Friday, February 16, 2018

Mazin Latif: displacement of Jews a crime against all Iraqis

Since the Arab Spring, Iraqis have been rediscovering their lost Jewish community. Here is a fascinating interview in Al-Alam newspaper with Mazin Latif, an Iraqi writer who is somewhat obsessed with Jews. But what is more remarkable, perhaps, is that the interviewer is the Israeli researcher Ronen Zaidel. (With thanks: Linda) Imperfect translation by Google Translate. 
Iraqi Jews enjoying themselves before their mass exodus

The Iraqi publisher and writer, Mazen Latif, is active in documenting the lives of the oppressed, oppressed and oppressed Iraqi minorities and sects. While Iraq was in the early 20th century a country full of diversity, it is at the dawn of the new century free of the diversity on which its civilization, culture and history were based. Therefore, there is a pleasant attempt to restore the good spirit that has inhabited Iraq for centuries and since its first civilizations, and continued its citizenship until it was brutally uprooted from its motherland and abandoned for political reasons related to racial understanding and chauvinism against good Iraqi citizens like Jews. A gentle effort is focused on documenting the tremendous services provided by Iraqi Jews to their countries, documenting the lives of their media and intellectuals, as well as the tragedies they have experienced. In addition, he is active in introducing the other authentic Iraqi sects, which also faced no less horrendous persecution.

He published and wrote more than 14 books about Jewish citizens and their national role, as well as the rest of the other groups facing deportation and expulsion from Iraq.


Why is your  interest in the subject of the Jews of Iraq so paramount?

 
I always ask this question. What raised my interest in the subject of the Jews of Iraq is that my grandmother (my mother's mother) told me stories, and I was a child aged  seven. She talked about their importance and role and how they were peaceful and honest.  I kept these tales in my memory. When I reached an early stage of consciousness, I began looking for books and sources on the history of the Jews of Iraq. I look for any information even  oral history,  as I search and write. I promised to write and publish about the Jews of Iraq after the subject was banned for more than half a century.


How do you explain the growing interest in Jews? What is its relation to the current situation in Iraq? Who is interested?

 Iraqis still have many memories of Iraq's Jews, whose existence has ebbed, and they studied many of their physical features, posing a historic responsibility for the need to record their oral heritage. If the oral histories defined by historians include a set of traditions of legends, facts, knowledge, doctrines, opinions, customs and practices, when we write the history of an ethnic or religious group, we mean the history of all Iraq because the communities of Iraq and its people are bound by history, geography and a common life.

What is the position of the Iraqi street on this issue? Have you changed? Is there a nostalgia for the Jews?


 The position of the Iraqi street fluctuates, in a sense it is sympathetic to the Jews of Iraq and knows their achievements and their role in building Iraq in that period, but at the same time it accuses as Zionists those who defend them and write about them. It is a paradox that reflects the dual personality of the Iraqi man.

Are there difficulties in writing about Jews? 

There are those who accuse anyone who cares about writing about the Jews of Iraq to be a Zionist and other typical charges. I was initially subjected to a lot of harassment, when I wrote about the Jews of Iraq. The reason is we were raised the culture of the Baath party: Anyone who deals with a subject about the Jews is considered a Zionist or an Israeli, but the situation now in Iraq is that there is a lot of freedom and democracy that allow one to address this issue. When I write about the Jews of Iraq, I write about an Iraqi community that has an important role in the history of modern Iraq.

Frankly, the issue of the Jews of Iraq has some difficulties, because the Iraqi consciousness is still suffering from some backwardness, because the majority view the subject of the Jews of Iraq from a racist point of view, express any issue as Israeli or Zionist, and tie it to the subject of Palestine. Frankly I encountered and still find many difficulties, because of my obsession with the subject. Many try to distort my reputation, and accuse me of being a Zionist, working for Mossad, Israeli and other typical charges.


How do you see the status of Jews in Iraq before deportation? 

The Jews of Iraq produced culture, journalism, art and economy, which is the highest in the history of Iraq centuries ago. The status of the Jews of Iraq was very important in building the Iraqi state, many excelled economically, in newspapers, in the media and in other fields. And how we regret the rising generations of ignorance of their contributions and integration within the Iraqi state. The public discourse on Iraqi culture continues to be rife with them: Iraqis have been enraged by a nationalistic past, sectarian and arrogant sectarianism, preoccupied with the erosion of Iraq's cultural and self-identity, and the marginalization of the other ancient minorities that once formed Iraq's genius.

How do you explain the exodus? 

The displacement of the Jews of Iraq left the curse and sorrow in the hearts of those close to them and who loved them sincerely. Iraq has been an oppressor to Iraqi elements and minorities. The Jews of Iraq have been forcibly displaced, the Kurds have been abandoned, the Christians have been abandoned, the Sunnis have been abandoned, the Shiites have been abandoned, and so have I: the displacement of the Jews of Iraq was a crime against Iraqi citizens who served Iraq with all their possessions. At the same time, the Iraqi government provided for the displacement of the Jews of Iraq and did the best favour to Israel, after they expelled people with high-level skills that were running the country. The displacement of the Jews of Iraq at the time created a gap in the economics of the country, as they were in control of the economy of Iraq, and  many Iraqis so far are waiting for the Jews of Iraq, and considerthem real Iraqis, Iraq list a lot. The truth is that these people were planted in the Iraqi land more than 2,600 years ago. They were not occupiers, but they were exiled Sephardim. They loved Babylon and the two rivers and saved them, and they witnessed the crucifixion of Iraq while occupiers or oppressors had free rein.

The decision to strip Iraqi nationality from the Jews of Iraq during the period of the Tawfiq al-Suwaidi government in 1950 and the freezing of their funds and arbitrary arrest on numerous trumped-up charges, including Zionism and communism, and then expelling them from their ancient Mesopotamia, came in the context of a well-known global conspiracy. From then on, Iraq began to bleed.


Read article in full (Arabic)


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Israel flag is torn in Tunisian Parliament

 A Tunisian legislator tore an Israeli flag during a parliament session while promoting a proposed bill to criminalize relations with Israel, the Associated Press (via JNS) has reported.

Legislators sitting in the government’s opposition had previously proposed the bill that would make attempts to normalize relations with Israel illegal.
Debate on the bill was suspended indefinitely because parliament officials did not consider the law a priority.  To protest the delay, opposition lawmaker Ammar Amroussia tore a paper with the Israeli flag printed on it at the parliament’s podium, while calling for a vote on the bill.  The incident was carried on state television.

Moderate Islamist party Ennahdha*, which is part of the governing coalition, warned such a law could hurt Tunisia’s relations with western nations and international organizations.

Tunisia, like most Arab countries, does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.  In the late 1990s Tunisia and Israel briefly opened relations within specific interest sections, but Tunisia suspended relations in 2000 during the Second Intifada.

In 2014, Tunisia’s tourism minister Amel Karboul was nearly forced to resign for traveling to Israel in 2006 to participate in a U.N. training program for Palestinian Arab youths.  Karboul and  another minister similarly faced censure later that year after being accused of promoting “normalization” with Israel. 

Read article in full 

*The Ennahda party grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian revolution, so its moderate credentials are questionable.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Did Bob Marley have Syrian-Jewish roots?

With thanks: Michelle

Well I never. The late reggae legend Bob Marley had Jewish roots.


 The World Jewish Congress tells us so, so it must be true. In fact the WJC has gone to the lengths of making a video giving special mention to Bob Marley in a potted history of Jewish Jamaica, the Caribbean island where Marley was born.

According to the video, Bob Marley's father was a Jamaican called Norval. But Norval's mother was Ellen Broomfield, a (white) Syrian Jew.

Quite what a Syrian Jew was doing in Jamaica, the WJC does not tell us.

Hang on a minute! This website says that Ellen Broomfield was a coloured Jamaican. And this website says:

"There is unsubstantiated information circulating that Ellen was a Syrian Jew, but the name is not Syrian or Jewish and is an old Jamaican/English name.
A "wedding certificate for the marriage of Robert Marley [Bob's paternal grandfather] and Ellen Bloomfield [his paternal grandmother] lists him as 'white' and her as 'colored'."

Sorry to disappoint you, folks. The balance of probability is that Marley's grandmother was not Jewish. But take crumbs of comfort in the fact that Marley seems to have been a philosemite. And his own son Julian (below left) has visited Israel.


Campaigner and fighter Sidney Chouraqui dies

The death has been announced of Sidney Chouraqui at 104, Algerian-born resistance fighter, Casablanca lawyer and lifelong campaigner for human rights. Here are extracts from an article in JForum


Born on October 13, 1914 in Algeria, Sidney Chouraqui faced anti-semitism very early on and throughout his life. He became a lawyer in Casablanca and joined the army in 1939.


"Refusing to surrender,  in 1940 (when France fell to the Germans) he created a group of Jewish resistance fighters in Morocco. Under the Vichy laws,  he was struck off the bar. Volunteering on theTunisian front, he escaped from the Bedeau camp for Jews and joined General Leclerc in Libya and the Free French of General de Gaulle.  

Sidney Chouraqui took part in the fighting in France, battles in Normandy, the liberation of Paris and Strasbourg, but also  Landsberg and Dachau camps. He finally reached Hitler's 'Eagle's Nest' in Berchtesgaden on May 8, 1945.
 
For his wartime feats, Sidney Chouraqui earned many medals and the Legion d'Honneur. He risked his life "both through patriotism, for the liberation of France, and through humanism, for the defence of human rights odiously trampled, for the ideals of 1789 of Freedom-Equality- Fraternity withdrawn by Vichy,  as well as for dignity and justice."


After the war, he  resumed his job as a lawyer in Casablanca. He trained Moroccan lawyers, many of whom became ministers. Resettling in France in 1966, he joined the Aix-en-Provence bar. He was one of the founders of LICRA (International League against Racism and Antisemitism) and the Jewish Cultural Center,  a leader of the Judeo-Christian Friendship and Interfaith Coordination Committee for Israel, which was threatened with extinction in 1967.


From 1982, he was one of the main initiators of the Memorial project of the Camp des Milles.


Read article in full (French)

Monday, February 12, 2018

US Jews launch appeal to stop return of archive

 The Iraqi-Jewish community in the US has launched an urgent appeal for financial support in the wake of the US government's decision to return the Iraqi-Jewish archive to Iraq in September 2018.

Page from an eighteenth-century collection of sermons, customs and rituals for Jewish fast days,  probably printed in Venice. It was one of 2,700 Jewish items found in the police headquarters in Baghdad.

The collection of books, documents and manuscripts was saved from the waterlogged basement of the secret police headquarters in Baghdad in 2003 and shipped to the US for restoration. A memorandum was signed by the Coalition Provisional Administration in Iraq promising to return the archive. But the US government failed to consider that the archive itself constitutes the property of the Jewish community and was stolen by the Iraqi regime.

This community now resides outside Iraq. If the archive returns to Iraq, it will become inaccessible to them. There are also fears that the archive will not be preserved, and might even be deliberately destroyed, if it returns to Iraq.

Jews in the US have been pursuing a two-pronged strategy. The World Organization of Jews from Iraq (WOJI), has pursued the diplomatic route. To-date WOJI has negotiated the cooperation of the Iraqi government and the State Department in extensions and delays to the return of the archives. The archive has been travelling around the US over the last three years. It is presently on display in Atlanta, Georgia and an exhibition in Dallas, Texas will end on 3 September.

JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa) has an activist approach. Inspired by the experience of Holocaust survivors to recover stolen Nazi art, JIMENA has been raising public awareness of the issue and is working with a group of lawyers and strategists to pursue legal avenues.

A committee representing the American Aid Society, Congregation Bene Naharayim in Great Neck and the Babylonian Jewish Center will disburse the funds to WOJI and JIMENA as the need arises.

 "We have reached a critical time limit. We need to act before it is too late, otherwise these precious books, manuscripts and milestone family records of our ancestors will be lost forever," says Alice Aboody of the Babylonian Jewish Center.

An 'Archive' account has been established at the BJC (Babylonian Jewish Center), 440 Great Neck Road, Great Neck, NY 11021, where all donated tax-deductible checks with the memo "Archives" will be deposited. Tel (516) 773-9876.

Harif's petition 'Don't let the Jewish archive go back to Iraq'  has attracted over 10,000 signatures. Click here to add your signature.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

How an Iraqi-Jewish school outfoxed the authorities

After Iraq had declared war against the new state of Israel, between 1948 and 1951, Jewish schools in Iraq were under great pressure and in a state of continual tension.  Jews were being arrested for Zionism or Communism.  The principal of the Jewish Shamash secondary school, Meir Hayya, had this anecdote to tell:

A street in Baghdad in 1917

"On 15 May 1949, about 20 percent of the pupils came to (the Shamash) school.  The rest remained at home  to celebrate Israel's Independence Day. Fearing that the government superintendent would choose specifically this day to visit, I put the pupils in three classes and half an hour later the superintendent appeared. I brought him into my office and asked the secretary to ensure that the pupils would make a lot of noise outside, to create the impression that all the pupils were in recess in the  yard.

"After a while, the superintendent asked to visit the classrooms. I accompanied him on his visit to the three  classrooms, then brought him back to my room and hinted to the secretary to put the children, in different combinations, in three other classrooms, with different teachers.

"The superintendent visited these three classes, and thought he had visited six classes. When he saw that all the classes were studying, he left, satisfied. The afternoon newspapers  published articles with large headlines that the Jewish secondary school pupils had celebrated Israel's Independence Day that day by demonstratively being absent from their studies. The next day the Education Ministry published a denial, stating that the superintendent had visited the Shamash school the preceding day, and he had found that all the pupils were present in the school."

From 'Traditional and modern education' by Yosef Meir in Annals of Iraqi Jewry, ed Ora Melamed, Eliner Library, 1995.

Friday, February 09, 2018

'We left Iraq as Jews and entered Israel as Iraqis'

For the great mass of Jews fleeing Arab countries, adapting to their new countries meant cultural adjustments, as Lyn Julius describes in her new book Uprooted.


 Invitation to the wedding of Shafika and Saadiya Nuri in a wooden hut (Photo by permission of Or Yehuda)

One word encapsulates the Mizrahi refugee experience in the Israel of the 1950s and 1960s: ma’abara. Ma’abarot were transit camps of fabric tents, wooden or tin huts. They were conceived by Levi Eshkol of the Jewish Agency to provide temporary housing and jobs. The first ma’abara was es- tablished in May 1950 in Kesalon in Judea.



The EU as a whole, with a population of over 300 million, has been taking in as many immigrants as Israel, a country of half a million, absorbed in the early 1950s. As well as 100, 000 Holocaust survivors, the tiny struggling country took in 585,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, most of them destitute. By the 1960s, the refugees had tripled the country ‘s population. The size of Israel’s endeavour was Herculean. A nation of 650,000 absorbed 685,000 newcomers, some arriving with dysentery, malnutrition, ringworm, trachoma and TB.

During the first years of statehood, roughly two-thirds of Jews from Muslim countries availed themselves of the Law of Return, passed by the Israeli Knesset in 1951. The newcomers came to Israel on some of the largest airlifts in history. It was a miracle that there were no accidents. The chartered aircraft were overloaded and fuel was short. Desert sand damaged the engines. It took sixteen hours for Yemenite Jews to reach Israel, and planes from Iraq were, at first, not permitted to fly direct. 

Conditions in the ma’abarot were deplorable – too hot in summer, too cold in winter, exposed to the wind and the rain. Everything from food to detergent was rationed. 

Refugees had to line up to collect water from standpipes. The water had to be boiled before it could be drunk. The public showers and toilets were rudimentary. The 113 ma’abarot housed a quarter of a million people in 1950. 

Slowly the ma’abarot turned into permanent towns. Some residents stayed in the camps for up to thirteen years. ‘Bring a million Jews’, declared Ben-Gurion. But news of what awaited them deterred those Jews still in Arab countries from joining their relatives in Israel. Bitter and disappointed Iraqi Jews spread rumours that the Mossad had planted bombs in order to make them leave the ‘paradise’ that was Iraq. Later, there arrived in Israel Moroccan Jews, disparaged as ‘Morocco sakin (cut-throats), who, faced with multiple hardships, idealised the sultan of Morocco as their protector and saviour. 
 
The male heads of household in particular never got over the degradation of becoming refugees. Raphael Luzon writes of his father, who once owned several pharmacy and cosmetics stores in Benghazi, Libya, until the family were forced to leave in 1967: 

After his soul surrendered, his body followed and soon he became ill with kidney failure. Apart from a brief stint in employment, he refused to work. Once a man of wealth, he never would have thought about standing in line at the soup kitchen with charity coupons to get meals for himself and his family. My mother urged him to fight back, but her words fell on deaf ears. He had long ago lost the will to live.

Other newcomers remained quietly philosophical: Egyptian Jews incongruously maintained their bourgeois cultural habits in the camps – playing cards and ballroom dancing on a Friday evening. 

The Jewish state wished to build a new national identity and fashion those Jews who did reach its shores in its own Western image. Many refugees launched themselves with gusto into the task of nation-building, making an effort to speak only Hebrew (Arabic was often associated with unhappy memories) and even Hebraising their family names. The young people were carted off to kibbutzim to learn Hebrew and controversially secular Western values, wear shorts and mix socially with the opposite sex for the first time, as Eli Amir describes in Scapegoat. 

But these values were actually ‘only slightly Western’, as Yitzhak Bar Moshe discovered when he arrived from Iraq. Israel was the state of Eastern European Jewry. With the exception of rare figures like President Yitzhak Ben Zvi, it did not know about Mizrahi Jewry – worse still, it did not want to know about them, their sages, their rabbis, authors, paytanim (poets) or judges: ‘We understood that we were one of many communities. We left Iraq as Jews and we entered Israel as Iraqis.’

Still, cultural adjustments were necessary in all facets of life. Shmuel Moreh’s father could not comprehend the lack of corruption in Israel: 

He used to say, gritting his teeth: ‘By God, I don’t understand this up-side-down country. May the Lord have mercy on Iraq. There we knew how to calculate our steps. Open your hand a bit, slip a few dinars into the official’s hand in order to grease the process of your request a bit and everything will fall right into place. Here there is no bribery, there is no cronyism and there isn’t the magical religious saying: ‘Do it for the sake of God! Do it for the sake of the Prophet Muhammad!’ Here everything is according to the dark law of the inhabitants, a law I don’t understand’. 

For the family of Chochana Boukhobsa, who came to Paris from the small Tunisian town of Sfax, cultural differences had some hilarious side-effects. Her grandfather, a ritual slaughterer, had brought with him his sharp knives and the habits of a lifetime. Her mother paid top price for a cockerel she found on the Seine quayside. 

The cockerel stayed under the kitchen sink of our tiny apartment on the rue de la Roquette. He crowed at the crack of dawn. Puzzled neighbours searched the whole block looking for him. ‘Did you hear a cockerel crow?’ They asked my mother. ‘No’, she answered, mortified. As soon as the door shut, she told my grandfather. ‘Quick, kill that cockerel and be done with. In this city, the police come after those who keep live birds in their apartments.’

From 'Mizrahi Wars of Politics and Culture', in Uprooted: How 3,000 Years of Jewish Civilisation  in the Arab World Vanished Overnight by Lyn Julius (Vallentine Mitchell).  Available on Amazon.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

'I chose the side that resettled Jews from Arab countries'

 It is always a pleasant surprise to come across Arabs who break with the consensus and support Jews and Israel. Often the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands is a salient issue in their thinking. Read Fred Maroun's piece - he is a Canadian of Arab origin - in the Times of Israel.


 Fred Maroun

I chose to stand with a people (Jews) that defied all odds and became the only ancient civilization to reclaim its native land from imperialist invaders (Arabs, my ancestors).


I chose to support a state that managed to survive in 1947/49 against much more numerous invaders, and despite the indifference and even hostility of most of the world.

I chose to support a nation that stunned and repelled its allied Arab enemies in six short days in 1967 despite an embargo and condemnation by France which had previously been its main weapons supplier.

I chose to stand with the Jews who despite early setbacks in 1973, and despite a slow and hesitant re-supply by the US that had to overcome a flight ban by most European countries, forced the attacking Arab armies into retreat.

I chose the side that resettled hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab lands while the Arab world refused to resettle Arab refugees from Israel so that they could be used as pawns in a never-ending war of hatred against the Jewish state. (My emphasis)

I stand with Israel because its Arab minority has full democratic, economic, and religious rights while the Arab world has made its few remaining Jews invisible and irrelevant.

I stand with the Jews because most of today’s world chooses the expediency of appeasing anti-Semitic mobs rather than the arduous road of supporting the tiny minority that deserves to be supported.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Bahraini prince visits Israel

A visit from a Bahraini prince to Israel follows that of an interfaith delegation and testifies to the burgeoning unofficial relations between the two countries. Middle East Monitor reports:

 Ayoob Kara (left) with the Bahrain Prince.

Israeli Minister of Communication Ayoob Kara claimed yesterday that Bahraini Prince Mubarak Al Khalifa is visiting Israel.

“I met publicly for the first time in Tel Aviv with Mubarak Al Khalifa, a Bahraini prince in order to strengthen relations between the two countries,” Kara of Israel’s ruling Likud party said on Twitter.

“Tomorrow [Monday] I will have the honour to host him in the Israeli Knesset,” he added.

Bahrain says it has no relations with Israel however it has been reported that officials from both countries maintain contact and visits privately.

An official Bahraini delegation visited Tel Aviv in December under instructions from Bahraini monarch Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

25,000 Algerian Jews to receive WWII compensation

From today 25,000 Algerian Jews will be eligible to lodge compensation claims with the Conference on Material Claims against Germany for suffering endured during World War II.  None of the press covering this story has found it odd that the pro-Nazi Vichy French government, not the German, was in charge, but is not being held accountable. The Forward's report is typical:


Algerian Jews had their French citizenship stripped by the Vichy government, which then ruled the area, in 1940. Nuremberg-like laws banned Jews from working as doctors, lawyers, teachers and in government. Children were kicked out of French schools.

On Tuesday, 78 years after they endured suffering that left families penniless and starving, and pariahs in their own country, the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany will begin taking their applications for recognition as survivors, making each eligible for a one-time “hardship grant” and additional services like food vouchers and in-home care.

Each survivor approved will receive a hardship grant of 2,556 euros, the equivalent of roughly $3,100. The euro figure is the equivalent of 5,000 deutschmarks, a sum the Claims Conference negotiated with the German government in 1980. The money will be distributed beginning in July.

The youngest Algerian survivors, born in 1942, would today be 76 years old. Most, however, are in their 80s and 90s, Schneider said. As important as the money is, even more valuable is acknowledgment of their suffering, Schneider told JTA. “They weren’t murdered but there were lots of deprivations” under the anti-Semitic Vichy laws.

“There weren’t extermination camps in Algeria (There were labour camps on the Algerian-Moroccan border - ed) but a person’s childhood was turned upside down because of this persecution targeting Jews. It becomes a huge part of a person’s identity. The experience during the war for so many people defines them, is the seminal experience of their lives. All these decades it’s never been acknowledged,” said Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany.

Read article in full  

Haaretz report 

The New Arab  

DW report
Algerian Jews had their French citizenship stripped by the Vichy government, which then ruled the area, in 1940. Nuremberg-like laws banned Jews from working as doctors, lawyers, teachers and in government. Children were kicked out of French schools.
On Tuesday, 78 years after they endured suffering that left families penniless and starving, and pariahs in their own country, the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany will begin taking their applications for recognition as survivors, making each eligible for a one-time “hardship grant” and additional services like food vouchers and in-home care.
Each survivor approved will receive a hardship grant of 2,556 euros, the equivalent of roughly $3,100. The euro figure is the equivalent of 5,000 deutschmarks, a sum the Claims Conference negotiated with the German government in 1980. The money will be distributed beginning in July.
The youngest Algerian survivors, born in 1942, would today be 76 years old. Most, however, are in their 80s and 90s, Schneider said. As important as the money is, even more valuable is acknowledgment of their suffering, Schneider told JTA. “They weren’t murdered but there were lots of deprivations” under the anti-Semitic Vichy laws.
“There weren’t extermination camps in Algeria but a person’s childhood was turned upside down because of this persecution targeting Jews. It becomes a huge part of a person’s identity. The experience during the war for so many people defines them, is the seminal experience of their lives. All these decades it’s never been acknowledged,” said Greg Schneider, executive vice president of the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany.
Read more: https://forward.com/fast-forward/393621/germany-recognizes-algerian-jews-as-holocaust-survivors/

Monday, February 05, 2018

Why are Mizrahim failing to support Africans in Israel?

As African 'refugees' are served with their deportation papers from Israel, there is something disturbing about this cry from Yair Asulin in Haaretz for Mizrahim to rise up in solidarity just because both populations are non-white. Why would the predominantly Mizrahi residents of south Tel Aviv, whose experience of living cheek-by-jowl with the Africans has been less than happy, excoriate the Netanyahu government for taking steps to solve the refugee problem? (With thanks: Sylvia)
African migrants queue at the Israeli ministry of the interior (Photo: Meged Gozani)
The most resounding silence surrounding the refugees’ issue is that of the “Mizrahi movement.” I’m referring to the silence over the absurdity of the refugees’ expulsion and Israeli society’s disregard for the weak. I’m talking about the silence of those who deal with the Mizrahi issue, those who repeatedly seek to point out the racism in Israeli society and smash existing conventions, and who want to challenge prejudiced views about people and human nature.

On the face of it, what’s so surprising? A quick glimpse at almost any newspaper shows that the struggle seems to be between the Mizrahim – “south Tel Aviv,” “Shas” – and the asylum seekers. On the face of it, that’s the story: Are you for south Tel Aviv, are you for the women who kissed Netanyahu’s hand during that visit, the women who look just like your grandmother – or are you for the refugees, the foreigners, the blacks? 

This tension also corresponds, of course, to the left-right fault line. It’s troubling to see how Mizrahi rhetoric, by its silence, falls into line with this story, with these old divisions. How it doesn’t rise up against this characterization of Mizrahi as “south Tel Aviv.” How it adopts, almost automatically, the identity that those in power designate for Mizrahim. How come there’s no uprising?

I deliberately talk about “uprising,” because the situation actually provides a real opening to escape from these labels. This situation is an opportunity to break down the order, a chance to say, “We stand in solidarity,” “We are no longer playing this game,” “Israel has deeply, criminally neglected south Tel Aviv since long before the asylum seekers, don’t con us, don’t sell us that nonsense, don’t cover one evil with another.” It’s a chance to say, “This is us.”

And yet, there is silence. We see Mizrahim identify with the old, cynical, degenerate order, with those who in the name of racism want to deport asylum seekers to a bad place. Obviously there is no equating the Mizrahi struggle with that of the refugees. That’s not the argument. Solidarity is something much deeper. 

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Arabs are torch-bearers for Nazi antisemitism

The virus of Holocaust denial is alive and well in the Arab and Muslim world. It goes hand in hand with Jewish nakba denial, argues Lyn Julius in JNS News.

On the day that the world commemorated the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, the U.K. liberal newspaper The Guardian declared in an editorial :

“The Arabs, meanwhile, cannot be blamed for feeling that Europe’s blood debt to the Jews was paid with what they see as their territory.”
 
Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini (left) meets with Adolf Hitler in 1941. Credit: German Federal Archives.
 
The myth of the Arabs as innocent bystanders, who had no responsibility for the Holocaust—and indeed, paid the price for a European crime when Israel was established—is widely believed.
 
The Arabs, like other third-world peoples, are only ever seen as victims of Western oppression and colonialism. They cannot themselves be guilty of oppressing others.

The West self-righteously deplores the old European anti-Semitism of the “far right.” But a new Green-Brown-Red anti-Semitism—encouraged by an alliance of the Far Left, the Greens and Islamist sympathizers—is studiously downplayed, ignored by the media, or blamed on Israel.

Truth be told, the virus of Nazi anti-Semitism was exported to the Arab and Muslim world as early as the 1930s. It gave ideological inspiration to Arab nationalist parties like the Ba’athists in Syria and Iraq and paramilitary groups like Young Egypt, founded in 1933. Anti-Jewish conspiracy theories are the central plank of the totalitarian Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928, and their ideological cousins, Islamic State, who sought to impose Allah’s kingdom on Earth through jihad and forced conversion of non-Muslims.

The Holocaust was, in the words of author Robert Satloff, as much an Arab story as a European. In spite of efforts to trumpet the stories of individual “righteous” Muslims who rescued Jews (particularly in Albania), scholars continue to uncover evidence of Arab sympathy and collaboration with Nazism.

 Walter Doehle, German consul in Jerusalem, wrote in 1937:

“Palestinian Arabs in all social strata have great sympathies for the new Germany and its Führer..…If a person identified himself as a German when faced with threats from an Arab crowd, this alone generally allowed him to pass freely. But when some identified themselves by making the ‘Heil Hitler’ salute, in most cases the Arabs’ attitude became expressions of open enthusiasm, and the German gave ovations, to which the Arabs responded loudly.”

When Tunisia came under direct Nazi occupation between November 1942 and May 1943, at least 2,000 Jews were sent to work in labor camps. The reaction of Tunisia’s Muslim majority was, according to Satloff, “widespread indifference.”

He wrote:
“Gestures of support and active assistance for the minority being displaced, disenfranchised, plundered and conscripted into forced labour were very rare. Arab passers-by would publicly insult and physically attack individuals.”

Although he was not the only collaborator with Nazism—Fawzi al-Qawuqji, Rashid Ali al-Kelani, Abu Ibrahim al-Kabir, Hassan Salama and Arif Abd al-Raziq spring to mind—the role played by Palestinian leader and Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini in fomenting anti-Jewish incitement and violence, not just in British Palestine but across the Arab world, is key. From 1931, he conflated “Zionists” with “Jews.” Any Jewish community became fair game for collective punishment—and still is.

The Mufti met with Hitler in Berlin in November 1941 to discuss the extermination of the Jews in the Middle East. He spent the rest of the war as a guest of the Nazis.

Adolf Eichmann’s deputy Dieter Wisliceny (later executed as a war criminal) in his Nuremburg Trials testimony stated, “the Mufti was one of Eichmann’s best friends and had constantly incited him to accelerate the extermination measures.”
On a visit to Auschwitz, the Mufti reportedly admonished the guards running the gas chambers to work more diligently. Throughout the war, he broadcast regularly on German radio to the Middle East, preaching his pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic message to the Arab masses back home.

Had the Allies not liberated Tunisia from the Nazis, Libya from the Italian fascists, and Algeria and Morocco from the Vichy regime in 1943, it is a fair bet that the local Arab population would not have lifted a finger to halt the deportation of the Jews of Palestine and the Arab world to death camps.

Arguably, North African states, having not yet achieved independence, were not responsible for Jewish suffering: anti-Jewish measures were implemented by the Vichy regime and the Italian fascists. But the Iraqi government cannot so lightly be let off the hook. Iraq, independent since 1932, was the scene of a pro-Nazi coup in 1941, leading inexorably to the Farhud, the Iraqi-Jewish Kristallnacht. In this two-day orgy of murder, rape, mutilation and looting, up to 600 Jews were killed, according to British archival records. The exact figure will never be known.

The Palestinian Mufti played a central role in plotting the pro-Nazi coup in Iraq.
The Mufti was personally responsible for the deaths of 20,000 European Jews murdered in the Nazi Holocaust. He organized the killing of 12,600 Bosnian Jews by Muslims, whom he recruited to the Waffen-SS Nazi-Bosnian division. He personally stopped 4,000 children, accompanied by 500 adults, from leaving Europe and had them sent to Auschwitz and gassed; he prevented another 2,000 Jews from leaving Romania and 1000 from leaving Hungary for Palestine—they too were sent to death camps.

Only three years after the end of World War ll, the members of the Arab League were bent on emulating the Nazis. They set about making the Arab Middle East judenrein (free of Jews)They applied Nuremberg-style laws, criminalizing Zionism, freezing Jewish bank accounts, instituting quotas, imposing restrictions on jobs and movement. The result was the mass exodus and spoliation of a million Jews. Yet very few Arabs acknowledge they are to blame for the so-called Jewish nakba (catastrophe). Holocaust denial goes hand-in-hand with Jewish nakba denial.

In 1945, the Mufti of Jerusalem should have been tried as a war criminal at Nuremberg. He was indicted, judged and convicted by Yugoslavia for crimes against humanity, arising from his pivotal role in the Handschar and Skandeberg SS divisions which deported Balkan Jews from Kosovo, Macedonia and Thrace. But the Allies shrank from offending the Arabs.

Not only has the virus of Nazi anti-Semitism never left the Arab and Muslim world, it has grown exponentially. Muslim immigrants have carried the the virus of Jew-hatred back into European countries. Saudi petrodollars have financed the spread of Islamism, with its implicit anti-Semitism, worldwide.

That is why today, in the Arab and Muslim world, Holocaust denial is alive and well.

The ghost of Nazi-inspired, anti-Jewish bigotry was never exorcised from the Arab world. In fact Arabs became its torch-bearers. On Jan. 14, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, whose university thesis was an exercise in Holocaust denial, shocked all right-thinking individuals with a speech dripping with anti-Semitism, and blaming the Jews for their own deaths in the Holocaust.

Eichmann himself hoped his “Arab friends” would continue his battle against the Jews who were always the “principal war criminals” and “principal aggressors.” He hadn’t managed to complete his task of “total annihilation,” but the Muslims could still complete it for him.

Enough said.

Read article in full

Friday, February 02, 2018

'The harmony in Lebanon was skin-deep'

Two Lebanese Jews, Rabbi Abadie and Dr Madeb, tell their stories to the Jewish Press. There are now no more than 10 or 15 scattered and intermarried Jews living in the country today. The restored Maghen Avraham synagogue in Beirut is yet to open its doors.

Lebanon’s constitution was a boon for the Jews: It guaranteed the freedom of religion and provided each religious community, including the Jewish one, the right to manage its own civil matters, including education. “Lebanon was known as the Switzerland of the Middle East and Beirut as Paris, and the Jewish community prospered,” says Rabbi Abadie.

“Many Jews throughout the 1920s and 30s also used Lebanon as a pied-à-terre, a stop-over that led to greener pastures. As a result, the Jewish population remained in flux, numbering between 15,000 to 20,000,” he says. Our conversation is peppered with phrases in French and Italian because Rabbi Abadie, like so many with a cosmopolitan background, knows that sometimes the most concise and exact wording exists only in a foreign language.

Lebanon as a Jewish Refuge
In 1943, France agreed to transfer control of the country to the Lebanese government. In 1948, in the wake of the Israel’s War of Independence, the number of Jews in Lebanon increased due to Syrian and Iraqi Jewish refugees who were escaping persecution in their countries. They fled to Lebanon where they could live in harmony with the Druze, Shiites, Sunnis, and Christians.



The Bet Din of Lebanon circa 1969-1970 performing a wedding. L-R: Rabbi Abraham Abadie, Rabbi Yaakob Attieh, Rabbi Shahud Chreim
The harmony, however, was skin-deep; the position of the Jews was not entirely secure. In the wake of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, several Jews were arrested and interned as Zionist spies. In addition, the Lebanese Chamber of Deputies debated heatedly on the status of Lebanese Jewish army officers. When the discussions culminated in a unanimous resolution to expel the officers, two Jewish army officers were discharged.


The Abadie family was one of the families that fled their home during this period and moved to Lebanon. The family of seven children was well-established in Aleppo, Syria, when the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine was announced in 1947 and riots broke out throughout the Middle East.

“We lived next door to the synagogue. My mother watched the synagogue being looted and pillaged, the chief rabbi being dragged out and the Syrian police helping out with the violence,” says Rabbi Abadie, recalling his mother’s words. “We fled immediately through the back door without any belongings.”

For the next two years, utilizing the baksheesh (bribery) system to the fullest, Abraham Abadie traveled back and forth between Lebanon and Syria, trying to liquidate his assets. One night, he was tipped off that he would be arrested the following day. “That night he fled. He huddled among the livestock in the luggage wagon of a train heading for Lebanon. When the train conductor came to search the area with a torch, he barely escaped detection. Soon after, he leapt off the train and crossed the ravine between the Syrian-Lebanese border by foot,” says Rabbi Abadie.

For the Abadie family, Lebanon was home for the next 23 years. They shared friendly relations with their neighbors who were a mix of Druze, Shiites, Suniis and Christians. As an aside, Rabbi Abadie mentions that documentary filmmaker Rola Khayyat, who directed “From Beirut to Brooklyn,” connected Rabbi Abadie with one of his former neighbors for a friendly chat.

By 1958, the Lebanese Jewish population had reached its peak of 15,000 members. Most of these Jews lived in Beirut in the Jewish Quarter in Wadi Abu Jamil.

“In this area of about one and a half blocks, there were 16 synagogues that were always full,” says Dr. Madeb. “The shuls were run by a central committee that oversaw all religious affairs. The school systems (Otzar Hatorah, the Lebanese Talmud Torah and the Alliance Francaise  (Israelite - ed) taught in French, Arabic and Hebrew. The Talmud Torah taught more traditional Jewish subjects. A charity organization arranged school lunches for students who needed them.

When we reached the age of ten or eleven, we moved to the Alliance Francaise, where Hebrew subjects focused more on grammar and linguistic skills,” says Dr. Madeb. “In the summers, we traveled half an hour to the mountains and prayed in the Aleh and the Bhamdoun synagogues,” he adds. The harmony between the different sects in Beirut played out even in the synagogue: “Sheikh Pierre Gemayel, founder of the Phalange Party would come to the Magen Avraham synagogue on Pesach to wish us a happy holiday,” says Dr. Madeb.

“We didn’t have any specifically Jewish Lebanese customs, because we were from Aleppo,” says Rabbi Abadie, “but I do remember that a special raffle was held for the children to see who would win the right to read the Ten Commandments in parashat Yitro as translated and interpreted by the 10th century Rav Saadia Gaon. That booklet from which the children prepared for the reading was one of the things that Rabbi Abadie took with him when his family left Lebanon.

The Tide Turns
In 1958, Lebanon was threatened with civil war: Lebanese Muslims pushed the government to join the newly created United Arab Republic, while Maronite Christians in the democratic Phalange Party wanted to keep Lebanon aligned with Western powers. President Camille Chamoun requested U.S. military intervention, and once the crisis was over, the United States withdrew. The crisis was the signal for Jews to begin emigrating. While many left for North American, South America and Israel, the Abadie family, which was active in the Jewish community and provided the members with kosher wine and yellow cheese and matzah on Pesach, remained.

The next crisis hit in 1967, in the wake of the Six-Day War. “The Jewish quarter was in Wadi Abu Jamil. Although government forces protected us with a tank at the end of the street, we felt very isolated. We painted the light blue and kept down the shades. We didn’t show any sign of being Jewish when we went out into the street.”

Most of the Jews left Lebanon; for those remaining, tension reigned.

“One Friday morning, my father awoke to see a poster of himself and two other rabbis posted outside mosques. The three were labeled Zionist agents,” says Rabbi Abadie. The incident provided the impetus for Rabbi Abraham Abadie to contact his sons who had been in Mexico since 1965 and arrange for the family to enter Mexico as refugees.

For the Madeb family too, the time had come to begin moving out. Immediately after the war, two of the Madeb children left for Israel. Young Isaac Madeb, who had already begun studying medicine at the University of Lebanon in Beirut, made his way to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris where he asked to continue his university studies in a French university. “Even before the war, the animosity had been there below the surface. After the war, the Christian students avoided sitting next to the Jews in classes because they feared the Moslems and the Moslems avoided sitting next to us because they didn’t want to be associated with Israel,” he says. In Paris, the young student became active in the Toit Familiale (a Hillel House of sorts) where he worked to provide the students with a new social hall and kosher meals.

Back in Beirut after completing his internship, Dr. Madeb married and moved into a position at the American University of Beirut Medical Center. “I gained entry thanks to the help of a friend in the Lebanese Phalanges Party (the Christian Democratic party) who insisted that there was no difference between Christians and Jews,” says Dr. Madeb. “But this kind of talk didn’t land any of my friends jobs in public positions or banks,” he adds. After six months, Dr. Madeb and his bride made their way to the United States.

Final Years of the Jewish Community
The groundwork for the Lebanese civil war was laid in the Six Day War. Palestinian fighters known as fedayeen had moved their bases to Jordan and stepped up their attacks on Israel. Now they left Jordan and headed for Lebanon. Black September in 1970 saw the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF) fighting against the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). For the Abadie family, the spring breeze of 1971 brought their freedom. “Erev Pesach we received a telegram that we had visas to leave. Just like our forefathers, our freedom had come,” says Rabbi Abadie.

The family left Lebanon in August. Mexico City became home for the next eight years, until 1979, when Rabbi Abadie immigrated to the Unites States leaving the rest of the family in Mexico.

Read article in full

Thursday, February 01, 2018

UK Jewish charity aided 1956 refugees from Egypt


 Jewish refugees arriving from Egypt by ship

The year 1956 disgorged two refugee communities - 20,000 Hungarian Jews fleeing the Revolution, and 25,000 Egyptian Jews expelled by Nasser.

The inflow of refugees presented a challenge to the Central British Fund, the main body for resettling Jewish refugees in Britain (now known as World Jewish Relief). A JTA article points out the differences between the two sets of refugees: for example, the Hungarian women immediately put their skills to good use, while upper class Jewish women arriving from Egypt ' had never worked in their lives'.

The 26th Annual Report of the CBF, uncovered by researcher Liran Morav, reveals that  some 622 families representing 1,937 individuals had registered with the Jewish Refugees Committee. Of those, 338 families had British nationality, although most had never set foot in the country, still less spoken the language. As British subjects, however, they were eligible for help from the Anglo-British Resettlement Board, established in 1957 to deal with British expellees. The first arrival to join the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation was Joseph Savdie, chairman of the Cairo Stock Exchange.

The refugees, says the report, 'needed every kind of assistance' - including housing and furnishing grants. They received ex-gratia loans against personal  and business assets left behind in Egypt, on a sliding scale. These loans amounted to about half the losses suffered. The maximum a refugee could receive was £10, 000 for lost assets of £20,000 or more.

Some 284 families (930 people) were ineligible for help, being stateless or of other nationalities. The Jewish Refugees Committee stepped in to help supply funds for rehousing, in addition to supplementing inadequate family incomes. It also subsidised students.

Another 44 cases, or 118 individuals immigrated into Britain that year. All were sponsored by a guarantee from relatives that they would not be a charge on public funds.

One of the more startling findings of the CBF report is the aid given to Moroccan Jews, then the largest Jewish community in the Arab world. Some 30 percent received help from the American Joint, with which the CBF collaborated closely. "The living standards of most of the Jewish population of Morocco are very low and basic needs correspondingly great", states the report.

The Joint had to step in to fund the schooling of 40,000 children when the Moroccan government (Morocco became independent in 1956) froze its subsidy at the 1957 level, leaving the Alliance (AIU), which educated 30,000 Jewish children, with a large deficit.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Saudi official: 'Holocaust denial distorts history'

In a historic move, the leader of the Muslim World League, a group based in Saudi Arabia, has condemned Holocaust denial as a “crime [that] distort[s] history and an insult to the dignity of those innocent souls who have perished.” But Dr Muhammad bin abdel-Kareem Al-Issa did not mention that Jews were the primary victims. United for Israel reports:


In a letter sent to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum last week, Dr. Muhammad bin abdel-Kareem Al-Issa, the secretary general of the Muslim World League, wrote that “history is indeed impartial no matter how hard forgers tried to tamper with or manipulate it.”

Al-Issa wrote the message, sent to museum director Sara Bloomfield, five days before International Holocaust Remembrance Day was marked on January 27.
Al-Issa also referred Holocaust denial as “an affront to us all since we share the same human soul and spiritual bonds.”

The cleric did not specify Jews as the principal victims of the Holocaust in his letter, but instead spoke of “this human tragedy perpetrated by evil Nazism” and “our great sympathy with the victims of the Holocaust, an incident that shook humanity to the core, and created an event whose horrors could not be denied or underrated by any fair-minded or peace-loving person.”

Read article in full

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Alexander Aciman: 'Am I French? Sort of'

 Alexander Aciman provides an  antidote to the fashionable identity label 'Arab Jew' with this tribute to the powerful influence of French culture on Jews who went to the schools of the Alliance Israelite Universelle in Arab countries. But France can no longer protect Jews, he argues.  Read his column in the New York Times.


I have spent my entire life trying to explain to people why I speak French, why I grew up speaking French with my father and grandparents, why at least half of my phone calls involve some shouting in French. “Are you French?” they’ll ask. “Sort of” is usually the best I can do.

My confusing family history and the reason I speak French begins in the 1860s, when Adolphe Crémieux, a Frenchman who would go on to become minister of justice, founded a Jewish organization called the Alliance Israélite Universelle and started what it called a “civilizing mission” aimed at teaching Middle Eastern Jews how to speak French and inducting them into French culture. The Alliance opened schools in Turkey and across the Maghreb, and by 1900 had almost 30,000 Jews in its tutelage.

The mission’s aftershock was that foreign Jews felt French even though some might never even step foot in Europe. For French-speaking Jews around the world, the Alliance promised something as powerful and as compelling as the American dream. But it wasn’t just language that the Alliance gave to Jews. They read all of French literature and studied the history of France as one studies their own national culture and history. As a child in Alexandria my father read from a book called “Ma première histoire de France,” “My First History of France,” a book that he would eventually pass on me.

I inherited this French dream. Though my siblings and I were born and raised in the United States, my father made sure we spoke the family language. I feel most at home when I am in France, where I get to speak the language that I dream in. Like a sap, I get choked up when they sing “La Marseillaise” in “Casablanca.”

But things are not so dreamy for Jews today in France. The country is struggling to maintain and protect its large Jewish population, the third largest in the world, which has been dwindling precipitously thanks to the wave of anti-Semitism that has gripped the country over the past decade. In 2015 — the year of the Charlie Hebdo attack — 8,000 Jews left France and headed for Israel.

Read article in full

Monday, January 29, 2018

What? There were Jews in Somalia?

It was in 2007 that Nancy Hartevelt Kobrin came across an article  in the Jerusalem Post revealing the existence of Avraham the Blogger, the last Jew of Somalia. (Our PoNR post carrying an extract attracted 38 comments, mostly from Somalis - some sympathetic, some antisemitic.) Her curiosity piqued that a Jew could survive in a country hostile to Jews,  Dr Kobrin exchanged emails with Avraham (Rami) over three years: they would serve as the basis for a book she has just published. Then, in 2010,  the trail went cold.  

Dr Kobrin writes in the Jerusalem Post:

I asked to be put in touch with Av, who also called himself Rami.

We corresponded from 2007 to 2010 – over 300 emails. I came to know this wonderful young Jewish man and his inspiring mother, Ashira Haybi. They were alone without family, with roots extending back well over one hundred years. Rami’s dad, killed during the civil war, traced his roots to Aden, Yemen, while his mom traced hers to Ta’iz, also in Yemen. Ashira was an accomplished businesswoman trading in textiles. She kept a kosher home, was Shabbat observant and raised Rami to continue the tradition. They fought vigorously to preserve their Judaism under extreme duress.

 Jews sailed across the Gulf of Arabia from Yemen to found a community in Somalia. It is thought that the Ybir tribe converted from Judaism in the 13th century.

Rami spoke candidly about the fierce antisemitism and hatred of the yahud, the Jew. Oddly, it was a Somali Muslim physicist living in London in the Anglo-Somali diaspora who pondered the Jewish diaspora experience and wondered why his people were struggling to adapt. How had the Jews done it? In many ways, Rami and Ashira’s plight calls to mind how the Jews in Nazi-occupied countries were hunted down and exterminated as signs of the Holocaust became manifest. Ordinary people had to ask themselves: when does one leave the land in which you were born and raised and where your grandparents and great-grandparents have lived for generations? And if you must leave, how can you make the arrangements, find the courage and plunge into the unknown? The emails are a gateway into the terrifying world in which Rami and his mother lived and persevered against seemingly impossible odds.

It is often difficult for the lay public to understand the toll that chronic stress and trauma take upon an individual’s psyche. To live in such a toxic environment, under the constant threat of death just because you are a Jew, may seem irrelevant to non-Jews and especially those who profess Islamic antisemitism.

It has been said by some Somalis that they do not know Jews. Perhaps one of the biggest opportunities to counter antisemitism among the Muslim communities is the potential for Somali Muslim diaspora communities to begin to know Jews.

This could dissolve their irrational learned hatred of the Jew.

The emails broke off suddenly in 2008 and then again suddenly I received one email several days after Passover in 2010. Rami promised that he would write more and said it was a sign from “Hashem” that he had remembered his complicated question and password. Tragically I never heard from him again.

Over the years I have continued my search for Rami and his mother. Seven years have passed. My thoughts often turn to all the millions of families who were caught up in the Holocaust, the dead, the survivors, their relatives and friends who even now continue to search for each other.

A year and a half ago it dawned on me that there was virtually nothing written about Somali Jewry. I realized that Rami’s emails were essentially the only extant documents of the last remnant of contemporary Jews in Somalia. As I began to draft the book, my colleague Dr. Norman Simms read the correspondence and referred to Rami and his mother as “crypto-Jews.” Simms is an expert on Sephardi culture.

What struck me was that it was so obvious and yet I had never thought of that phrase. Was it because I was so terrified to think of the consequences of living a Jewish life in Somalia? I contacted Mohammed Diriye Abdullahi, author of Culture and Customs of Somalia. He verified that he had heard about a crypto- Jewish community in Mogadishu.

Rami’s emails bear witness to Jewish survival in a hostile Somali environment under constant threat of attack by Al Shabaab and the clan warlords. Acknowledgment of the existence of the Jews should be part of the effort to enhance Somalia’s pluralism. A future healthy and less violent Somalia may very well depend upon the country’s ability to recuperate and embrace its diversity, especially that of its persecuted minorities.

Read article in full