Monday, December 11, 2017

75 years since the Nazi occupation of Tunisia

Seventy-five years since the Nazi occupation of Tunisia, this video is a precious visual record of the six months of hell suffered by the Jewish community. The first round-up of Jewish males took place on 9 December 1942: some 5,000 Jews were to be sent to forced labour camps.
The procession took one Jew past his own house. His neighbours, whom he had always got on with, stood on their balconies shouting: 'Dirty Jews!' It was then that he became a Zionist.
Admiral Esteva, a practising Christian, who headed the French administration, had failed to put into place some of the statut des juifs discriminatory laws: he  said he considered Tunisians of all faiths to be his subjects.
Had the Allies not liberated Tunisia, it is thought that the Nazis would have put into effect their plans for exterminating the Jews. 


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Peace is not possible without justice for Jews

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


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

Read article in full

Friday, December 08, 2017

Thousands of Jewish documents handed to Morocco

With thanks: Boruch

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


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

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

Read Shoa Memorial report (French) 

Morocco receives 43,000 documents from France


Thursday, December 07, 2017

BBC radio fails to mention Iraq's Farhud

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

In search of Jewish houses in Basra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read post in full


Tuesday, December 05, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

Monday, December 04, 2017

Civil rights campaigner and author Nissim Rejwan dies

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

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

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

 Nissim Rejwan

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

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

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

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

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

Read article in full

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Envoy calls for a peace based on truth

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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


Friday, December 01, 2017

30 November is observed worldwide (updated)

With thanks Joseph, Imre, Lily, Lisette

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

World Jewish Congress video

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Jews were victimised after the Six Day War

Today is 30 November, the date designated by the Israeli Knesset to remember the 850, 000 Jewish refugees forced from Arab countries. The date is being marked in Israel and worldwide. Writing in BESA Center News Edy Cohen recalls the predicament of Jewish communities in the aftermath of the Six Day War, a plight which Arab regimes tried to conceal.

Much has been written about the historical marginalization of the 900,000 Jews expelled from Arab states in the wake of the 1948 War. Few know that the June 1967 War played a similar role in accelerating the final demise of these historic communities. It is high time the international community rectified this longstanding injustice by ensuring that these refugees are fully compensated for their suffering and stolen property.
Jewish refugees from Libya (World Jewish Congress)

Fifty years after the June 1967 War, the Israel State Archives in Jerusalem released scores of classified files related to this historic event. While most deal with the war and the events that led to its outbreak, some address the predicament of the Jewish communities in the Arab states during and after the war. The picture that emerges is one of pogroms and persecution, at times orchestrated by the government, at times through spontaneous eruptions that occurred with the tacit support of the authorities.

This maltreatment occurred in almost all Arab states, though the level of violence differed. In Tunisia, Morocco, and Lebanon, for example, the authorities protected the Jews from the rampaging mobs, while in Syria and Yemen, there were isolated attacks on Jews. The most severe persecutions occurred in Libya, Egypt, and Iraq. Israel refrained from any direct public action so as not to give credence to the depiction of these Jewish communities as fifth columns serving the Jewish state’s interests. Covertly, however, through its Washington, London, Paris, Rome, Geneva, Brussels, Ankara, and Lisbon embassies, the Israeli Foreign Ministry acted on behalf of these communities.

The American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, the UN, and Jewish communities in the West were also enlisted to help out with protest gatherings and media publicity about the Jewish predicament in the Arab states. According to the documents, the Arab regimes tried to conceal the Jews’ persecution from foreign eyes, to deny any governmental involvement in the violent acts that were exposed, and to impose strict censorship so as to ensure that such acts were not publicized.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Turks arrest Torah traffickers

Cases of the authorities preventing the selling or smuggling of Torah manuscripts and scrolls (such as this one in Turkey, as reported in Times of Israel)  arise from time to time in the Arab or Muslim world. The Torah scrolls are invariably considered part of the national heritage, and not Jewish communal property. (With thanks: Lily)   


Turkish security forces seized a Torah manuscript earlier this month that is thought to be at least 700 years old and that was up for sale for $1.9 million, Turkish media reported.

Police, acting on an tip, reportedly detained four antique dealers after they tried to sell the manuscript to plainclothes detectives in Turkey’s southern Mugla province.
Three of them were released to house arrest and one remained behind bars.

Read article in full

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Events begin worldwide to remember Jewish Refugees

Mumbai, London, Singapore, Amsterdam, Miami, San Francisco, Geneva, Washington - just some of the cities where events to remember the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab lands are being held this week. Israel Hayom reports on forthcoming events in Israel (with thanks: Imre).
Screenshot from a video clip about Jews of Lebanon, part of a World Jewish Congress series about the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. 

Next Thursday, Israel plans to mark its annual memorial day of the expulsion of some 850,000 Jews from Arab states and Iran. The issue will also be commemorated around the world in the coming week.

On Thursday, representatives from the Aharon and Rachel Dahan Center for Culture, Society and Education in the Sephardic Heritage at Bar-Ilan University will take part in an event at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem to mark the exodus and expulsion of Jews from Arab countries and Iran.

According to Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, who initiated the event, "Throughout the 70 years of the State of Israel's existence, the story of Mizrahi Jews has been absent from the history of the Jewish people. We must correct that."

Next week, the Dahan Center will head an academic conference on the subject of Jewish refugeeism from Arab countries at the University of Maryland in College Park, near Washington, D.C. with the aim of exposing the plight of those Jewish communities.

Following the conference, the Israeli Embassy will host a special reception, to be attended by Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and Gamliel.

Events of the Day to Mark the Departure and Expulsion of Jews from the Arab Countries and Iran will be held in a number of international capitals next week, including in Europe, Latin America, North America and India next week. The events, organized by representatives of the Foreign Ministry, will include lectures, films and musical performances.

The head of the Foreign Ministry's Bureau for World Jewish Affairs and World Religions Akiva Tor said, "The Foreign Ministry sees paramount value in the presentation of the narrative of the expulsion and refugeeism of Jews from Arab states around the world, as a public diplomacy response and as a commitment to historical justice."

On Sunday, the Dahan Center at Bar-Ilan University hosted a conference ahead of the memorial day.

Speaking at the conference, Dahan Center Director and Chairman of the Alliance of Moroccan Immigrants Dr. Shimon Ohayon said, "For decades, the State of Israel ignored the stories of Jews from Arab countries and thus allowed pro-Palestinians to focus the awareness only on the Palestinian refugees and the Nakba [the Arabic term meaning 'catastrophe,' for the displacement of Palestinian refugees during Israel's War of Independence], without any mention of the heavy price paid by the Jews of Arab countries: pogroms, expulsion and the nationalization of property."

Ohayon noted that over $400 billion in Jewish property was nationalized by the Arab states.

Since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 to the early 1970s, around 850,000 Jews were either expelled from or fled Arab and Muslim countries.


Monday, November 27, 2017

Moroccan minorities complain of repression

Doesn't Morocco have a history of harmonious Muslim-Jewish coexistence? It seems not, given that a conference held  to examine the vexed question of religious and minority freedom in the country has been deemed 'controversial'. Report in the Lens Post (with thanks: Boruch):


 Berber Jews in a transit camp

For an overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim country, which once had a large Jewish population, the conference was highly controversial due to concerns over its motives, especially as there is no official recognition of Moroccans who change religion.

The organisers and religious minority advocates asked the government to clarify laws concerning freedom of worship.

“The state still places barriers when it comes to legal reforms concerning minorities,” Jawad el Hamidi, the coordinator of the Moroccan Commission of Religious Minorities, told AFP. “There is a kind of fear of opening this door and having a discussion – even civil society is still reluctant to talk freely about this topic.”

“We suffer repression and harassment,” said Hamidi, adding that some media had referred to those at the conference as “atheists” and “homosexuals”.
Attendees see the conference as a small step towards achieving religious freedom in Morocco, which suffers from an intolerance of religious diversity.

Read article in full 

Similar reports on Enca.com and US Press.from

Sunday, November 26, 2017

An Egyptian meets Mizrahi Israelis

It takes Haisam Hassanein, an Egyptian Muslim, to give this accurate Wall St Journal portrait of the Mizrahim he met in Israel. His conclusion is correct:  if only the Palestinians absorbed their refugees as effectively as Israel did its Jews from Arab lands. But he makes the assumption, as many do, that the culture of Mizrahim was Arabic, when for many it was French. (with thanks Gavin; Lily)
Many Mizrahim went through the experience of tent camps (Ma'abarot) on arrival in Israel

Thousands of years ago, Abraham and Sarah went from Israel to Egypt. So did Jacob and his sons. In my lifetime, I have made the reverse journey, traveling from Egypt to Israel by way of the U.S. During my travels I quickly discovered that the presence of the Jewish people in Arab lands did not end with the Exodus.
As a child in Egypt, my image of my Jewish countrymen was shaped by the numerous Egyptian television dramas that depicted them as spies, thieves and fifth columnists. I never knew any Jewish people personally. Naturally it came as a shock when, during my first visit to Israel in 2014, I met a man who spoke to me in perfect Iraqi Arabic, laced generously with profanity. He introduced me to the concept of “ Mizrahi Jews,” or those from the eastern lands.

For more than a thousand years the Mizrahi Jews lived and thrived in a wide swath of land, from Morocco to India and Central Asia. Some arrived in biblical times while others came after their expulsion from Spain in 1492. Often treated as second-class citizens, they nonetheless created a culture as diverse and distinctive as the places in which they settled.

But this story came to a crushing end for most Jews in Arab lands in 1948, when states like Yemen and Libya responded to the creation of the state of Israel by forcing out their Jewish populations. Since 2014, the Israeli government has designated Nov. 30—the day in 1947 when the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states—as the “Day to Mark the Departure and Expulsion of Jews from the Arab Countries and Iran.”

When I attended graduate school at Tel Aviv University, I befriended Egyptian Jews who were good, kindhearted people. They invited me to their Shabbat dinners, where we ate delicious Egyptian dishes, shared our love of Arabic music and culture, and discussed politics. I felt at home.

In the heart of Tel Aviv I met Rachmo, a vivacious 73-year-old Egyptian Jew whose restaurant served falafel made of beans in the Egyptian style, rather than the Israeli-Levantine version made of chickpeas. Still a proud Egyptian, he had mounted pictures of the pyramids and the sphinx at the entrance of his shop.

In perfect Egyptian Arabic, he described the trauma of immigrating to Israel with his family at age 13. After escaping persecution in Egypt, his family was placed in a camp in Israel, where his upper-middle class parents had to work in construction to earn a living. Living in a land settled and dominated by European Jews, or Ashkenazim, they often felt denigrated by their Jewish brethren. “They did not know that we Egyptians were more cultured, polite, and not troublemakers,” he told me last year.

Like many immigrant groups, Mizrahi Jews sometimes felt the price of acceptance was full assimilation, or abandoning their old culture. Many of the succeeding generations do not speak Arabic or observe their unique customs. One of my professors in Tel Aviv once said in class that as a child of Iraqi immigrants, he used to brag among his peers that his father spoke English and French. He never mentioned Arabic.

At the same time, Mizrahi Jews remember all too well the discrimination they suffered in the old country. Many Iraqi and Morrocan Jews in Israel were alive when persecution was at its worst in the 1940s and ’50s. Some continue to harbor a bitterness that drives them to support Israel’s far-right parties. “The Ashkenazim will never understand the Arabs as we do,” a friend recalled his grandmother’s admonition. “They only know about the Holocaust.”

But today the landscape has changed as Israeli society becomes more inclusive. Eastern Jewish culture is honored. Intermarriage between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim is a nonissue. The Mizrahi Jew Avi Gabbay heads the Israeli Labor Party, the current main opposition party and historic domain of Ashkenazi Jews going back to the Zionist ideologues of Europe.

As a Muslim, I am acutely aware of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who have been left to languish in camps for decades, unwelcome in the lands of their Arab and Muslim neighbors. Most recently, Syrian refugees are isolated in tent cities or face discrimination when they try to integrate into new countries. The successful absorption of Jews from eastern countries in Israel—across linguistic and cultural barriers—is a modern-day success story that deserves to be remembered, celebrated and emulated.

Read article in full

Friday, November 24, 2017

'An Israeli stamp on a cereal packet could get you jailed'

Jews who stayed behind in Iraq after the mass exodus of the 1950s include David Dangoor and David Khalastchi. Dangoor is one of eight Jews who recount their experience of oppression and exile from Iraq in the new film Remember Baghdad. Report by Joe Shute in the Daily Telegraph.

Despite still being a child, Dangoor recalls several moments from his youth where he noticed enmity building towards the Jews. On one occasion he sent off for an offer of a stamp starter collection he had seen on the back of a cereal packet. When the packet arrived it contained a stamp for Israel his father quickly took it off him and destroyed it. “An Israeli stamp could get you in prison,” he says.

On another occasion he remembers being asked he if was a Zionist by school friends despite not even knowing what the word meant. One 16-year-old Jewish pupil at a different school was even sent to prison after being tricked into drawing the Star of David on a blackboard.




120,000 Iraqi Jews abandoned their homes to fly to Israel
 
120,000 Iraqi Jews abandoned their homes to fly to Israel ( Dangoor Family archive)
In 1958 the British installed monarchy was overthrown and the life of the ruling classes upended forever. David Dangoor's family left the following year, spending a year in Lebanon before settling in Britain.

In order to leave all Jewish families were forced to sign a document saying that if they did not return in three months all their assets were surrendered to the Iraqi state. Dangoor remembers his father saying his freedom was worth more than anything he left behind.

David Khalastchi carried on in Iraq despite worsening persecution against the Jewish community making it almost impossible to live in the country.  Eventually in 1967 after having his passport confiscated for three years he managed to secure one through an intelligence contact and flee over the border with his wife and daughter.

Of the many tragedies he was forced to witness in exile, one occasion from 1969 stands out for David Khalastchi when the young Ba’athist Saddam Hussein hanged 13 people, nine of them Jewish, as supposed traitors to the regime in front of a jubilant crowd.

“They were people who had nothing to do with anything,” he says with sorrow.
Khalastchi and Dangoor are proud of their adopted homeland and have raised families here. The latter was a pupil at (now closed) Carmel College, once known as the Jewish Eton, and helped his father establish a multi-million pound property business in London.

Read article in full

Remember Baghdad will be screened on 3 December at the Phoenix cinema, East Finchley in London at 5.15 pm. For details see www.rememberbaghdad.com

Reviews of Remember Baghdad here 

BBC Radio fails to mention Iraq's Farhud

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Kuwaiti writer: Israel is a legitimate state

As relations warm up between Israel and Saudi Arabia, do we detect a thaw in relations between Arabs and Israel? Two clips from MEMRI seem to suggest this - but the real proof of a change is whether these two exponents of coexistence with Israel put their lives in danger by saying publicly what they think. (With thanks: Lily)

 

Kuwaiti writer Abdullah Al-Hadlaq said that Israel was an independent and legitimate sovereign state and that there was no occupation, but instead, "a people returning to its promised land."

"When the State of Israel was established in 1948, there was no state called 'Palestine,'" said Al-Hadlaq. He recalled that he had once written: "I wished that we could be like the people of the State of Israel, who rallied, down to the very last one, to defend a single Israeli soldier." In the interview, which was broadcast by the Kuwaiti Alrai TV channel on November 19, Al-Hadlaq further said that he believed in peaceful coexistence with Israel and envisioned a three-way alliance of Israel, the Arab Gulf states, and America "in order to annihilate Hizbullah beyond resurrection." The interview caused an uproar in the Arab media and social networks.
 Read transcript in full

 Palestinian expert on international law Dr. Anis Fawzi Qasim said that it would be naive to call upon Arab Jews to return to their home countries. "The Jews in Israel are better off than the Jews in the Arab world," he said, asking: "What exactly [would they be] returning to?" Dr. Qasim, who resides in Jordan, was a member of the advisory committee to the Palestinian-Jordanian delegation to the 1991 Madrid Conference. His remarks aired on Al-Quds TV on November 3, 2017.

Read transcript in full

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Beirut Jews live in hiding despite new synagogue

Beirut has a renovated synagogue, but Jews are so terrified of reprisals that they enter wearing facemasks. The community is in hiding, Shadi Bassil writes in the New Mexico Jewish Link: (with thanks: Boruch)


In 1848, some Jewish families came to Mount Chouf seeking sanctuary from growing anti-Semitic violence in Damascus. During this period, the Lebanese-Jewish community settled in Sidon, Hasbaya, and Beirut. Also, Jews immigrated to Beirut from different parts of the world, where the city’s Jewish quarter was home to Ladino-speaking Sephardic Jews, Arabic and Berber speaking Jews from Morocco, and French-speaking Ashkenazi Jews.

Their presence ultimately proved to be pivotal to the economic growth of Lebanon’s most important city. Beirut’s Jewish quarter, Wadi Abu Jamil, became the center of Jewish worship in the city when the Magen Abraham Synagogue was constructed. Even after the neighborhood was deserted at the start of the civil war, it remained known as the Valley of the Jews.

Currently, Wadi Abu Jamil has virtually become Beirut’s safest neighborhood because of its proximity to the Grand Serail, the seat of Lebanon’s Prime Minister, in addition to the offices of several Lebanese politicians.

It is specifically from there, in Wadi Abu Jamil, that the Jewish community is attempting to rebuild itself, and rise from the ashes in a neighborhood that was reduced to rubble during Lebanon’s destructive war. This attempt was put under the spotlight when finally, after a lot of political back and forth, the decision was made to renovate the synagogue.

The main issue was obtaining guarantees from Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most dominant political party and paramilitary organization, for the safety of the workers involved in renovating the structure and the community members it was going to serve. Hezbollah subsequently came out with a statement welcoming the idea behind the project, and declaring that it had no problem with Lebanese Jews as long as they rejected political Zionism and denounced Israel.

Despite those guarantees, Jewish workers refused to enter the premises without wearing face masks, owing to their fear of public reprisals. After everything lined up politically, the project received a green light and some funding was obtained from Solidere, a private contractor very close to the Lebanese government, while the rest of the funds came from donations collected by the Lebanese Jewish Community Council and its president Isaac Arazi.

The renovation was mostly completed around 2010, but the synagogue remains empty. It is very difficult to gain entry onto grounds on the account of tight security. To date, no services have been held there since the project was completed, and the community it was intended to serve is still more or less in hiding.

Nevertheless, the renovation holds more symbolic value than it does practical, because it establishes some sort of the recognition coveted for generations by a community that felt abandoned and unwanted. In a place as volatile as Lebanon, no one knows what the future holds for Lebanon’s remaining Jews, but tiny specs of hope such as this one are a welcome change.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Egyptians initially welcomed the Balfour declaration

On the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration and the  40th anniversary of President Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, paving the way to the Israel Egypt peace treaty, Ayman Ashour has written this fascinating article in Egyptian Streets. Egyptians were at first well-disposed to the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, a sympathy that Egypt has tried to suppress. However, Ashour  is on shakier ground when he claims that Egyptians saved  Jews from the Nazis - rescue efforts were limited and the sympathy of the great mass of Egyptians lay with Nazism. Alexandrian Jews fled the city for old Cairo and businessmen whose names were blacklisted left the country altogether. It is not true that mainly Ashkenazi Jews left for Israel after 1948, and that Egyptian policy towards its Jews was antisemitic only after 1967. Stateless and Egyptian Jews were expelled after 1956.

Arthur Balfour

Contrary to widespread belief, in 1917, and for over a decade after that, the Balfour Declaration was not seen by most Egyptian intellectuals as detrimental to Palestine. Interestingly enough, some Egyptian Muslim and Christian families held parties to celebrate the declaration. Telegrams of gratitude were sent to Lord Balfour by the then-Governor of Alexandria Ahmad Ziour Pasha, a Muslim.
“The Governor of Alexandria Ahmad Ziour Pasha – later Prime Minister of Egypt – went to a party in the city celebrating the Balfour Declaration, that culminated in their sending a telegram to Lord Balfour to thank him,” according to Leila Ahmed in “A Border Passage”.
A delegation of leading Muslims and Christians traveled to congratulate the Jews of Palestine. Many Egyptian Zionist leaders were also Egyptian nationalists and fully committed to the cause of independence from Britain.

Egyptians support of the Balfour Declaration lasted beyond 1917. The Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar officially hosted Chaim Weizmann, co-author of the draft of the declaration submitted to Lord Balfour, when he visited Egypt on his way to Palestine in 1918. The Grand Sheikh was alleged to have made a donation of 100 EGP to the Zionist cause, Egyptian academic and writer Mohamed Aboulghar in his book about the Jews of Egypt confirms the meeting but alleges that actually a donation was made by Weismann to Al Azhar. Weizmann’s cultivation of regional support for the Zionist movement extended to his efforts with the rulers of Hijaz where he executed an accord with Emir Faisal endorsing the Declaration.
The Hebrew University was one of the early dreams of the Zionist movement, in 1918 construction commenced. Ahmed Lutfi el-Sayed, the renowned Egyptian nationalist, political leader and first director of Cairo University joined the celebration for the grand opening of Hebrew University in 1925. In 1944, Taha Hussien, one of Egypt’s most influential literary figures also visited the Hebrew University.

Read article in full 

 Professor Ada Aharoni was given a special award for her books on Egyptian Jews and their uprooting, From the Nile to the Jordan and Thea Wolf: the woman in white.

Monday, November 20, 2017

'Remember Baghdad' released in London

The film Remember Baghdad telling the story of the Jews of Iraq through eight different testimonies has just been released. It will have two London screenings on 3 December and 6 December. Lyn Julius wrote this review (also referring to another documentary, Letters from Baghdad) in Jewish Renaissance (April 2017).

On New Year's Eve 1946, a young Jewish couple were among the guests at a Benefit Ball in the Iraqi Flying Club.  A beauty pageant was taking place: the King of Iraq approached the 21-year old Renée Dangoor, and invited her to take part. 

Renée won the contest. Her hand-coloured image of radiant beauty, complete with victory sash, is presently being referenced by 2,700 Arabic websites on Google.

Who would have believed, in the bomb-ravaged,  sectarian Iraq of today,  that a Jewess could have been crowned Miss Baghdad 1947? "Who is even going to believe," says Edwin Shuker in the new documentary Remember Baghdad," that there were Jews in Iraq?" 

Edwin Shuker is one of the main characters in the film. The opening sequence shows him leaving his home in north London to catch a flight to Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan in northern Iraq, in a bid to show that Jews still have a stake in Iraq. Later, we see Edwin in a Baghdadi taxi excitedly giving directions to his driver to find the Shuker family house. They had abandoned it in haste 46 years earlier.

In a region where the jihadists of Islamic State are just kilometres away,  to return to Iraq is a brave, if foolhardy, thing for a Jew to do. Of 140,000 Jews in 1948, only five Jews remain in Iraq in an atmosphere of rampant antisemitism. This community goes back to Babylonian times when captives from Judea were taken as slaves to the land of the two rivers and remained there for 2,600 years. The Babylonian Jews had a seminal impact on Judaism as we know it. Yet  in 2017, the community is to all intents and purposes extinct, its members driven into exile. 

 Remember Baghdad started out as a film commissioned by Renée Dangoor's son David about a group of Iraqi Jews who have been meeting weekly in London over three decades to play volleyball together. Director Fiona Murphy has taken the story to a new level, combining raw material of home movies, family photos and first-person testimonies with rare archive footage - to build a cinematic record of a lost world.

What motivated Fiona, of mixed Jewish-Irish parentage, to make this film?
” The lives of my parents’ families closed down as the British Empire shattered: my father’s community was thrown out of Ireland and my mother’s fled Jamaica. I grew up in London, conscious that people suffer for the crimes of generations long gone.
“So when I was between films and was offered a job cataloguing an extraordinary archive of early home movies belonging to an Iraqi-Jewish family I responded vividly to the news that the Jews of Iraq did well under the British, and paid for it. The end of the British Empire was not the only strand that bound their stories together with mine. My mother’s family was ethnically Jewish. And while that was where the historical similarities ended, the smiling faces in the archive and the stark fact that only five Jews remain in Iraq today, awakened my own sense of loss.
“At first I just wanted to convey the pain of losing your home. It seemed important, now, right now, to push back at the narrowness of our news, dominated by discussion of economic migrants, desperate refugees and the difficulties of integrating immigrants. The older stories were laments about the pain of exile: “It’s a Long Long Way to Tipperary”, and “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept”. I wanted to show that that migrants travel with heavy hearts, give them a voice, and bring back the world that was lost. I knew this must be my next film.”
Fiona Murphy’s film is being released exactly 100 years after the British invaded what was once Mesopotamia, throwing three Ottoman provinces together  to form modern Iraq. One of the country’s chief architects was the British intelligence officer Gertrude Bell, also the subject of a documentary being released this year : Letters from Baghdad.

Often described as a female Lawrence of Arabia, Bell was a woman in a man’s world. She was the moving force behind the crowning of Emir Faisal as king of Iraq and saw the able, multilingual, educated, and increasingly westernised, Jews as the lynchpin of the brave new Iraq she wanted to create.


"'Remember Baghdad' trailer

"I'm now going to cultivate the Jew community - there are 80, 000 in Baghdad out of a population of 200, 000- and find out more about them,,” Gertrude Bell wrote to her parents in 1917.” So far, I've only met the bigwigs, such as the Chief Rabbi. There's no doubt they will be a great power here some day. " 


Jews did indeed become the backbone of the British mandate of Iraq, dominating finance and trade and administering the railways and communications. But Gertrude Bell was sidelined, and is thought in frustration to have ended her own life aged only 52. The golden age of the Jews of Iraq ended with the death of King Faisal and the creeping Nazification of the 1930s, culminating in the traumatic pogrom known as the pro-Nazi Farhud (Arabic for forced dispossession)  in 1941.

">Remember Baghdad "interviews the broadcaster Salim Fattal, the writer Eli Amir,  and other survivors of the two-day rampage of June 1941 which followed the overthrow of the pro-British government  in Iraq – an orgy of killing, rape and looting. After Iraq introduced a state of emergency in 1948, punishing its Jews for the establishment of Israel, it was primarily fear of another Farhud that spurred 120,000 Jews to leave Iraq for Israel when they had the chance in 1950 – 51. The price they paid was to be stripped of their citizens’ rights and dispossessed of their property.

Although Iraq remained an implacable enemy of Israel, life for the 6,000 remaining Jews continued as one long round of parties and picnics by the river Tigris. The brutal slaughter of the king and his ministers in 1958, their bodies dragged through the streets of Baghdad, came as a shock, but still the Jews did not leave. When they wanted to, in the 1960s, it was too late. By the time the Six-Day war broke out, Jews were effectively hostages of the Ba’ath regime.
The film relates the vengeful terror experienced by the remaining Jews, who witnessed the public hangings of nine of their co-religionists in January 1969 on trumped-up spying charges. Danny Dallal’s uncle was executed six months later. Scores of Jews disappeared. Danny and Edwin were among the 2,000 desperate Jews smuggled out of Iraq into Iran by Kurds in the early 1970s. They left everything behind.

The film closes with Edwin Shuker signing the contract for the home he has just purchased on a windswept and arid development in Kurdistan. Will he ever live in it? It's clearly a symbolic act – perhaps the first step on the ladder  to buying a property in Baghdad -  in order to show the unbreakable bond between Jews and their 2,600 years in the land. You can take the Jew out of Iraq, but you can’t take Iraq out of the Jew. 

" Iraq is in our bones”, says David Dangoor.

But  is it? 

Many Iraqi Jews still suffer nightmares at the thought of what they went through.  The memory of Iraq recedes year by year. Their children and grandchildren, now citizens of Israel and the West, barely understand Arabic: only the food links them with the past. They have moved on.

 The time for nostalgia may be over. Perhaps Remember Baghdad should have a question mark after it?


The Guardian
 The Jewish Chronicle
 Times of Israel
The UPcoming
Little White Lies
Film Reviews
Jewish News 
Melanie Phillips

 Conversation between Noorah al-Gailani and Edwin Shuker on  the Radio Scotland Cathy MacDonald show (1:25 mins in):  Noora remembers that Jewish women would be permitted to climb the minaret of the mosque where her Sufi ancestor, Sheikh al-Gailani is buried on the site of a Jewish saint of antiquity. At the top, they would pray for the saint to fulfil their wishes.