Friday, December 15, 2017

Antisemitism among Muslim refugees rampant

A study of attitudes among Muslim refugees shows that antisemitism is rampant, but that refugees from other minority communities are more likely to side with Jews and Israel. The Times of Israel carries this JTA report (with thanks: Lily):

BERLIN, Germany (JTA) — Anti-Semitism among Muslim refugees is rampant and requires urgent attention, a new study suggests. But the study, commissioned by the American Jewish Committee’s Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations in Berlin, also finds that refugees from persecuted minority communities are more likely to take a stand against anti-Semitism and for Israel.
Titled “Attitudes of refugees from Syria and Iraq towards integration, identity, Jews and the Shoah,” the research report was prepared by historian and sociologist Günther Jikeli of Indiana University and the University of Potsdam, Germany, with help from Lars Breuer and Matthias Becker.

Muslim refugees in Germany (Photo: AFP)

 The report, based on interviews with 68 refugees, comes amid a series of virulent anti-Israel and anti-America demonstrations in the German capital denouncing the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Thousands of protesters burned homemade Israeli flags and crowded city subway stations chanting anti-Israel and anti-American slogans on their way to rallies. The numbers of refugees among the demonstrators was unknown. At the same time, in a show of solidarity with Jewish communities in Germany, local imams joined with Christian and Jewish leaders in public celebrations of Hanukkah, including the annual candle-lighting ceremony at the Brandenburg Gate, where Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal of Berlin was joined in a cherry picker by Mayor Michael Mueller. Security has been tightened throughout Germany and at Jewish venues.

  Read article in full

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Bahrain interfaithers snubbed after Israel visit

In the spirit of  the King of Bahrain's charm offensive towards the Jewish state, an interfaith  delegation visited Israel on Tuesday where they were greeted warmly. But they were snubbed by Palestinians when they tried also to visit Gaza. Al-Jazeera reports:

The Bahrain delegation at a Hanucah lighting in Israel

Palestinians have refused a Bahraini delegation from entering Gaza after the group visited Israel amid ongoing controversy over the US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem and recognise the city as Israel's capital.

 The interfaith "This is Bahrain" civil society group defended its visit to Israel on Monday, a day after its trip was reported, as a gesture of tolerance. The 25-member group, which is on a five-day tour, includes Sunni and Shia Muslim leaders, Christians, the leader of a Hindu temple, and a Sikh.

It aims to visit Islamic, Christian, Jewish and other holy sites, the group said, according to a statement carried on Bahrain's state news.

After widespread outrage, a coalition of various political factions condemned the group's attempt to visit the besieged Gaza Strip, home to two million Palestinians.

 The Palestinian National and Islamic Forces in Gaza said there was no place for those who normalise relations with Israel in Gaza - or any other place of the occupied Palestinian territories. It added that the people of Gaza would prevent the delegation from entering the enclave.

  Read article in full

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Fifty and 70 years since devastating Aden riots

Fifty years ago, murderous riots broke out in Aden. History was repeating itself - over 80 Jews were killed in 1947. Robert Philpot describes the rescue of the remaining community, and how a British soldier helped save  Sefrei Torah in The Times of Israel.

Three Jews trapped in the Crater district of the port city were attacked by an armed mob; two were brutally murdered, the third was found alive but barely able to breathe. For those old enough to remember, history appeared to be repeating itself. Twenty years previously, in the wake of the UN vote to partition Palestine, Jewish businesses, stores, and homes had been attacked in Aden. Two Jewish schools were burned down. At the end of three days of violence in December 1947, more than 80 Jews were dead. “There were not riots but murder,” Joseph Howard, a child at the time, later remembered. A British commission of inquiry into the disturbances later found that “trigger happy” firing by soldiers of the Aden Protectorate Levies — an Arab military force trained and armed by the UK to protect its colony — were responsible for many of the Jewish deaths. These local forces, the inquiry concluded, were sympathetic to the rioters, and did not attempt to control them. The inquiry recommended British troops be permanently stationed in the colony.

A Jewish home destroyed by rioters in Aden on December 3, 1947. (Avraham Hermes and Rahamim Ben Zur; courtesy of Danny Goldsmith and Aden Jewish Heritage Museum)
For Britain, which was urging Arab countries to protect their local Jewish populations at the very moment it had so conspicuously failed to do so, these events were a source of considerable embarrassment. In the summer of 1967, Britain had an opportunity to redeem itself.

The sun was finally setting on the British Empire; Harold Wilson’s government was readying to pull its forces out of Aden — one of the UK’s last remaining colonies — thus bringing to an end 128 years of British rule. The last four years of that rule — the so-called “Aden Emergency” — had been particularly bloody, as Britain and the army of its newly created Federation of South Arabia battled an insurgency led by the National Liberation Front (NLF) and the Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen (FLOSY). By 1967, the Jewish population of Aden had dwindled to a mere several hundred compared to 4,500 in 1945.

As tensions across the Middle East rose in the weeks before the Six Day War, there were attacks on Jewish homes and shops. With the outbreak of the conflict, Jews crowded into Tawahi — a suburb of the main city which was home to the British governor and one of the safest places in Aden — where they sheltered under the protection of British troops.

 One of those soldiers was 24-year-old Dougie Skilbeck. Fifty years on, he reveals a remarkable tale of kindness and bravery which perhaps helped to bring the final chapter of Britain’s relationship with the Adenite Jews to an honorable close. Despite his youth, Sergeant Skilbeck was hardly a rookie.

Hailing from Yorkshire in the north of England, he joined the Lancashire Regiment at the age of 15. By the time he arrived in Aden in early 1967, he had already served in Swaziland, then a British colony in southern Africa. The soldiers had been provided with little information about the embattled Jewish population and Skilbeck was initially unaware of any tensions. He remembers the city being initially “quite peaceful and quite fun,” before the situation turned “bitter.”

 Based at Radfan Camp in the desert, Skilbeck’s platoon was charged with guarding the Jewish population and helping to prepare their evacuation, which was being arranged in London by Barnett Janner, a Jewish Labour MP and former president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Skilbeck remembers many of the Jews living in the back of shops in Tawahi or at the Jewish-owned Victoria Hotel, as they waited to be airlifted out.

 The atmosphere was “extremely tense and awful for the Jewish population,” he says. “They had been targeted by the Arabs and some of them had been humiliated and even murdered.” But as they prepared to leave, some of the Jews had unfinished business to attend to. They turned to Skilbeck for help. The day before the evacuation, he was approached by a rabbi. “He pleaded with me to help him save the holy scrolls,” Skilbeck recalls.

 The mission was fraught with danger; the scrolls were in Crater, by now controlled by NLF and FLOSY guerillas and thus not only a no-go zone for Jews but also for British troops. Skilbeck and another British soldier agreed to help. His reasons were simple: his first army tour of duty was in Germany and he was stationed at the same barracks where his father had been at the end of World War II.

 “I knew a lot about what happened to the Jews in Germany and I felt a lot of sympathy … [seeing] the Jews persecuted once more. Foolish or not, I was a young man but I wanted to help if I could,” says Skilbeck.

 At nightfall, the two British soldiers, the rabbi and two Jews who were accompanying him set off for Crater. By now off duty, Skilbeck drove the unmarked military minibus which he had borrowed for the “totally unofficial” assignment.

 Unaware of the route, he was directed by the rabbi. < Luckily, the minibus was not stopped at either of the military checkpoints which it passed through on the “extremely tense” 30-minute journey. “We could have been ordered to turn round or taken back … Seeing the machine gun laying on our laps, they could easily have opened fire on us not knowing who we were,” says Skilbeck.

 When they arrived, Crater was shrouded in darkness and appeared virtually deserted. They stopped at the synagogue — which the locals had tried unsuccessfully to break into —  and he stood guard outside while the other men went in. At this point, Skilbeck admits, he began to wonder: “What am I really doing here? Why am I doing this?” His unease only grew when he heard a voice from across the street asking: “What the fucking hell are you doing here?”

Skilbeck is puzzled to this day about who it belonged to, but suspects it may have been a member of an SAS unit — Britain’s elite special forces — who were still operating in Crater at the time. About 20 minutes later, Skilbeck heard a machine gun firing blindly and bullets whizzed past him down the street.

 The group had saved three scrolls and wanted to save more, but scrambled into the minibus and raced back to Tawahi. Looking back as they made their escape, the men saw that the synagogue had started to burn.

 “We were extremely lucky and God must have been on our side,” Skilbeck believes.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Egyptian urges Jews to be banned from synagogue

The Elder of Ziyon blog has unearthed a report in an Egyptian newspaper, El-Fagr, quoting an Alexandrian lawyer who is urging Egyptians to ban Jews from praying in the Nebi Daniel synagogue in Alexandria. Nothing to do with Jerusalem, of course! It's hard to follow the gentleman's logic: while Muslims are allowed to pray at Al-Aqsa mosque, there are not enough Jews in Egypt to make up a quorum in a synagogue. (With thanks: Joseph)

Nebi Daniel synagogue

Alexandrian lawyer Sherif Jadallah says this has nothing to do with the US recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Instead, he claims it is a response to Israel banning Muslims from the Al aqsa Mosque for a few days earlier this year after three terrorists used it as a base to murder Jews.

 "The Jewish religious intransigence and persecution of Muslims must be met with a clear popular legal response to the prohibition of Jewish religious rituals and to allow us to perform Islamic religious rites within their Jewish temples," Jadallah said, in accordance with what he laughably called a principle in international law called "reciprocity."

The lawyer is targeting December 29th to ban Jewish worship in the synagogue and allow Muslims to take it over. Now that there are nearly no Jews in Egypt, the country has been spending money to restore their old synagogues - for tourists, but not for prayer.

Read article in full

Monday, December 11, 2017

75 years since the Nazi occupation of Tunisia

Seventy-five years since the Nazi occupation of Tunisia, this video is a precious visual record of the six months of hell suffered by the Jewish community.

The first round-up of Jewish males took place on 9 December 1942: some 5,000 Jews were to be sent to forced labour camps.

The procession took one Jew past his own house. His neighbours, whom he had always got on with, stood on their balconies shouting: 'Dirty Jews!' It was then that he became a Zionist.

Admiral Esteva, a practising Christian, who headed the French administration, had failed to put into place some of the statut des juifs discriminatory laws: the ruler Moncef Bey  said he considered Tunisians of all faiths to be his subjects.

Had the Allies not liberated Tunisia, it is thought that the Nazis would have put into effect their plans for exterminating the Jews. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Peace is not possible without justice for Jews

Powerful piece in the Huffington Post to coincide with the Memorial Day for Jewish Refugees from Arab lands,  by Israeli of Yemenite parentage Shahar Azani and Emily Schrader.

 Yemenite Jews on their way to Aden
From Yemen they fled, as they did from Iraq, Libya, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East. This year on November 30, Israel will remember the 875,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, who left everything behind, as they ran for their lives and returned home to the newly re-established State of Israel. While recognition within Israel is needed and welcome, this is not the case with the international community, so far failing to seriously acknowledge this issue, not to mention discuss reparations for the forgotten refugees.
Every year Kristallnacht is solemnly remembered – one night of virulent antisemitism which marked a turning point in the Nazi barbaric campaign of genocide against the Jewish people. Yet, even though so many ‘Nights of Broken Glass’ occurred all over the Arab world, those seemed to have escaped world attention. The history of persecution of Jews in Arab countries is an undeniable fact, yet we see no hint of an international community willing to address it, or even recognize its mere existence! Acknowledging the pain of so many who left so much behind as a key for future settlement seems to be a well established principle of conflict resolution, yet as far as Jewish suffering is concerned, this suddenly seems inapplicable.
Perhaps most importantly: why is it that despite centuries of expulsions, pogroms, land confiscation, apartheid laws and more, not a single Arab country has been held accountable for their heinous crimes against the Jewish people?!
Scholars dispute the exact amount, but value of property stolen from Jews is estimated to be between $6 and $100 billion dollars, with that in Iraq alone estimated at $30 billion in today’s values. In Egypt, Jews suffered immense persecution despite the fact they had a presence there which predates Islam. In the 1930’s and 1940’s Jews faced murderous riots that left hundreds dead. In 1948, the Egyptian government arrested thousands of Jews and confiscated their property without compensation. In the 1950’s, Egypt expelled 25,000 Jews confiscating all their property and permitting them only one suitcase leaving the country. Today there are less than a dozen Jews left in all of Egypt, yet the government has never apologized or been held accountable for their crimes.
The Egyptians were not unique in their persecution of Jews. In Iraq, Jews suffered numerous pogroms at the hands of pan-Arab nationalists, a Nazi supporting regime in the 1940’s, and radical Islamists. In the 1940’s, Iraq passed a series of apartheid laws against Jews confiscating their property, stripping them of citizenship, and forcing their businesses into bankruptcy. They were forbidden from attending the same schools as non-Jews, holding public office, and a myriad of other discriminatory laws. Jews were publicly hanged in the streets and accused of being Zionist “spies.” Over 100,000 Jews fled the country from 1948-1951. Today, Iraq has been completely ethnically cleansed of its ancient Jewish community.
In Syria, in the 1940’s and 50’s, the Syrian government emptied all Jewish bank accounts and confiscated all Jewish property. Jews were fired from all government positions, forbidden from traveling more than 3 miles from home, banned from having driver’s licenses, and from leaving the country. In Yemen, Jews were given a choice of converting to Islam or death. In the 18th century, the “Orphans Decree” was issued stating that Jewish orphans were to be taken and converted to Islam. This decree was reinstated in 1922. Today less than a handful of Jews remain in Yemen.
There are similar stories of oppression, especially in the 20th century, of Jewish communities in Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Lebanon, Algeria, and even Iran. Remarkably, many of these refugees came home to Israel and miraculously built flourishing lives for themselves and all those around them. But the story of their oppression must be told if we are to pursue any chance of peace in the future.
Israel is not a perfect country, but for all the criticism of the Jewish state, it is one of the only countries where non-citizens (Palestinians for instance) can take a lawsuit straight to the highest court in the land, and win their case. Can the same be said of Iraqi Jews whose property was stolen? Of Egyptian Jews whose businesses were confiscated? Of millions of Jews from the Middle East who lost precious family members because of heinous anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism?! The issue before us is clear: How can there be true peace, without justice?

Read article in full

Friday, December 08, 2017

Thousands of Jewish documents handed to Morocco

With thanks: Boruch

At a ceremony on  16 November  2017 in Rabat, a high-level French delegation handed over to the National Archives of Morocco copies of  thousands of Judeo-Moroccan documents, enriching its collections and giving new impetus to academic research on Moroccan Judaism. The handover is significant because it will enable Moroccans themselves to study the history of their Jewish community.

 One of the postcards handed over to the Moroccan Archives shows the Jews of Gourrama, in the south.
The director of the Archives of Morocco, Jamaa Baida, acclaimed the handover of these 'extremely rich' historic documents from the diplomatic archives of France and the Holocaust Memorial in Paris. Much of this archive has been digitized by Washington's United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and negotiations are still in progress to fund further work.
The Shoah Memorial gave the National Archives of Morocco 373 photographs from different collections and from multiple sources: postcards evoking Jewish life in Morocco at the end of the nineteenth century, private photos of Moroccan Jewish families and items from the press and photographic collections of Moroccan Jewish organizations such as the youth movement of the Israel Scouts of France or the OSE.
The Memorial also provided a copy of its documentary archive on the situation of Jews in Morocco during the Second World War. This consists of 1048 documents from different collections: geography of Morocco,  the Commissioner-General on Jewish Questions, and the Maurice Vanikoff archive.

French minister of culture Françoise Nyssen (photo: National Archives of Morocco)
For her part, the French Minister of Culture, Françoise Nyssen regretted the fact that "Judeo-Moroccan memory is today incomplete, mutilated and amputated" and that archives are "scattered around the world and difficult to access". She considered that handing over archives to the Kingdom will help Moroccans know more about Moroccan Jewish History in the last 150 years and  make it possible for Moroccans themselves to write the history of Moroccan Judaism.
The French Minister for European Affairs, Nathalie Loiseau, said that the archives submitted to Morocco consist of important collections in the history of the Moroccan Jewish community as well as wartime and colonial files from 1936 - 55.

Read Shoa Memorial report (French) 

Morocco receives 43,000 documents from France

Thursday, December 07, 2017

BBC radio fails to mention Iraq's Farhud

 The film Remember Baghdad has generated unprecedented publicity for the story of the demise of the Jewish diaspora's oldest community. But it has also give the media carte blanche to distort the historical facts by minimising Arab antisemitism. BBC Watch examines the failure in a report on the Sunday programme to mention the 1941 Farhud:

The December 3rd edition of the BBC Radio 4 religious affairs programme ‘Sunday’ included an item (from 16:05 here) described as follows in the

“The story of what happened to the last Jews of Iraq is the subject of a new documentary “Remember Baghdad”. Edward talks to David Dangoor about his great grandfather who was a former Chief Rabbi of Baghdad.”

However, as was the case in a previous BBC World Service radio item on the same topic, listeners expecting to get an answer to the question of what happened to the ancient Iraqi Jewish community would have been disappointed. Presenter Edward Stourton introduced the item:

Stourton: “The story of the last Jews of Baghdad is told in the documentary which is being screened in selected cinemas from tomorrow to mark the 100th anniversary of Britain’s seizing control of the city. It was one of the great world centres of Judaism from the days of Nebuchadnezzar right up to the 1940s and 50s. The film – Remembering [sic] Baghdad – explores that history through the eyes of some of the Jews who left. David Dangoor was one such and he told me how he remembers the city.”

Listeners heard Mr Dangoor’s portrayal of a “good life” with a “rich cultural tapestry” before Stourton went on to ask about “relations with the city’s Arabs” and to what extent Jews were “integrated”. Mr Dangoor told of joint business ventures between Jews and Arabs before saying that:

“During the troubles, many Jewish people were given refuge and protection by their Muslim friends.”

Listeners did not however hear what those “troubles” actually were.
After Stourton had asked questions about Mr Dangoor’s great-grandfather and his mother – the first ‘Miss Baghdad’ – he went on to inaccurately claim that the idyllic life portrayed so far had ended because of the establishment of the State of Israel.

Stourton: “You, I think, were born in the year that the State of Israel came into being. What began to change then?”

Dangoor: “We need to remember that Zionism, which is Jewish nationalism, grew at the same time as Arab nationalism in the early part of the 20th century. So it became a point of contention in many Arab countries between Jewish people in Arab countries and their Muslim neighbours. There were clashes from time-to-time and that began to become a bigger problem until of course in 1948, as you say, the Jewish state was formed and the enmity grew. Jews were seen as potential spies for what they called the Zionist entity and there was some hostility.”

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

In search of Jewish houses in Basra

Carol Isaacs, whose family originated in Iraq, has started an audio-visual project called the Wolf of Baghdad to record memories of Jewish life there. Here is one of the posts from her website (with thanks: Michelle):

On the Tube home the other night, after a screening of the wonderful new documentary Remember Baghdad, I fell into conversation with one of the audience, an Iraqi (non-Jewish) lady called Dina. We were complete strangers but found ourselves talking about the film and its effect on us. She told me that she had lost her family home and had been displaced as a result, but has recently returned to Basra a few times for work.

The day after I received an email from her accompanying the photos of old Jewish houses in Basra that she had promised to send me.

 Biyoot al Yahud (Jewish homes), now in a state of internal disrepair (Photo: Dina)

She wrote:
My first trip back to Iraq since I left in 1976 was in 2009 to Basrah, where my work took me.

I was anxious for days before, for whilst I was homesick I knew that I longed for an Iraq and a Baghdad that are no longer there.  What was I going to see ? How will people greet me, knowing I’ve been in London while they’ve endured war after war ? 

I landed in Basrah and the minute I smelt the air, I know I had come home.  I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging.  Everything, from the pebbles to the weeds at the side of the road looked familiar and were welcoming me back !

Work aside, I asked the driver to take me to the old parts of Basrah. He was surprised and bemused, could not understand why I’d want to see old buildings. He finally consented, and told me he will take me to Biyoot il Yahood (The Jews’ Houses). He then started telling me how his parents and grandparents told him stories of how they all lived together in harmony, Muslims, Jews and Christians, and how they were great friends and neighbours.

It was so sad to see the state they’re at.  I’m not sure if they’re protected or not, but they are certainly not maintained or refurbished. Many have squatters in them, I’m told they’ve ruined the inside. One or two are taken over by artists and poets’ socieities who admire and understand the value, who lobby the council often to do something about the state of the houses (falls on deaf ears), and who are penniless so can’t really do much about them. They hope that by occupying them as artists they can at least prevent squatters or worse.

These photos were taken in 2011. I will go back to take more detailed photographs, and if anyone recognises a building in particular, I’d be very happy to go back and take more photos.

Walking by these faded crumbling edifices filled me with great sadness. These were homes that were filled with laughter, with the exquisite smells of cooking, with the fragrant garden plants in the evenings. These were homes filled with hope, with families, with joyful and sad occasions. How can they now stand so empty, so barren ? How the wind whistles through the gaps, how the memories float through the air, how the souls of those no longer there must roam around, wringing their hands in despair and sadness.

But I am happy that they are there. I am happy they are referred to as Biyoot il Yahood. I am happy that they stand, proud and resilient, lest we forget.

Read post in full

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Joe, we can't go back, they've taken it all away

The story of the dispossession of Joseph Smouha, who built Smouha City in Alexandria out of marshland, is a remarkable one. What is perhaps more remarkable, is that this article by Joseph Braude appeared in the Arab magazine Majalla (with thanks: Richard).

Ask a young Egyptian what “Smouha” means and he will likely tell you it is an excellent football team in Alexandria, lately ranking third in Egypt’s premier league. He may also know that the team takes its name from Smouha City, a resplendent Alexandrian suburb.
Sisters' St, Alexandria, 1941.
So it wasn’t surprising that when Richard Smouha, a Swiss national, recently submitted his passport to a man of Egyptian origin at an airport in Amsterdam, the officer asked him, “Did you know that your family was named after a place in Egypt?”

But Smouha’s reply surprised the officer: “Actually, the place in Egypt was named after my family.”

It may further surprise many Egyptians to know that the builder of Smouha City, Richard’s grandfather Joseph, was an Iraqi Jew, born in Baghdad in 1878. At age 14, he moved with his family to the British city of Manchester, where he gained his education and began a prosperous career as a cotton broker. At age 36, with the outbreak of World War I, he closed his business and offered himself for public service.

 What would lure him away from his government work and back into the private sector was a dream — a vision — which came to him neither in his native Iraq nor in his adopted country of Great Britain but in Egypt. In 1923, while visiting the country on behalf of the British government, he was riding the train from Cairo to Alexandria, along the edge of then-mosquito-infested marshlands adjoining the lakes of the Nile Delta. He observed that the swamps were effectively blocking the expansion of Alexandria — an untenable situation in light of the city’s burgeoning economy and natural demographic growth.

He explored the matter with Alexandrian friends and officials, who welcomed his interest in the problem of the marshlands. They offered him ownership of 700 acres of hazardous territory for free if he would commit to draining the swamps at his own expense. Smouha insisted on paying a commercial price for the area. He proceeded to move his wife and eight children to the ancient city and embark on the project of his lifetime.

At the time, seven percent of the inhabitants of Alexandria — approximately 24,000 people — were Jews. (The Jewish population in all of Egypt totaled 80,000.) The Alexandrian Jewish community was prominent in nearly every field of human activity: Jews ranked among the more sought-after doctors and lawyers, contributed prolifically to the public discussion, and served as teachers to tens of thousands of Egyptian students. Among prominent bankers and financiers, for example, the Menashe family — which also came from Iraq, in 1795 — invested in the human development of Alexandria by establishing schools for poor children.

But Joseph Smouha never imagined his construction project as an enclave for any particular ethnicity or sect. To the contrary, he envisioned an organic extension of cosmopolitan Alexandria that would embody the city’s finest traditions of diversity and coexistence. Smouha invited architects in Egypt and across the European continent to compete for the privilege of helping to design the new area. The plan called for all the features of a town: residential housing, schools, hospitals, an industrial zone, a police station, a post office — as well as a church, a synagogue, and a mosque. It was in essence an Alexandrian appropriation of the concept of a “garden city,” which had begun to appear in Great Britain, whereby an entire urban ecosystem was constructed simultaneously on a discrete piece of land. Smouha proposed to name the project Fouad City, after the country’s then-reigning king. But the monarch insisted it be known as Smouha City instead. It became an upscale residential suburb. The many indigenous elites who took up residence there were joined by former European royalty, including the exiled King of Italy, Victor Emanuel, who lived and died there. Over time, Smouha City also came to include a race course, golf course, and sports club.

Within a few years, a new town had appeared out of nowhere and taken root as a seamless extension of the city to which it was affixed. The man who founded it, however, suffered an altogether different fate: On November 23, 1956, following the Suez War, President Gamal Abdel Nasser issued a proclamation declaring all Jews to be enemies of the state. Jews had already been leaving in significant numbers prior to the declaration: Amid a wave of anti-Jewish fervor following the establishment of the State of Israel and the first Arab-Israeli war, bombings of Jewish areas killed 70 Jews and wounded nearly 200, while riots claimed many more lives. The 1956 proclamation caused 25,000 more Jews to flee for Israel, Europe, the United States, and South America. Their assets were confiscated by the government. Smouha City, too, was sequestrated, nationalized, and confiscated, in a wave of such actions taken against British and French property as well. Joseph Smouha saw his beloved Alexandria for the last time in 1957 — which was also the year Abdel Nasser evicted Armenians, Greeks, and a subset of Egyptian Coptic elites from Alexandria.

By the time Smouha died in Paris in 1961, at the age of 83, his memories and melancholy had intermingled in the blur of old age. His family recalls that in his final years he sometimes called out to his wife, “I must get back to the office. What’s happening? Why aren’t we going to the office?” She would reply, “Joe, don’t you remember we can’t go back. They’ve taken it all away.” “Oh yes,” he said, and began to cry again. Upon his death, an obituary in the British Daily Telegraph noted that King Fouad had remembered him as a “foreigner who brought his own money to Egypt and did good for the country.”

Shortly before his death, the Smouha family filed a claim for compensation for the value of the expropriated property with the British Foreign Claims Commission. The government body had been established to make payments to British nationals from the 27.5 million pounds sterling ($77 million) which Egypt paid Great Britain in settlement of all claims for property in Egypt. The Smouhas believed that the value of the properties — excluding the schools, hospitals, houses of worship, and other facilities which Joseph had donated— was 12.5 million pounds sterling ($35 million), or the equivalent of 260 million pounds ($371 million) today. But the family received only a small fraction of that sum, because the settlement was calculated on the basis of the territory’s value as farmland rather than developed urban property.

* * *

In some ways, the story of Joseph Smouha is a microcosm of the story of close to one million Jews indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa who almost completely vanished from the landscape, largely over 25 years, from 1948 to 1973 — the historical blink of an eye. In Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere, their history dated back millennia, almost to the dawn of monotheistic history. In other parts of the region, their history dated back centuries — in North Africa, for example, to the period of the expulsion of Jews as well as Muslims from what had once been called Al-Andalus; or as a result of comparatively recent historical migrations. Their expulsion over the mid-twentieth century stemmed from a complex combination of historical factors. The most obvious, however, was the policy of numerous Arab military republics — supported by substantial elements within the society — to collectively punish all Jews for the establishment of the State of Israel, regardless of whether they happened to support the new country or not. The Arab world effectively disgorged a piece of its soul: one of its oldest communities, a professional class, a force for civil society and progress. Much of what the Arab world lost, Israel gained: hundreds of thousands of talented and resourceful people who, together with their offspring, now make up the majority of the country’s Jewish population.

This pivotal million, in crossing over from one world to another, underwent the trauma of refugees everywhere: they left behind the only way of life they had known in hopes that something better lay ahead. Some lost their lives en route. Nearly all were dispossessed of their property and assets, arriving penniless at their destination. According to a 2007 study by the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries, total real estate lost to the region’s Jewish property owners exceeded 62,000 square miles — a land mass nearly eight times the size of the State of Israel. Financial losses have been conservatively estimated at the present-day equivalent of $80 billion. A hard-working and resilient community, they sought to integrate into their adopted countries and establish a decent standard of living again from scratch. Part of what makes their exodus bitter is not the losses they incurred by fleeing, but rather the loss Arab societies brought upon themselves by discarding them.

In the present period of metastasizing human suffering in the Middle East, amid new waves of ethnic and sectarian cleansing and the massive displacement of peoples and their loved ones, this sad chapter in the region’s history bears remembering. Doing so is an important part of the introspection our societies need in order to begin the process of reconciliation and redress for peoples of every indigenous religion and faith. Moreover, the remnants of the Arab world’s indigenous Jewish communities, scattered as they are across the globe, are themselves a potential asset as Arab countries begin to turn their eyes toward reconstruction: Despite the bitterness of the latter years of Jewish communal life in the Arab world, many of the refugees and their descendants cherish the happier memories long past, and long for the friends they lost when they were forced to flee. These positive human sentiments, if effectively tapped by extending a hand of friendship, could potentially provide a foundation on which to build — enabling new partnerships to accelerate the pace of renewal across the region.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Civil rights campaigner and author Nissim Rejwan dies

An authority on Arab culture and history and fervent critic of Israeli internal politics, Nissim Rejwan, who has died aged 93, was part of Baghdad’s political and cultural élite. He went to Israel in 1951 under forced Jewish immigration, where he held notable academic and political research positions. Emile Cohen wrote this obituary in the Jewish Chronicle.

Rejwan was born in Baghdad, the seventh child of Baruch, a carpenter, and Lulu Rejwan, who had six children, two boys and four girls. From the age of three Rejwan learned to take his father, who had lost his eyesight before he was born, to the synagogue, the barber and elsewhere, and his father taught him Hebrew and arithmetic. The family struggled to make a living.

After primary education Rejwan, aged 15, attended night school, working as a bank clerk during the day and also developing a passion for English and French literature. On completing his secondary education in 1946, he became the art critic for the English language Iraq Times. Baghdad in the 1940s was a small city and few could read the foreign books sold in the three or four bookshops specialising in English and French literature where Rejwan, as a young man spent his time. In 1946 he was appointed manager of a newly opened political and cultural society . There he came to know many of the country’s intellectuals with whom he formed close relationships, becoming part of the prominent literary intelligentsia in Iraq. It appears from his memoirs that there was genuine conviviality within this multi-ethnic group.

 Nissim Rejwan

In Jerusalem he attended the Hebrew University, studying Islamic Civilisation, Medieval History and International Relations until 1956. He became a staff writer and book reviewer on the Jerusalem Post until 1996. He also became news editor at the Israel Broadcasting Service in Arabic. In 1966 he joined Tel Aviv University and and was appointed Research Fellow, Political Analyst researching Middle Eastern Studies. He also  worked as a researcher in an American university.

Between 1971-73 he was founding member and one-time chairman of the Association for Civil Rights. From 1996-2014 he was a Research Fellow at the Harry S Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University.

In 1956 he met and married Rachel Nathan in Jerusalem. She remained his close friend and soul mate, and the couple had three sons, Elan, Ronnie and Amir. Elan lives in the US and Ronnie and Amir live nearby in Jerusalem.

As a political analyst Rejwan wrote several books and articles acclaimed for their historical and cultural contributions to Iraqi Jewry. His autobiography The Last Jews in Baghdad was considered his most successful, describing  his life in Baghdad in an age of mixed enlightenment and tribulations, when a very strong bond existed between the members of his literary group. Last year the book was translated into Arabic and published in Iraq. He was very proud of his spiritual affinity to Iraq and of being an Arab Jew, stating in his preface that the Iraqi people may have lost the memory of Jews in Baghdad, but the Jews never forgot their mother country.

The Jews of Iraq: 3000 Years of History and Culture is considered the most authoritative history of Iraqi Jews and an important research source. His 2015 memoir To Live in Two Worlds is a moving account of the nostalgia he felt for his birth-place. Rejwan wrote several books on Arab society, including Arabs Face the Modern World, Arabs in the Mirror, Nasserist Ideology, Jews and Arabs, and Arabs Aims and Israeli Attitudes. However, he reserved most of his criticisms for Israel in such books as Israel’s Place in the Middle East, which won the National Jewish Book Award, Israel in Search of Identity, Outsider in the Promised Land, and Israel’s Years of Bogus Grandeur.

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Sunday, December 03, 2017

Envoy calls for a peace based on truth

The Israel Ambassador Mark Regev (second from left) with members of the Harif team at yesterday's London event to remember 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands.

Mark Regev, Israel Ambassador to the UK, made a plea for compensation for Jewish refugees from Arab countries to be included in any peace deal between Israel and Arab states. A reconciliation for peace between Jews and Arabs  had to be based on truth, he said. He urged people who had gone through the experience of displacement to document their  history.

Mr Regev was speaking to a packed house at a concert on 2 December featuring the Israeli oudist and percussionist Yinon Muallem and his band. Pointing out a chart in the concert brochure showing the extent of displacement of Jews from Arab countries, Mr Regev referred to his own wife Vered, the daughter of Jewish refugees from Aleppo in Syria.

Shirley Smart, cellist and Vasilis Sarikis, percussionist, accompany Yinon Muallem in the centre.

" As we remember their plight, we acknowledge Israel not just a safe haven...but also as a land abundant in promise,' the Ambassador wrote in the concert brochure.

Lyn Julius of Harif said that the mass departure of the Jews had left a gaping hole in the musical culture of Arab states. "Iraq's loss is Israel's gain,"she said. The evening was a celebration of Israel's thriving Middle Eastern musical scene.

Yinon Muallem, whose Iraq-born father David is an eminent musicologist, typifies this vibrant culture. Although influenced by his father as well as contemporary jazz and rock, he also brought to his music Turkish, Sufi, gypsy, klezmer and Jewish  themes. Muallem flew in to London from Turkey, where he now lives,  for his UK musical debut.

The concert (most of which was livestreamed) was hosted by JW3 and arranged by Harif in collaboration with the Jewish Music Institute and the Israel Embassy.

Friday, December 01, 2017

30 November is observed worldwide (updated)

With thanks Joseph, Imre, Lily, Lisette

The Day to remember Jewish refugees from Arab countries, 30 November, was observed all over the world - from Mumbai and Singapore to Washington DC, San Francisco, Montreal, Sydney and Geneva. In Jerusalem the minister of social affairs, Gila Gamliel attended a gala at the Jerusalem Convention Centre in the presence of Jewish refugees, their children and grandchildren. Below is a selection of published and broadcast news items timed to coincide with the Day.

  Here is an extract from a piece written for the occasion by Prof. Uzi Rabi,Director, The Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies.(For full PDF email

 "In 2014, the Knesset of Israel did something remarkable: it passed a law that for the first time recognizes the massive exodus of Jewish people from Arab countries and Iran in the years immediately prior to Israel’s independence, and in the subsequent decades. The choice of 30 November as the official day of commemoration is not an accidental one; the previous day (29 November) is the anniversary of the historic 1947 United Nations vote that would order the termination of the British Mandate for Palestine and the partition of the land into two independent states – Arab and Jewish. The rest, as they say, was history. (...)

Screening in Mumbai of 'The Pomegranate of Reconciliation' by Egyptian refugee Ada Aharoni

 " It must be mentioned that an additional goal of the 2014 legislation was to preserve the possibility of reparations to be paid to the descendants of Jewish refugees within the framework of some future peace agreement between Israel and the Arab world. Some have called this element a cynical counterpoint to Palestinian claims for a “right of return” to pre-1948 Israel, while others believe that to successfully make the case for such an equivalency may indeed be the best way to cut through some of the most tangled controversies standing in the way of a durable, true peace between Israel and the Arab world. Whatever the case, at the present time it is difficult to imagine such an event occurring within our lifetimes. With that said, what is being offered now is compensation of a different sort.

 Finally, at long last, Jews of Arab Lands are being told that they need not be ashamed of their heritage, of their language, of their customs, and of their culture. In this way, the new holiday is at its most powerful. This new day of commemoration is at once a salve to bitter wounds and a call to action. Not only does it finally acknowledge the stories of over half of Israel’s Jewish population, but it institutionalizes the process of actively remembering and preserving them – in schools, in ceremonies, and by recording testimonies and oral histories before they are lost forever." " 

The Silencing of Jewish suffering in Syria (B'nai B'rith Canada)

Remember those who were wronged (Edy Cohen, Israel Hayom)

 Run Down: The Expulsion of Jews from Arab States - Part 1 (i24 News)

 Run Down: The Expulsion of Jewish from Arab States - Part 2 (i24 News)

On this day remember the Jews who fled tyranny (Lyn Julius, Huffington Post)

Sad landmark in this year of anniversaries (Lyn Julius, Jewish News)

 In November, the day to to remember the Jewish Nakba (Zvi Gabay, Haaretz (Hebrew)

World Jewish Congress video

Jewish Refugee Day: recognising the 850,00 Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim lands (The Long Room)

Remembering a Disappeared World (R. Andrea Zanardo, Brighton and Hove Reform synagogue)

 No Peace without Justice (Huffington Post, Shahar Azani and Emily Schrader)

850,000 Jewish Refugees: will you keep their stories alive? (World Jewish Congress video)

Joe, we can't go back, they've taken it all away (Joseph Braude, Majalla magazine)

Did you know that November was Mizrahi Heritage Month? (Tamar Zaken, Jewish Weekly)