet with other Jewish families since this could lead to an accusation that we were conspiring against the state. Our condition was desperate.

    To make things worse, the government decided to publicly execute 14 Iraqis in 1969, most of whom were innocent Jews. I personally knew a couple of them who were students like me, unable to work or study and trying to keep busy by learning a foreign language. They were hanged in the public square and the population was given the day off and invited to gather and dance in celebration underneath the dangling corpses. I still have nightmares about being back in Baghdad and reliving the anguish of those days.

    Those were not the only Jews who lost their lives. Every so often, a Jew would randomly be arrested, never to be heard from again. Their families to this day have no closure.

    The situation was so desperate that we had no choice but to seek to escape by any means possible. Many left on foot or on the back of a mule, across the mountains in northern Iraq and into Iran with the help of Kurdish guides. Some were arrested and brought back. Those who were carrying any diplomas or valuables with them would try to flush them down a toilet so as not to provide proof about their intended flight. These secret departures added to the despair of those left behind. They saw their close friends and relatives disappear while they were left behind not knowing what the next day might bring.

    On April 17, 1971, with one suitcase of clothes and some pocket change, my parents and I locked the front door of our home in Baghdad for the last time and started a long journey to come to Montreal to seek a new beginning.

Read transcript in full

Transcripts of hearings: 2 May; 7 May here and here 

Expulsion of Jews had no 'political consequences'

Canadian Parliament to investigate Jewish refugees 

Friday, May 17, 2013

More proof that Tunisian Salafists hate all Jews

This video was shot a few days ago in the Tunisian tourist resort of Sousse. It shows Tunisian Salafists smashing bottles of alcohol. About two minutes into the clip, the Salafists are shouting down their favourite bogeyman - the Jews.

Mark their words. You can clearly hear the Arabic 'al Yahud'. Are demonstrators railing at Israel, or are they shouting, ' Down with the Jews, but not Tunisian Jews' ? No.

 When it comes to purveying the 'demon drink',  the worst offenders, in these Islamists' eyes, are in fact Tunisian Jews. After all, they originated the famous Boukha - or fig brandy.

Tell that to Ahmed Maher of the BBC. Recently a reader received a BBC reply to her complaint relating to Ahmed Maher’s claim in a BBC website news piece:

 “Several media reports spoke about YouTube videos that showed radical Islamists threatening Tunisian Jews. Despite searching extensively, I did not find any of them.” 

The reader provided four video clips in support of the complaint – viewable here, here, here and here.

The mind-boggling reply she received could have come straight of Alice in Wonderland:

 “We have reviewed Ahmed Maher’s article “Tunisia’s last Jews at ease despite troubled past”, and discussed your complaint with him. Regarding the You Tube links, Mr Maher reaffirms that he conducted an extensive search in Arabic and English to find clips or links of Salafists or hardliners attacking “Tunisian Jews” – a specification he makes clear in his piece.

    "He found clips of rallies in support of Osama Bin Laden, but stresses he did not find anything attacking “Tunisian Jews” specifically (my emphasis - ed) . Mr Maher says: “The chants heard in the four links cited [in your complaint] are against ‘the State of Israel and Jews but not Tunisian Jews’. 

    "The chants were echoed across several Muslim countries in the past two years in the wake of the Arab spring (and even before the revolutions) by extremists (even lay people and leftists in Egypt in particular who attacked the headquarters of the Israeli embassy in Giza in August 2011) to protest what they term ‘the Israeli occupation of Palestine, the blockade of the Gaza strip’.

    "They chanted it in Tunisia during the visit of the Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyah. Again, the chants, which are in Arabic, were not directed at ‘Tunisian Jews’ but ‘Israel’ in general.

    “I spoke to Sheikh Bashir Bin Hassan, one of the most prominent Salafi, Wahabi sheikhs in post-revolution Tunisian, and asked him again about two things: the chants and the protest in front of the Tunis synagogue. He said: ‘The chants were not aimed at the Tunisian Jews; make no mistake. It was directed at Israel because Israel is a very sensitive issue in the Muslim world. Our Prophet Muhammad asked us to take good care and protect non-Muslims living in our countries like Christians and Jews.’

 "Get it?" says the excellent BBC Watch blog." According to the BBC, if Tunisian Islamists (and presumably any elsewhere too) chant “Killing the Jews is a duty” or “Khaybar, Khaybar ya Yahud” or ”the army of Mohammed will return”, then local Jews have nothing whatsoever to worry about because in fact they are not referring to them – or indeed to Jews at all – but to Israel, which should apparently be perfectly understandable.

"And the BBC website’s Middle East desk is quite sure of that because a prominent Salafist – who obviously thinks it unremarkable to chant hate speech relating to “the Zionist entity’s policies” in front of a synagogue in Tunisia – told them so.

BBC Watch concludes:

" If that is the level of understanding and interpretation prevalent among staff at the BBC’s Middle East desk, then the only conclusion can be that the licence fee payer is funding an outfit not fit for purpose."

 No doubt the BBC would also rubbish the latest video (above ) from Sousse.

As for Mr Maher's playing down 'exaggerated' media reports of Tunisian antisemitism, he maintains that all the Tunisian Jews he interviewed told him, "we are fed up" :

"I have not put words into their mouths, neither did I push them to speak on this angle. There is no question about that.”

As pointed out by Point of No Return, Mr Maher has selectively interviewed 'dhimmi' Tunisian Jews with a vested interest in playing down 'exaggerated' media reports of Tunisian antisemitism.

However,  Mr Maher's colleague Magdi Abdelhadi, in his two-part radio series on the Exodus of Jews from Arab countries, Heart and Soul, broadcast six months ago, managed to find three Tunisian Jews who held the opposite view.

" It is the Salafists we fear", restauranteur Jacob Lellouche is heard to say.

Whatever happened to BBC standards of impartial reporting?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Knesset to confirm 30 November as Refugee Day

Point of No Return exclusive (with thanks: Levana)

The Israeli Knesset is expected to confirm 30 November as the Memorial Day for Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

Moroccan-born MK Shimon Ohayon (pictured) this week tabled a bill stipulating the Memorial Day as part of "the Rights of Jewish Refugees who were uprooted, expelled or fled from Arab countries with the establishment of the state of Israel or in the wake of it."

The date chosen, 30 November, is the day after 29 November 1947, which marks the passing of UN Resolution 181 on the Partition of Palestine.

The subsequent furore in the Arab world that year led to antisemitic unrest in Egypt and Libya, and pogroms in Syria, Aden and Bahrain. November was traditionally a notorious month for anti-Jewish disturbances in Arab countries coinciding with the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.

The Israeli Ministry for Tourism will  be responsible for the observance of Memorial Day, working together with the Ministries for Education, Culture and Sport. The Israeli Foreign ministry will also be expected to organise special events outside Israel. If 30 November falls on a Friday or Saturday, the Day will be observed at the start of the following week.

Although the idea of a Memorial Day has long been in the pipeline, it was heavily promoted by Danny Ayalon, deputy foreign minister in the last government.

Shimon Ohayon is a new arrival in the Knesset, where he represents Yisrael Beytenu. Next week he is due to meet representatives of the organisations of Jews from Arab countries as well as Sam Grundwerg, Director of the World Jewish Congress in Israel and Edna Weinstock-Gabay, Director of Global Strategic Initiatives.

The meeting will lay the groundwork for a cross-party group to promote awareness in the Knesset  of Jewish refugees from Arab Countries.

Moroccan book fair slammed for its Jew-hatred

When it comes to the treatment of Jews, the  Moroccans -  and notably their king - tend to get a very good press (see previous post).  This is why the blatant display of books encouraging Jew-hatred at the Casablanca book fair alarmed the Simon Wiesenthal Centre (which monitors antisemitism)  enough to send a letter to the Moroccan Minister of Culture (with thanks: Ralph):

In a letter addressed to Mohammed Amine Sbihi, Moroccan Minister of Culture, Shimon Samuels, director of International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, presented the results of his fourth annual investigation into incitement to antisemitism on the bookstands of the SIEL book fair.

The fair, which took place from 29 March to 7 April, is the largest in the Arab world, with 150 Moroccan stands, 30 Lebanese, 20 Syrian, 10 Egyptian, five Saudi, two Palestinian and one Libyan. 
Mr Samuels declared:"It is frightening to note that ... in spite of the Arab Spring, Jew-hatred remains an implacable constant of the Arab literature on display at the last three book fairs, leaving an indelible stain on the SIEL event."

Read article in full (French)

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Why is the Moroccan King funding Jewish sites?

 The King of Morocco was virtually the sole funder of the restored Cape Verde Jewish cemetery (photo: AFP)

What lies behind the King of Morocco's drive to restore synagogues and Jewish cemeteries? Are his motives pure, or is he just trying to attract Jewish tourism and improve Morocco's standing with the US? The Times of Israel investigates:

With virtually no practising Jews on Cape Verde today, the cemeteries had fallen into neglect. Now a Washington-based nonprofit is spearheading their restoration.

The Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project has a board stuffed with prominent Jewish Washingtonians, but its funding comes almost entirely from one man — King Mohammed VI of Morocco. According to the group’s US tax filings, the king was the organization’s sole donor in 2011 and 2012, giving $100,000 each year.

Andre Azoulay, a senior Jewish adviser to the king and a member of the project’s advisory board, told JTA that the effort is reflective of the king’s “deep commitment” to preserving Jewish heritage in Morocco and elsewhere. But even if, as some speculate, it is motivated by a desire to attract tourists and curry favor with American Jews, the king’s drive clearly sets Morocco apart from other Middle Eastern countries where Jewish sites have faced increasing threats under new Islamist governments.
“This is all part of a strong push from His Majesty the King that started three, four years ago, when we saw cemeteries have become vulnerable because of lacking care by all of us,” Azoulay told JTA.

Approximately 3,000 Jews are living in Morocco, a North African monarchy about the size of Texas that had been home to a large and thriving Jewish community for centuries. In the 19th century, a number of Moroccan-Jewish families resettled in Cape Verde, attracted by the financial potential of this transatlantic hub.

Over time the families totally assimilated, though their Creole-speaking, Christian descendants include some of Cape Verde’s most prominent businessmen and politicians, including the country’s first democratically elected prime minister, Carlos Alberto Wahnon de Carvalho Veiga.

Unlike many Arab countries with once sizable Jewish communities, Morocco has taken wide-ranging steps to preserve its Jewish history. The Casablanca Jewish museum was restored, the small but colorful 17th century synagogue in Fez was renovated, and dozens of former Jewish schools and more than 100 synagogues were rehabilitated with funding from the crown.

In 2011, in a move that Azoulay calls unprecedented in the modern Middle East, the Moroccan constitution was changed to note that the country has been “nourished and enriched … [by] Hebraic influences,” among others. The Moroccan parliament adopted the new language along with amendments that transferred some powers from the king to elected parties.
“I am not trying to paint a one-sided rosy picture. There are some difficult and maybe black pages in the book of Moroccan Jewry,” Azoulay told JTA. “But there are many, many more beautiful chapters.”
The king’s restoration activity already has brought benefits in the form of increased Jewish tourism. More than 19,000 Israelis entered Morocco in 2010, a 42 percent leap from the previous year, according to Israel’s Tourism Ministry. The World Federation of Moroccan Jewry says the kingdom receives another 30,000 non-Israeli Jews annually.

Among them was Joel Rubinfeld, the Brussels-based co-chair of the European Jewish Parliament, who spent 12 days in Morocco in March meeting with government officials and visiting his mother’s hometown. Rubinfeld believes the government’s intention to honor the country’s Jewish past is sincere, but he said other considerations are at work as well.

“There may certainly be pragmatic incentives: attracting tourism and investments down the line,” Rubinfeld said. “For some, it is a political calculation to improve Morocco’s international standing.”

A Moroccan diplomat, who spoke to JTA on condition of anonymity, said the restoration project could bring political dividends for Morocco, which has been accused of human rights abuses in Western Sahara, a disputed territory to which the kingdom lays partial claim.

“To Morocco’s great consternation, the US last month proposed the UN peacekeeping mission in Western Sahara help monitor human rights,” the diplomat said. “It’s very useful for us to have someone — a strong lobby group, perhaps — to help talk the State Department out of this idea. The Jewish lobby is a very strong one.”

The board of the Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project includes Howard Berman, a former California congressman who chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee until his defeat last year; Daniel Mariaschin, the executive director of B’nai B’rith International; Herman Cohen, a former US assistant secretary of state; and Toby Dershowitz, who heads a Washington public affairs consultancy.
But Azoulay grows indignant at any suggestion the king has his eye on the economic or political benefits of his largesse.

“This effort is the concrete manifestation of a consensus in Moroccan society, that our society is partly built on Jewish culture, a culture deeply rooted in three millennia of history,” he said.
“You have to understand the purity of it,” Azoulay added. “Those who think it is to attract tourists are just out of order.”

As popular revolutions have swept the Arab world since late 2010, Jewish heritage has suffered under newly empowered Islamist governments. Two Jewish cemeteries were desecrated earlier this year in Tunisia, prompting Israel to express concerns for the safety of the country’s Jews, the daily Maariv reported.

In Egypt, the government prevented several dozen Israelis from making the annual Passover pilgrimage to Alexandria’s main synagogue, one of the few properly maintained and functioning Jewish sites in the country. Egypt also briefly censored a film about the flight of its Jews following Israel’s establishment.

But in Morocco, a similar film, titled Tinghir-Jerusalem: Echoes from the Mellah,won a prize last month at the Tangier Film Festival. It also triggered protests from a few hundred Islamists and left-wing activists saying the film promoted “normalization” of ties with Israel, The Associated Press reported.