Sunday, July 23, 2017

Istanbul synagogue closed after violent protest

For the first time in recent history there were no Shabbat services at the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul, following a violent protest last week by a fascist youth group, The Algemeiner reports.

The Neve Shalom synagogue, Istanbul

Activists from a Turkish fascist youth movement whose leader enjoys close relations with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attacked the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul on Thursday, throwing rocks at the building and kicking its doors during a protest against Israel’s decision to install metal detectors at the entrances to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

 The group threatened further protests as it marched away from the synagogue. “We can come here tomorrow just like we are standing here today,” one of its members warned. “You will not be able to get inside.”

 Turkey’s Chief Rabbinate expressed concern that more attacks will be forthcoming and urged the government to act, declaring in a statement: “We condemn the provocative act in front of the Neve Shalom synagogue and expect the authorities to do what is necessary.”

On Friday afternoon, the community announced that it had taken the “unprecedented step” of closing the synagogue for shabbat services on both Friday night and Saturday.

Read article in full

Friday, July 21, 2017

Lobby launches to dismantle UNWRA

A new Knesset lobby calling for the reform of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was launched this week. Although Jewish refugees from Arab countries do not figure in the debate, the lobby is an attempt to end the status of Palestinian refugees, which can be passed on from generation to generation, and treat them like other refugees.


Sharren Haskel MK, lobby chairperson

The Knesset Lobby for UNRWA Policy Reform, which is chaired by MK Sharren Haskel (Likud), will hold its first session tomorrow (Wednesday) in the Likud Conference Room in the Knesset.
The session will deal with UNRWA's policy of eternally perpetuating the refugee status of the Palestinian Arabs. Palestinian Arabs are the only population in the world whose refugee status is inherited, and are the only refugees who do not fall under the purview of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The session will also deal with the prevalence of incitement against Israel and Jews in the textbooks used in UNRWA schools.

David Bedein, the director of the Center for Near East Policy research and the initiator or tomorrow's event, explained why the lobby will focus on reforming UNRWA instead of abolishing the organization.
"​UNRWA operates under the mandate of UNGA, [the] United Nations General Assembly, and only they can "dismantle" UNRWA," Bedein explained.
"If Israel​i​ and ​Western democratic nations were to cut funds to UNRWA, two scenarios ​would likely​ occur:​
"1.​ The radical Islamic state of ​Qatar, which has established a ​​presence in Gaza and in Judea/Samaria​, would ​likely step in to replace any income lost from ​West​ern cuts to UNRWA​.
"2. Saudi Arabia, which recently increased its funding of UNRWA to become the number three donor, would ​likely ​increase its contribution to UNRWA."

Read article in full

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Libya seeks US legitimisation for its seized Jewish artefacts

A move by the Libyan government to seek the US government blessing's for blocking the shipment of Jewish objects and artefacts to the USA has been lambasted by the advocacy group JIMENA as 'setting a dangerous precedent for neighbouring countries' and 'another sad measure to deny Libyan Jews their stolen cultural heritage'. The issue is being debated by the Cultural Committee of the US State Department on 19 and 20 July: JIMENA has called on citizens to protest to their Congressmen and to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Ben Cohen of the Algemeiner reports:



Members of the Benghazi Beth Din

Campaigners representing Jewish communities expelled from Arab countries reacted furiously  on Tuesday to an effort by the current Libyan government to win legal recognition for its claims to property of Jewish heritage. 

 In addition, under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which the Libyans have submitted to the US State Department, the historic properties of the Jewish community in Libya — including archives, holy books and objects used in synagogue worship — would be barred from entry into the United States. 

 “I ask the Libyan government: ‘Where are the bones of my ancestors? Give them to me, I want to give them a proper burial,'” Libyan-born Gina Bublil-Waldman — co-founder and president of advocacy group JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) — told The Algemeiner on Tuesday.

Read article in full

  Point of No Return adds: the precedent has already been set in the case of the Iraqi-Jewish archive, the waterlogged Jewish books and archives shipped to the US from Iraq for restoration. The US signed an agreement with Iraq promising to return the collection to Iraq. International law treats stolen cultural property as belonging to governments, not to the community from which they were unlawfully taken.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Boujenah gig to go ahead in Tunisia

The Tunisian-born stand-up comic Michel Boujenah will appear today, 19 July, as scheduled at the Carthage Festival, despite calls for him to be disinvited 'as a pro-Zionist', Le Figaro has reported.

The BDS movement for the boycott of Israel has accused the 64-year-old entertainer of being one of the greatest supporters of Israel and Zionism. "People who know me know that I have

always fought for peace," Boujenah retorted.  

Mokhtar Rassaa, the director of the Carthage Festival, where Boujenah is to perform parts of his show, Ma Vie Revee', said that Michel Boujenah was 'not a great Zionist.'

 ' It is natural that, as a Jew, he should feel an attachment to Israel," said Rassaa.

 Boujenah himself said he was simply an artiste, a clown, not a politician or an economist. "We are living in a difficult age, where the tendency is to export the Israel-Palestine conflict, " claimed the stand-up comic, who settled in France aged 11.

"My position is simply to support the fragile democracy taking root in Tunisia." Lat week the UGTT union, a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize of 2015, issued a communique appealing for Michel Boujena's gig to be cancelled. The official text of the union's communique said that it did not want to pick on him for his religion but for his political convictions.

  Read article in full (French)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Yemenite children's graves could be exhumed

Following the declassification of documents relating to hundreds of children who went missing in the early years of the state, a law sanctioned by the Chief Rabbinate is to be passed permitting the exhumation of graves, the Jerusalem Post reports:


Yemenite children at the Rosh Hayayin transit camp, 1949 (GPO)
Legislation allowing for graves to be dug up as part of the new investigation into the fate of children who went missing from 1948 through 1970 was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday.
Likud MK Nurit Koren – who proposed the bill and is chairwoman of a special Knesset committee on renewed efforts to find out what happened to the children, most of whom were Yemenite immigrants – pledged to do all she can to help families who lost their loved ones.
“We are working especially hard to uncover the truth about this horrible affair, through legislation and through the special committee’s work,” she said.
Read article in full

Unauthorised 1950s tests performed on Yemenite children

Monday, July 17, 2017

Libyan imams fear Jews might return

Imams in Libya's eastern province of Cyrenaica were called upon to lambast in their Friday sermons the recent conference held in Rhodes between Libyan Jews and Arabs. 

 The imams were particularly alarmed by talk at the conference of a Jewish 'right of return' to Libya. In their appeal, the Council of Imams in Cyrenaica referred to Jews as criminals and grandchildren of monkeys and pigs who had insulted the Prophet Muhammad. "These Jews want to come back to Libya and get money; traitor Libyan secularists were helping them because the Jews gave them money to do so," the Council declared.

 Raphael Luzon, president of the Union of Jews from Libya, wrote on his Facebook page:"It is strange that someone should pay a lot of money to organise a Convention that speaks ONLY about Peace and Dialogue and Reconciliation for the sake of Libya only to be greeted with threats. And just to be precise...Those who have stolen money (a lot of money), lands and properties, killing civilians are the Libyans (1945 - 1948 - 1967) - from their Jews!!"

 Luzon escaped murderous riots in his native Benghazi in 1967 and lost several members of his own family when a Libyan army officer went on a killing spree.

 Luzon reassured the imams, adding: "Don't worry. Not even one Jew want to come back to resettle and live in Libya! Many would like to come to visit, to spend summer holidays, maybe to do business and to invest money. That's it!"


Libyan Jews and Muslims celebrating the opening of the Rhodes conference 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Jerusalem Museum of Jews from Arab Countries proposed

An  architect of Tunisian origin is behind a project to build a Museum to Jews from Arab Countries.  Jean-Loup Mordehai Msika explains why such a museum, in the heart of Jerusalem, is vital to inform visitors of the ancient roots of the Jewish people in the Middle East. The project, unveiled publically for the first time on Point of No Return,  has the backing of  the coalition of associations of Jews from Arab countries in Israel and is now with the Jerusalem municipality for approval. 







Two views of the model of the proposed Memorial-Museum, known provisionally as 'the Museum of Jews from Arab Countries' (Beit Yehudei Artzot Arav) 
 Architect Jean-Loup Mordehai Msika

"When dignitaries, diplomats or foreign heads of state visit Israel, they are ritually taken to Yad Vashem, as if this museum revealed the founding element of modern Israel and Zionism. This only reinforces the false narrative circulated by our enemies, according to which Israel would be a colonial creation of Europe, as a compensation for the Holocaust, "at the expense of the Palestinians."

 This is not helpful, as Tel Aviv University international relations professor Emmanuel Navon remarked on i24news during President Trump's recent visit. By consequence, Israel is perceived as a "colonial" state, and the catastrophic Security Council and UNESCO resolutions denying any historical link of the Jews to Jerusalem or Hebron are applauded by the nations ...

 For a long time, I have been thinking about the need to create, in the capital, Jerusalem, a major place, a Memorial-Museum, dedicated to the history and culture of the Jews from Arab and Muslim countries, so as to inform foreign heads of state, visiting dignitaries and diplomats about the ancient roots of the Jewish people, the genuine aboriginal people in the Middle East and North Africa.

The Jews were present there centuries before Christianity or Islam ever existed. They were occupied and colonized by Muslims in the 7th century, subjected to the status of "dhimma" (a cruel system of apartheid), to genocide over the centuries and to ethnic cleansing in the 20th century.

 Jewish independence in the state of Israel, in the very region where its ancient roots are a historical fact, is the only alternative to the unacceptable "dhimma" that lasted 14 centuries. All of this needs to be made apparent and obvious by a visible Memorial-Museum, in the heart of the capital, Jerusalem.

I happen to be an architect, a town planner and a visual artist. In agreement with the Coalition of Jewish Associations of Arab and Muslim Countries, represented by its President, Mrs Levana Zamir, I have endeavoured to work on a proposal for a Memorial-Museum dedicated to the history and culture of Jews from Arab and Muslim Countries.

 Under Mrs Levana Zamir's guidance, we held on 26 June 2017 a whole day symposium, at the Cultural Center of the Jews from Egypt, in Tel Aviv and a fruitful brainstorming. "This is not out of the blue," said Zamir at the symposium, "one of the resolutions presented to Prime Minister Netanyahu in June 2011, by the National Security Council, was exactly that: to establish a Museum for the History of the Jews from Arab and Islamic countries, as an integral part of that region, and to commemorate the "ethnic cleansing" tragedy of almost one million Jews from their ancestral land of birth - giving legitimation to the state of Israel".


In June 2017, the heads of the Coalition of associations representing Jews from Arab Countries in Israel held a brainstorming on the museum project. 

 During the symposium, I presented detailed program for the Memorial-Museum, drawings, a 3D model, and a proposal for the most appropriate site, in the urban context of the capital, etc ... We are now waiting for a chance to discuss this proposal with the municipality of Jerusalem after we deposited the 3D model of the Museum at the Mayor of Jerusalem's Office."

Friday, July 14, 2017

Rabbi Dweck controversy shakes Jewish world

The repercussions of a 90-minute lecture by the Senior Rabbi of the UK Sephardi community, Rabbi Joseph Dweck, are being felt all over the Jewish world. The lecture dealt with homosexuality, but did not condone physical acts - Rabbi Dweck said these were against the Torah. However, men could love each other in other ways. Dweck's critics, including the Chief Rabbi of Israel, rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, have been trying to discredit him by casting doubt on the validity of his other rulings. Meanwhile, Rabbi Dweck's own community has declared itself solidly behind him. Jenni Frazer in The Times of Israel gives the background to the controversy (with thanks: Sylvia):

LONDON — Those close to the Rabbi Joseph Dweck affair have described is as “a behemoth of an issue.” It’s a suitably biblical term for what might seem, on the face of it, an arcane spat between British religious scholars over the permissibility — or not — of homosexuality. But, in fact, the repercussions of a lecture which seemingly condoned homosexual relationships that Dweck delivered in London this past may go far beyond that. At stake could be the Jewish religious status of anyone who has availed themselves of the rabbi’s services, whether for circumcision, conversion or marriage. The uproar follows a 97-minute talk the rabbi gave to members of the Ner Yisrael Community in Hendon, northwest London, on homosexuality in Jewish law. “[W]e have to see ultimately how it is we deal with it in terms of Torah and society,” Dweck said at the lecture. “If we do not hang our prejudices at the door when we deal with it, and don’t look at Torah as it is and what it is saying to us, and stop with the insane bigotry and prejudice we’ve got, we will be on the out and society will move forward because [God] doesn’t wait for anybody. He is taking His world into love.” As the senior rabbi of the Spanish and Portuguese congregation — and thus, effectively, the titular head of Britain’s small but vibrant Sephardi Jewish community — the Los Angeles-born rabbi has attracted a devoted following since taking up his post three years ago.

">Read article in full
In defence of rabbi Dweck and orthodox Judaism (R. Lopez Cardoso)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Bizerte rescue was Uzi Narkiss's finest hour


The French naval base at Bizerte, Tunisia



With thanks: Paul


In September 1961, the French were about to withdraw from their Tunisian naval base at Bizerte and planned to evacuate all their citizens. Here is the little- known story of how all Jews were rescued too, thanks to the persistence of Uzi Narkiss, Israeli military attaché in Paris.

The rescue operation of the Jews of Bizerte in September 1961 was organized and carried out by the Mossad.

"On Saturday morning, we were told: "pack your bags tonight, we'll pick you up! " recalls Haim Ya'icheh of Ashdod.

"Several times we almost left but at the last moment there was always something that kept us from leaving. But that Saturday night, all cars owned by Jews were pressed into service and we left with the minimum we needed.

"I closed the door of the house and took the key with me. To whom could I give it? Business owners left everything behind. Those who owned a car, abandoned it.

"We arrived secretly at a French air force base. We did not have a passport or a laissez-passer. We boarded a French landing craft. Almost all the Jews of the city were there.

"I was accompanied by my wife, my six children and my elderly father. On board, the conditions were harsh. We were all on deck covered with a tarpaulin against the rain and wind. The next day, we arrived in Bone in eastern Algeria. The same day we took a special plane to Marseille and after a few days we arrived in Israel."

 Haim's story is the climax of the rescue operation of the Jews of Bizerte in Tunisia which took place mainly in September 1961. It was learned recently that the rescue  had been organized by the Israeli Mossad in collaboration with the Jewish Agency, the staff of the Israeli embassy in Paris but also the Israeli military attaché of the time, Uzi Narkiss.

Cooperation with France was the closest in the history of relations between the two countries. Yet, before the day of liberation, the operation ran into obstacles.

Some in France tried to make it fail and this is why the operation was cancelled several times. Colonel Narkiss was forced to intervene on several occasions and knock on the doors of senior officers in the French army to move things along.

Tunisia gained its independence in March 1956, after  several years of struggle against the French regime that had controlled the country since 1881.

The French withdrew, keeping control only of the great marine base of Bizerte.

In 1961, the Tunisians asked the French to leave Bizerte and in the summer of the same year, bloody fighting began between French and Tunisians during which hundreds of people were killed. Tunisia lost.

The Jews in the city, numbering nearly 1200, found themselves in a bind, accused by the Tunisians of collaborating with the French. It was true in some cases.

Many Jews worked at the French naval base. In September 1961, the situation worsened, with the Arabs threatening vengeance on the Jews.

"Just you wait, as soon as the French go, we will take care of you!"Young Jews were arrested and charged with espionage.

Jews who had French nationality had no problem leaving the country. For those who held Tunisian nationality - about 300, and those who were stateless - it was a different story.

Maurice Matok of the local Jewish Agency prepared a list of all these Jews and desperately asked for help. Matok managed to establish good relations with people in the French Consulate in Bizerte, including the Consul General. Thanks to them, he managed to send small groups of Jews away to France. In spite of the difficulties, the Mossad managed to bring out, in several operations, 150 Jews from Bizerte. But there were still more than 100 Jews to rescue.

This is where the story of these last Jews begins.

In mid-September, Matok was told that the French intended to leave Bizerte between 21 and 22 September. He needed to act quickly. Matok asked for assistance to go to Marseilles. To his surprise, the French general Mot put at his disposal his private plane.

In Marseille, armed with the list of the remaining 130 Jews, he met Mossad operatives, with whom he discussed various rescue options. But it was not plain sailing. Promised permissions did not arrive for any operation and the clock was ticking.

The military attache, Uzi Narkiss, became the main hero. Having studied in Paris in 1953 at the Military Academy, alongside those who held high positions in 1961, he met up with them in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Michel Debré, in the offices of President De Gaulle and in various branches of the military.

On 18 September, Narkiss met the Deputy Chief of Staff, O'Neill, with whom he discussed the planned operations. O'Neill replied that the army was ready to do anything to get the Jews out of Bizerte but only after the French foreign ministry had agreed to take responsibility for the operation. The ministry's response was clear: "Jews of Tunisian nationality will not be evacuated by the French."

Narkiss hastened to warn the  Israeli Embassy staff and his superior, Haim Herzog, then Chief of Military Intelligence. "The French foreign ministry is putting spokes in the wheel," he warned.

Yom Kippur fell on September 20th but no-one stopped working on this.

The Israeli ambassador to France, Walter Eitan, tried by all means to reach De Gaulle. Suddenly, the wheel turned and it seemed that his efforts had paid off.  His contacts told him that there was a good chance of a green light for the mission.

Maurice Matok, who was still in France, returned to Bizerte by military plane with the French consul of Bizerte, who on  landing was asked to continue planning for the rescue operation. He promised to do so.

On 22 September, the French Consulate organized Operation Moshe.

It sent seven families (21 people) by boat out of Tunisia - but that was not enough.

On the same day, Uzi Narkiss was summoned to O'Neill's office. The latter told him that despite the position taken by  the Foreign Ministry, the Prime Minister had decided to get the Jews out of Bizerte at the same time as the French families.

Admiral Aman, the strategic commander of the Bizerte base, was briefed and was asked to keep the decision secret. At the same time the military and civil authorities gave the go-ahead for the operation; Narkiss cancelled it, following O'Neill's decision (to evacuate all non-Arab citizens). But the talks between the French and the Tunisians at Bizerte failed and the evacuation of the French was rejected.

Matok went to Admiral Aman's office to confirm that the latter had been ordered to evacuate the Jews with the French. Aman replied that he was ordered to evacuate only 12 people. Uzi Narkiss, more and more worried about the fate of the remaining Jews, reverted to his original plan - and received the go-ahead.

But a day later, the French asked him to cancel this operation and promised to evacuate any Jew who wanted to go. Narkiss went to the (French) Prime Minister's office to receive a definitive answer. He was assured that Admiral Aman would bring the Jews out of Bizerte by French military transport. The admiral, always wishing to keep the decision secret, did not reveal it to the French Consul or Maurice Matok because too much talk would have jeopardised the rescue, given the opposition of the foreign ministry and the fear that the Arabs would get to hear of it.

The operation was therefore cancelled again.

Matok was called to the office of Admiral Aman. He was asked to give the number of Jews he should evacuate. Matok asked him point blank if he had been ordered to evacuate all the Jews. Aman hesitated and did not answer.

In Paris, at the same hour, Narkiss received the good news that on the same evening all the Jews would be evacuated from Bizerte.

Maurice Matok got the same news. He had to gather all the Jews at the military port in the evening at 17.00. As it was Shabbat, he asked to postpone the ingathering by an hour. He also preferred a night time start.

The army refused to offer transport in order not to attract attention. Matok used all Jewish-owned vehicles instead. A French Consular official prepared trucks.

At 18.30, the first cars arrived at the port. For an hour and a half the Jews boarded the ship, helped by the French soldiers.

Before departure, Admiral Aman arrived at the port. Matok thanked him for his help. He replied that he was happy to have helped his friends, the Jews and the State of Israel.

At 20.30, the boat left for Algeria with 105 Jews on board. Behind them remained a city empty of Jews apart from a single family of 10 people. The father did not want to leave because he had not received his September salary.

It is clear that without the stubborn persistence of Uzi Narkiss, who did not hesitate to knock on doors to make himself heard and make things happen, the fate of the Jews of Bizerte would have been in the balance.

From http://israelmagazine.co.il/, translated from the French http://www.terrepromise.fr

Copyright Terre Promise © Elishean/2009-2017/Terre Promise.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Meet Avi Gabbay, Israel's new Labour leader

With thanks: Sylvia

In a break with the past,  Israel's Labour Party now has a Sephardi leader, Avi Gabbay. He won the run-off against another Sephardi, Amir Peretz. The son of Moroccan Jews from Casablanca, Gabbay was born in 1967 in Jerusalem. A leader with little political experience and no seat in the Knesset, Gabbay has been hailed as 'the new Macron'.



 Gil Hoffman in The Jerusalem Post reports:

The first step will be remaking Labor’s image as the main party in opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after former chairman Isaac Herzog was not seen as effective in that role, abdicating it to Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.

 It will be especially hard for Gabbay to remain in the public eye, because he is not a member of Knesset and does not receive the stage that the Knesset regularly provides. At least he will be able to speak at weekly faction meetings and will not have to rely on Facebook to approach the public, as have former ministers Gideon Sa’ar and Moshe Ya’alon.

 Labor under Gabbay will fight Netanyahu on both diplomatic and socioeconomic issues, and perhaps also on matters of religion and state. However, Gabbay has made a point in recent interviews of not wanting to be judged in comparison with Netanyahu. Gabbay wants to focus on building Labor by remaining in the field, as he did during his campaign, and reaching out to sectors that Labor has not attracted in recent years.

He already proved successful in beating the establishment in Labor, and the Histadrut Labor Federation that backed his opponent, MK Amir Peretz. Gabbay did that despite only joining Labor six months ago. When asked who better resembles French President Emmanuel Macron – Gabbay or himself – Lapid mocked Gabbay on Monday, saying, “You cannot run in the oldest party in Israel and say you are the new and fresh thing.”

 Gabbay can only hope he can sweep the country off its feet the way Macron did. He will have to learn from both Macron and Blair to succeed.

  Read article in full

  Who is Avi Gabbay (Wikipedia)

Gabbay was born in the Baka neighbourhood of Jerusalem, and was the seventh of eight children born to Muiz and Sara Gabbay, Jewish immigrants from Morocco. His family was originally from Casablanca.[2] His father worked for Bezeq, and in his youth he would also work at his father's company during his vacations.

 He studied at the Geulim primary school, where he was identified as a gifted child, and attended high school at the prestigious Gymnasia Rehavia. After graduating high school, he did his national service in the Israel Defense Forces in the Intelligence Corps, reaching the rank of Lieutenant. After leaving the army, he completed a BA in economics and an MBA from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Chaldean patriarch:' Muslims must not incite strife'

The Chaldean patriarch reminds the Muslims of Iraq that the Christians were there before them, yet are facing marginalisation,  rejection and incitement. Watch this MEMRI video (With thanks: Lily):

Patriarch Louis Raphael I Sako, head of the Chaldean Catholic Church of Babylon, called upon Muslims to stop discrimination against minority groups, which, he said, leads to marginalization. Speaking on the Iraqi Dijlah TV channel on June 16, he said that just as the Christians had historically welcomed the Muslims, "who came from the desert," into their schools, monasteries, churches, and hospitals, more emphasis now had to be placed on coexistence and respect, "regardless of skin color, faith, and language."

 Louis Raphael I Sako: "Notions [like calling Christians 'infidels'] are old and should not be used today. The Christians must not employ the medieval notions of the Crusades, and contemporary Muslims must not employ the notions of those times. For example, the notion of dhimmis was very positive and civilized back then. The soldiers who would go to fight were Muslims, and the Christians would pay the jizya poll tax in support of the war effort. But today, the Christians serve in the army and in the police. So the notion of dhimmis must be abandoned and, thank God, it has been.

Besides, how could you possibly know what I believe in? Do not rely on circumstantial matters alone. We need a new understanding of the religious texts. Our Muslim brothers believe that these texts are the words of Allah, and I respect that. But the text should be understood through a profound and realistic reading, which would appeal to people and not incite strife. In addition, at a certain period in the past, the Jews and the Christians might have constituted a threat to Muslims. There is such an opinion.

But today, half a million peaceful Christians, who sacrificed so much for Iraq throughout history, are considered infidels and are targeted, and there is pressure on them to convert to Islam, to pay the jizya, or to be killed. This is a disgrace! Naturally, this distorts the image of Islam and deepens Islamophobia. This distorts the image of Islam in the eyes of all Westerners. Where is this going?

Look at what is happening on TV channels and the radio. [Muslim preachers say:] 'Allah, curse the Christians, the Jews, and the Sabeans!' 'Turn their wives into widows!' 'Turn their children into orphans!' What is this?! You are supposed to pray for everybody. They also say: 'Allah, protect the nation of Islam, the nation of Muhammad!' Why? We are all Iraqis. We never pray for the Christians only. We pray for all Iraqis, for all mankind. This kind of discrimination makes you feel marginalized and unwanted. In diplomacy they call it persona non grata.

But this is my country, my land. I was here before you. We (Christians) welcomed the (Muslims) in our schools, our monasteries, our churches, and our hospitals throughout history. Bayt Al-Hikma, the doctors in the palaces of the Caliphs… Who used to treat and cure the (Caliphs)? Who was the educated class? The Christians. The (Muslims) came from the desert. Today, there is a need for change. More emphasis should be placed on coexistence, and respect for every human being. Regardless of skin color, faith, and language, he is Iraqi."

Read article in full

Sunday, July 09, 2017

London Jews and Muslims hold Moroccan Mimouna

Passover may be over, but it is never too late for the Moroccan celebration of the Mimouna, when tradition dictates that Jews and Muslims visit each other's houses to eat pancakes celebrating the conclusion of the festival.Here's a report in Yabiladi of a party in London uniting Moroccan Jews and Muslims. (With thanks: Michelle)


To see five-minute clip of the celebration, click here.

 The Moroccan band came from Paris

The Jewish Moroccan community in England celebrated on Thursday night the Mimouna, a three-century-old North African Jewish celebration held the day after Passover. In an environment of coexistence and harmony, Jews and Muslims gathered in a large hall in London to recall the splendid years of communication in various cities in the Kingdom where Muslims and Jews lived together tolerating and respecting one another.

 This event, which was attended by Matthew Offord MP, was an opportunity to celebrate Judeo-Moroccan culture through music and songs interpreted by the group Mustapha Bahja which brings together Jewish and Muslim musicians.

This festival was organized with the support of the Council of the Moroccan Community Abroad, the Al Hasaniya Association, the World Federation of Moroccan Judaism and the Moroccan National Tourist Board. The Moroccan Jewish community of England took this opportunity to reiterate its strong attachment to its Moroccan origins.

 Read article in full

Egypt 'to restore Alexandria synagogue for $.2.2 million '

 The Egyptian press is reporting that government funds have been approved to restore the Nebi Daniel synagogue, the Middle East's largest. The synagogue has been closed since the partial collapse of the ceiling in the ladies' gallery. Report in The Times of Israel (with thanks: Lily):

The Ministry of Antiquities’ Project Sector on Wednesday approved the funds for restoring and developing the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue, according to the head of the Islamic and Coptic Monuments Department, al-Saeed Helmy Ezzat, The Egypt Independent reported from a translation of the Arabic-language daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.


The synagogue was forced to close several months ago after part of its ceiling collapsed, The Independent reported.

Ezzat said the government will pay for the restoration even though Egyptian law requires the community to cover such work.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Why do Jews stay in Iran?

For Iran Week, Majid Rafizadeh has this sobering article in The Tablet detailing the discrimination to which Iranian Jews are exposed. So which Jews stay in Iran? The elderly, those unable to tolerate travel, and those who wish to be buried in their ancestral land. (With thanks: Hilda)

In the current climate of the Iranian government’s antagonism toward Israel, the remaining Jewish population of Iran, which numbers perhaps 9,000, is caught in complex circumstances. Iran’s Jewish community has to be extremely cautious of showing any sympathy toward Israel. If they exhibit any sign of this, they risk serious criminal charges, such as being labeled an Israeli spy. Consequences of these charges range from torture to death.

Each word spoken, each action taken, and all movement throughout the community is calculated and evaluated carefully to prevent these consequences. Still, this is not enough. The government authorities intervene in the few Jewish schools that remain. Jews are not allowed to become school principals. The curriculum has changed, and activities are monitored to make sure, for example, that the main language is Persian and not Hebrew. Distribution of Hebrew texts or the teaching of Judaism is risky and strongly discouraged.

Even within school walls, the Jewish community cannot expect any form of safety or freedom. Current restrictions and discriminatory policies against Jews include bans against Jewish people in key governmental and significant decision-making positions: A Jewish person can’t be a member of the influential Guardian Council, a commander in the army, or serve as the president of the nation, among other restrictions. Jews are not permitted to become a judge at any level or assist in the judicial or legislative systems. Furthermore, Jews are banned from becoming members of parliament (the Consultative Assembly) through general elections.
A service in an Iranian synagogue

Jews are not allowed to inherit from Muslims. But, if one member of a Jewish family converts to Islam, he would inherit everything. This law seems to be designed to promote conversion to Islam by providing financial incentives.
There exist several forms of discrimination in the penal code as well. Qisas, or the right to equal justice, has not been specified in the penal code for the Jewish people. For example, if a Jew kills a Muslim, the family of the victim has the right to ask for execution as a penalty, but if a Muslim kills a Jew, the right of a family member to demand the execution of the murderer would be left to the discretion of the judges.

Iran’s constitution lays out in detail the protections for practicing and preaching Islam, but not for Judaism. Article 12 of the Iranian Constitution states:
The official religion of Iran is Islam and the Twelver Ja’fari school, and this principle will remain eternally immutable. Other Islamic schools are to be accorded full respect, and their followers are free to act in accordance with their own jurisprudence in performing their religious rites. These schools enjoy official status in matters pertaining to religious education, affairs of personal status (marriage, divorce, inheritance, and wills) and related litigation in courts of law. In regions of the country where Muslims following any one of these schools constitute the majority, local regulations, within the bounds of the jurisdiction of local councils, are to be in accordance with the respective school of fiqh, without infringing upon the rights of the followers of other [Islamic] schools.
One might wonder how Iranian leaders dare to boast about equality between Jews and others while intimidating entire segments of its population into silence under laws that are manifestly unequal. To further insult the communities, they claim that Jews remain in Iran because they are treated equally. The impression is given that the Iranian government has created such a welcoming space for its Jewish community that they would freely choose to live there. There is no mention of the vast majority of people that have fled the oppressive laws and policies and settled in other countries for the sake of their physical safety.
So who stays in Iran? Some of the Jews who have stayed in Iran are elderly and unable to tolerate travel or establishing a new home in a foreign country. Some Jews are determined to protect their sacred places and synagogues, or family homes.

Read article in full

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Indian-Israeli star sings for Indian leader



  Liora Itzhak's Mala Mala made her popular in Israel


Greeting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his groundbreaking visit to Israel was singer Liora Itzhak, who has spent eight years in India, but has now returned to Israel. She was chosen to sing both the Israeli and Indian national anthems. India Today has the story:

Indian-origin Israeli singer, Liora Itzhak, flew to India at the age of 15 to learn Indian classical music at Sur Sarvadhan Insititue in Pune. She tried to get a break in Bollywood, sang for a movie -- Dil ka doctor -- but things didn't pan out well.

Liora, homesick, left Pune and returned to Israel in 1990s. Now, years later, Liora Itzhak has been chosen to sing the national anthems of Israel and India to welcome Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Liora was also selected by the Israeli President's office in 2015 to sing at the banquet dinner hosted in honour of President Pranab Mukherjee during his visit.

 Liora Itzhak now wishes to re-live her Bollywood dream. Liora has sung with famous singers like Kumar Sanu, Udit Narayan and Sonu Nigam while she was in India. Between 1991 and 1997, she learned to sing bhajans and ghazals. "I was 23 and terribly homesick having spent eight years away in difficult conditions from my parents and siblings. I love India but I just could not bear this separation anymore", Liora told PTI when asked about leaving India.

 Mala Mala, what she calls it her "Israeli Bollywood number", made her popular in the Israeli music industry. Liora's Tu Hai Mera Pyar Pehla was a fusion of Hindi and Hebrew words and the song made her a household name in Israel.

Read article in full

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Lawyer files complaint against police in Halimi case

 The inexplicable failure of the French police to enter Sarah Halimi's apartment could have cost the Jewish doctor her life at the hands of an Islamist  neighbour. A lawyer for the family of Sarah Halimi told i24NEWS on Monday that a complaint will be filed against the police for failing to enter the building and preventing the Jewish woman's death in April.





Paris march in protest at the murder of Sarah Halimi


Sarah Halimi was beaten and thrown to her death from the window of her Paris apartment by her 27-year-old neighbor Kobili Traore.

French police arrived on the scene but reportedly refused to enter the building until specialist backup had arrived, during which time a neighbor recorded Halimi's screams as she was attacked by her neighbor.

Witnesses testified that Traore shouted "Allahu akbar" ("God is great") during the attack, while Halimi's daughter said that he had two years ago called her a "dirty Jew."

"I can confirm that I have filed a complaint with the Paris public prosecutor against the police," said lawyer Gilles William Goldnadel, explaining that it is up to the investigation to determine which branch of the force bears responsibility for the failure to save Halimi's life.

"It is totally incomprehensible, in the literal sense of the word, to explain why the police did not intervene for an hour when for at least thirty minutes of that a woman was tortured by her assassin."


Read article in full

French Jews enraged that killer might not stand trial 

France declares Islamist killers 'mental cases'

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Kurdish director of Jewish affairs 'not trusted'

Two interesting facts emerge from this article in Middle East Eye about Kurdish Jews: Mawlud Afand, the editor of the Israel-Kurd magazine abducted in 2012, was released from Evin prison in Tehran in 2015 ( but Point of No Return has reason to believe he is still in Iran). The other is that Sherzad Omar Mamsani, who was temporarily suspended as head of the Jewish directorate in Kurdistan, is self-appointed and not altogether trusted. Since the Kurdish-Jewish community has not existed since 1950, the 'Jews' referred to in this article are most likely 'Ben-Ju' of Jewish ancestry. 

 

Nash Didan, a short film by a young Israeli about her Kurdish grandmother (with thanks: Michelle)

 In Iraqi Kurdistan, which prides itself as a bastion of tolerance in the region, and which will vote in an independence referendum in September, a higher, yet debated, number reside. As many have converted to Islam and Christianity over the years and others pose as Christians and Muslims, statistics are unclear and call into question what defines a "Jew". Mordechai Zaken, historian and former adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has said that most of the several dozen families that had some distant family connection to Judaism immigrated to Israel in the aftermath of the Gulf War.

 "Most of these people are Muslim Kurds who perhaps have a grandmother or great grandmother of Jewish origin who converted to Islam two or three generations ago," he told the Jerusalem Post. Decades into life without a Jewish support system - synagogues, rabbis, collective holiday celebrations - the once flourishing sense of Jewish community has faded. Additionally, incidents reminding Jews to proceed with caution have not been consigned to the 20th century. In 2012, Mawlud Afand, the publisher of the now discontinued Israel-Kurd magazine, which one Sulaimaniya man remembers buying covertly "like [he] was buying cocaine," was kidnapped and imprisoned in Iran after repeated warnings to cease publication, according to those close to him. He was released in 2015.

 A seemingly progressive development came in 2015 when the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) passed the Law of Minorities, which gave a handful of minority religions - Zoroastrianism, Yarsanism and Judaism among others - the right to official representatives in the KRG through the Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs. The Jewish representative appointed by the KRG was Sherzad Mamsani, a man who says he lost his right hand in a 1997 bombing in which he says he was targeted for his faith. Among his goals, he said, is the restoration of the region's Jewish historical sites, erection of synagogues, and the carrying out of a public relations effort to improve the perception of Jews. One Kurdish Jew, who did not want to give his name, remembers vividly his father's reaction when he first heard the news of Mamsani’s appointment. "My father was so happy, he cried at the first mention of a Jewish representative," he said.

But two years into his post, Mamsani has struggled with his own image in Jewish communities. Just months after his appointment, Zaken told the Jerusalem Post that Mamsani was "someone who does not distinguish between truth and lies in his eagerness," adding that his "publicity campaign" is "causing confusion" and "damaging the KRG". Zaken, the author of Jewish Subjects and Their Tribal Chieftains in Kurdistan, accused Mamsani of inflating the number of Jews in Kurdistan for political gain.

 Most recently, Mamsani has controversially undertaken a mission to conduct a census of Jewish families in the region by aggregating documents, an initiative he once described in a 2016 Times of Israel interview as "insanity" and an idea that would let "enemies find us and kill us little by little". "Information can be bought in Iraq," worries one Jewish man with his information, given over by a family member, now on file. While some families have cooperated, others have balked at what they see as a double standard initiated by a leader who claims to have, but has not proved to have, Jewish roots and official connections.

 KRG's Director of Relations and Religious Coexistence, Mariwan Naqshbandy, confirmed to MEE that Mamsani was granted his post, which is unpaid, without presenting paperwork or community input, but simply after putting himself forward for the role. One Jew who has met Mamsani, speaking on behalf of his family, said: "We didn't turn over paperwork. I haven't seen good or bad things yet - I just don't trust him.

 "Lots of Jewish people are asking who he is. They don't want to show their documents. They want proof [of who he is] before coming out." But confirmation won't be coming from what many believe to be the most validating source: Israel.

"Sherzad is not an Israeli citizen, has no [sic] an Israeli passport and has no connection to the Israeli government or any official standing in Israel," Margalit Vega, the director of Israel's Gulf States Department at the Foreign Ministry, wrote in an email to MEE. Earlier this year, Mamsani temporarily stood down for what he called "some reasons," and he himself admits to having many critics.

"Most of my community [is] anti-Sherzad," said Mamsani, who repeatedly stresses that he's not a politician. The Jewish representative seems to be most favourably viewed on foreign trips and in external publications, where he is painted as a brave champion for religious minorities who, as Mamsani puts it, "stands in the centre of the fire among radical Islamic countries".

Read article in full

Monday, July 03, 2017

Libyan Jews and Arabs meet in Greece (updated)

Libyan Jews held a meeting in Greece on Friday aiming at furthering reconciliation between Libyan Jews who were expelled from Libya in 1967 and Libyan officials, the Libyan Express reports:


 Delegates from Israel, Libya and the Libyan-Jewish diaspora participated in the conference.
 
The meeting will last for three days, according to media sources.
In the meeting, the Israeli Minister of Communications, Ayoob Kara, held talks with the former Minister of Media and Information of the eastern government of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, Omar Al-Gwiri.

Another official from the National Salvation Government of Khalifa Al-Ghweil, which is a rial government formed by the General National Congress, attended the meeting and vowed to help facilitate the return of and reconciliation with the Libyan Jews.

The President of the (UK-based) Union of Jews of Libya, Raphael Luzon, said before the beginning of the meeting that it will be a very significant step for Libyan reconciliation efforts and will include many Libyan figures.

Read article in full 

 Elder of Ziyon points out a spat between between Libyan government officials over whether Jews have a right to return:

In a surprise move, a senior member of the so-called National Salvation Government of Khalifa Ghwell has announced that Libya’s Jewish community has the right to return as well as be compensated for any losses its members may have suffered.

The call was made by Mohamed Ali Triki, a top official in Ghwell’s “foreign ministry”, on Thursday at a three-day conference held on the Greek island of Rhodes. It was organised to mark the 50th anniversary of the last exodus of Jews from Libya as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War. Libya’s Jewish community was part of the national fabric, Triki was quoted as saying, adding that the national salvation government would enable them to return.

The right-to-return was supported by Omar Gawairi, the Beida-based government’s information chief, who was also attending.

Ghwell is reported today to have angrily denied reports that Triki was speaking on his behalf in Greece. He also claimed he had no prior knowledge of the Rhodes conference.



Read article in full
 

Sunday, July 02, 2017

French Jews enraged that killer might not stand trial

The French Jewish community is enraged at what seems to be a refusal of the court to try the Muslim who murdered Sarah Halimi about two months ago. Arutz Sheva reports:

Halimi, who was 66 at the time she was murdered, served as a teacher for many years at a Jewish school in Paris. A Muslim attacker stabbed her, then threw her from her third story apartment to her death.

The judges on the court asserted this week that the murderer’s lawyers had brought conclusive proof that he suffers from mental illness and was not thinking clearly when he committed the cruel murder; therefore, it is possible that he may even be released without going through legal proceedings. They said that it is possible that he didn’t even intend to kill her when he attacked her.

The Jewish community in France intends to appeal the decision when it is officially announced, and is demanding that the court relate to the act as murder with nationalistic intent and not as was asserted. A representative of Halimi’s family said that the act was a terror attack, and blamed police for trying to cover up the murder.

Read article in full 

The issue of Traore’s motives was front and center during a recent panel discussion on the popular weekend TV talk show “On n’est pas couché” (“We’re not lying (down)”). (With thanks: Janet)

Michel Boujenah: murderer was a crazy antisemite

The main guest was Michel Boujenah, a French Jewish actor and writer, who engaged in a sometimes emotional examination of Halimi’s murder with three other panelists and the show’s presenter, Laurent Ruquier.

On the subject of Traore, Halimi’s killer, Boujenah told the audience: “They said it was a mentally unstable person. But it was a mentally unstable person who chose his victim, who tortured her, insulted her with every antisemitic slur, and threw her out of the window.”

Boujenah, who was born in Tunis, continued: “He was crazy. But he was a crazy antisemite. There is no doubt about this question.”

Read article in full (Algemeiner

Police blocked neighbours in Halimi case

Friday, June 30, 2017

Tunisians urge boycott of 'Zionist' Boujenah

Tunisians are calling to boycott the celebrated comic Michel Boujenah, who is due to appear on 19 July at the Carthage Festival.

Michel Boujenah: born in Tunis

In an open letter addressed to the minister of culture and festival director, the boycotters, from the Tunisian branch of the BDS movement,  claim that Boujenah, who was born in Tunisia but lives in France, is not only a proud Zionist but also considers himself part of the 'Israeli people'.

The signatories call on the Tunisian government to assume its responsibilities vis-a-vis 'normalisation' and reaffirm the country's historical, unconditional support for the Palestinian people.

Tunisian social media surfers are evenly divided on the issue. Hundreds think that his apearance on the stage at Carthage should be cancelled. Others are surprised at the fierce reaction against Michel Boujenah. Yamina Thabet of the Tunisian Association for the Support of Minorities (ATSM) denounced the campaign against the comic as 'bullying behaviour' and 'antisemitic'.

Boujenah is scheduled to perform in Israel on 25 July.

Enrico Macias, the pro-Israel Algerian born singer, cancelled several planned visits to his country of birth after fierce popular protests.  


Read article in full (French)

Using language to advance politics (updated)

The anti-Zionist academic Ella Shohat, who is no expert in this field, is politicising the study of linguistics by denying the existence of separate 'Judeo-Arabic' languages. To her they are all Arabic, with minor variations. Lyn Julius blogs in The Times of Israel following Shohat's lecture at SOAS in London:
Ella Shohat: advancing an agenda

'A language is a dialect with an army and navy’.

How best do you delegitimise a nation whose existence you despise?
The answer, according to Ella Shohat, an academic from New York University, is to downgrade a language to a dialect.

Ella Shohat is the high priestess of ‘Mizrahi anti-Zionism’. In London recently to give a talk at the School of Oriental and African Studies, she has made her name by applying the theories propagated by the Palestinian author of ‘Orientalism,‘ Edward Said, to Jews from Arab lands. She is best known for inventing the expression ‘Arab Jew’ to denote a creature torn from its natural habitat by Zionism – itself deemed an extension of western colonialism. Thus Jewish nationalism stands accused of destroying what she terms ‘Arab-Jewish culture’.

To follow Ella’s logic, an ‘Arab Jew’ does not speak a separate Jewish language called Judeo-Arabic: he or she speaks Arabic, albeit with minor variations. In order to reinforce her argument she downplays these differences. The only real distinction, according to her, is that Judeo-Arabic is written in the characters of ‘liturgical’ Hebrew.

It is possible to argue that a speaker of Judeo-Arabic uses enough Hebrew, Aramaic, Turkish, Persian and English terms, as well as idiosyncratic syntax and proverbs, to make himself unintelligible to a regular Arabic speaker. And then there is the Jewish accent, which would not only make a Jew a figure of fun to the Muslim listener, but instantly give his ethnicity away.

In her eagerness to assimilate the Jewish dialects to ‘regular Arabic’, Ella is forced to minimise the differences in the ‘regular’ Arabic spoken across the Arab world.  From a linguistic standpoint, it is often said that the various spoken varieties of Arabic differ from each other about as much as French differs from other Romance languages. Moroccan Arabic is as incomprehensible to Arabs from the Middle East as French is incomprehensible to Spanish or Italian speakers ( but relatively easily learned by them). It is even suggested that the spoken varieties of Arabic may linguistically be considered separate languages.

In Israel,  the last generation of Jews who were born in Arab lands are dying off and their children and grandchildren have all shifted to speaking Hebrew. You would have thought that Ella, who deplores the ‘suppression’ of Arabic in Israel’s early years because it was the ‘language of the enemy’ –  would welcome the revival of interest in, not just Ladino or Yiddish, but Judeo-Arabic ( eg Iraqi-Jewish or Moroccan-Jewish). A Facebook page called ‘preserving the Iraqi-Jewish language’ has over 30, 000 followers.

But no. To Ella,  there is no need to consider Iraqi-Jewish endangered or to preserve what is still living and spoken by the non-Jewish neighbours. Emphasising the ‘Jewish’ character of these dialects becomes a distasteful political act.  Not only – as the controversial academic Shlomo Sand claims –  has a separate Jewish people been invented, Israel has invented ‘Jewish languages’.

But it is Ella who is manipulating language to advance an agenda. As the saying goes,’ dialect is just politics.’ And this is the abysmal level to which the teaching of Middle Eastern studies in our universities has sunk today.

Read article in full 

Postscript: during her lecture Ella Shohat quoted from Naim Kattan's book Farewell Babylon to illustrate an episode when Jews and Muslims began speaking the same Jewish dialect together, indicating that there was no difference between them. In actual fact, Shohat was misquoting the passage (p27 in Adieu Babylone) : the Jews did the speaking and the Muslims listened with respect.
'At the end of the evening, we'd won. We were wearing our own clothing...we were not assimilated by force to a collectivity with vague contours. We were not poured  into a mould.. the masks had fallen. We were there in our luminous and fragile difference. And it was neither a sign of humiliation nor a symbol of ridicule...Our traits were emerging from the shadows and their outlines discernible. They were unique. Our faces were uncovered for all to see and recognise.'

Not only did Ms Shohat misquote Naim Kattan, but he wrote the complete opposite to what she claimed.

'

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Interfaither: Why do Moroccans treat Jews so well?

There is something disturbing about Yael Eckstein's grovelling paen of praise for Morocco in The Times of Israel. Here is a country whose Jewish population is one percent of what it was in 1948. Yet for interfaither Eckstein, it is a shining example of Jews, Muslims and Christians coexisting in mutual respect! Why do you treat Jews so well? she keeps asking,  ignoring the fact that Jews have been threatened by pogromsmob violence and forced conversions and have abandoned their homes and businesses at times of tension.  Eckstein answers her own question: it is because of the king. The Jews - abetted by starry-eyed interfaithers -  have been instrumentalised as part of Moroccan foreign policy.   The restoration of synagogues and cemeteries is a small price to pay for US support of Morocco. But if the king goes, so do the Jews. What value is coexistence if it is only skin deep ? (With thanks: Boruch, Daniel, Lily, Imre). 

It just didn’t make sense. It seemed too good to be true. But as I quickly learned, it was just another day in mystical Morocco, a country that defies norms, defines tolerance and is home to a dwindling population of 2,500 Jews. Though Morocco is a Muslim country, the bellboy at my hotel told me with a loving smile, Jews were actually in Morocco 600 years before Muslims—when they were sent out of Jerusalem following the destruction of the First Temple. “This is your home,” the bellboy said, while pointing to a picture on the wall of the Atlas Mountains. “Your people were here before mine.”


 This respectful attitude was the prevailing sentiment in my communications with every Muslim I met throughout my stay during the end of Ramadan. Moroccans are genuine in their respect for the Jewish people, love for Moroccan Jews, and awe for the holy rabbis who walked their streets and are buried in the Jewish cemetery. I nearly cried when I saw how well the locals preserve the Jewish cemetery. “Why do you treat the Jews so well?” I asked a Muslim teenager who works for an organization called Mimouna, whose members are Muslim youths passionate about spreading Jewish history. Mimouna made history by starting a Jewish studies program at a Moroccan Arab university, along with the Arab world’s only Holocaust education program.

“Why wouldn’t we treat them well?” he responded. Indeed, it is illogical for local Muslims to suddenly turn on native Jews who have lived in their country for thousands of years. But we live in an illogical world. Morocco is one of the few places where Christians, Muslims and Jews coexist in peace and mutual respect. Why? One night I attended a Ramadan fast-breaking event—organized by the inspiring local Chabad rabbi at an Orthodox synagogue. Dozens of Jews and Muslims gathered to celebrate. King Mohammed VI’s representative for the entire Marrakesh region also attended. He sent blessings from the king to the Jewish community and closed his eyes with intent—and answered “amen”—when the Chabad rabbi said the traditional Jewish prayer for kings. Why are Jews in Morocco treated so well?
Yael Eckstein

Simply put, it’s because of the king. During World War II, when the Nazis asked the king of Morocco to put together a list of Jews in his country, he boldly answered, “We don’t have Jews, we have Moroccans,” and refused to comply (this is debatable - ed). Today’s king, Mohammed VI, is the grandson of King Mohammed V, who protected his country’s 265,000 Jews. Like his grandfather, Mohammed VI believes Jews are just as Moroccan—and just as important—as Muslims, Christians and everyone else. If anyone in Morocco messes with Jews, they are messing with the king.

 Many project that in a decade, there won’t be any Jews left in Morocco. Most of the Moroccan grandmothers who read Psalms all day have moved to Israel. Moroccan Jewish youths have largely moved abroad. The remaining Jews are the gems of ancient times.

What legacy do Jews want to leave in Morocco? What pillars do Jews want to set up in Morocco that will carry on long after there are no Jews left? After my four-day journey representing Christian and Jewish supporters of The Fellowship, I deeply understand why it’s so important that our organization partnered with Chabad and Mimouna to distribute thousands of food parcels from the country’s ancient synagogues to local Muslims for Ramadan.

 It is clear to me why we must set up a Jewish information center in central Marrakesh and make sure the Jewish cemetery will keep being preserved by local Muslims. I realize how critical it is that we also continue to distribute food parcels to poor Jews on a monthly basis, so they aren’t neglected or looked at as beggars, but rather serve as a shining example of the fact that all Jews, Christians and Muslims are responsible to look out for one another.

In a country that lives on ancient spiritual stories of holy men and women who once walked its streets, this is our final opportunity to leave an eternal legacy on behalf of the millions of Moroccan Jews who came before us. What legacy should we leave? That the Jewish people came in peace, left in peace and were only known for peace. This is what it means to live in the vision of God.

Read article in full

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Tunisian wartime story with a happy ending



Abridged from an article in two parts on Harissa  (French)

 Sheikh Roubine was a leader of the Judenrat (Jewish leadership council) during the Nazi occupation of Tunisia between 1942-3. He would sign attestations on behalf of Jews who were forced to work in the Nazi labour camps (presumably so that they were later eligible for reparations). When he was accused of treason by his predecessor, however, the case was adjudicated by the Tunisian courts who cleared Roubine of any wrongdoing. A relative, Abraham Bar-Shay (Benattia), tells this curious story.


"We called him Baba Roubine. The friends of the family called him Sheikh Roubine. His whole demeanour invited respect. He held a beautiful baquita (cane) which he did not need for walking. The end of the cane only touched the ground after he had taken four steps. After the first two steps, he pointed the end of the cane at a 45-degree angle in front of him. It was only after two other steps that he pointed it towards the ground. When I was a teenager, I tried to imitate his gait.

He was not rich but comfortable. When my nuclear family lived in a single room, with several other families, around a large yard, he had a 'large' house with three bedrooms and a courtyard. He lived in a house twice the size of that of the great Rabbi Haim Houry. I had not forgotten these little details, even after we had moved to the capital in late 1947.

Baba Roubine ran a transport company between Gabes and Tunis ( a distance of 450 km) and often travelled with the goods he shipped between the two cities. When he was in Tunis, he came to see us and taste the food my mother was preparing for him. He often  teased her, that she cooked almost as well as Aunt Bhila, his wife.

Knowing our economic situation, he took advantage of each visit to bring with him all the provisions that we lacked - enough to last several days. He returned towards noon with his bottle of red wine for a family meal.

For us it was a festive and memorable day - until the next visit. These meals strengthened the ties we had with Baba Roubine more than with the other members of the family.

The Sheikh Roubine family made its Aliya in 1964, seven years after ours. We were already well established in Israel. We settled in southern Israel, in Kiryat Gat, a new immigrant city and administrative center for the Moshavim of the region.


The immigration authorities knew nothing of the services he had rendered to the community in the old country. This octogenarian was no more than the shadow of his former self in my memory, but he still kept his dignity as a sheikh and his "chechia" (Tunisian red hat) always had the long plume of black threads that fell on his shoulder.


In Israel he continued until the end of his life what he had done in Tunisia : to sign attestations for all Jews who had been sent to work in the Nazi camps of Gabes. 

It was only since my arrival in Israel, that I learned from my cousin Nissim (six years my senior)  that Sheikh Roubine (his uncle) was accused of having betrayed his community during the Nazi occupation of Gabes. The case was brought before the courts in Tunis, who acquitted the sheikh of all the accusations. He could not show me any document on this chapter in the history of our family.

Nearly a year ago, I received a mail from a Tunisian scholar, Professor Mohsen Hamli, who asked me for details about Sheikh Roubine Ben-Attia. He was researching the Jewish Sheikhs in Tunisia during the Nazi occupation and I owe him thanks for his service to my 'tribe' and the history of our community.

After a few months I received the documents (one is presented here). There was  urgent need to make these documents public, here, and then pass them on to the archives of Yad Vashem.

The Sheikh's role was, among other things, to represent the Jewish community before the local authorities and to deal with the rights and duties of individuals and the community as a whole.

In the 1930s, Houati Haddad  served as a sheikh of the Jews of Gabes. His service was not good enough for the notables of the city (judgment was passed by the Governor) who dismissed him and appointed Baba Roubine in his place. It was just before the invasion of Tunisia by Rommel's Afrikakorps and their retreat from Libya. Gabes was a city located not far from the Libyan border and a strategic point. There was a French military base with an airport in operation.

Sheikh Roubine and Chief Rabbi Haim Houry, who were in fact neighbors, were charged with fulfilling the most abject tasks the Nazis had inflicted on the Jews of Gabes, from the seizure of personal wealth (jewellery and bank accounts) to the forced recruitment of Jewish workers in the Nazi camps.

I understood that the Nazis had forced Baba Roubine to fulfill the role of the Judenrat of the community of Gabes. A complaint of treason had been filed against him, by the person who had fulfilled his role before the Nazi invasion. The Tunis court ruled that the complaint was a blow against Roubine and acquitted him of any suspicion.


With these documents I was able to trace the history of the time, personalities and the happy ending for Baba Roubine.


After the victory of the Allies and the departure of the Nazis from Tunisia, a group was organized, probably under the instigation of Mr. Houati Haddad, and filed a complaint of five accusations against Sheikh Roubine. These indictments "were" supposedly "based on investigations and testimonies of the notables of the community."



Baba Roubine in local costume 

The governor, who subsequently investigated the case, discovered that the facts cited were null and void, congratulated Roubine on his moral fibre and granted Houati Haddad the compliment of being "a man of questionable morality and lack of scruple."

Our story had a happy ending, which even Shakespeare would have judged incredible for "Romeo and Juliet". Verona is not Gabes and Kippur returns every autumn to erase the grudges of yesterday's generations. Despite the controversies and tense relations between the sheikhs Roubine and Houati, the grand-daughter of the first married the youngest son of the second. They lived 50 years together, until the husband's death a few months ago.

-

 Below: letter by French Captain Le Bourhis vouching for Baba Roubine's good character.
Cross-posted at Clash of Cultures, Jerusalem Post

Saved by a liqor glass, betrayed by friends

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

How I, a Libyan antisemite, became a Jew

 Ed Elhaderi went from pinning up posters of Yasser Arafat in his native Libya in  the 1970s, to marrying a Jew and converting to Judaism. Jewish Journal charts his remarkable spiritual journey (With thanks: JIMENA) :

Ed and Barbara Elhaderi (far right) at their son's Barmitzvah

That hot afternoon seems like yesterday, but it was 50 years ago this month. I was 15 and living in Sabha, a small city in the Sahara Desert of southern Libya. An older cousin told me about the reports on Cairo Radio about the dire situation facing the Egyptian army.
“We’ve got to do something,” he said.
I didn’t fully understand the politics of what would come to be known as the Six-Day War, but I knew that what was happening was bad for us as Arabs and Muslims. All around me were other teenagers absorbing the tense mood and looking to vent their rage at the Jews. I followed the crowd to the only Western-style establishment nearby, a bar. It was early afternoon and the place hadn’t opened yet. A few older boys broke down the door, and a crowd stormed in, breaking bottles and dumping alcohol onto the street outside.
Standing in a crowd, I joined the chants: “Death to the Jews!” “Drive the Jews into the sea!”
The truth is that I had never actually met a Jew. I grew up in a small nomadic village of 20 families, a collection of mud huts with palm-frond roofs that wouldn’t have looked much different 2,000 years earlier. Health care was so primitive that by the time I was a young boy, my parents had lost three children to illness.
Sunni Islam was the only way of life I knew. My preschool was in a mosque, where an imam taught us to read and write by drilling us with verses from the Quran. After that, our education was more secular — I went to mosque, going through the motions, but I was hardly devout. I never was exposed to any alternatives or avenues to question the life we had.
Our textbooks didn’t mention Israel, and people used the word Yahudi, Jew, only as an insult. The Jews had rejected the Prophet Muhammad, so they were considered to be condemned. The only Jews I saw were in Egyptian movies, in which they were portrayed as menacing, monstrous characters — hunched over and speaking with high-pitched nasal accents.
I did know Palestinian Arabs. My elementary school had once hired a young Palestinian as a teacher. Because he was Palestinian, the community welcomed him warmly and supported him generously.

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