Thursday, October 31, 2013

Iraqis confused over fate of returned archive

 A 16th c. Kol Bo artefact from the Iraqi-Jewish archive being restored in the US

This  article in the SFGate News is notable for being the first news agency report on the subject of the Iraqi-Jewish archive. It also shows that the Iraqis are at sixes and sevens over what should be done with the trove once it reaches Iraq. An official from the Tourism ministry contradicts the director of the national archives Saad Eskander's assertion that the trove would be put on display in 2015:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The tattered Torah scroll fragments, Bibles and other religious texts found in a flooded Baghdad basement 10 years ago testify to a once-thriving Jewish population that's all but disappeared from Iraq.
Recovered from the Iraqi intelligence headquarters and shipped to the United States for years of painstaking conservation was a literary trove of more than 2,700 books and tens of thousands of documents that are being digitized and put online. A sample of that treasure is being displayed for the first time this fall at the National Archives in Washington.

"One thing that is particularly touching about them, or particularly interesting about them, is that they connect to a community that no longer lives in Iraq," said Doris Hamburg, the National Archives' director of preservation programs.
The exhibit of two dozen items offers a rare glimpse into a Jewish population that dates to antiquity but dispersed after Israel was created in 1948. But the decision to return the collection to Iraq after its display here has raised bitter feelings among Iraqi Jews in the United States and stirred debate about whom the materials belong to: the country where they were found or the people who once owned them?

Iraqi Jews consider the artifacts part of their heritage and say a nation that decades ago drove out its Jewish citizens doesn't deserve to recover sacred objects of an exiled population. Some also fear there's no constituency of Jews remaining in Iraq to ensure the books are maintained, especially in a country still riven by violent conflict.

A petition circulating among Iraqi Jews seeks to prevent the materials from being returned and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., made a similar public statement to the State Department last week. Some have written newspaper opinion pieces urging the items to be shared with the exiled Jewish community and have discussed burying torn Torah scroll pieces, as is customary for holy texts that are no longer usable.

"The fact is these were archives that belonged to the Jewish community in Iraq," said Gina Waldman, president of Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa and a Libyan Jew. "They need to be returned to their rightful owners. They were looted from the Jewish community and they rightfully should be returned."

State Department officials have expressed confidence that the Iraqi government will make the materials accessible in an educational exhibit. The materials will be housed in Iraq's national library and archives, with the goal of helping future generations understand the contributions Iraqi Jews made and the repression that they endured, said Saad Eskander, director of the Iraqi institution. Though an adviser to the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities said there were no current plans to exhibit the materials and that the public and researchers would be able to see them online, Eskander said an exhibition would happen either next year or 2015.

"Now, Iraqis have no problem in accepting the fact that the Jews are true Iraqi patriots who can live with their culture in a multi-cultural society," Eskander said, calling the archive part of the country's history and cultural heritage. He said the country now has the ability to adequately protect the materials. Two Iraqi conservators are expected to receive specialized training here ahead of the collection's relocation.

The artifacts were found in May 2003 after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime as American troops searched for weapons of mass destruction. They found the material in the flooded basement of the Iraqi intelligence building, its water system damaged by an unexploded bomb.

Read article in full

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Archive: it's all about the Tower of Babel


The controversy about the Jewish archive is really about proving that the Jews do not own the Tower of Babel. Yes, an Arabic newspaper has actually made this suggestion. Daniel Greenfield explains the logic behind it in Front  Page magazine: ( With thanks: Michelle)

"The Jewish archive is part of a dastardly Jewish plot to claim ownership of the Tower of Babel… which doesn’t exist anymore.

The Jewish Bible depicts the tower being constructed before the emergence of the Jewish people. Which is why Iraq needs copies of the Bible to prove that the Jews didn’t build the Tower of Babel.

So the United States has two options…

1. Return the Jewish archive to the Iraqi Jewish communities abroad
2. Send the archive to Iraq where it will be kept in storage against the day that the Jews claim to have built the Tower of Babel and demand ownership of a thing that hasn’t existed in thousands of years
3. Return the Jewish archive, but dispatch Elizabeth Warren to give her “You didn’t build that” speech at a synagogue
This seems like an easy choice. Either do the sane thing or keep pandering to the whims of crazy bigots whose grasp on reality is looser than a drunk with a greased pogo stick.

The so-called peace process in which Israel is ordered to create a Palestinian state for terrorist groups that keep trying to kill it is option 2. So Obama will predictably choose that and send the Jewish archive to Iraq so that one of the largest countries in the region can breathe a sigh of relief that the Jews will no longer be able to steal their tower which doesn’t exist.

At least until the next Mossad attack shark or spy eagle is captured."

Read article in full 

Hurry! Get your congressman to sign letter to John Kerry:
Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) are asking their colleagues in the House of Representatives to sign a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to facilitate the return of these items to descendants of the Iraqi Jewish community.  The deadline for Members of Congress to sign onto this letter is Thursday 31 October. Details here

Have you signed the petition yet?

Recognise two states, two sets of refugees

 Ma'abara or tent camp for Jewish refugees in Ashkelon, 1950s

Benjamin Netanyahu's insistence that the Palestinians should recognise Israel 'as Jewish state' and a Palestinian renunciation of their refugee 'right of return' - and thus recognition that two sets of refugees exchanged places in the Middle East -  are two sides of the same coin. In her Huffington Post blog Lyn Julius argues the point with another blogger, academic Alon Ben Meir:

Even if Israel is negotiated back to the 1967 lines, will the Palestinians renounce their 'right of return'? In a previous article, Ben Meir admits that the Palestinian demand to return to Israel proper is a major stumbling block to peace.

This issue cannot be brushed aside lightly as 'rhetoric'. Not content with getting a Palestinian Arab state in the West Bank and Gaza, even the 'moderates' of the Fatah camp have refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Palestinians reserve the right to turn the Jewish state into a second state of Palestine, by overwhelming it with millions of returning refugees. The first act of such a Muslim majority-state would be to repeal Israel's 'Law of Return' which entitles Jews, wherever they may be, to automatic Israeli citizenship.

In a 2011 poll 89.5 percent of Palestinians refused to renounce their 'right of return'. More recently a Palestinian outcry forced Mahmoud Abbas to backtrack on his offer to an Israeli audience to renounce his personal' right of return' to Safed.

A peace deal foundered in 2000 not because of Israeli security considerations, but because the Palestinians did not agree to the principle that their refugees should be repatriated to a state of Palestine. Their 'right of return' to Israel was non-negotiable.

That's why Benjamin Netanyahu is right to make Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state the quintessential issue. (PA negotiator Saeb Erekat has said flippantly that Israel can call itself what it likes - but does the Arab side accept Israel's right to call itself what it likes?) If successive Israeli governments did not insist on this point in the past, it is because Netanyahu has realized that the much vaunted 'two-state solution' leaves room for ambiguity.

As far as the refugees are concerned, the Palestinian negotiators are perceived to hold 'the moral high ground'. Even Ben Meir sees the Palestinian refugees as the main victims of an Israeli injustice. This is a serious distortion.

The Arab refugees are the unintended consequence of a war the Arabs failed to win against the nascent state of Israel in 1948. But it is forgotten that the Arab League states waged a second war - a war they won easily - on their own defenseless Jewish citizens, whom they branded 'the Jewish minority of Palestine'.

This domestic war against their Jews was not a mere backlash to Israel - it was inspired by totalitarian Arab nationalism and by the rise of Nazism. The Jews from Arab countries - now comprising half Israel's Jewish population with their descendants - were successfully 'ethnically cleansed' from the Middle East and North Africa. (Now it is the turn of other minorities.)

It is time to recognize that the single largest group of refugees created by the Arab-Israeli conflict was not Palestinian. Almost a million Jews were driven out, not just from Jerusalem and the West Bank, but Arab lands - their pre-Islamic communities destroyed. As a matter of law and justice, recognition of their plight and compensation for seized assets many times greater than Palestinian losses must also be included on the peace agenda. Although over 200,000 Jews were resettled in the West, two sets of refugees exchanged places between Israel and the Arab world.

The parties to peace must recognize that the exchange is irrevocable. Only by balancing the claims of rival sets of refugees might a deal be struck: neither set should return to their countries of origin. Both should be compensated through an international fund, as proposed by Bill Clinton in 2000.

The absorption of the Jewish refugees into Israeli society should be held up as a model for the assimilation of Palestinian refugees in their host countries. The Jews are no longer refugees, Israel having granted them full civil rights. Similarly the Arab side must take responsibility for their own refugees.

Alon Ben Meir comes up with reasonable suggestions for a humanitarian solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. Here the Arab League is central to a solution. Except in Jordan, Arab states still enforce a law they passed in the 1950s banning Palestinian refugees from becoming citizens in Arab countries. The refugees and their four million descendants need to be granted full civil rights in their host countries or in the Palestinian state. The agency perpetuating Palestinians refugee status from generation to generation, UNWRA, must be dismantled and Palestinians allowed to be absorbed in wider Arab society.

However good Ben Meir's arguments, they are a projection of his own decent values. The Palestinian leadership, in contrast, has shown a consistent inclination to thwart a humanitarian solution by cynically exploiting their people for political purposes. Currently there is no incentive for them to change.

The Arab League must be brought in to talks on the refugee issue. There must be international pressure for change - on the Palestinians. While the main UN refugee agency UNHCR should take over the activities of UNWRA, the US should condition the substantial sums it pours into the Palestinian Authority's coffers on Arab recognition of the exchange of refugee populations - and insist on two states for two peoples.

Read article in full

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Jews of Egypt' has London premiere



Trailer for 'Jews of Egypt' in English


 It was the film that has packed cinemas in Cairo and Alexandria, with people queuing out into the street. No doubt about it, Jews of Egypt caused a sensation when it was first shown in March 2013.  Point of No Return was at its London premiere last week:

The Egyptian authorities had tried to ban the film for reasons of 'national security'. Then the ministry of culture insisted that the young film director Amir Ramses put a disclaimer ahead of the titles, stating that any resemblance to reality was purely coincidental. It was a laughable demand for a documentary about real people, but Ramses agreed, as long as it carried the ministry's stamp.

The film was remarkable for lifting the veil on a taboo subject - the Jews of Egypt.  Nowadays 20 elderly widows comprise the entire Jewish community. A Vox Pop in the Egyptian street showed Jews are today almost universally reviled as traitors, bloodsuckers and spies. But the film took a sympathetic view, and showed how in the 20th century Jews  played an important part in Egyptian culture and society.

Earlier this week,  a Jewish audience packed a North London cinema to see 'Jews of Egypt' in the presence of the film-maker Ramses and producer Haitham al-Khamissi. Not just any Jewish audience - but one composed largely of Jews from Egypt.  The audience gratefully wallowed in nostalgia as they revisited on the screen the familiar streets and landmarks of their childhoods in Cairo and Alexandria. (One or two members of the audience, however, did walk out in protest at ' anti-Zionist slurs and half truths').

This film began as a documentary about the Jewish communist Henri Curiel, whose portrait hangs on Ramses' wall. For reasons of self- preservation, focusing on communists was a better bet than spotlighting Zionists, although half the 80,000-member community did finish up in Israel. The film is a mixed bag - a little like the community itself. Some spoke Arabic, some French, some liked Um Kalthoum, some preferred western popular culture. Most enjoyed a comfortable life in Egypt's uniquely cosmopolitan society.

As far as the oppressed Jewish communists were concerned, it was hard to gauge where political persecution ended and anti-Jewish bigotry began. The communists spent long periods in prison.When the exiled Henri Curiel tried to forewarn President Nasser of the tripartite plan of the allied attack over the nationalisation of the Suez canal  in 1956, Nasser reneged on a promise to restore his Egyptian nationality to Curiel. When ultimately exiled from Egypt in the 1950s, the communists were never allowed back, whereas even Israeli citizens were allowed into Egypt after the 1979 peace treaty was signed.


The film suffers from inaccuracies. The Egyptian Ashkenazi community largely fled Palestine in 1917: they did not directly flee oppression in Eastern Europe. The Jewish singer and actress Leila Murad was described as a Karaite (her parents were Moroccan and Ashkenazi). Very few Egyptian Jews were said to have left for Israel  in 1948: 14,000 actually did. Despite one member of the Muslim Brotherhood justifying the 1945 attacks on the Cairo Jewish quarter, the Nazi-Brotherhood alliance of the 1930s was not even mentioned. A Muslim historian, Mohamed Abou Al-Ghar, and a sociologist, Ersam Fawzi, portrayed attacks on the Jews as a response to 'Zionist colonies taking Palestinian land'. But the film did not seek to blame the full extent of ill-treatment and expulsion on the Jews themselves, 25,000 of whom who were brutally stripped of their property and nationality in 1956.

Jews were presented as good patriots, uninterested in Israel - that's where the oppressed Jews went, said the actress Isabelle de Botton. Even the Jewish capitalists were presented in a good light - Joseph Cicurel, the department store owner and industrialist, had helped found Bank Misr so that Jewish capital stayed in Egypt.   Despite the innuendo that Israel may have been responsible for Henry Curiel's assassination in 1978, Ramses is honest enough to hint at an earlier age when Zionism was not a dirty word:  an Egyptian Zionist organization operated legally until the day King Farouk entered the 1948 war. The organization’s secretary general was Leon Castro, who was also private secretary to Saad Zaghloul, the  founder of the nationalist Wafd party.

One is left with the impression that nothing the Jews of Egypt could have done - and some made great personal sacrifices to stay on - would have prevented their mass exodus. It was rather pathetic to hear them profess their undying loyalty to Egypt: "we were sons of Egypt," declares the communist Joyce Blau, in exile in France. One Jew who remained and converted to Islam said that his Muslim wife was still criticised for 'marrying a Jew'.

In the London auditorium, you wouldn't have found a single Jew, despite the pain of their uprooting, who wanted to return - except to visit. The last laugh belongs to a Egyptian-born tourist from France who insisted, in an episode described in the film by the Paris hairdresser Elie Eliyakim, on laying a bouquet of roses on Nasser's tomb: "Thank you, Nasser", read the accompanying note, " for expelling us from Egypt. Without you, I would have never become a millionaire."

 Breaking the Jew Taboo

Jewish Renaissance interview with Amir Ramses

It wasn't all peace and harmony


 Jewish girls in Tunisia, late 19th century (photo: Library of Congress)


Middle Eastern Jews have become more prominent in all walks of Israeli life. But their history is still subdued, argues Adi Schwartz in i24 News. Into the vacuum comes the Hebrew version of  Sir Martin Gilbert's book In Ishmael's House. But revisionist myths of peaceful coexistence have got there first:

Almost a million people vanished in the last few decades from the Middle East. Perhaps not physically; but the Jewish communities that flourished for more than two millennia throughout the region have disappeared almost without leaving a trace. Jews who lived in Arab countries found refuge mostly in Israel, but also in Europe and North America. Their heritage, however, in fact their mere existence, has escaped the attention of the international community.

The protection of Jews from European anti-Semitism, which culminated with the Holocaust, is considered Israel's raison d'etre. Even the leader of Israel's biggest ally, Barack Obama, said in his 2009 speech in Buchenwald that the State of Israel rose out "of the destruction of the Holocaust."

And what about the other half of Israel's population – those Jews who left Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Tunisia? Were they free of the persecution suffered by their brethren in Europe for centuries? In what circumstances exactly did 850,000 people emigrate from these Arab countries beginning in the 1940's, leaving behind just a handful of elderly Jews?

Israeli society has changed tremendously in recent decades and Middle Eastern Jews have become much more prominent in almost every segment of society. But their history is still subdued – in the first decade of the 21st century, only one PhD thesis was written in Israeli universities about the destruction of the Jewish communities in the Arab world. Schools do not devote comprehensive curricula to the subject: amazingly so, the last episode in the lives of these rich communities became a mandatory part of the Israeli matriculation exams only recently.

Into this vacuum enters a new book, translated from English and published in Israel. "In Ishmael's House" by acclaimed historian Sir Martin Gilbert is one of the first books in Hebrew to chronicle the lives of Jews in the Middle East from Muhammad's days in the 7th century to the present. Gilbert skillfully blends day-to-day stories and personal accounts with long term developments.

One of the main questions raised throughout the book is whether Jews lived in perfect harmony, as the myth goes, under Muslim rule; whether, as modern Arabs use to say, the problems between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East started with the appearance of Zionism in the end of the 19th century.

Gilbert's unequivocal answer is a resounding "no." While there have certainly been periods of peace and tranquility, Jews were never considered part and parcel of Muslim societies. They were always a distinguished minority, non-Muslim subjects of the Muslim state, who were assigned the inferior status of dhimmi (“dependent”). This position ensured the protection of their lives and property, the right to practice their religion, and a degree of internal communal autonomy. In exchange, however, Jews were required to submit to various forms of legal and social discrimination.

In the 14th century, for examples, the Jews of Egypt and Syria were forbidden to live in tall buildings, to raise their voices in prayer, to bury their dead in graves more impressive than those of their Muslim neighbors, or to hold clerical jobs. Until 1912, the Jews of Morocco were forced to walk barefoot or wear straw shoes outside Jewish quarters as a sign of respect for the Arab nation.

A long list of pogroms hardly left a mark on Jewish historiography. In the first decade of the 20th century a few such massacred occurred in Moroccan towns – in Taza in 1903 (40 killed), in Settat in 1907 (50 killed) and in Casablanca in 1907 (30 killed). For the sake of comparison, in the infamous Kishinev pogrom, which became a milestone in the history of Zionism, 49 Jews were killed.

Read article in full

Review by Adi Schwartz of In Ishmael's House (Hebrew version)  

Monday, October 28, 2013

Parlous state of Iraq's national museum





In Iraq's national museum, home to some of the world's most precious artifacts of ancient Mesopotamia, a caption beside a skeleton simply reads in English: "dated to very old time."

And some of the museum's most impressive pieces carry no labels at all — like a giant stone head lying on the ground that may or may not belong on a nearby empty pedestal labeled "Assyrian King Nimrod," the Biblical tormentor of the patriarch Abraham.

Ten years after Iraq's national museum was looted and smashed by frenzied thieves during the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein, it's still far from ready for a public re-opening. Work to overcome decades of neglect and the destruction of war has been hindered by power struggles, poorly-skilled staff and the persistent violence plaguing the country, said Bahaa Mayah, Iraq's most senior antiquities official.

"I wish that the great historical Baghdad would appear in her finest face and that the Iraq museum opens," said Mayah, the head of antiquities in the Tourism and Antiquities Ministry.

"But our wishes crash against the unfortunate reality we live in."

The museum was once the showcase for 7,000 years of history in Mesopotamia, birthplace of some of the first cities and one of the first writing systems — cuneiform — and home to a succession of major civilizations, including the Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian, through to a flourishing Islamic empire.

The museum was left a wreck the day after Baghdad fell to U.S. troops on April 10, 2003. Ancient clay scrolls and pottery littered the floor. Looters made off with everything from gold bowls and ritual funeral masks to elaborate headdresses. The U.S. was sharply criticized for not protecting the museum.

Because the museum's inventory was never completed, it's uncertain how many pieces were stolen, but the number is estimated at 15,000 pieces. More than a quarter have been retrieved, said Mayah, who has overseen the museum formally since 2012 but has been involved in its renovations for the past five years.

Renovations began soon after the museum was smashed up in 2003, starting with the basics, like computers, office furniture, air conditioning. By mid-2004, the museum was rewired for electricity and most basic repairs to its structure completed. Since then, the U.S. and Italian governments have helped renovate the halls.

But work has been slow. Only five of 30 exhibition halls have been renovated so far — and two of those have to be done again because they were improperly done. As a result, the museum is still not open to the general public. Its only visitors are specially arranged foreign delegations, Iraqi officials and field trips by Iraqi students.

It's part of a broader problem of preservation of antiquities in Iraq. There are over 12,000 registered archaeological sites in Iraq but they are mostly not protected, allowing for widespread, ongoing looting, Mayah said.

The museum itself was shuttered from the early 1990s by regime officials who said they feared for its safety, as Saddam mired the country in war, leading to crippling sanctions. The closure meant the museum's inventory wasn't updated. Sanctions meant staff couldn't update their skills, and many qualified employees left amid an exodus of Iraqis from the country.

In a central Baghdad quarter, the museum is surrounded by high concrete blast walls. Guards check bags in a caravan set up in the neglected museum garden. The main entrance is under construction, so visitors enter through a corridor leading to administrative rooms.

On a recent visit by The Associated Press, the renovated exhibition halls were eerily quiet, with gleaming floors and shining display cases, the artifacts encased neatly inside. The sound of workers employing drills was palpable as they renovated another hall. A ladder was strewn under a map of ancient Mesopotamia.

Two of the renovated rooms are meant to showcase the Sumerian civilization, which emerged some 3,000 years ago. But the sparse labels on the artifacts shed little light on the antiquities that represent some of humankind's most important milestones. Many labels lacked the age of the artifact, where it was found, what civilization it belonged to, or what its use was. Some didn't have labels at all. Nowhere in the hall — or anywhere else — is it explained who the Sumerians were or how they influenced later civilizations.

In one of the displays lay a skeleton in the earth it was found in, alongside rings and jars. A printed label beside it read: "A human skeleton found in situ, put beside him some Jars and rings between him dated to very old time."
The label on a fist-sized figurine of a monkey clutching his ears simply identifies it as "some monkey."

Read article in full

Senator's archive request rebuffed

Senator Chuck Schumer...request rebuffed

In an email to the Jewish Week, a spokesman has said the US State Department is committed to returning the Jewish archive to Iraq. The US government response comes as a rebuff to Senator Chuck Schumer, the first politician to take up the cause.   

The State Department has rebuffed the request of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) not to return to Iraq the treasure trove of Jewish artifacts found by American troops in Baghdad in 2003. Schumer said the items were “stolen” from the Iraqi Jewish community.

Under an agreement with the Bush administration at the time, the more than 2,700 artifacts – including partial Torah parchments and ancient prayer books –were to be returned to Iraq in 2014 after being restored and preserved by the National Archives in Washington.

In response to Schumer’s letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, a State Department spokesman, Pooja Jhunjhunwala, told The Jewish Week in an e-mail that the Department would abide by its August 2003 agreement with Iraq.

“We are committed to returning the material to Iraq following the completion of the preservation project and the exhibition of the material in the United States,” he wrote. “Much of the project has now been completed by the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA), and NARA has announced that the material is being readied for exhibition in Washington at the National Archives.”

Read article in full

Sen Schumer tries to block archive return

'Save the Iraqi-Jewish archive' website 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Try diplomacy first, says WOJI


Maurice Shohet, president of WOJI

The US-based World Organization of Jews from Iraq has finally broken its silence on the question of the controversial Iraqi-Jewish archive (IJA). Before the US government returns the archive to Iraq, WOJI is anxious to see the entire archive digitised, a process that is only 40 percent complete. In its strategy of exhausting diplomatic channels with the Iraqis, which it has been quietly pursuing, WOJI has the support of major US Jewish bodies. Here is the full text of a statement issued to members of the Iraqi-Jewish community by WOJI President, Maurice Shohet.


"Dear Members of the Iraqi Jewish Community,

"As you all know, the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has been working on conserving and digitizing the Iraqi Jewish Archive (IJA), which was found in Baghdad in very poor shape and needing extensive remediation. The cost of the project is more than $3 million, of which $2.9 million was allocated by the State Department, with the rest coming from a National Endowment for the Humanities grant and private donations.  The World Organization of Jews from Iraq (WOJI) has been involved with NARA in this effort since the beginning as the entity representing the Iraqi Jewish community.

"Knowing that there is a signed agreement between the Iraqi and US governments providing for the IJA to be returned to Iraq in June 2014, WOJI has been focusing on ensuring that the conservation and digitization process is completed first, while simultaneously conducting quiet negotiations with Iraqi authorities in the hope that they can be persuaded not to return the IJA to Iraq.

"It is obviously extremely important that the IJA be preserved and digitized so that scholars, our community, and anyone else can have full access to the material.  We do not want to risk the IJA being recalled to Iraq before the process is complete, since the Iraqis have the right, according to the agreement, to request its return with short notice at any time.  Digitizing is now the standard treatment for valuable and historical material, as illustrated by a large-scale project undertaken by Hebrew University and others described in "Ingathering and Digitizing the Diaspora's Rare Hebrew Books."

"As I mentioned above, WOJI has been quietly proceeding on many levels in its efforts to keep the IJA from being returned to Iraq.  We have met with the Iraqi ambassador in Washington as well as State Department officials.  In our discussions we stress that all the materials in the IJA were confiscated from their Jewish owners by the Baath regime, and as such remain the precious patrimony of the community and should be returned to their rightful owners.  We remind our listeners that the Jews were persecuted and murdered, and now the community in Iraq no longer exists.  Throughout our efforts, we have received advice and support and remain in close consultation with top officials in several organizations, including the American Jewish Committee, B'nai B'rith, the Anti-Defamation League, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, and the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Israel.  Let me also note that David Dangoor, former president of WOJI, expressed our concerns in a letter to President Obama.  Finally, members of the US Congress are beginning to petition the State Department to prevent the return of the IJA to Iraq, and we will cooperate constructively with them.

"In our meetings and discussions, we have also raised other issues of great importance to our community.  We submitted a list of names and all known information about Jews who were abducted and disappeared after the Baath government came to power in 1968, requesting that their fates be investigated.  We requested that Torah fragments from the IJA that are unfit for use be buried in a Jewish cemetery, as required by Jewish law.  While we received written approval for this burial from the Iraqi government, it has not yet taken place.  We expressed our grave concerns about Jewish material still in Iraq and the security of our holy places.  Finally, we requested that Torah scrolls in Iraq be sent abroad to serve Iraqi and other Jewish communities, as was done even during the Baath regime.  The fact that we have made no progress on our requests reflects, at least in part, the current state of chaos, violence and anarchy in Iraq.

"Let me conclude by making it clear that WOJI’s strategy is to first exhaust all diplomatic channels in its efforts to keep the IJA from being returned to Iraq.  As I said, we have received strong support for this approach from the major Jewish organizations listed above.  It is our originally mandated objective and mission to establish and maintain open channels of communication with Iraqi authorities, not only for the IJA, but importantly for all the other issues that mean so much to us, such as the fates of our loved ones, Jewish communal property still in Iraq, and the Jewish holy sites there that need to be protected and preserved.  It is perhaps a long shot to hope that we can achieve these goals, but it is our responsibility to give it our best effort now and into the future."

                                                                                                Maurice Shohet

Friday, October 25, 2013

Experts at odds on archive's legal standing

As the campaign to stop the Jewish archive going back to Iraq gathers pace, The Jewish Weekly examines what legal arguments might be used to recovery it for the Iraqi Jewish community. Legal experts are at odds over its 'legal standing'. (With thanks: Michelle Malca)

Stanley Urman, executive vice president of JJAC, cites the legal principle “jus ex injuria non oritur,” which in international law means that a state cannot assert legal rights to property illegally obtained. “[The materials] were seized from Jewish institutions, schools and the community. There is no justification or logic in sending these Jewish archives back to Iraq, a place that has virtually no Jews, no interest in Jewish heritage and no accessibility to Jewish scholars.”

Haggadah from 1902, hand-lettered and decorated by an Iraqi youth photos/u.s. national archives and records administration
Haggadah from 1902, hand-lettered and decorated by an Iraqi youth photos/u.s. national archives and records administration
According to former Pentagon analyst Harold Rhode, who was with the U.S. military when it discovered the materials in 2003, international law forbids a nation from removing the patrimony of another country, even when captured in war.

But he contends that these particular treasures were never Iraq’s to begin with, and he castigated the United States for promising to return them.

“The Iraqi government ‘acquired’ this material by stealing it from the Jewish community and by persecuting a minority religious population,” he wrote in a post at PJMedia.com. “It is the Iraqi government which has no provenance. It is stolen property.”

Charles Goldstein disagrees. As counsel to the Commission for Art Recovery, he is an expert on restitution of Holocaust-looted art. Though personally sympathetic to JIMENA and its allies, Goldstein said they have no legal standing to demand the materials remain in the United States.

“This is not a legal issue,” he said. “It is not normally a violation of international law when a country takes property from its own citizens. That may be different if you can prove discriminatory taking without compensation, which may be the case here, but each individual [owner] would have to make a claim. A claim cannot be made by the Jewish community abroad.”

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A fishy story from Tunisia.....

The wax coating on bottarga has been ' found to be made of pork products'

Here's news to induce indigestion in Jewish fans of bottarga, the mullet roe popular around the Mediterranean. Senguy News reports that the chief rabbinate of Djerba has withdrawn Kosher certification from Tunisian-produced bottarga. 

Mullet is kosher, you ask, so how can mullet roe not be? Is this some kind of hoax? Some commenters on the Senguy site find the story fishy.  It's an April fool joke (in French, poisson d'avril), they claim.

No Jewish family meal is complete without bottarga or fig brandy (boukha).

Senguy says that the rabbinate inspected a Tunisian factory which supplies 95 percent of  the bottarga market and found a great number of 'irregularities'. The percentage of actual fish eggs in bottarga can be as low as 1 percent. Worse still, an independent laboratory tested the (non-edible wax) coating in which bottarga is wrapped and found it was made of pig's gums and trotters.

The health and safety veterinary inspectorate is on the case. The Djerba rabbinate, which immediately withdrew the Kosher certficate or Teuda from the product, was not available for comment. A fishy story indeed.

Read article in full

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Hundreds of young Jews leave Turkey

It may be harder to fill the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul in years to come. This photo was taken in 2003.

Hundreds of young Jews are leaving Turkey for the U.S. and Europe because of increased perceptions of anti-Semitism and Ankara's tensions with Israel, a senior member of the immigrant community in Israel has told Hurriyet Daily News.

Nesim Güveniş, the deputy chairman of the Association of Turkish Jews in Israel, told the newspaper that the mass exodus was a response to the actions of the Turkish government, including remarks of leaders against Jews for the waning relations between Turkey and Israel and the worsening of conditions for the nearly 15,000 Jews living in in the country.

"Look at the environment of Turkey at the moment. We are uncomfortable with being 'othered'… I am more Turkish than many. But we couldn't make them believe it," Güveniş described, according to Hurriyet.

Güveniş himself immigrated to Israel in 1981 because of the political tension in Turkey during the 1970s and the effect it was having on his children. "They didn't want to go to university where leftists or other groups were putting pressure on them to take sides at school… The first two years in Israel were difficult, and we had to learn the language. But I don’t regret it," he explained to the Turkish paper.

Read article in full

Hurriyet Daily News

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Tzipi Livni: no linkage of refugees

 
 Point of No Return exclusive


Tzipi Livni (Photo: Flash 90)

As peace talks lurch forward between Israel and the Palestinians, the burning question is whether Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief negotiator, will address the issue of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries and link it to Palestinian refugee claims. Levana Zamir, a delegate to the World Jewish Congress executive committee meeting in Jerusalem, managed to pose the question to Livni. But the answer she got was disappointing.

Here is Levana's report:

At the closing session of the World Jewish Congress Executive Committee, gathering on 23 October in Jerusalem, presided by Ronald Lauder, one of the Israeli VIP guest speakers was Tzipi Livni, Minister of Justice.

 "I cannot share with you of course, the content of the negotiations," said Livni among other things, "but I can tell you that the proposal of 'one country for two peoples' is in no way an option, but two separate states, a Jewish state and a Palestinian one.

"My main concern during negotiations is the security of Israel. I met recently with a Jew from an Arab country, who told me that 'one state for Jews and Arabs together will take us back to the very bad situation we had to flee from."

So it was a great opportunity during the Q&A session, open to the audience, to present our "burning" question:

I introduced myself as President of the Association of the Jews of Egypt  and as a member of the WJC General Assembly.

"In September 2012," I said, "the WJC brought the Jewish Refugees issue to the United Nations opening session, asking for recognition of the million Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries. But as we say, "Charity begins at home", and no doubt the Jewish refugees issue is a good tool during negotiations, and as a "balance" to the Palestinian refugee problem. So my question to you is: do you remember us ?"

"The answer is yes, " said Livni, "but - the Palestinian refugee problem has no connection with the Arab countries".

This was Tzipi Livni's answer, short and clear. "There is no connection between the Palestinian refugees and the Arab countries."

("The other two guest speakers were MK Isaac Herzog and Minister Naftali Bennett, hosted by Shella Safra, WJC Treasurer. In his speech, Minister Bennett brought the Hizbollah as an example. He said: "the Hizbollah are fighting us, although they have no demands for land. Their only reason is: they do not want us here at all".)

Arutz Sheva report

Review of Martin Gilbert's book: Adi Schwartz

 Sir Martin Gilbert (photo: Marc Sellem)

 Jews from Arab countries need a seminal event like the Eichmann trial to bring their story to the fore. Otherwise, their 'narrative' will remain marginalised. Adi Schwartz reviews in Haaretz the Hebrew version*  of Sir Martin Gilbert's In Ishmael's House - curiously enough, one of very few histories of the Jews from Muslim lands in  that language. (With thanks: Yoel)

Surprisingly, almost no research books written in Israel tell in detail the history of the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa, from Muhammad to the destruction of the Jewish communities in half of the 20th century.

Whoever wants today to learn about the history of the Jewish half of the population - has to do it in English. Gilbert focuses on the details without forgetting to draw the big picture. The power of the book derives from the author's his talent to combine historical data with personal stories. The book has been often called a novel, without losing the credibility of historical research.

 Gilbert occasionally pulls out a magnifying glass and describes anecdotes and individual events, and elsewhere is watching from above and draws conclusions expenses. Throughout the book, the question is whether indeed Jews and Muslims lived in harmony in Islamic countries. (...)

 Gilbert (thus) refutes completely the "myth of harmony." He shows how harassed a Jewish Jerusalem in the ninth century, mentions the displacement of Yemenite Jews during the Rambam, and in the Ottoman era, he writes in conclusion that the Jews felt the "fundamental uncertainty of living under Muslim rule: the proliferation of opportunities on the one hand and on the other limitations, a combination of protection and persecution "(p. 101). Many cite the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry as an example of co - existence and prosperity of the cultural and social of the Jewish community under Muslim rule, and rightly so., but only a few know how come this era to an end. In 1066 - a wild attack was made by local Muslims against the Jewish population of Grenada, during which five thousand Jews were murdered. This number was the same, and perhaps exceeds the number of Jews killed by the Christian soldiers ... At the beginning of the First Crusade "(p. 59).

Pogroms in Jewish communities in Islamic countries have hardly had substantial Jewish historiography. For example, in the first decade of the 20th century occurred a long series of murders Jews of Morocco - the city of Taza in 1903 (40 killed), in Stat in 1907 (50 killed) and Casablanca in 1907 (30 killed).

 Just for comparison, the Kishinev pogroms were a milestone in the history of Zionism and the Jewish people and occurred at the same time exactly, killed 49 Jews. In the second half of the 20th century, conditions deteriorated for the Jews in Islamic countries, mainly because of the strengthening of Arab nationalism and due to the escalating conflict between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

Jews were perceived as collaborators with the "Zionists in Palestine", if identified with Zionism or not. Jewish communities found themselves without protection, exposed to different species of disturbances. Within two decades these Jews knew layoffs, nationalization of property, denial of citizenship, freezing bank accounts, arrests, torture and deportation. Of course the worst mass murders were: Baghdad in 1941 more than 150 were killed in the Jewish pogrom at Shavuot, in Tripoli, Libya, 133 Jews were murdered in November 1945, dozens of Jews in Damascus and Aleppo Jews were murdered in riots in 1948; pogroms against the Jews of Aden in 1947 left nearly 100 dead; Dozens of Jews were killed in Cairo and Alexandria in the summer of 1948. Soon these ancient communities were destroyed and from one million Jews living in the Middle East and North Africa in the 40s there are  almost none.

 What does the average high school graduate knows Israel about all this? What Israeli scholar knows the story of the Jews of Islam? In Israeli attitudes to the genocide of European Jewry, the Eichmann trial was a dramatic turning point. It caused an outpouring of survivors' testimonies into public discourse, people came to the hearings in Jerusalem in 1961, and broke the dam. In many ways, the Jews of Islamic countries are still awaiting a seminal event like this that would break the barrier of consciousness that exists in Israeli society for them.

The comparison is between the horrors themselves: Jews in the Arab countries did not suffer (fortunately) acts of persecution and murder of similar size to the Holocaust, but the silence and avoidance of engaging in testimonies recall the days before the Eichmann trial. This deletion of consciousness has many causes, most significantly related to Arab - Israeli conflict.

You could even say that the history of the Jews of Islam fell victim to the ongoing conflict. For example, the official State of Israel for years avoided mentioning the fate of the Jews of Islam for fear it will bring legitimacy and recognition of the claims of the Palestinian refugees - two groups who were forced to leave their homes since the conflict.

The thinking was was that if Israel refrained from mentioning the claims of Jews from Arab lands, it would stop the Palestinians mentioning the " right of return "; though they know their hopes would be dashed. But also the part of civil society and the intellectual and media elites in pushing the interests of Jews from Arab lands is worth noting. It is difficult to recall many stories or articles on the subject (an exception is Ben Dror Yemini in Maariv ). No prominent intellectual raises his voice in this matter.

Also a long list of Israeli Mizrahi intellectuals emerged in the last generation (such as Yossi Yonah, Yehuda Shenhav and Yossi Dahan) who  prefer to allege discrimination against the Ashkenazi establishment towards their parents 'generation, and usually do not write about what their parents' generation went through.

The history of the Jews in Islamic countries disproves a significant element in the Arab narrative of the conflict: "everything was fine"; Jews lived in peace and harmony under Islamic rule, say Palestinians. Zionism created the conflict. Knowing the facts does not allow this narrative to stick. As long as there is that widespread perception among the elite in Israel,  the discussion of history of Jews in Arab countries will be marginalised. It is hoped that Gilbert would herald the beginning of a history-based discussion - factual, not just political.

*translated by Levana Zamir

Read article in full (Hebrew) 

Other reviews of Sir Martin Gilbert's book

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Don't turn a miracle into a tragedy

At long last the big guns of the Israeli press are weighing in on the issue of the planned return of the 'Iraqi-Jewish archive' to Iraq. The archive's recovery was a miracle, but for it it to be sent back would be an act of cultural aggression, argues well-known columnist Caroline Glick in the Jerusalem Post.

If you happen to be in Washington, DC, between now and January, you can see a piece of Jewish history that was never supposed to see the light of day. The National Archives is now exhibiting restored holy books and communal documents that belonged to the Jewish community of Iraq.

In 1940, the Iraqi Jewish community numbered 137,000 people. Jews made up more than a quarter of the population of Baghdad. A 2,500-year-old community, Iraq had for centuries been a major center of Jewish learning. The Babylonian Talmud was written there.

The yeshivot in Karbala and Baghdad were considered among the greatest in the world.

According to Dhiaa Kasim Kashi, a Shi’ite Muslim interviewed in the 2008 book Iraq’s Last Jews, by the 1930s, the Jews of Iraq had become leaders in every field. “All of Iraq’s famous musicians and composers were Jewish,” he said.

“Jews,” he continued, “were so central to commercial life in Iraq that business across the country used to shut down on Saturdays because it was the Jewish Shabbat. They were the most prominent members of every elite profession – bankers, doctors, lawyers, professors, engineers, etc.”

All of this began to end with the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s. Due to rampant Islamic Jew hatred, Arab leaders were drawn to the Nazis. For their part, the Nazis were quick to capitalize on their popularity. The German ambassador to Iraq, Fritz Grobba, cultivated Nazi sympathizers in the Iraqi military and organized a pro-Nazi military coup in April 1941.

On June 1, 1941, as Jews celebrated the festival of Shavuot, the pro-Nazi government carried out a massive pogrom. Estimates place the number of Jews murdered at anywhere between 180 and 900. Nine hundred Jewish homes were destroyed. Hundreds of Jewish shops and businesses were looted and burned.

The pogrom, which came to be known as the Farhud, or “violent dispossession,” marked the beginning of the end of the Iraqi Jewish community.

Iraq was one of the five Arab states that invaded Israel on May 15, 1948.

The immediate victims of Iraq’s unyielding rejection of Jewish national liberation were the Jews of Iraq. In 1950, the exodus began. By the end of 1952, when the government shut the remaining Jews in, 124,000 Jews had fled Iraq, mainly to Israel. Forced to abandon their private and communal property, their possessions became hostage to the regime.

The few thousand Jews left in Iraq lived in utter terror. But even in their reduced state, they tried to protect the property of their phantom community.

In Baghdad, only one synagogue remained in operation. The Jews brought all the communal documents and holy books there for storage.

But as Harold Rhode, a recently retired US Defense Department cultural expert, reported in August at PJM Media, in 1985 Saddam Hussein sent his henchmen to the synagogue with several trucks. They stole the documentary history of the community in broad daylight.

Rhode explained that Saddam ordered the theft of the Jewish community’s property both to humiliate the Jews and Israel and to impress his fellow Arabs. As he put it, from a local cultural perspective, “Humiliation – i.e., shaming another’s personal reputation – is more important and more powerful than physical cruelty.

“By capturing the Jewish archives, Saddam was humiliating the Jewish people. He was showing how powerless the Jews were to stop him.”

From a pan-Arab perspective, Saddam demonstrated that he “was in the vanguard of protecting and regaining Arab honor, and was therefore more worthy of Arab/Muslim leadership than were the others.”

Rhode was deployed to Iraq shortly after the US-led overthrow of Saddam’s regime. By the time he arrived in May 2003, there were only a dozen Jews still living in Iraq.

Rhode was the first American official informed of the existence of the archive. It was stored in the cellar of the headquarters of Saddam’s mukhabarat, or secret police. When Rhode arrived at the building with a small detail of soldiers and New York Times reporter Judith Miller, the building had just been flooded by an unexploded shell that had punctured the water main.

When he realized the dimensions of the archive, now largely underwater, Rhode moved heaven and earth to save it. Due to Rhode’s action, and the support he received from Iraqi leader Ahmed Chalabi, vice president Dick Cheney and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the archive – which included everything from school records to 500- year-old copies of the Bible – was saved on Shavuot 2003 and sent to the US.

Once the archive was safely in the US, the State Department spent $3 million restoring the 2,700 books and tens of thousands of documents. In the meantime, back in Iraq, there are still hundreds of Torah scrolls languishing in a government cellar, inaccessible to the public, and in a horrible state of disrepair.

The fact that the archive was rescued from Saddam’s vault and is now being shown to the public is a miracle.

But if nothing changes, on Shavuot 2014, the miracle will come to a tragic and scandalous end. In an act of cultural aggression, the US government has promised to return the Jewish communal archive – stolen from the Iraqi Jewish community by the Iraqi government – to the Iraqi government by June 2014.

The State Department insists that the archive is Iraqi government property, since it was found in an Iraqi government building. But if that is true, then all the Jewish property stored in the Gestapo’s dungeons should have remained German government property after World War II. And even the comparison to the Nazis is too facile.

Jews could safely enter Germany, and even live there after the Nazis were defeated. Jews cannot safely enter, let alone live in, Iraq.

The difference between Jewish property stolen by the Nazis and Jewish property stolen by Arab regimes is political. It is politically acceptable to acknowledge that the Nazis were criminals. But the Arabs have never had to pay a price for their persecution and eventual destruction of their Jewish communities. No one wishes to recognize the fact that it is anti-Semitism that drives the Islamic quest to destroy the Jewish state.


Read article in full

Baghdad casts a giant shadow


 Linda Menuhin with film-maker Duki Dror: quest for her vanished father 'brings closure'


With the end of the US government shut down, an exhibition of the best of the 'Jewish archive' - 'Discovery and Recovery' - has at last opened at the National Archives in Washington DC. In the shadow of the exhibition, a new film, Shadow in Baghdad, highlights the devastating loss of lives and property experienced by the Jews of Iraq. Lyn Julius blogs in the Times of Israel:


I will not dwell on the controversy surrounding the ‘Jewish archive’, which the US military salvaged from a sewage-filled basement in Baghdad in 2003. The 2,700 books and documents, seized from Jewish homes, schools and libraries, are due to return to Iraq after restoration, with all its moral implications – rather than being restituted to their rightful Jewish owners now living outside the country.
Instead, I will tell you about a remarkable documentary to be screened in DC in the shadow of the exhibition: Shadow in Baghdad.

Made by the Israeli filmmaker of Iraqi origin Duki Dror, the film tells the story of the destruction of the Jewish community of Iraq through the unusual internet relationship between Baghdad-born Linda Abdul Aziz Menuhin, a columnist and blogger now living in Israel, and an inquisitive Muslim journalist based in Iraq.

The journalist, whose face is blanked out on his Skype calls to Linda, had been moved to contact her after reading her Arabic blog. She had described her emotional journey to Jordan to cast her vote in the 2010 Iraqi elections. The journalist agrees to risk his career and personal safety to help Linda find out what happened to her father Yaakub Abdul Aziz, a prominent lawyer who was abducted in Baghdad in 1972.

From eye-witness interviews we learn that Yaakub Abdul Aziz – his wife, Linda and two other children had escaped the country two years earlier and were waiting impatiently for him to join them – was on his way to synagogue in Baghdad on the eve of Yom Kippur. He never arrived.

In the early 1970s the strongman of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, was conducting a reign of terror against the remaining 3,000 Jews: the great bulk of the 140,000-member community had left in the early 1950s carrying 40 dinars each and a single suitcase. At the time of his abduction Yaakub was under financial pressure – not only to provide a dowry for lovesick Linda, but because he had posted bail for a group of 90 Jews arrested after trying to escape through northern Iraq.

The regime had determined that 100 Jews would never be issued with passports to leave Iraq – and Yaakub was one of them. He was among dozens of Jews to disappear without trace. He is presumed buried at Kasser al Nihaya, the fortress jail from whence no prisoner ever emerged alive.

In one of the film’s most suspenseful scenes, the Iraqi journalist combs the al-Musbah district where Linda used to live. Yaakub’s trail has run cold. Nobody remembers the Jews in their distinctive hats. When prodded, the older locals will admit that the entire area was Jewish-owned, but cannot explain why the compound which used to house the Jewish Shamash school is off-limits.

Yet, after 40 years, the quest for her father at last brings closure to Linda. She can now put to rest the shadow her father’s unexplained death has cast over her life. Linda gains a journalistic award for her part in bringing Arab and Jews together, in spite of one veteran remarking that her blogging activities “are like emptying a bath with a teaspoon.”

Individuals like the Iraqi journalist give hope for reconciliation between Iraq and its Jews. But first, visitors to the National Archives exhibition need to grasp what a high price the Jewish community paid, both in terms of property confiscated and human life cut short.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Basra synagogue on verge of collapse

The local council has a plan to restore a synagogue in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, but is hampered by not knowing to whom it belongs. Meanwhile, neighbouring shopkeepers warn that the building is on the verge of collapse. Report (translated with the help of Google) on Alsumaria TV News (with thanks: Jonah, via Elder of Ziyon): 
  
According to retailers working in the shops in the vicinity of the Jewish  synagogue in Basra on Saturday,  the building, which for years has been a warehouse, is on the verge of collapse. Meanwhile the provincial council has unveiled a proposal for the synagogue's restoration.

A shopkeeper in the Ali Mohammed market told Alsumaria News, "the Jewish synagogue is on the verge of collapse. There is a wide gap in the roof. The cracks in the walls are obvious and if the building is not restored it is likely that it will collapse."

Another vendor named Abbas Radhi told Alsumaria News: "Some shops adjacent to the synagogue belong to the Jews. Rent is paid annually by residents to a lawyer acting for the shop owners," adding that "the collapse of the synagogue will lead to damage nearby and the possible collapse of adjoining buildings."

 Chairman Bijari of the Development and Reconstruction Committee of the provincial council told Alsumaria News: "The project to restore the synagogue and keep it as a heritage site will hopefully be implemented in the next year, with funding from the provincial budget." He added: "the project faces an obstacle: we do not know who owns the synagogue. This has been confirmed to us by the Inspectorate of Antiquities and Heritage. "

Earlier Bijari, as chairman of the Council's Committee of Tourism and Antiquities, had stated that "the synagogue renovation project proposed within the project plan in 2014 may not be implemented in the event unless it is adopted by the end of this year." He argued that "heritage buildings mission in the province, including the Jewish synagogue, should be preserved before it is too late. "

The marketplace synagogue was built in 1915 with contributions from the elders of the Jewish community for religious purposes. It consists of seven rooms and the ark, surrounded by shops belonging to Jews. Hebrew phrases engraved on the walls are the only indicator of the place's identity. It was a sub-headquarters of the Baath Party during the 90s. After the fall of the former regime in 2003, it was stormed by persons unidentified who looted its contents, then turned the synagogue into goods warehouse.
 

Perhaps the synagogue site is the best proof of the peaceful coexistence that prevailed in Basra. It is located about 30 meters from the mosque, used primarily by Shiite Muslims. (..)The harmony did not last long: the Jews in the province to were subject to assaults and harassment when Israel was created in 1948, leading to displacement and looting of their property. These coincided with the government decision to prevent the Jews from leaving Iraq. It then allowed  immigration, provided the Jews abandoned Iraqi nationality and property. Within  two years most Iraqi Jews were transferred to Israel in Operation Ezra and Nehemia by the Jewish Agency. The Iraqi government decided to again prevent Jews from travelling in 1952. (...) The last of the Basra Jews left only in 2003:  an elderly woman who lived alone in an apartment adjacent to the synagogue.

Read TV News report (Arabic) 

The (Basra) man who escaped the Baghdad gallows 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Arab saviour's family rejects award

In retrospect, Yad Vashem should have seen this coming. What Arab family would want to put itself at risk by accepting an award from the Enemy for saving Jewish lives? The Times of Israel has the news:

CAIRO (AP) — A member of the family of the first Arab honored by Israel for risking his life to save Jews during the Holocaust says the family isn’t interested in the recognition.

The Egyptian doctor Mohamed Helmy was honored posthumously last month by Israel’s Holocaust memorial for hiding Jews in Berlin during the Nazis’ genocide, but a family member tracked down by The Associated Press this week in Cairo said her relatives wouldn’t accept the award, one of Israel’s most prestigious. 

“If any other country offered to honor Helmy, we would have been happy with it,” Mervat Hassan, the wife of Helmy’s great-nephew, told The Associated Press during an interview at her home in Cairo this week.

Mohamed Helmy was an Egyptian doctor who lived in Berlin and hid several Jews during the Holocaust. Last month, he was honored by Israel’s Yad Vashem Museum as “Righteous Among the Nations” — the highest honor given to a non-Jew for risking great personal dangers to rescue Jews from the Nazis’ gas chambers.

Read article in full

First Arab honoured as Righteous Gentile

Kurdish piece ignores archive's Jewish heirs

 Saad Eskander, the Kurdish director of the Iraq National Library

This article in the Kurdish outlet of Rudaw on the 'Jewish archive' backs the unwavering view of Doris Hamburg of the US National Archives:  the archive is bound to go back to Iraq. The Kurdish director of the National Library in Baghdad,  Saad Eskander, is not only keen to put the returned archive on display, but regrets that it ever left Iraq. Missing from Judit Neurink's report is what the Iraqi Jews themselves think. They are treated as an obsolete and invisible community, although some of the archive's Jewish owners are still living.  (With thanks: Torbjorn)

My comment: Eskander is a mass of contradictions: on the one hand the archive should never have left Iraq, and that the Americans should have taught the Iraqis how to care for the documents - although Iraq demonstrably did not have the resources or the specialist equipment, let alone the expertise. On the one hand the archive is 'culturally worthless' and Iraq retained the most valuable pieces. On the other hand, these pieces remained neglected in the cellars of the National Library and Museum, 'where they still are', he admits. He is not interested in doing justice to the still living Jewish heirs outside Iraq, only in the political significance of the archive as an illustration of Saddam Hussein's crimes.

Rudaw reports:

ERBIL: "The army contacted the National Archives and told them what they had. When Hamburg arrived in Baghdad soon after, the wet documents had already started moulding in the heat of May.

“We did not know if someone had opened a tap,” Hamburg recalls 10 years later, on the phone in Washington. The documents needed immediate attention but salvaging them in Baghdad was not possible. So they were flown to the United States.

Most Jews left Iraq after Israel was founded in 1948 and only thousands remained after the big exodus that continued until 1952. Most who stayed left after anti-Jewish campaigns under Saddam in 1969 and the year after. Nowadays, only a handful of elderly Jews remain in Baghdad. What remains of the community can no longer be recognised as Jewish, following conversions to Islam or Christianity. (The latter is most unlikely - ed)

Yet, for decades the Jews of Baghdad formed the economic and intellectual heart of the city, thanks to their roles as bankers, money changers, traders, doctors, thinkers and artists. Jews had their own schools and organizations. The documents found seem to stem mainly from organizations that were closed one-by-one in the 1960s and early the following decade. Because of their importance for researchers, the documents will all be freely available online, Hamburg says proudly.

A special exhibition was planned, but it is unclear when that will open due to the shutdown of the American federal government. After that, the originals will return to Iraq, Hamburg says.

“From the start, we have worked closely with the Iraqi authorities, and that’s what we agreed on.”

 "Director Saad Eskander of the National Library in Baghdad will be glad to receive the archives.

From the start, he was against their trip to the United States, although he admits that Iraq could not look after them in 2003. “Iraq was in a chaos. Nobody was interested in our cultural heritage.”

"Yet, the documents should have stayed, he says: “Instead of taking them away, the Americans should have taught the Iraqis how to repair and maintain them.

”When he was invited to the US to see what was happening to the documents, he admitted the National Archives had done a great job. But when the Americans asked to send more documents to restore, he refused. Instead, he set up the National Library’s own laboratory with help from abroad.

 “My staff can now do it by itself,” he says proudly. “And our documents can also be found on our website.”

 Eskander will use the return of the documents next year to put on a special exhibition. It will be “the first Jewish one in Iraq in many years. We want to show how multi-religious Iraq was, and what crimes have been committed by the former dictatorial regimes,” he says.

To the returning collection, the National Library will add its own Jewish documents, many of them received under Saddam’s rule. When Saddam confiscated the books and documents of the Jews who left the country, the most valuable pieces were kept.

“They went to us, and to the Iraqi Museum. Only a third went to the Mukhabarat,” Eskandar explains. But the library and museum were not allowed to study or handle them in any way. “We could read nor classify them. They have been kept in dark cellars for many years,” Eskandar says. In the Iraqi Museum, that is where they still are, he adds.

“In 2004, I had them taken out to be repaired and maintained.”For that reason he is not as impressed as the Americans about the cultural value of the returning documents.

 “That has been exaggerated greatly.” The fact that the Mukhabarat put them in the cellar, tells us the service did not value them highly, he says. "That does not make them worthless, he hastens to add. “The political value is huge. Because they show you how Saddam Hussein tried to destroy the cultural heritage of the Jews of Iraq.”

Read article in full

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Found in a flooded cellar of Saddam Hussein’s secret service and soon on view at the National Archives in Washington: A treasure trove of papers and books that open a window to Iraq’s Jewish life before it faded under emigration and the Iraqi dictator’s crackdowns.


What makes the collection special is that, though Iraq’s centuries-old Jews have all but disappeared, some of their heritage has not.


Items in the find include historical and cultural treasures, found among 2,700 books in Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic and English, some dating back to the 14th century. There are also the original documents of a Torah, and a part of the centuries-old box where it was housed.


Next to the prayer books and religious texts, even more interesting to the National Archives’ Doris Hamburg are mundane items like sales bills and school reports of Iraqi Jews. “Most of these documents show us the daily life in Iraq between the forties and the seventies,” says Hamburg, Director of Preservation Programs at the National Archives in the US capital.


The story of how the documents were found, and how they ended up in Washington, is itself a tale.


A month after the March 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam, American soldiers arrived at the flooded cellar of a building that belonged to the Mukhabarat, the dictator’s dreaded secret service. There, the soldiers found floating boxes, which on inspection were found to contain Jewish documents. The army contacted the National Archives and told them what they had.


When Hamburg arrived in Baghdad soon after, the wet documents had already started moulding in the heat of May.


“We did not know if someone had opened a tap,” Hamburg recalls 10 years later, on the phone in Washington. The documents needed immediate attention but salvaging them in Baghdad was not possible. So they were flown to the United States.


Most Jews left Iraq after Israel was founded in 1948 and only thousands remained after the big exodus that continued until 1952. Most who stayed left after anti-Jewish campaigns under Saddam in 1969 and the year after. Nowadays, only a handful of elderly Jews remain in Baghdad. What remains of the community can no longer be recognised as Jewish, following conversions to Islam or Christianity.


Yet, for decades the Jews of Baghdad formed the economic and intellectual heart of the city, thanks to their roles as bankers, money changers, traders, doctors, thinkers and artists. Jews had their own schools and organizations. The documents found seem to stem mainly from organizations that were closed one-by-one in the 1960s and early the following decade.


Because of their importance for researchers, the documents will all be freely available online, Hamburg says proudly. A special exhibition was planned, but it is unclear when that will open due to the shutdown of the American federal government.


After that, the originals will return to Iraq, Hamburg says. “From the start, we have worked closely with the Iraqi authorities, and that’s what we agreed on.”


Director Saad Eskander of the National Library in Baghdad will be glad to receive the archives. From the start, he was against their trip to the United States, although he admits that Iraq could not look after them in 2003. “Iraq was in a chaos. Nobody was interested in our cultural heritage.”


Yet, the documents should have stayed, he says: “Instead of taking them away, the Americans should have taught the Iraqi’s how to repair and maintain them.”


When he was invited to the US to see what was happening to the documents, he admitted the National Archives had done a great job. But when the Americans asked to send more documents to restore, he refused. Instead, he set up the National Library’s own laboratory with help from abroad.


“My staff can now do it by itself,” he says proudly. “And our documents can also be found on our website.”


Eskander will use the return of the documents next year to put on a special exhibition. It will be “the first Jewish one in Iraq in many years. We want to show how multi-religious Iraq was, and what crimes have been committed by the former dictatorial regimes,” he says.


To the returning collection, the National Library will add its own Jewish documents, many of them received under Saddam’s rule. When Saddam confiscated the books and documents of the Jews who left the country, the most valuable pieces were kept. “They went to us, and to the Iraqi Museum. Only a third went to the Mukhabarat,” Eskandar explains.


But the library and museum were not allowed to study or handle them in any way. “We could read nor classify them. They have been kept in dark cellars for many years,” Eskandar says.


In the Iraqi Museum, that is where they still are, he adds. “In 2004, I had them taken out to be repaired and maintained.”


For that reason he is not as impressed as the Americans about the cultural value of the returning documents.


“That has been exaggerated greatly.” The fact that the Mukhabarat put them in the cellar, tells us the service did not value them highly, he says.


That does not make them worthless, he hastens to add. “The political value is huge. Because they show you how Saddam Hussein tried to destroy the cultural heritage of the Jews of Iraq.”
- See more at: http://rudaw.net/english/middleeast/iraq/18102013#sthash.X2lwDol0.dpuf
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Found in a flooded cellar of Saddam Hussein’s secret service and soon on view at the National Archives in Washington: A treasure trove of papers and books that open a window to Iraq’s Jewish life before it faded under emigration and the Iraqi dictator’s crackdowns.


What makes the collection special is that, though Iraq’s centuries-old Jews have all but disappeared, some of their heritage has not.


Items in the find include historical and cultural treasures, found among 2,700 books in Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic and English, some dating back to the 14th century. There are also the original documents of a Torah, and a part of the centuries-old box where it was housed.


Next to the prayer books and religious texts, even more interesting to the National Archives’ Doris Hamburg are mundane items like sales bills and school reports of Iraqi Jews. “Most of these documents show us the daily life in Iraq between the forties and the seventies,” says Hamburg, Director of Preservation Programs at the National Archives in the US capital.


The story of how the documents were found, and how they ended up in Washington, is itself a tale.


A month after the March 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam, American soldiers arrived at the flooded cellar of a building that belonged to the Mukhabarat, the dictator’s dreaded secret service. There, the soldiers found floating boxes, which on inspection were found to contain Jewish documents. The army contacted the National Archives and told them what they had.


When Hamburg arrived in Baghdad soon after, the wet documents had already started moulding in the heat of May.


“We did not know if someone had opened a tap,” Hamburg recalls 10 years later, on the phone in Washington. The documents needed immediate attention but salvaging them in Baghdad was not possible. So they were flown to the United States.


Most Jews left Iraq after Israel was founded in 1948 and only thousands remained after the big exodus that continued until 1952. Most who stayed left after anti-Jewish campaigns under Saddam in 1969 and the year after. Nowadays, only a handful of elderly Jews remain in Baghdad. What remains of the community can no longer be recognised as Jewish, following conversions to Islam or Christianity.


Yet, for decades the Jews of Baghdad formed the economic and intellectual heart of the city, thanks to their roles as bankers, money changers, traders, doctors, thinkers and artists. Jews had their own schools and organizations. The documents found seem to stem mainly from organizations that were closed one-by-one in the 1960s and early the following decade.


Because of their importance for researchers, the documents will all be freely available online, Hamburg says proudly. A special exhibition was planned, but it is unclear when that will open due to the shutdown of the American federal government.


After that, the originals will return to Iraq, Hamburg says. “From the start, we have worked closely with the Iraqi authorities, and that’s what we agreed on.”


Director Saad Eskander of the National Library in Baghdad will be glad to receive the archives. From the start, he was against their trip to the United States, although he admits that Iraq could not look after them in 2003. “Iraq was in a chaos. Nobody was interested in our cultural heritage.”


Yet, the documents should have stayed, he says: “Instead of taking them away, the Americans should have taught the Iraqi’s how to repair and maintain them.”


When he was invited to the US to see what was happening to the documents, he admitted the National Archives had done a great job. But when the Americans asked to send more documents to restore, he refused. Instead, he set up the National Library’s own laboratory with help from abroad.


“My staff can now do it by itself,” he says proudly. “And our documents can also be found on our website.”


Eskander will use the return of the documents next year to put on a special exhibition. It will be “the first Jewish one in Iraq in many years. We want to show how multi-religious Iraq was, and what crimes have been committed by the former dictatorial regimes,” he says.


To the returning collection, the National Library will add its own Jewish documents, many of them received under Saddam’s rule. When Saddam confiscated the books and documents of the Jews who left the country, the most valuable pieces were kept. “They went to us, and to the Iraqi Museum. Only a third went to the Mukhabarat,” Eskandar explains.


But the library and museum were not allowed to study or handle them in any way. “We could read nor classify them. They have been kept in dark cellars for many years,” Eskandar says.


In the Iraqi Museum, that is where they still are, he adds. “In 2004, I had them taken out to be repaired and maintained.”


For that reason he is not as impressed as the Americans about the cultural value of the returning documents.


“That has been exaggerated greatly.” The fact that the Mukhabarat put them in the cellar, tells us the service did not value them highly, he says.


That does not make them worthless, he hastens to add. “The political value is huge. Because they show you how Saddam Hussein tried to destroy the cultural heritage of the Jews of Iraq.”
- See more at: http://rudaw.net/english/middleeast/iraq/18102013#sthash.X2lwDol0.dpuf

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Found in a flooded cellar of Saddam Hussein’s secret service and soon on view at the National Archives in Washington: A treasure trove of papers and books that open a window to Iraq’s Jewish life before it faded under emigration and the Iraqi dictator’s crackdowns.


What makes the collection special is that, though Iraq’s centuries-old Jews have all but disappeared, some of their heritage has not.


Items in the find include historical and cultural treasures, found among 2,700 books in Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic and English, some dating back to the 14th century. There are also the original documents of a Torah, and a part of the centuries-old box where it was housed.


Next to the prayer books and religious texts, even more interesting to the National Archives’ Doris Hamburg are mundane items like sales bills and school reports of Iraqi Jews. “Most of these documents show us the daily life in Iraq between the forties and the seventies,” says Hamburg, Director of Preservation Programs at the National Archives in the US capital.


The story of how the documents were found, and how they ended up in Washington, is itself a tale.


A month after the March 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam, American soldiers arrived at the flooded cellar of a building that belonged to the Mukhabarat, the dictator’s dreaded secret service. There, the soldiers found floating boxes, which on inspection were found to contain Jewish documents. The army contacted the National Archives and told them what they had.


When Hamburg arrived in Baghdad soon after, the wet documents had already started moulding in the heat of May.


“We did not know if someone had opened a tap,” Hamburg recalls 10 years later, on the phone in Washington. The documents needed immediate attention but salvaging them in Baghdad was not possible. So they were flown to the United States.


Most Jews left Iraq after Israel was founded in 1948 and only thousands remained after the big exodus that continued until 1952. Most who stayed left after anti-Jewish campaigns under Saddam in 1969 and the year after. Nowadays, only a handful of elderly Jews remain in Baghdad. What remains of the community can no longer be recognised as Jewish, following conversions to Islam or Christianity.


Yet, for decades the Jews of Baghdad formed the economic and intellectual heart of the city, thanks to their roles as bankers, money changers, traders, doctors, thinkers and artists. Jews had their own schools and organizations. The documents found seem to stem mainly from organizations that were closed one-by-one in the 1960s and early the following decade.


Because of their importance for researchers, the documents will all be freely available online, Hamburg says proudly. A special exhibition was planned, but it is unclear when that will open due to the shutdown of the American federal government.


After that, the originals will return to Iraq, Hamburg says. “From the start, we have worked closely with the Iraqi authorities, and that’s what we agreed on.”


Director Saad Eskander of the National Library in Baghdad will be glad to receive the archives. From the start, he was against their trip to the United States, although he admits that Iraq could not look after them in 2003. “Iraq was in a chaos. Nobody was interested in our cultural heritage.”


Yet, the documents should have stayed, he says: “Instead of taking them away, the Americans should have taught the Iraqi’s how to repair and maintain them.”


When he was invited to the US to see what was happening to the documents, he admitted the National Archives had done a great job. But when the Americans asked to send more documents to restore, he refused. Instead, he set up the National Library’s own laboratory with help from abroad.


“My staff can now do it by itself,” he says proudly. “And our documents can also be found on our website.”


Eskander will use the return of the documents next year to put on a special exhibition. It will be “the first Jewish one in Iraq in many years. We want to show how multi-religious Iraq was, and what crimes have been committed by the former dictatorial regimes,” he says.


To the returning collection, the National Library will add its own Jewish documents, many of them received under Saddam’s rule. When Saddam confiscated the books and documents of the Jews who left the country, the most valuable pieces were kept. “They went to us, and to the Iraqi Museum. Only a third went to the Mukhabarat,” Eskandar explains.


But the library and museum were not allowed to study or handle them in any way. “We could read nor classify them. They have been kept in dark cellars for many years,” Eskandar says.


In the Iraqi Museum, that is where they still are, he adds. “In 2004, I had them taken out to be repaired and maintained.”


For that reason he is not as impressed as the Americans about the cultural value of the returning documents.


“That has been exaggerated greatly.” The fact that the Mukhabarat put them in the cellar, tells us the service did not value them highly, he says.


That does not make them worthless, he hastens to add. “The political value is huge. Because they show you how Saddam Hussein tried to destroy the cultural heritage of the Jews of Iraq.”
- See more at: http://rudaw.net/english/middleeast/iraq/18102013#sthash.X2lwDol0.dpuf