Friday, November 17, 2017

Casablanca Jewish community 'abducted' children

Moroccan Jews are in uproar following the revelation that their Casablanca community took four children away from a Jewish woman on the grounds that she was mentally ill.  (With thanks: Michelle)

Marie Perez
The story of Marie Perez and her four children is being told in instalments of Avodim ('Lost') on Israel's TV channel 13.

 Marie Perez was born in 1940 in Casablanca. She was a widow who used to beg for alms with a daughter at the Casablanca Jewish cemetery. Her second husband was also a beggar. He was blind. Together they had four children. One died.

The baby was abducted by their Muslim maid in 1968 when Marie took her children to school one day. Arguing that Marie was mentally unstable and an alcoholic living in penury incapable of protecting her children, the Jewish community decided to take the three remaining children, place them in foster homes or put them up for adoption. 

Marie Perez had another two children and in 1985 she left Casablanca and came to Israel.

Six people were made miserable - Marie, her children, her husband who died without finding them. Two of the children had been told by their adoptive parents that they had been sold. One is now a famous singer in Israel, Maxime Perez.

The final instalment in the series will be shown on Tuesday 21 November.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Tunisian Jews killed in Holocaust 'could be 700'

As many as 700 Tunisian Jews could have been murdered in the Nazi Holocaust, a researcher has claimed at a recent conference -  according to HuffPost Maghreb, quoting a report in  Arutz Sheva.  (It is not clear if this figure includes Tunisian Jews who were living in Europe - some 2,000 Jews born in Arab or Muslim lands died in Nazi death camps.)

Jews being marched to forced labour camps. Yad Vashem records 50 deaths in forced labour camps, but the real figure could be much higher.

According to Victor Hayoun, nearly 700 Tunisian Jews died. The study was presented at a conference titled "From Tunis to Djerba", held at the Dahan Center at Bar Ilan University, Israel.

"When I realized that there was no scientific research on the Holocaust of the Jews of Tunisia, I decided to raise the issue and I have been working on it for about 12 years. We are talking about 700 members of the community, "said Hayoun. He added: "Until 2006, we knew only 400 victims of Tunisian origin and in 2012, we knew 488. Today, we know that the number is closer to 700."

According to Hayoun, Yad Vashem, Israel's national museum of the Holocaust also has incomplete figures since it estimates that the number of victims among the Tunisian Jews was 50. This figure corresponds to the number of people killed in the forced labour camps. But Jews did not only die  in forced labour camps: 390 others were killed in various other ways in Tunisia. Some 365 people lost their lives in the death camps, mainly in Auschwitz, reports  Hayoun.

 Read article in full (French)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Prince Charles ignores indigenousness of Jews

A letter by Prince Charles to his mentor, Laurens van der Post,  has come to light 30 years after it was written. The Prince's views, expressed shortly after he absorbed Arab views on a visit to Saudi Arabia, may well have changed since, and it is indisputable that the Prince has been a staunch supporter of Jewish organisations and causes in the UK. See my comment below: 

 Prince Charles

Here is the report in The Independent:

"Prince Charles has come under fire after it came to light that he blamed the “influx of foreign Jews” for causing unrest in the Middle East and called on the US to “take on the Jewish lobby” in a letter penned in 1986.

Writing to his friend Laurens van der Post, the Prince argued that the exodus of European Jews in the middle of the last century “helped to cause the great problems” in the Middle East.

“I now appreciate that Arabs and Jews were all a Semitic people originally and it is the influx of foreign, European Jews (especially from Poland, they say) which has helped to cause the great problems,” the Prince wrote in a letter published by the Daily Mail.

“I know there are so many complex issues, but how can there ever be an end to terrorism unless the causes are eliminated?” he added.

“Surely some US president has to have the courage to stand up and take on the Jewish lobby in the US? I must be naive, I suppose!”

The letter was found in a public archive and was written on 24 November 1986, following an official visit the then-38-year-old Prince made to Saudia Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar with the late Princess Diana.

My Comment:  The Prince's comments betray an ignorance of Jews, both as indigenous to Palestine and to what is now the 'Arab' Middle East and North Africa. The assumption that Jews are foreign and European bolsters the canard that Israel is a colonial settler state. Yet Jews predated the Arab conquest and Islam by 1,000 years. Today they constitute over 50 percent of the Israeli Jewish population.

His comment that the US ought to stand up to the Jewish lobby, however, crosses a red line into outright antisemitism. The idea that Jews exercise disproportionate power and influence is a classic conspiracy theory popular among antisemites.

Under pressure from the Arabists of the Foreign Office, the British royal family has never paid an official visit to Israel. The best way that the prince might show that he no longer holds his controversial views, say his critics, is by paying such a visit.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Revered Jewish shrine no longer represents coexistence

The New York Times has a feature on the shrine in Kurdistan of a little known biblical figure called Hazana - revered by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But the Jews, and most of the Christians have now fled, so much so that even the NYT cannot call this coexistence (with thanks: Tom):  

The tomb of Hazana. On the wall, some modern Hebrew grafitti (Photo: NYT)

AMADIYA, Iraq — This once-pretty picture postcard town, on its own 4,000-foot high mesa nestling between a pair of much higher mountain ranges, is in a bad neighborhood when it comes to tolerance.

So the mystery of the Jewish holy figure Hazana, who is revered here by people of all the local faiths, is even more profound than it might otherwise be.
Amadiya is in the semiautonomous province of Kurdistan, which is the target of a crackdown by Baghdad after aiming to achieve independence from Iraq. This part of northern Iraq has been convulsed by violence since the advance of the Islamic State, which sent Christians fleeing, enslaved Yazidi women and killed Shiites on sight, until finally being wiped out in the area last month.

Today Amadiya’s population of 9,000 is overwhelmingly Kurdish Muslim. But in the early 20th century there were said to be about two-thirds that many people, about evenly divided among Muslims, Christians and Jews — although there were 10 mosques compared with two churches and two synagogues. Everyone was packed into a circumference of a mile and a half.

Amadiya’s Jews all left after the creation of Israel in 1948. And so many Christians have left amid successive regional upheavals that the remaining 20 or 30 families can no longer sustain both churches.

All three faiths here are brought together by a longstanding reverence for Hazana, a Jewish religious figure of unknown antiquity — variously described as a son of David, the grandson of Joseph or just a little-known prophet — whose tomb is in Amadiya.

“All the religions are going to that grave to pray,” said Muhammad Abdullah, a local teacher and amateur historian. “For all three religions, it’s a sacred place. Each of them thinks he belongs to them.”

Read article in full

Monday, November 13, 2017

Paris plaque unveiled as antisemitism skyrockets

 A plaque has been unveiled in memory of Ilan Halimi, the French Jew of North African origin kidnapped, brutally tortured and murdered by an antisemitic gang 11 years ago. Since then, the number of antisemitic incidents in France has sky-rocketed. Ben Cohen writes in JNS News (with thanks: Michelle):

Wellwishers gather at the plaque unveiling ceremony

Halimi was kidnapped on January 20, 2006, by a mainly Muslim gang calling themselves “The Barbarians.” Lured into the gang’s hands by an attractive young woman who flirted with him in the cellphone store where he worked as a salesman, Halimi subsequently spent three weeks in captivity, during which he was constantly beaten and burned with cigarettes while being tied up.

Throughout the ordeal, “The Barbarians” attempted to extort 450,000 Euros in ransom money from Halimi’s relatives, believing them to be wealthy because – as one of the gang members later explained to police – “Jews have money.” On 13 February, Halimi was dumped, barely alive and with burns on 80 percent of his body, near a railway track on the outskirts of Paris. Discovered by a passerby who called for an ambulance, Halimi died on his way to the hospital.

The Bagneux ceremony came during a week of heightened anxiety about antisemitism in France, as new statistics released by Jewish communal defense organization SPCJ revealed that while Jews make up less than 1 percent of France’s population, they are the targets of 30 percent of racist attacks.

Documenting the number of antisemitic outrages in France since the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000, the SPCJ noted that in that year, there were 744 antisemitic attacks, compared with just 82 the previous year. These high numbers have remained consistent each year throughout the last decade and a half.

Read article in full

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Turkish synagogue throws open its doors

Turkey’s small Jewish community got a rare chance to showcase its culture in Istanbul on Sunday during the European Days of Jewish Culture event. But cultural initiatives to break down antisemitism seem to have limited effect. Report in the Jewish Chronicle:

 The Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul, target of deadly bombings in 1986 and 2003.

“Our target is non-Jews who want to know more about us,” said Nisya Isman Allovi, director of the Quincentennial Foundation Museum of Turkish Jews that organised the event, which was attended by about 1,300 people.

Hatice Yilmaz and Halime Niyaz, 26-year-old divinity graduate students studying Jewish culture, were impressed with the professionalism of the events, which included a theatrical representation of a traditional Ashkenazi wedding, a living library and musical performances.

“For me, the best part is that there’s no prejudice here. Everyone is behaving really well. We have different religions, but we clapped for the same things during the concert,” Ms Niyaz said.

Both women said that such events can reduce antisemitism in Turkey.
“There can be prejudice sometimes, but that’s only because of a lack of knowledge and because the cultures have been kept apart,” Ms Yilmaz said.
Turkey’s 2,600-year-old Jewish community of approximately 17,000 has long been targeted with antisemitic stereotypes and hate speech from media outlets and politicians. According to a 2015 report by the Anti-Defamation League, 71 per cent of Turks agree with a majority of common antisemitic stereotypes.

The Neve Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul, which is part of the heavily guarded complex that hosted the events, was hit by devastating attacks in 1986 and 2003.
On July 20, the synagogue was pelted with stones by Turkish ultranationalists protesting against new security restrictions in Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque. “We will prevent your freedom to worship here just like you are preventing ours there,” Kursat Mican, district leader of the ultranationalist Alperen Hearths, said at the time.

“Unfortunately, there is no difference between a Jew and Israel in the eyes of some people, so whenever there is a problem between Turkey and Israel, it affects the Jews of Turkey,” said Karel Valansi, a columnist with Turkey’s Jewish-focused Şalom newspaper and participant in the living library exhibit.
Ms Valansi explained that Jews in Turkey were generally very low-key about their identity for fear of discrimination, but that this was beginning to change. “We are more vocal for sure,” she said.

Antisemitic statements from prominent politicians have not helped, such as when ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party MP Samil Tayyar tweeted “May your race vanish and may you always have your Hitler,” during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge operation in the Gaza Strip in 2014. Even President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was heard calling a protester in 2014 the “spawn of Israel”.

However, Rifat Bali, historian and expert in Turkey’s Jewish community, said there had always been antisemitism in the country, but that it had become easier to see now with social media. He added that the AK Party had made important overtures to religious minorities like the Jews.

“In general, the AKP has been positive, trying to solve problems, which they have,” he said.

In 2011, Mr Erdogan announced that hundreds of properties seized from minorities after a 1936 proclamation would be returned or compensation provided. This has been happening gradually, when ownership can be proved in a court.

In 2015, there were several positive initiatives, including the first publicly celebrated Chanukah, and the restoration and inauguration of the Edirne Great Synagogue in the country’s north-west.

Aykan Erdemir, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former opposition member of the Turkish parliament, said the AKP’s mixed record on religious minorities was the result of self-serving policies.

“Erdogan understands well the electoral benefits of scapegoating and smearing Jews and Christians in Turkish domestic politics,” he wrote in an email.
“At the same time, Erdogan also has a keen awareness that symbolic benevolent acts toward Jews and Christians help improve his tarnished global image. So, there have been well-choreographed positive steps.”

Ms Valansi said that hate speech in the Turkish press, particularly in Islamist newspapers, still runs rampant, despite the re-establishment of formal relations between Turkey and Israel.

“I can easily find three or four articles containing antisemitism on a daily basis,” she said. “The lack of anti-hate-speech legislation shows indifference toward antisemitism.”

Mr Bali argued that the AKP, like governments before, has failed to stem the tide of antisemitism in Turkey because its political base largely believes the negative stereotypes and will always come before the tiny Jewish minority.

Read article in full

Friday, November 10, 2017

Leading refugee advocates receive awards in Israel

The 30 November events to remember Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran kicked off yesterday in Israel with a presentation to two leading advocates, one in Israel and one in the diaspora.  

 Levana Zamir presents the Ot Kavod award to Gina Waldman

A packed auditorium of more than 250 people at the Tel Aviv Cinemateque watched Levana Zamir, president of the Coalition of Organisations of Jews from Arab Countries present the organisation's annual Ot Kavod award to Nissim Zeev and Gina-Bublil-Waldman.

 Member of Knesset Rav Nissim Zeev won the award for initiating  the bill to secure, for the first time ever in Israel, the right of  Jewish Refugees to compensation. The law was passed in February 2010 by the Knesset. This bill created an unstoppable  momentum,  leading to other Knesset bills and  educational programmes at schools all over Israel.

 Levana Zamir presenting the award to Nissim Zeev

Gina Bublil-Waldman, President of JIMENA – Jews Indigenous to the Middle-East and North Africa,  received the award for her long and relentless work for the recognition of Jewish refugees and her  work today of hasbara in  more than 200 universities and campuses across the United States. Her campaign explains the history and tragedy of almost million Jewish Refugees who were expelled or compelled to flee, leaving behind not only their assets, but their own identity as indigenous Jews born and living in this region for millennia.
This prestigious and moving event was held under the auspices of the Ministry of Social Equality, headed by Minister Gila Gamliel, as well as the Ben-Zvi Institute headed by Prof. Eyal Ginio and the Ministry of Education.

 MK Anat Berko announces: 'The Iraq-Jewish archive will never return to Iraq'

To close,  a documentary movie of 40 minutes, produced by the Coalition of Organisations of Jews from Arab Countries, was screened for the first time, to illustrate the whole history and tragedy of the exodus of indigenous Jews from seven Arab and Islamic countries. Two-thirds of them made Aliya, helped to build and develop the State of Israel, and  today comprise more than 50% of the Jewish population in Israel.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Jewish escapee from Iraq fears for the Kurds

 Jimmy Ezra and his siblings were among more than 2,000 Iraqi Jews who were helped by Kurdish Peshmerga to escape from the Ba’athist regime during the 1970s. Here he talks to Ben Cohen of JNS News about his fears for the Kurds following the disastrous referendum on independence. (With thanks: Janet)

“One day in 1970, my brother Farid was walking in the street when he was stopped for an ID check,” Ezra recalled. “He had a permit exempting him from serving in the army, and on every page it was written in red, yahudi, yahudi, yahudi (Jew).”

Farid was arrested and imprisoned on a spying charge. His voice breaking, Ezra recalled how his brother was beaten and tortured by his jailers until he suffered a nervous breakdown. Farid was then transferred to a prison for the criminally insane.

“In the hot summer, the prisoners would all run outside to drink the unfiltered river water that was brought in by a truck in the morning — they would fight over the dirty water,” Ezra said. “My aunt would send me with food and clean water for my brother, and he would beg me to take him away.”

At this point, Ezra said, he and his sister Gilda decided that it was time to leave Iraq. He ventured north to Iraqi Kurdistan, then enjoying a measure of autonomy under an agreement with Baghdad that was soon reneged upon by Saddam Hussein. Arriving in the Kurdish town of Haj Omran on the Iranian border, he came across an Iraqi Jewish family he knew who were taken across the border into Iran that same night. Ezra, meanwhile, was given a mattress in a room where he bedded down with ten Kurds. “I told them about how the Jews were suffering,” he said.  “They promised to take me to Mustafa Barzani the following day.”

Masssoud Barzani in his youth

The next morning, Barzani’s aides hatched a plan that involved Ezra and another Jewish family returning to Baghdad to collect their relatives, after which they would travel to a meeting point back in northern Iraq. “That was on Monday; on the Thursday, back in Baghdad, I woke up my brother Farid, who was suffering badly from his trauma in prison, and I told him, ‘Come on, you and me and Gilda are going on a short vacation,'” he said.

Had they been stopped and discovered at one of the many security checkpoints along the way, certain imprisonment in a Ba’athist jail would have awaited — and, indeed, the family was pulled over by a soldier. “Luckily, the guy was an idiot,” Ezra remembered. “He couldn’t understand why my brother had an exemption permit from the army, so our driver kept explaining, ‘He’s not well, he’s not well.’ Eventually, the soldier said, ‘Ok, ok, you can go.'”

Arriving at the meeting point agreed with Barzani’s advisers, Ezra remembered that a high-level Kurdish intelligence official “came out and started briefing us.”
To maintain secrecy around Kurdish assistance to escaping Iraqi Jews, the official instructed Ezra and those with him to personally approach Masoud Barzani, who would be sitting in a cafe at an agreed time, and pretend they had a brother imprisoned by Kurdish forces. “We had to act,” Ezra said. “We had to beg and plead in front of Masoud.”

Following this ruse, the Ezra siblings got into a jeep alongside  Masoud. At the border with Iran, Masoud got out and bade his farewells. “We had a gift for Masoud and his adviser,” Ezra said. “It was a Parker 21 pen, that was a big deal back then. We wanted them to take it, but they refused and refused. They said, ‘We are doing this because we care and we want to help you.'”

“They never took any money, any gifts, unlike the smugglers who would rob the Iraqi Jews they were supposed to be helping,” Ezra continued.

After crossing into Iran on September 1, the Ezras survived a long and arduous journey to Tehran, where they stayed at the aptly-named Hotel Sinai — then full of escaped Iraqi Jews in transit with the Jewish Agency’s assistance. “On October 2, we arrived in America,” Ezra said. “We came to New York.” Many other Iraqi Jews who escaped around the same time went to Israel, as well as the UK, Canada and other countries.

Read article in full

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The impact of the Suez crisis on Egypt's Jews

Last November was the 60th anniversary of the exodus of 25,000 Jews from Egypt. Lyn Julius examines what happened in Fathom (Autumn 2017): 

 Jews leaving Port Said (Photo: Jewish Agency)
A quarter of the Jews were Egyptian. As a result of an increasingly restrictive nationality policy privileging ‘real Egyptians’, 40 per cent were stateless. To possess a British or French passport did not require the holder to have lived in Britain or France or even to speak the language (of 24,000 British subjects in Egypt, only 45 per cent were from Britain itself and a quarter were Maltese. Of 21,270 French, only 40 per cent were from France; 33 per cent were from the Maghreb.)[1]

In 1948, the repercussions from the establishment of Israel reverberated in the Cairo Hara or Jewish quarter: over two hundred Jews were killed in a bombing campaign between June and November. A first wave of 20,000 Jews fled, mostly to Israel.

The troubles had largely left Egypt’s substantial Jewish bourgeoisie untouched. Prominent in banking, finance, retail, land development, transport, commerce and industry, they continued living comfortable lives, frequenting clubs and cafés, and spending their summers by the sea.

In 1952, King Farouk was deposed in a military coup and sent into exile. For the Jews, General Neguib’s meeting with Chief Rabbi Nahum Effendi promised a new dawn. But Colonel Nasser, Neguib’s successor, was to use the Sinai campaign as a pretext for expelling almost 25,000 Jews and confiscating their property.

Expulsion begins

Invoking emergency laws, Nasser set about expelling British and French subjects. Jews were expelled in two waves: the first (accounting for some 500 Jews) [2] were given 24 hours to leave. The second was ordered to leave the country within two to seven days with their families.[3] Clemy Lazarus, née Menir, was five years old:

As a consequence of the Suez Crisis, my mother, along with all British and French ‘citizens’ were unceremoniously expelled from Egypt. I have a memory of military personnel marching through our apartment delivering the expulsion order.
This caused my parents and grandparents severe heartache as my parents had five children and my mother was, at the time, six months pregnant with number six. She was obliged to leave for England on her own, without her husband, but with five children in tow. She was 24 years of age at the time. She spoke French and Arabic but no English and she knew no other culture than the Jewish/Egyptian one in which she grew up.
She was compelled to leave without any money or possessions of any value. She did, however, manage to buy a few gold bangles that she wore as jewellery for the purpose of sustaining us down the line.

Clemy’s father, being an Egyptian national, was not expelled and remained behind. Clemy’s mother was sent with her children to refugee camps in Leeds and Kidderminster:

After six months my mother was at the end of her tether. My mother is the sweetest, most mild mannered, excruciatingly shy woman. Nevertheless, astonishingly, she found the strength to march into the office of the commander of the refugee camp. She banged on his desk, swiped all the paperwork to the floor and in her best newly-acquired English she declared: ‘Captain Marsh, bring my husband!’ To his credit, Captain Marsh did his utmost to make this happen and shortly afterwards my father joined us in the camps.

Back in Egypt, It became clear that in the initial confusion the authorities themselves were torn between expulsion and detention:

In the anteroom of expulsion countless thousands of Europeans of all nationalities and creeds are relegated in their own interest to house arrest. The entire British community has remained indoors, with two hours in the morning to take the dog for a run. Many have been arrested in shipping offices and on the steps of the British embassy (in the care of the Swiss) owing to clashes between the Egyptian ‘keeping-in authority’ and the Egyptian ‘expelling authority’

By the end of November, the expulsion orders were extended to stateless Jews, as well as those of Egyptian nationality.

George Naldrett-Jays, a retired senior British police commander in Alexandria, fulminated at the injustice:
The motives of revenge and retaliation meted out to the British and French aggressors were all too apparent in the heartless harassing of those of Jewish faith – whatever the official spokesman may say to the contrary – to Jews of all nationalities, including Egyptian nationals and Jews residing in Egypt with no known national status.[4]

Some 900 more Jews were arrested by 7 November 1956.[5] They were sent to prisons and detention camps. Of the 500 interned in the Jewish school at Abbasiya, Cairo, half were stateless. Old women, half of them stateless, were among the 42 Jews detained at the Jewish Abraham Btesh school in Cairo. Of the 300 kept at Les Barrages prison, Cairo, half were stateless, the other half were UK and France subjects.

Read article in full

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Economist is PR mouthpiece for Morocco

It’s November in Morocco – time for the annual fixture of the cultural calendar – the Essaouira Music festival. The Economist has been gushing about what it calls ‘Morocco’s little idyll of Jewish-Muslim coexistence’. Yet, the Nov. 2nd article admits that only three Jews still live in Essaouira – a city which used to have as many Jews as Muslims before the great  exodus to Israel. Fisking by Lyn Julius in UK Media Watch:

At the Essaouira music festival (Photo: The Economist)

One of those Jews is Jacquy Sebag, who works in Casablanca and was attacked with an axe by Muslim extremists in 2002 during the Palestinian intifada. You would never guess that unpleasant things ever happened to Jews in Morocco, which the Economist portrays as a haven from European persecution.

It is true that many Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 15th century fled to Morocco, but it is misleading to infer that Jews and Muslims had always coexisted peacefully. In 1492 the Jewish community of Touat was wiped out after incitement by the fundamentalist al-Maghili. The 15th century was also the century when thousands of beldiyeen, Jews who had been settled in Fez for centuries, converted to Islam.  Moroccan Jews suffered more massacres than anywhere else in the Arab world, including the Oujda and Jerada riots in 1948. 

As the Economist correctly reports, no Arab country has gone to the lengths of Morocco to revive its Jewish heritage. There are sound economic and strategic reasons for this: Tourism  attracts 40,000 Jewish tourists, of which 3,000 are Israelis (and not as reported), and is a major Moroccan industry.

Coexistence projects such as the Essaouira festival are mainly for external consumption. The ethnographer Aomar Boum writes in Memories of Absence that the Jewish Museum in Casablanca  is almost unknown amongst Moroccans themselves.

Morocco has a strategic interest in projecting a positive image of Jewish-Muslim coexistence in order to gain US support for its claim to western Sahara. (It is the old antisemitic trope: Jews are thought to be behind US foreign policy). The mastermind behind this strategy is Andre Azoulay, who has been royal adviser on Jewish affairs since the 1990s. The Economist – and many other western media – are willing PR mouthpieces for the Moroccan government. 

The Moroccan king has made a calculated risk to promote Jewish culture in the face of increasing threats to his regime from Moroccan Islamists. In Essaouira itself, an Israeli resident, Noam Nir, witnessed rising antisemitism. 
But there is no avoiding the fact that the Jews, who in 1948 numbered 360,000, have now almost entirely disappeared from the country. The more Morocco promotes Jewish culture, the fewer Jews there are to enjoy it.

Read article in full

Monday, November 06, 2017

The Book of the Blog out this month

A book quoting the best of the material collected for Point of No Return is to be released on 9 November. UPROOTED by Lyn Julius is being published by Vallentine Mitchell and can be pre-ordered through their website or via Amazon.

Who are the Jews from Arab countries? What were relations with Muslims like? What made Jews leave countries where they had been settled for thousands of years? What lessons can we learn from the mass exodus of minorities from the Middle East?

Lyn Julius undertakes to answer all these questions and more in Uprooted, the culmination of 10 years of work studying these issues. Jews lived continuously in the Middle East and North Africa for almost 3,000 years. Yet, in just 50 years, their indigenous communities outside Palestine almost totally disappeared as more than 99 percent of the Jewish population fled.

Those with foreign passports and connections generally left for Europe, Australia or the Americas. Some 650,000, including a minority of ideological Zionists, went to Israel. Before the Holocaust they constituted 10 percent of the world s Jewish population, and now over 50 percent of Israel s Jews are from Arab and Muslim countries, mostly refugees or their descendants.

This same process is now repeating in Christian and other minority communities across the Middle East.

The book also assesses how well these Jews have integrated into Israel and how their struggles have been politicised. It charts the growing clamour for recognition, redress and memorialisation for these Jewish refugees, and looks at how their cause can contribute to peace and reconciliation between Israel and the Muslim world.

To obtain a 20 percent discount on the hardback price pre-order in the US and Canada through this link. quoting Code JULIUS17. For the rest of the world, use this link quoting Code JULIUS17. Offer valid until May 2018.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Film about Kasser Shashoua, through female eyes

Kasser Shashoua, a riverside Jewish villa once lived in by  King Faisal of Iraq,  is to be the subject of a film released in 2018 by Hussain al Hilli. It is the story of this remarkable mansion through the reminiscences of two women, one Arab, one Jewish, with associations to the house - Rabiha and Lisette.

You can see the promo video here.

Kasser Shashoua, a large castle built on the banks of the river Tigris in Baghdad by a wealthy Jewish tea merchant, has become the stuff of legend. Many stories have been written about it along the lines of: Kasser Shashoua - myth or reality?

In the early 1920s when the British appointed the Emir Faisal to be the king of Iraq there were no palaces fit for a king: Baghdad had ceased to be a capital for 400 years under the Ottoman empire. Gertrude Bell, the British writer and diplomat, sailed a balam (skiff) along the river Tigris in search of a suitable residence.

King Faisal inspected several Jewish-owned riverside villas. Violette Shamash in Memories of Eden recalls that King Faisal visited the kasser her own father had built on the Tigris. But Faisal's first choice for a royal residence was Kasser Shashoua. It was rented from the owner, Shaul Shashoua, for two years or more, until a new palace could be built for the king.

Kasser Shashoua, a palace fit for a king?

Friday, November 03, 2017

British PM makes historic reference to Jews of Arab lands

At a dinner to celebrate the 100 years since the Balfour Declaration offered British government support for a Jewish home in Palestine, the British Prime Minister Theresa May made history yesterday when she referred to Jewish refugees from Arab lands. In spite of statements emanating from the British Foreign Office ignoring their rights, Mrs May's reference suggest that the message about Jewish refugees is getting through at the highest level. Report in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Nelly)

Lord Balfour, Theresa May, Benjamin Netanyahu and Lord Rothschild admire the Balfour Declaration letter (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)

In recognizing the importance of giving the Jewish people a homeland, Balfour did not ignore the rights of others who lived that region, she said.

“Balfour wrote explicitly that 'nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country,'” she said.

But his full vision was not fulfilled when the Jewish state was created in 1948, May added. This includes “the Jews forced out of their homes in Arab countries in 1948” and  “the suffering of Palestinians affected and dislodged by Israel’s birth.”

Both events were “completely contrary to the intention of Balfour to safeguard all of these communities,” May said.

“Balfour had a vision of co-existence that has yet to fulfilled,” she added.

May continued, in the spirit of his document there must a renewed commitment to create a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Read article in full

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Iraq criminalises Israeli flag-flying

A Kurdish rally (photo: Jerusalem Post)

The Iraqi parliament voted yesterday to criminalise the flying of the Israeli flag in the country, Iraq’s Alsumaria reported. This is probably a kick in the teeth for  Kurds who have been waving Israeli flags alongside their own at independence rallies. But it also is in keeping with Iraq's long history of rejecting Zionism.

The move came at the request of the Shiite leader of the parliament’s Citizen Bloc, Ammar Al-Hakim, after the Israeli banners appeared at several Kurdish rallies aftermath of the independence referendum which took place on 25 September.

Iraqi MP, Abbas Al-Bayati, told Alsumaria that “the House of Representatives voted on the unanimously voted a decision to criminalise all who raise the flag of the Israeli entity in the public."

The decision, Al-Bayati added, will be referred to the government to decide on the law’s punishment duration.

Recently, photos of the Israeli flags raised during a number of pro-independence rallies in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and across Europe were circulated across various social media platforms.
The Kurdish government has responded stressing that lifting the flags “does not express its official stance towards the Jewish state.”

Israel has been among the only countries to openly support an independent Kurdish state, and many Kurds have welcomed the support, drawing accusations from Arab leaders that the referendum was a Zionist plot.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Dying Jewish Marrakesh buzzes with foreign tourists

The king of Morocco's restoration of the Marrakesh Jewish quarter is paying off - never before have there been so many Jewish tourists in Morocco. But tourism cannot mask the death of the local community. AFP report (with thanks: Ruth) :

The once teeming Jewish area of Moroccan tourist gem Marrakesh is seeing its fortunes revived as visitors including many from Israel flock to experience its unique culture and history.

"You're now entering the last synagogue in the mellah," the walled Jewish quarter in the heart of the ochre city, Isaac Ohayon says as he enthusiastically guides tourists in the courtyard of the Lazama synagogue.

"Many visitors come from Israel -- you wouldn't believe the demand!" adds the jovial 63-year-old hardware shop owner.

This place of worship and study was built originally in 1492 during the Inquisition when the Jews were driven out of Spain.

Known as the "synagogue of the exiles", it hosted generations of young Berbers who converted to Judaism and were sent from villages in the region to learn the Torah, before finally being deserted in the 1960s.

In classrooms now transformed into a museum, fading color photographs tell the story of a now-dispersed community, with many having left for France, North America and especially Israel.

The caption on one sepia shot of an old man sitting by a pile of trunks says it all: "They are travelling towards a dream they have prayed for for more than 2,000 years."

Rebecca is now in her fifties and grew up in Paris, but she has "great nostalgia" for Morocco and returns as often as she can.

"The Jewish Agency began recruiting the poorest in the 1950s and then everyone left after independence (from France), at the time of King Hassan II's policy of Arabization," she says.

The Jewish Agency of Israel is a semi-official organization that oversees immigration to the country.

Before the wave of departures, Morocco hosted North Africa's largest Jewish community, estimated at between 250,000 and 300,000 people.

There are fewer than 3,000 left, according to unofficial figures.

Marrakesh at the foot of the Atlas mountain range was home to more than 50,000 Jews, according to a 1947 census.

  Succot Prayers in the Marrakesh Mellah (Photo: Fadel Senna/AFP)
Now, 70 years later, around 100 are thought to remain, many of them extremely elderly.

Jewish-owned homes inside the mellah were sold to Muslim families of modest means, and the walls of the district were eroded by time.

"Sometimes we can't get even 10 men together for prayers," says one woman worshipper at the old synagogue, preferring to remain anonymous.

But at celebrations marking the end of the festival of Sukkot, which commemorates the Jewish journey through the Sinai after their exodus from Egypt, and the Simchat Torah holiday, the place is buzzing with song, dance and traditional dishes.

The worshipper says she has "never seen so many people" there.

Read article in full

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Boris Johnson ignores Jewish rights in Balfour piece (Updated)

 Update: the Telegraph has published a rebuttal letter by Lyn Julius*.

When we stated that the Jewish refugee message was getting through in the UK, we spoke too soon. The British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, sadly displayed complete ignorance of the abuse of Jewish rights in the Arab world and the Jewish refugee issue in a recent op-ed. He called only for a 'fair, agreed  and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee question'. Lyn Julius takes him to task in a Times of Israel blog:

The Balfour Declaration of 1917 demanded that a Jewish homeland in Palestine should not prejudice the rights and status of non-Jewish communities in Palestine. The British government, notably the foreign secretary Boris Johnson in a Sunday Telegraph op-ed this week, has latched on to this proviso, claiming that it refers to the unfulfilled political rights of the Palestinians, although only civil and religious rights are mentioned in the Declaration itself.

What Johnson and others have ignored, however, is the tail-end of Lord Balfour’s letter to Lord Rothschild: ‘… or of Jews in any other country’. As we all know, the Jewish communities of Europe were decimated by the Nazis, but the rights of Jews in Arab countries were also thoroughly trampled upon, resulting in the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of 850,000 Jews and the destruction of their ancient, pre-Islamic communities.
UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson
Clearly nothing was demanded of Arab states that were created out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire: they violated any constitutional obligation they may have had towards their own Jewish citizens. A year or two before the declaration of the state of Israel, and before a single Arab Palestinian refugee had fled Israel, the Arab League agreed a Nazi-style draft plan to deprive the Jews of citizenship, threaten them with imprisonment and expel them, having first dispossessed them.
From the outset, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, widely regarded as the leader of the Arab world, transformed each November anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, a symbol of British betrayal, into a rallying cry against the Jews, whether they were in Palestine, where he incited the deadly riots of 1920 and 1929, or elsewhere in the Arab world.

Growing up in Iraq in the 1930s, my mother recalls that every November gangs of youths armed with clubs dipped in hot tar would ambush Jewish schoolchildren on their way home.

A kindly Jewish lady opened her door to my mother, offering her shelter until the mob had passed. Others were not so lucky.

Wherever the Mufti went in the Arab world, persecution and mayhem followed against the local Jews. In 1921, after a Palestinian Arab delegation had visited Yemen to demand that the Imam stop all immigration to Palestine, the Orphans’ Decree was reinstated. This law, forcing Jewish orphans to be converted to Islam –  argues scholar S.D. Goiten – was the single most important reason why Jews were desperate to flee Yemen. In the 1940s, visits of Palestinian Arabs to Aden (then a British crown colony) became more common, and so did the expression of anti-Jewish sentiments.

From December 1931, when he convened a World Islamic Congress in Jerusalem, the Mufti ceased to speak of Zionists but Jews. The congress was followed by anti-Jewish violence in Morocco – in Casablanca in 1932, Casablanca and Rabat in 1933, Rabat and Meknes in 1937 and Meknes in 1939. In Tunisia, an entente between Tunisian nationalists and the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee sparked violence in Sfax in 1932.  The Algerian ulema declared a boycott of Jews in 1936, obeying the Mufti’s instructions.

British reports noted the intense propaganda in Yemen. Jewish refugees tried to make for British-controlled Aden. In 1939, a crowd was incited against the British and the Jews when they were shown fabricated photographs of Arab children hanging from telegraph poles. Other newspapers mendaciously reported that thousands of Arabs had been killed and bombs thrown at the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem.

But the worst incitement, with the deadliest consequences of all, took place in Iraq. Throughout the 1930s, Palestinian exiles together with the Mufti, along with Syrian and Lebanese emigrés, fanned the flames of Jew-hatred with false propaganda.
The Mufti himself, expelled to Iraq by the British in 1939, played a leading role in plotting a pro-Nazi military coup, led by Rashid Ali al- Gaylani, to overthrow the pro-British government. The pro-Nazi Gaylani government was the only Arab regime to sign a treaty with Nazi Germany and declare war against the British. Fearful that Iraq’s vast oil reserves would fall into Nazi hands, the British sent troops into Iraq. With the British army at the gates of Baghdad, the Mufti was forced again into exile – but not before he had primed the Arabs of the capital, together with defeated, returning troops, to unleash the Farhud (an Arabic word meaning ‘forced dispossession’) of 1941. Hundreds of Jews were murdered and their property looted and wrecked.

Other Farhuds followed – in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Aden and Morocco. Jewish citizens of Arab states became hostages to the conflict with Zionism, although they were loyal citizens, thousands of miles from the battlefield in Palestine.
Today barely 4,000 Jews remain in Arab countries of a 1948 population of almost a million – one of the worst cases of ethnic cleansing in the 20th century. But why do senior British politicians read into the Balfour Declaration what is not there, and disregard what is?

Lyn’s book UPROOTED will be published on 9 November. To pre-order click here.

Read post in full

*Full text of Lyn's letter published in the Telegraph: 

Legacy of Balfour

SIR – Boris Johnson (Comment, October 30) seems to read into the Balfour Declaration what is not there, while disregarding what is.
He imagines that it refers to the political rights of the Palestinians, although only civil and religious rights are mentioned. He then ignores the third component of the Declaration: that nothing should be done to prejudice the “rights of Jews in any other country”.
Almost one million Jews lived in Arab countries in 1948. Today there are barely 4,000. Arab states pursued a policy of stripping their Jews of their rights and property, against a backdrop of threats and violence, much of it instigated by the pro-Nazi Palestinian Mufti. Nowhere does Mr Johnson ask for justice or compensation for these Jews.
The least one could expect from our Foreign Secretary is a reading of history free from distortion.

Lyn Julius
Harif, UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa
London SW5

Monday, October 30, 2017

Refugee message is getting through in UK

After years of silence on the 850,000 Jewish refugees driven from Arab countries, Point of No Return is delighted to report that the message is finally getting through. In the corridors of power at Westminster, the MP Matthew Offord mentioned the refugees from Arab countries in a discussion to mark the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, in which Her Majesty's government 'viewed with favour the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine'. You can hear the relevant passage in his speech about 15 minutes into the video.
The issue of Jews from Arab countries was also raised at the October plenum of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, also marking the centenary of the Balfour Declaration. The Israel Ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev said (one hour and nine minutes in) that the third component, and last part of the Declaration, calling for the rights of Jews in any other country to be respected, had been disregarded - not just in Europe, but in Arab Countries. Baroness Ruth Deech (pictured) forcefully reiterated the point, one hour and 19 minutes into the video.
"Where are they now?"she asked, of the Jewish communities of Morocco, Iraq and Libya.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Nahum's tomb at risk from nearby fighting

Since the defeat of Islamic State, which came to a few miles of the shrine, the tomb of the Prophet Nahum that overlooks Nineveh plains in northern Iraq faces a new challenge: it  is now near the forefront of tensions between the Iraqi federal government and Kurdistan Regional Government. Seth Frantzman reports for the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Lily):

 The partially-collapsed tomb of the prophet Nahum is said to be 2, 700 years old.(Photo: S Frantzman)

Since last week Iraqi forces, including Iranian-backed Shia militias, have been fighting with Peshmerga in an attempt by Baghdad to push Kurdish forces out of disputed areas and take oil fields and strategic border areas from the Kurds.

Although a cease-fire took effect on Friday, tensions remain high. Shelling in a Christian town near the Jewish tomb is the latest in years of turmoil that have affected the site.

The tomb is in the ancient Christian town of Al-Qosh, inside a complex that also served as a synagogue and has partly collapsed over the years. The Jewish community of this area of northern Iraq and Kurdistan left in the 1940s and 1950s. The origin of the tomb is often said to date back 2,700 years.

National Geographic, however, noted in 2015 that the synagogue’s walls date from 1173. The article said that locals in the area had “wild conspiracy theories [that] warn of Zionist plots to seize control of war-torn Iraq and, with jihadists on the doorstep, the town’s people are nervous about feeding into these fears.”

Read article in full

More about the tomb of Nahum at al-Kosh

Friday, October 27, 2017

Tributes are paid to Shmuel Moreh z"l

Tribute events to the late Professor Moreh (pictured) have been held in the UK and will soon be held in Israel.

At a meeting on 19 October attended by both Jews and non-Jews, an evening commemorating the professor was held in London. He died aged 86 on the second day of Rosh Hashana.

Aged 19, when he came to Israel from Baghdad, he was the 'last Babylonian Jew'. Already a published poet, he pioneered the study of Arabic language and literature at the Hebrew University - in teaching and researching this subject, Israel was at least 10 years ahead of Arab universities.

Click here to hear Edwin Shuker's tribute.

Obituary in the Times of Israel

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Mizrahi Project tells refugee stories

With thanks: Ruth

As we approach 30 November, organisations around the world are busy arranging events to mark the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab lands and Iran. One such organisation is the Mizrahi project, the brainchild of Pastor Dumisani Washington. Washington made the clip, Why are the Palestinians still refugees? The Mizrahi Project is holding several screenings of a new film comprising interviews with Mizrahi Jews telling their personal stories. Here is their calendar of events.

Gina Waldman escaped from Libya in 1967.  You can hear Gina's story here.
 Rachel Wahba's parents were from Iraq and Egypt. You can hear Rachel's story 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Ethnic cleansing of Greeks mirrors that of Jews

 The persecution of minorities in the Middle East has been a fact of life. Our regular commenter Eliyahu m'Tsiyon has produced evidence (in a critique of a book by Walt and Mearsheimer) that the Turks wanted to decimate the Greek minority in the same way as the Arab states wished to 'ethnically cleanse' their Jews and 'throw Israel into the sea'. As often happened in history, the western powers stood by and let the slaughter happen (with thanks: Eliyahu):

Izmir (Smyrna) as it is today: free of Greeks

There was a precedent for throwing a hated ethnic group into the sea: In 1922 Turkish nationalist forces led by Kemal Ataturk drove the Greek population of Smyrna into the sea. Smyrna had been a Greek-speaking city for more than 2,000 years. It remained predominantly Greek in population even after the Ottoman Empire conquered Smyrna from the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire hundreds of years before 1922. Smyrna also had a Turkish-Muslim minority, a Jewish quarter, an Armenian quarter, and many Europeans and Americans who had come for purposes of trade or were there for religious/missionary purposes.

There were also Levantines, people with mixed European and Greek or Armenian ancestry. These Levantines too were mainly involved in trade and services for the European and American communities. In 1922 the Turkish nationalist army of Ataturk drove the Greeks out of the city, while it massacred the surviving Armenians in the city and set fire to Greek and Armenian neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, the fleets of the major Western powers sat at anchor in the harbor of Smyrna. They had orders not to interfere with the slaughter perpetrated by the Kemalist forces and were reluctant to help the refugees. Greece sent a motley assortment of boats to take out the refugees, including surviving Armenians. Since the expulsion of the Greeks and the massacre of the Armenians, the city has been officially called Izmir. This is a historical precedent for what those Arabs may have been thinking who called for driving the Jews into the sea, as Walt-Mearsheimer admit they said.

Ernest Hemingway, "On the Quay at Smyrna," in In Our Time [starting with the 1930 edition of the anthology In Our Time; New York, Scribner's]. This is a fictionalized account of the events at Smyrna that rings true. Hemingway was a reporter in Anatolia and the Balkans in that period. See his description of a Kemalist official in this post.
George Horton, The Blight of Asia -- Horton was the US consul in Smyrna in 1922, that is, he was an eyewitness.
Marjorie Housepian, The Smyrna Affair

Read post in full 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

First Arab to be named 'Righteous Gentile' (updated)

 It is perhaps a mark of the thawing of Egyptian-Israeli relations that the family of Dr Mohamed Helmy has agreed to accept a certificate from Yad Vashem honouring the Egyptian-born doctor for risking his life to rescue a Jew in wartime Berlin. The family had refused to do so in 2013.  i-24 News reports: (with thanks: Lily)

Dr. Mohamed Helmy, an Egyptian-born medical doctor who lived in Berlin, will be officially recognized by the Israeli Holocaust museum and memorial for risking his life to shelter four Jews during World War II.

Helmy's family will accept the award on his behalf at a ceremony to take place at the German Foreign Ministry on Thursday.

Helmy will be the first Arab to be honored as Righteous Among the Nations—a title given to non-Jews by the Israeli Holocaust Museum who risked their own lives to save Jews from the Nazis.

To date, more than 26,000 individuals from 44 countries have received the honor.
Helmy, who died in 1982, was first nominated as Righteous Among the Nations in 2013 but his family at the time refused to accept the honor since it came from an Israeli institution.

Four years later, a relative of Helmy has agreed to accept the honor on his behalf.

Courtesy Yad Vashem  
Ana Boros Gutman during her visit with her daughter Carla, Dr. Helmy and his wife Emmy, 1969

Nasser Kutbi, an 81-year-old professor of medicine from Cairo whose father was Helmy’s nephew and who knew him personally, will travel to Berlin to accept the award, which will be presented to him by Israel's Ambassador to Germany Jeremy Issacharoff.

Helmy was born in Khartoum in 1901 and settled in Berlin in 1922 where he studied medicine and eventually became the head of urology at the city's Robert Koch Institute.

Helmy was fired from his position in 1937 after the Nazis came to power, and as a "non-Aryan", was barred from working in the public health sector. Helmy was arrested by the Nazis in 1939 along with other Egyptians and was released a year later account of poor health.

When the Nazis began deporting Jews from the city, Helmy hid a Jewish family friend, Anna Boros, 21, as well as her mother Julie, stepfather Georg Wehr, and grandmother Cecilie Rudnik, in a cabin he owned in the city for the duration of the war.
Courtesy Yad Vashem  
Yad Vashem Righteous Among the Nations certificate of honor to be presented to Dr. Helmy.
Helmy provided for all of the family's needs and arranged alternative hideouts when he himself was under Nazi investigation. He arranged for Anna a certificate from the Central Islamic Institute in Berlin, headed by the Grnad Mufti of Jerusalem, attesting that she had converted to Islam, as well as a fake marriage certrificate saying that she had married an Egyptian man in a private ceremony at Helmy's home.

"A good friend of our family, Dr. Helmy ... hid me in his cabin in Berlin-Buch from 10 March until the end of the war," Boros, who latter married and took the last name Gutman, wrote in letter to the Berlin Senate after the war.

"He managed to evade all their interrogations. In such cases he would bring me to friends where I would stay for several days, introducing me as his cousin from Dresden. When the danger would pass, I would return to his cabin. ... Dr. Helmy did everything for me out of the generosity of his heart and I will be grateful to him for eternity," she wrote.

Read article in full

Why have more Arabs not been named as 'Righteous Gentiles', Haaretz asks. Ofer Aderet interviewed Robert Satloff, author of Among the Righteous:

Significant developments that occurred following World War II, the founding of the State of Israel in particular, overshadowed this legacy of rescue. “As an Arab, there wasn’t much to gain – but there was a lot to lose – by being identified as a protector of the Jews and their rights,” Satloff noted.

At the same time, Jews, including those who were saved by Arabs, weren’t eager to tell about their Arab rescuers. “To many of those remaining in North Africa, memories of their horrible wartime experience were swiftly overtaken by the less systematic but often more violent anti-Zionism that compelled hundreds of thousands to quit their homes for Israel in the late 1940s and 1950s,” Satloff writes.

For decades, the focus of study was the Holocaust of European Jewry, and historians, scholars and institutions paid much less attention to the legacy of the Holocaust among Mizrahi Jewry. The Jews themselves also did not discuss or study the subject very much.

So there are several reasons for the absence of Arabs being named Righteous Among the Nations: Arabs didn’t volunteer to tell people about how they had saved Jews; Jews didn’t provide information about their Arab saviors; and at the same time, the establishment did not go to great lengths to find those Arab rescuers. Add to all of this the strong trend of Holocaust denial in the Arab world and the result is not very surprising.

Dr. Yaacov Lozowick, the state archivist and former director of the Yad Vashem archives, once wrote in Haaretz, “that if there were an Arab Righteous Gentile, his descendants apparently don’t want to know about it, and this naturally makes it hard to find out about him, since the tales of Jews who were saved are usually discovered through personal testimonies, and not through archival records.”

Nonetheless, over the years there have been several cases in which researchers or others provided information that could have convinced Yad Vashem to confer the title of Righteous Among the Nations on Arabs. One of the most famous cases is that of Khaled Abdel-Wahab, a Muslim Arab from Tunisia, whom various testimonies credit with saving dozens of Jews. Yad Vashem twice declined to name Abdel-Wahab as Righteous Among the Nations on the grounds that he did not risk his life to save the Jews that he saved. Risking one’s life is a prerequisite for receiving the honor.

Another well-known case is that of Si Kaddour Benghabrit, the founder and rector of the Great Mosque of Paris, who, according to different testimonies, hid Jews inside the mosque, including a rising star at the time, singer Salim Halali. When previously questioned about this case, Yad Vashem replied, “Yad Vashem made a supreme effort to locate survivors whom Benghabrit saved during the Holocaust and also worked very hard to collect archival material related to the rescue activity in the Paris mosque, and also contacted the mosque archives for assistance – but all of these efforts came to naught. No testimonies of survivors or relevant documents were found.”

Read article in full

My comment: Historians have cast doubt on the role played by the rector of the Paris Mosque, Si Kaddour Benghabrit. Far from being a Righteous Gentile, he seems to have collaborated with the Vichy regime and when consulted in at least four cases denied the individuals were Muslim (G Bensoussan, Les juifs du monde arabe, p101).

Monday, October 23, 2017

Iraqi Jew pleads for archive not to go back

 'It's as if my lost history came back to life', Joseph Samuels felt when he visited an exhibition of the Iraqi-Jewish archives in California. If the archive returns to Iraq, he fears, these historical treasures could be lost forever. Article in the Miami Herald:
Joseph Samuels: archive represents lost history
Despite the U.S. government’s valiant effort to preserve and restore this treasure, the State Department is preparing to return the artifacts to Iraq in September 2018 in accordance with an agreement made with the Iraqi government under the Obama administration.

But these artifacts belong to the Iraqi-Jewish community and their descendants. Returning the trove to Iraq is tantamount to returning stolen treasure to a thief. President Donald Trump and the State Department should do all that they can to prevent such an injustice.

I was born in 1930 in Taht Al Takia, the Jewish quarter of the old city of Baghdad. Baghdad was my home, and Iraq was my country. But my sense of national identity was shattered when Muslim mobs looted and burned Jewish homes and businesses, murdering hundreds of Jewish men, women and children in the 1941 pogrom known as the Farhud.
I was 10 years old. There was nowhere to run, and no country to take us in.
After the failed Arab war against Israel in 1948, the Jews of Iraq and other Arab countries faced anti-Semitism and open hostility. We suffered arrest, torture, public execution and confiscation of property. The Iraqi-Jewish artifacts are a rare example of what was stolen from more than 850,000 Arab Jews and the historical Jewish presence that Arab regimes are attempting to erase. At present, there are only about 3,000 Jews living in Arab countries who are continuing our story.

Decades later, the Baath Party, led by Hussein, looted and confiscated public and personal items from synagogues, Jewish schools and community properties. On May 6, 2003, the U.S. Army uncovered these artifacts hidden in a flooded basement of the Mukhabarat (Iraqi secret service) headquarters.

With the approval of Iraq’s provisional government, the U.S. military rescued the damaged items and brought them to this country. The U.S. government has since spent more than $3 million to restore the archive, exhibiting it across the country. The artifacts brought tears to my eyes when I first visited the collection at the Nixon Library. It’s almost as if my lost history in Iraq came back to life.
The hearts of the Iraqi Jewish community are filled with gratitude toward the heroic teams who rescued and restored this collection. Thanks to the United States, we have preserved these pieces of history for present and future generations.

But Iraq has proven itself an unreliable custodian, and we fear these historical treasures could be lost forever. Trump has the chance to be remembered as the preserver of our history, just like Moses who brought the Hebrews from Egypt and kept their message alive for future generations. I implore the administration, on behalf of all Jews from Arab lands and our descendants, to keep our icons of history from being sent back to those who stole them from us.

Read article in full

Read more here:

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Prickly discussion on the 'Right of Return' for Palestinians

Haaretz has been carrying an interesting exchange on the Palestinian 'right of return' for refugees. The radical leftist Uri Avnery breezily ignores the rights of Jewish refugees in the discussion. While a rebuttal letter in response mentions Jewish refugees, the author makes the mistake of demanding an equal right of return for Jewish refugees to Arab lands.

Avnery writes:

I think there is a vast difference between principle and implementation. The principle cannot be denied. It belongs to the individual refugee. It is anchored in international law. It is sacred. Any future peace agreement will have to include a section affirming that Israel in principle accepts the right of return of the Palestinian refugees and their descendants. No Palestinian leader would be able to sign a deal that doesn't include this clause. I can picture the scene: After agreement is reached on this clause at the peace summit, the chairman will take a deep breath and say, "And now, my friend, let’s move on to the real problem. How are we going to resolve the refugee problem in practice?"

Read article in full

Uri Avnery meeting Yasser Arafat.

The following response to Uri Avnery from Joseph Grinblat appeared in Haaretz: 

I agree that it is not a problem for Israel to accept the right of return of the Palestinian refugees. But not for the reason Mr. Avnery gives.  The word “return” is very clear; it means going back to where one has been before. So it can apply only to the people who left Palestine, not to their descendants who were born in another country.

 There are less than 100,000 survivors from the 700,000 Arabs who left Palestine and became refugees, and they should be allowed to come back to Israel if they wish to, and if they are ready to live in peace with their Jewish neighbors, as is stated in the UN 1949 declaration about Palestine refugees, which mentions only the refugees but not their descendants: “Palestine refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.”

This applied to Jewish refugees as well as to Arab refugees from the war in Palestine.
 The six million descendants should have been integrated in the countries where they were born. They are not refugees from Palestine, because they have never been there. There is no other example in history where descendants of refugees are still considered to be refugees, three generations later.

 Joseph Grinblat, Retired Director, Migration Studies Section, 
United Nations Secretariat 
Forest Hills, NY

My comment: Uri Avnery is wrong to assume that a 'right of return' is a sacrosanct principle of international law. Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has never applied to Palestinian refugees. A 'right of return' was added at the last minute and was intended to underscore the rights of hostage populations to leave their countries. Besides, the Palestinian refugees were never citizens of Israel.

The Arab states rejected UN res 194, which also called for compensation and resettlement, while Israel did take back around 50,000 refugees in the 50s and paid some compensation.
The Arab states have violated international law by refusing to resettle their own refugees, and refusing to compensate Jewish refugees.

Besides, Avnery is wrong to say that the Arab refugees were 'ethnically cleansed'. They fled a war zone. The Jews, on the other hand, were banished from areas which fell to the Jordanians and Egyptians. The question remains - whether anything should be owed to a  population who violated international principles by waging a war of aggression.

 Grinblat is right that the definition of refugee should only apply to the actual refugees and not their descendants, but is wrong to even to entertain the idea of return for 100,000. 

Israel has no obligation to allow Arab refugees to return 70 years after they left.
The existence of an equal number of Jewish refugees for whom return to Arab countries is dangerous should put paid to this notion, once and for all.

The point he should be making is that an irrevocable exchange of refugees took place. Neither set should be allowed to return.