Friday, February 05, 2016

Departing and returning to Morocco

 Why did Jews leave Morocco and how does it feel to return? A new film, 'Midnight Orchestra' examines the reasons why Jews left Morocco, and follows a man's return to his country of birth. A new book (below), Return to Casablanca, by Israeli anthropologist Dr Andre Levy looks at the changing relationship between Moroccan Jews and Muslims.


Slowly, through the film, he discovers why his father, a famous musician, made his family leave the country for Israel decades before.

The director of "Midnight Orchestra," Jérôme Cohen-Olivar, said the fictitious family's departure reflects a real decision that many Moroccan Jews made between the 1950s and 1970s when Arab-Israeli tensions flared.

"At the peak of the community, I think it was around a quarter of a million, 250,000 Jews in Morocco, which is a lot if you count the total Jewish population – the world Jewish population," said Cohen-Olivar, speaking by phone from Morocco.

"Right now there are about 2,000 Jews left in Morocco, which is basically nothing," Cohen-Olivar said. "So I just ask myself this question: 'Why?' It's as simple as that. So that was the springboard of my story was just, 'Why? Why did these people leave?'"

Read article in full


In his new book Return to Casablanca, anthropologist Dr. André Levy assesses the impact of this massive emigration on those Jews who decided to stay in his native Morocco. Dr. Levy is a senior lecturer at BGU’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

Flag_of_Morocco_hexagram.svg

A Moroccan flag used in the early 20th century featured a star of David, harking back to a time when Morocco’s Jews were numerous.

The book provides personal insights into the effects of the diminished Moroccan Jewish community’s establishment of “spatial divisions of spheres in order to obtain better control of interactions with Muslims.”

Dr. Levy posits that as Israel gained more and more Moroccan Jews into its citizenry, the wall between Muslim and Jewish Moroccans gained more and more bricks. This concept — what Dr. Levy calls “contraction” — depicts the way that modern Moroccan Jews deal with the ramifications of their demographic dwindling.

Read article in full (via JIMENA)

Reaching across cultures (The Justice)



Thursday, February 04, 2016

The hidden Jewesses of Indian cinema

Most of the actresses of the silent Indian cinema were Jewesses, claims Kenneth X Robbins in News Minute (referring to an earlier article). The identity of some actresses is contested even today. But the careers of these westernised girls was cut short with the advent of 'talkies': none could speak Hindi or Urdu. (With thanks: Michelle; Tom)

The actors were mostly Baghdadi Jewish women and the rest were from the Bene Israel community, not the Cochini community. That community was small, did not speak Hindi or Urdu, and lived far from the film making cities of Bombay and Calcutta. A single Baghdadi family contributed greatly to Indian films, by giving us the actress-producer Pramila (Esther Victoria Abraham), her sister the actress Romila (Sophie Abraham), and her cousin the starlet Rose (Rose Musleah). Pramila’s son Haider Ali is an actor, who is best known as the co-writer of the blockbuster film Jodhaa Akbar.

KR5

The actress-producer Pramila was also the first Miss India.

KR6
Baghdadi Jewish actresses were known by single Western names (Lillian, Rose), Hindu names (Arati Devi, Pramila, Sulochana) or Muslim names (Firoza Begum, Nadira) rather than the ones identifying them as Jews. Lillian’s birth name was Lillian Ezra.

In India, the Bene Israel often referred to themselves in two ways. They used one or two “Biblical” names or “Biblical” names followed by a “Maharashtrian” surname identifying their ancestral Konkani village. In the movies, they were billed as David or David Abraham rather than David Abraham Cheulkar or Joseph David rather than Joseph David Penkar.

Simply identifying Jews has not been easy. Asha Bhende (once Lily Ezekiel) and Pearl Padamsee (whose mother was a Baghdadi Jew) are actresses who have used the last names of their non-Jewish husbands. Asha Bhende was also a prominent academic, whose works include Demographic and Socio Economic Characteristics of Jews in India.

Actresses like Zeenat Amat and Helen were not Jewish as some think. The backgrounds of Azurie, Leela Chitnis, Patience Cooper, Ermeline, Rinku Jaiswal, Kitty Kelly, Kamlesh Kumari, and Sabita Devi are contested even today and I seek more information about them. Was Vimala, whose birth name was Marcia Solomon and who is never mentioned in the discourse on Jewish actresses, Jewish?

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Salima Gubbay tells heartbreaking story



On 27 January , Iraqi Jewry commemorated the 47th anniversary of the hangings of nine Jews in Baghdad. For Hebrew-speakers, this moving 50-minute interview by the Babylonian Jewry Center at Or Yehuda with one of the victims' widows captures the terrible trauma she experienced under the Baath regime led by Saddam Hussein.

Salima Gubbay lived with her husband Fuad and three children in Basra. They were among the 3,000 or so Jews still remaining in Iraq. She recalls how secret service men came to ransack the house and take her husband away. Her young son David, four years old, screaming for his father, tugged so hard on the jacket of one of them men that he tore off two buttons. They flung him against the metal garden gate.

The family had had a chance to escape earlier, but Fuad did not want to put his wife Salima, who was pregnant, at risk.

 Fuad's interrogators pointed to the transformer which powered the airconditioning unit in their living room and accused him of sending secret messages to Israel. Saddam had ordered 20 Jews to be arrested and premeditated the execution of a group of Jews as spies after Israel's victory in the Six-Day war. He had told a rabbi to prepare nine graves.

Before he was hanged in prison, Fuad shared a cell with another Jew. When he learned he was going to be executed, he wrote a letter to his wife and told his cellmate to deliver it to her. "Don't cry for me", he wrote to her, "it is God's will. Just think of my death as in a car accident. The main thing is to look after your self and the children. You are free to do as you wish," he wrote, sending back his wedding ring.

When she heard of her husband's execution - the Jewish prisoners were hanged in prison before their bodies were strung up in Baghdad's Liberation Square.
her first instinct was to commit suicide, and stab her unborn child.

The scene on 27 January 1969 in Liberation Square, Baghdad

She moved in with her mother; A few months later her mother was run over in a car 'accident'.

Salima could not feed her children and was desperate to leave Iraq, but could not even get permission to get to Baghdad. The day before she left, she dreamed of her husband Fuad: he appeared and gestured towards the mountains. Eventually she was smuggled through the mountains of northern Iraq into Iran with her children.

Widows of two executed Jews speak up

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

What are we doing to stop 'cultural cleansing'?


 Before and after photographs show that the monastery of St Elijah was blown up in September 2014

Just recently, satellite images confirmed that the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq has been destroyed by the jihadist group Islamic State (IS). What is the international community doing - if anything - to stop 'cultural cleansing'? Lyn Julius blogs at Clash of Cultures in the Jerusalem Post.

St Elijah's stood on a hill near the northern city of Mosul for 1,400 years. But analysts suggested it had been demolished in late 2014, soon after IS seized the city.

A year ago,  UNESCO was sufficiently alarmed by the destruction of cultural and religious sites that it  hastily convened a conference at its Paris headquarters to discuss what can be done to preserve what's left in Iraq and Syria. The iconoclastic jihadists of Islamic State - or Da'esh - had captured a region in northern Iraq which contained 15 percent of Iraq's registered archaeological sites.

Believing that shrines ought to be destroyed lest they encourage idol-worship, they have already blown up or burnt to the ground shrines such as the tombs of Jonah and Seth, Christian churches and Shi'a mosques. In both Syria and Iraq, Islamic State have demolished, pillaged and dug up archaeological sites, sometimes with bulldozers, and sold relics on the international black market in order to finance their malevolent deeds.

Like most UN agencies, UNESCO has blown hot and cold towards Israel and the Jewish people. But this time, UNESCO had made a point of including the Jews in its conference. The UNESCO director-general, Irina Bokova, had  condemned the destruction in May 2014 of the Jobar synagogue near Damascus. A shrine has stood on this site, legend has it,  since the time of Elijah the Prophet.

When a JJAC delegation, accompanied by CRIF, the body representing French Jews, submitted a list of 100 endangered Jewish sites to Mrs Bokova in June 2014, she lent a sympathetic ear. And when Professor Shmuel Moreh, who has worked long and hard for the preservation of ancient Jewish sites in Iraq made his case, Mrs Bokova  - or her aides - were listening. Professor Moreh was flown over from Israel to be a special guest at the conference, along with representatives of Kurds, Assyrians, Turkmen and Yazidis.

Since then, IS has wreaked even more destruction. In August 2015 it shocked the world  when it  released a video of the Temple of Baalshamin, at the world heritage site of Palmyra in Syria, being blown up. Explosives were reported rigged to another, larger temple, dedicated to the god Baal.

In September, UNESCO accepted an Italian proposal to send in the 'Blue helmets' - the UN international peace keeping force - to protect endangered sites.

In October 50 world leaders voted to allocate resources for some 10,000 new troops, police, hardware, and training schemes for UN forces.

In spite of their greater number and better hardware, It is not clear how the  'blue helmets' will fend off the determined and fanatical jihadists of IS.

IS and other militant groups are guilty of "cultural cleansing" in the Middle East, the head of the UN's heritage organisation has said. "Culture and heritage are not about stones and buildings - they are about identities and belongings."

A conflict against culture is, by extension, an effort to erase the identity of a people, especially vulnerable non-Muslim minorities. These minorities once comprised the rich ethnic and religious patchwork of a pluralistic Middle East. Now they are being driven to extinction.

A cynic might ask ,what use is it to preserve buildings and stones when people were starving? "Civic identity to be built from the bottom up" when people were being beheaded? "Good neighborliness and respect" when people were being sold into slavery?

When the neighbors have been ethnically cleansed, as the Jews had been from Syria and Iraq, with no prospect of return, who will speak up for their heritage? Who would ensure that when the time came to rehabilitate and renovate, traditional Jewish shrines such as the most revered of all, Ezekiel's tomb, would not be turned into mosques?

It is already happening. The Hebrew inscriptions had been removed from the renovated tomb of Joshua the High Priest near Baghdad. Loudspeakers had already been affixed to Ezekiel's tomb, and Koranic inscriptions hung on the walls. Who would ensure that the original character of the shrine would be retained?

And if objects stolen from minority communities are recovered in the West, why should they be sent back to the Syrian or Iraqi governments? As the saga of the Iraqi-Jewish archive demonstrated - the personal possessions and mementos confiscated from their Jewish owners by Saddam Hussein and shipped for restoration to the US - they should be restituted not to governments, but  to the community which has been displaced.

Beyond the expression of high-minded sentiments, none of these questions are being answered.

In one important respect international action  might achieve results: museum chiefs declared they would treat with suspicion any artifacts offered to them from the Middle East, and would conduct "due diligence" checks as far as possible. But private collectors were less likely to be circumspect about the provenance of items. The international art market was a  vessel  too leaky to render watertight.

It is tempting to conclude that organisations like UNESCO, which were founded on the pillars of intergovernmental law, seem well past their sell-by date in a world where non-state actors ride roughshod over "kaffir" international treaties and conventions. Even before the era of Islamic State, neither Syria nor Iraq were signatories to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the event of armed conflict.

Read blog in full

Monday, February 01, 2016

Edging the Jews out of Tunisia

Less than one per cent of the Jewish community remains in Tunisia. Their marginalisation and exodus is almost complete. Here is a useful timeline:


The Al-Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba

1881 French Protectorate established in Tunisia
1898 Fighting breaks out between Jews and Muslims. Jewish homes looted, shops wrecked. 62 Muslims, 20 Jews sentenced.
1910 Agudat Tsion founded, 1920 Federation of Zionist organisations
1917 Arab soldiers returning from WW1 riot against Jews who are exempt from army service. Looting, rapes and beatings. One dead, 8 wounded.
1923 Liberalisation of French nationality. By WW2, 6,667 Jews had French passports.
1940 Vichy discriminatory laws exclude Jews from public service, Jewish Community Council abolished, inventory of Jewish property drawn up.
May 1941 Gabes pogrom. 7 Jews die.
Nov 1942 Nazi occupation of Tunisia begins. Italian nationals come under Fascist racial laws. Nazis demand that the Jewish community raise  88 million francs . 2,000 Jews sent to forced labour camps. 60 deaths from aerial bombardment.
April 1943 Aerial deportation to European death camps of 40 Jews. 17 survive.
1948 -49 Of 100, 000 Jews, 6, 200  emigrate to Israel illegally. Jewish Agency takes over legal migration. 25, 000 emigrate between 1948 - 55.
1952 attempted pogrom against Tunis hara thwarted by self- defence groups
1952 - 57 10, 000 emigrate to France
1952 bloody nationalist riots
1954 Yom Kippur declared an official holiday
20 March 1956 Tunisia declares its independence. Rise of pro-Nasser movement.
1956 Europeans and Jews attacked and robbed during period of lawlessness
1957 Jewish ministers Andre Bessis and Andre Baruch appointed. President Bourguiba visits Tunis hara. Jews begin to join ruling Neo-Destour party. A minority of Jews are Communists.
1957 old Tunis Jewish cemetery expropriated
1957 Beth Din religious courts abolished
1958 temporary religious commissions replace Jewish Community Councils
1960 postal links with Israel suspended
 1960 Old Great Synagogue of Tunis demolished
1959 exchange controls introduced
1961 Bizerte affair. French-Tunisian clashes lead to anti-Jewish reaction. 15, 000 Jews leave.
1962 10, 000 Jews leave for France with one dinar and 11.75 francs in their pockets.
1962 - 63 European and Jewish firms nationalised.
1967 an ageing population of 26,000 Jews remains
6 June 1967 shops looted and  Great Synagogue sacked. 18,000 Jews flee, 63 percent for France
1976 6,700 Jews remain in Tunisia: 1,100 in Djerba, 4,600 in Tunis. Emigrants go mainly to Israel
1982 PLO establishes offices in Tunisia. More Jews leave
1985 several Jews murdered
1974 ORT school closes

With acknowledgements to  Les juifs en Tunisie jusqu'a nos jours by Paul Sebag and L'echec de l'integration des juifs de Tunisie by Jacques Taieb in La fin du Judaisme en terres d'Islam (ed S Trigano)

Other timelines: Yemen 
Libya 
Iraq 
Syria/Lebanon 

Morocco 
Egypt
 








Sunday, January 31, 2016

On this day, Suzannah bombers hanged

Moshe Marzouk (left ) and a stamp commemorating Samuel Azar


On 31 January 1955, Moshe Marzouk and Samuel Azar, two Egyptian Jews who had been convicted of espionage and acts of sabotage on behalf of Israel, were executed in Cairo. They were convicted for their part in Operation Suzannah, also known as the Lavon Affair or the Unfortunate Business. David Green writes in Haaretz (with thanks: Lily):

The first bomb was detonated at an Alexandria post office on July 2, 1954. Two weeks later, on July 14, bombs were set off at the offices of the U.S. Information Agency in that city and in Cairo. An additional bomb, intended for the Rio Cinema, a British-owned theater in Alexandria, went off prematurely. Finally, on July 23, fires were set at several public buildings in Cairo.

The bombs were as primitive as could be, and all were timed to go off when the targets were empty of people. And in fact, the only injury caused by the operation was to Philip Nathanson, an Israeli agent, when the phosphorus bomb in his pocket detonated before he could plant it at the Rio Theater.

The fact that Egyptian police were present to arrest Nathanson when he had his mishap led to the conclusion that someone had tipped them off. In time, it became evident that the double agent was Avri Elad, who was arrested after being caught trying to sell information to the Egyptians. He was tried and convicted for illegal contacts with an enemy.

The Egyptians arrested another 11 suspects, two of whom died in custody, with the remainder going on trial in December 1954.

Six were sentenced to prison sentences of various lengths, two acquitted, and Marzouk and Azar were condemned to death.

Though Nasser received many appeals, both formal and unofficial, to show mercy for Marzouk and Azar, he was unmoved, and the hanging went ahead on this day. In April 1977, the remains of both men were transferred to Israel, and were reinterred on Mt. Herzl, in Jerusalem.



Read article in full

A Christian witnesses 19th c abuse against Jews

 Degraded, despised and exposed to all kinds of abuse: such was the condition of the Jews throughout the Muslim world in the mid-19th century. Rev JW Brooks set down his observations in The history of the Hebrew Nation, published in 1841. Via Elder of Ziyon. (Emphasis is EoZ's) (With thanks: Michelle):

"As regards the present political condition of the Jews, notwithstanding the decrees in their behalf which have been passed, the Christian reader will be deceived if he concludes that the reproach of Israel is yet “rolled away from off all the earth.” The public mind has recently been startled by the report of cruelties and injustice to which the Jews of Damascus and Rhodes have been subjected, as if such instances of persecution and oppression were a novelty in these times. But in the East the Jews have all along been exposed to them, though their wrongs have failed until now in arresting particular attention. In the year 1823, at the same Damascus, all the Jews suspected of having property were thrown into prison, and compelled to pay forty thousand purses or lose their heads. At Safet, in 1834, their houses were stripped, and great personal cruelties inflicted upon them, for the like purpose of extorting money; and generally in Syria they were compelled to work for the Turks without payment, being bastinadoed if they remonstrated. The lowest fallaah would stop them when travelling, and demand money as a right due to the Musselman; which robbery was liable to be repeated several times a day upon the same Jew. Throughout the East they are obliged to affect poverty in order to conceal their wealth ; the rulers in those countries making no scruple of seizing what they can discover. And though not interdicted from holding land, yet the enormous taxes demanded of them (equal to one-third of the produce, whilst the Mahometans pay only one-tenth), effectually exclude them from agriculture.

"The occupation of Syria by the Egyptians did not mitigate the hard condition of the Jews of Palestine' They were still defrauded and insulted; the commonest soldier would seize the most respectable Israelite, and compel him by blows to sweep the streets, and to perform the most degrading offices. The contempt indeed in which they are held by Mahometans, however difficult to be accounted for, exceeds that which they have experienced in Christian lands. In the East they are truly become a proverb, the term Jew being applied despitefully, as the most reproachful and degrading known.

"Even the Christians of Syria manifest a degree of malignity and contempt for the Jews, not witnessed in other places: the Nestorians in particular entertain a bitter hatred toward them; and were a Jew to set his foot within the church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, he would be stoned by the Christians of all denominations. ...

"In Persia the condition of the Jews is worse even than in Syria. Often whilst they are assembled in their synagogues, a soldier enters with an order from the Shah for money; they are compelled to work without payment; and their women are unceremoniously taken from them, without their daring to murmur. Their poverty and wretchedness may be best understood by the following graphic description given to Dr. Wolff, before he visited Shiraz, by a Mahometan: “Every house in Shiraz with a low, narrow entrance is a Jew's. Every coat much torn and mended is a Jew's. Every man with a dirty camelhair turban is a Jew. Every one picking up broken glass and asking for old shoes and sandals is a Jew." This description was afterwards confirmed by the doctor's own observation, who found old and young in the street of their quarter sitting and crying to every stranger, with outstretched hand and feeble voice, “Only one pool (penny) for poor Israale !”

"In Morocco they are equally ground down by a barbarous despotism. The Moors consider that the object of a Jew's birth is to serve Musselmen, and he is consequently subject to the most wanton insults. The boys for their pastime beat and torment the Jewish children: the men kick and buffet the adults. They walk into their houses at all hours, and take the grossest freedoms with their wives and daughters, the Jews invariably coming off with a sound beating if they venture to resist. In 1804 those of Algiers were subjected to horrible tortures, being suspended from the walls by long ropes with hooked nails at the ends, merely because they had unsuspectingly lent money to persons who were secretly conspiring against the Dey; nor were they released without the payment of a large sum."

Read post in full

Friday, January 29, 2016

'I delayed my father's funeral to get Jews out of Syria'

 Years after it ended, the story of the extraordinary rescue of Jews from Syria by Judy Feld Carr is filtering out. An interview with her was broadcast on Holocaust Memorial Day on the Australian radio programme 'The Spirit of Things' (segment between 1:30 and 31:25: article here). There follows a brief account in Arabic by the last rabbi of Syria, Rabbi Abraham Hamra, of the effect on him of the destruction of the Jobar synagogue near Damascus.  The Jewish Women's Archive blog (extract below)  carries a fuller account of Judy's work in Syria. She was responsible for rescuing 3,228 Jews out of 4, 500 over a 28-year period until the Mossad told her to 'stay home and wash windows'. Only 17 Jews remain of a community of 30,000.

How did a musicologist from Canada end up saving thousands of lives?
Judy’s incredible story began in 1972, when she read a newspaper article describing how a group of Jews tried to flee Syria only to stumble into a minefield and die while border guards watched. Outraged, Judy and her husband, Dr. Ronald Feld, wanted to help, but in those pre-internet days, with no Syrian free press, how could you even figure out whom to contact, let alone get a message to them?

 Judy Feld Carr: threats on her life

After weeks of trying to place a call to anyone in the Syrian Jewish community, Judy managed to get through, but little did she know that the woman she had reached was an informer for the secret police. Luckily, the woman was away, or Judy’s attempt to help would have been over before it started. The woman’s husband hurriedly gave Judy contact details for the local rabbi and the Jewish school in Damascus. “He was so scared, I thought he was going to have a heart attack on the phone. And the line went dead.” She then sent a telegram to the rabbi, who answered with a request for books. Remembering something she had once read, Judy decided to send a hidden message in the shipment of books with a code used by Jews during the Spanish Inquisition. “I figured, Jews in Syria, some of them came during the Inquisition.” The rabbi’s next telegram used the right countersign. They were in business.

Word got around Toronto that Judy was raising money to send more books to Jews in Syria. A Syrian woman in the community told Judy she was determined to visit her brother in Aleppo before he died of cancer, and asked what she could do for Judy while she was there. The woman was with her family less than a day before the secret police captured her for interrogation, grilling her on her connection to Judy and brandishing the telegrams Judy had been sending to the local rabbi. The woman insisted she knew nothing, and was finally released. But when she returned to Canada, she had a letter for Judy signed by three rabbis, which she had smuggled out in her underwear. It read: “Remember, we are all Jews. Our children are your children. You must take our children out of Syria.” Judy recalled being overcome: “It was like a letter out of the Shoah. I just cried. I don’t know how to do this.”

Now the woman begged Judy to help rescue her dying brother. Judy pointed out that at the time, “Syria was a steel trap. There is no communication outside of the country for the Jewish community. They’re living in only three cities, and we later found out that they can’t travel further than three kilometers from their homes without special permission from the secret police.” The brother was in Aleppo. The embassy was in Beirut; it might as well have been on the moon.

Judy pleaded with the Canadian ambassador to visit the local rabbi at a school in Damascus and give him the travel papers to smuggle to the brother in Aleppo. “I made the only mistake I ever made in all the years of rescue. I told him to go to the school at 2:30. I thought the secret police left the school at 2:00. They actually stayed until 3:00. But that day, God was looking down on us: the agent of the secret police was sick with the flu.” The rabbi got the papers.

Judy had an ambulance waiting at the airport for the brother’s arrival in Canada. “When he came into the hospital, I had a Jewish doctor who had been in the Canadian army during WWII. He told me, ‘I haven’t seen a body like that since Auschwitz.’ They had beaten him brutally every time one of his children escaped. His back was covered in scars. And his arms, my God. And this was a man who was dying of cancer of the bladder and kidneys.”

Before he died, he told Judy, “I have one last thing to ask you. I have a daughter. She’s pretty. She’s single. She’s nineteen years old. I’m worried that without me, there will be no one to protect her. She’s either going to go into a forced marriage or be raped by Syrian army officials. Can you get her out?”

Judy rescued the girl. And then the girl’s sister. Then more families. Even people in prison.

Through all this, she avoided any hint of publicity. “I’ve had four threats on my life. Physical threats. This isn’t a joke.” But it wasn’t just about the risk to her personally; she had to make sure the corrupt Syrian officials kept taking bribes and had no reason to save face by cracking down on her underground railroad. “No one in Canada knew I was doing this; no one in Europe knew I was doing this. Until the Mossad came on the scene and told me to stay home and wash windows and take care of my kids.” She ignored them and kept working, and eventually they began supporting her efforts.

“I was working on an escape the day of my father’s funeral,” she remembered. “I had to go from bank to bank—I needed a lot of money for this escape—and then a courier was going to pick this up and take it to Israel and then Turkey. My father’s funeral was delayed by two hours ‘for an emergency.’ What could be a greater emergency than a funeral? But I had to. There was a mother and four or five daughters, and they told her if she tried to escape, they would gouge out her eyes. I never told my mother the reason, but I did tell the rabbi afterwards, because I had to tell somebody. He nearly fell off his chair.”

Read article in full 

More articles about Miss Judy 


   
Syrian TV propaganda video from the early 1990s. Almost all the Jews in this video would have left the country shortly after it was made.  (With thanks: Eli T)

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Israel has compensated Arabs for lost property

The New York Times has issued an unprecedented apology for an article by Diaa Hadid about property disputes in the old city of Jerusalem. There could be some 100 such properties, according to an Arab source. The NYT correction admits that the homes concerned were owned by Jews before they were expelled during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The Israeli courts ruled against the Arab tenants only because of non-payment of rent. Contrary to Hadid's claims,  Arabs have received fair compensation for properties they may have abandoned in West Jerusalem, while not a single claim for property lost by Jews in Arab countries has been honoured.

View of the Old City of Jerusalem towards the Mount of Olives

Here is the New York Times' correction: 
 
"The Jerusalem Journal article on Jan. 15 about Palestinian residents of Jerusalem’s Old City who face eviction by Israeli organizations gave an incomplete description of the legal disputes in several cases. The descriptions were based on the tenants’ accounts; the article should have included additional information from court documents or from the landlords. (The landlords are organizations that have reclaimed properties owned by Jews before Israel was established in 1948.)

In the case of Nazira Maswadi, the article said her new landlord was trying to evict her based on a claim that her estranged husband was dead (he is still alive). In fact, the landlord claims in court filings that the Maswadi family has not proved that it has paid rent.

In another case, the article quoted Nawal Hashimeh as saying she was being evicted for replacing a door to her apartment. But according to court documents, her rent payments had also been rejected because they were submitted by her son, whom the landlord said it had no contractual relationship with. (The landlord also claimed that three rent checks fell short of the amount owed.)
In a separate case, the article said Nora Sub Laban faced accusations that she had not continuously lived in her apartment, though she claimed that she had never left it. While the article said that Ms. Sub Laban had been battling eviction efforts for four decades and that the Israeli Supreme Court must now decide whether to consider her appeal, it should have noted that an Israeli court in 2014 upheld a lower-court finding that she had not returned to live at the property after renovations were completed in 2000 or 2001.

While the reporter tried to reach representatives of the landlord in the Sub Laban case, The Times should also have tried to reach the landlords involved in the other cases and their lawyers."

The media watchdog CAMERA's critique led the NYT to issue its correction: 

"Hadid is also extremely misleading or completely wrong – it depends on how devious she is trying to be – about the relevant Israeli law regarding compensation for lost property, when she claims that "compensation [is] based only on the 1949 value of the home or land."

It's hard to say because the phrase "based only on the 1949 value" could have many meanings. For example it could mean one million times the 1949 value, which would be very generous, or it could mean one tenth the 1949 value, or not generous at all. Both methods could be said to be "based only on the 1949 value," but obviously couldn't be more different.

The actual formula is the 1949 value, with yearly interest and cost of living (or inflation) adjustments. Arabs who lost property in Israel are eligible to file for compensation from Israel's Custodian of Absentee Property. As of the end of 1993, a total of 14,692 claims had been filed, claims were settled with respect to more than 200,000 dunums of land, more than 10,000,000 NIS (New Israeli Shekels) had been paid in compensation, and more than 54,000 dunums of replacement land had been given in compensation.

Israel has followed this generous policy despite the fact that not a single penny of compensation has ever been paid to any of the more than 500,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, who were forced by the Arab governments to abandon their homes, businesses and savings.

In addition, it should not be ignored that many journalists, including Hadid, write about Jews living in the Old City's Muslim Quarter as if this violates some unwritten moral or legal code, but they never write about the large number of Arabs living in the nearby Jewish Quarter.

For example, according to the 1995 Census of Population and Housing at least 480 Muslims lived in the Jewish Quarter, making up 22.5% of the quarter's population. In contrast, Jews made up just 1.68% of the Muslim Quarter's population. Even in absolute terms, the 480 Muslims living in the Jewish Quarter outnumbered the 380 Jews living in the much larger Muslim Quarter."

Breaking the silence on Jewish property rights 

More articles about property rights in Jerusalem


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

27 Jan 1969: Remembering the Baghdad hangings

 Today is Holocaust Memorial Day. Although the event is not remotely comparable to the mass extermination of six million Jews,   it is also 47 years since the Ba'ath party regime hanged nine innocent Jews in Baghdad's Liberation Square. Percy Gourgey OBE z"l was a tireless campaigner for Jews in Arab lands. This is the text of a speech he delivered 17 years ago in London at a memorial event for the hangings. From The Scribe: 


 The late Percy Gourgey OBE...tireless campaigner

"Thirty years ago today nine innocent Jews were publicly hanged in Baghdad's so-called 'Liberation Square,' falsely accused of spying for Israel. This atrocity shocked the civilised world and focused world attention on the cause of Jews of Arab Lands with all that implies especially in terms of human rights. 

In London the day after the hangings with lurid photographs in the press, there was a mass protest demonstration outside the Iraqi Embassy in Kensington, London of over 5,000 people, organised by the Board of Deputies, the Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue and other communal bodies. So effective was it that the Iraqi authorities summoned the British ambassador in Baghdad to complain about it and he replied that Britain was a free, democratic country and people were free to express their sense of outrage at such incidents.

At the time, Hassan al-Bakr was President of Iraq and Saddam Hussein was his right-hand man, whose Ba'ath Party had seized power in a military coup six months before. The Jewish community in Baghdad traced its origins to Babylonian times, 2,500 years ago making immense contributions to the development of Judaism through the Babylonian Talmud, the Religious academies, fruitful exchange of rabbis and scholars with Spain, and subsequently. In fact, the modern Baghdad is about 190 miles from the ancient Babylon and Iraq's President Saddam Hussein had plans to develop it as a major tourist attraction, which was nullified by his invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, and the ongoing crisis caused by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

This service is a Kiddush Hashem and reflects great honour on the martyrs and all present here this evening. The Psalm 137 read earlier refers specifically to the Babylonian community, beginning: 'there by the waters of Babylon, we hanged our harps on the willows and wept at the remembrance of Zion.' Later in the Psalm are the words, 'If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her skill' which Dr. Theodor Herzl used as the rallying cry for the establishment in 1948. Two months before the 1969 hangings, the World Jewish Congress was warning of the impending tragedy. 

Following are extracts of a statement to the Maariv newspaper in Tel-Aviv in March 1991 made by Mrs Selima Gubbay, widow of Fuad Gubbay one of the martyrs, after Iraqi Scud missiles attacked Israel. Israel which had not joined the coalition to drive Iraq out of Kuwait, in accordance with UN resolutions.
'Fuad and I were so happy when suddenly our lives were torn apart. One day four Iraqi officers in a blue Volkswagen drove into our home in Basra.

 They went straight to the air conditioners and pulled out the transformers. 'These are transmitters,' they shouted, 'you are spying for Israel.' Fuad was roughed up when he protested. Our younger son, David, was picked up and thrown against the railings when he tried to kiss his father. He cut himself, and his face was full of blood. The blood was an evil omen of the future. 

It was 1968 and I was four months pregnant. Fuad was taken away to a jail in Baghdad. Eventually, he was put on trial with other Jews, all accused of spying for Israel. The trial was broadcasted live on radio and television. Fuad pleaded not guilty. I travelled from Basra to Baghdad to see him in prison. When I got there they pushed me into a room beat me up and kicked me out. In the next room, separated only by a thin wall, the warders were telling Fuad, 'your wife is on the other side of the wall. She's pregnant. If you don't admit your guilt, we're going to rape her, and afterwards open her stomach and cut up the child.'

'The next day during the broadcast of the trial, I heard Fuad pleading guilty, admitting that on such and such days, he was here and there, sending secrets to Israel. When I checked the dates, I realised that Fuad had been with me and the children all of those times. He had made up the story in order to save us.

 On the morning of January 27, 1969, the streets of Baghdad were even more noisy and crowded than usual. It was the day of the hangings. A day of national celebration. I could hear the neighbours shouting enthusiastically, 'Hang the Israeli spies.' Dancers were brought from far and wide to dance under the gallows. There were free rides on the buses and trams so that people could come and celebrate under the corpses. And what was all the celebration about? The Iraqi nation was taking its collective revenge for defeat of a division on the Jordan front in the Six Day War, and that is how Iraqi television was broadcasting pictures of 9 hanging Jewish corpses, among them my husband Fuad, all innocent people. 

The loudspeakers announced that from 4 o'clock that afternoon, the bodies would be brought down so that the mob could deal with them in the streets. I returned to Basra and people, including Jews, avoided me for fear of being linked with my husband's so-called activities.' 

Mrs Gubbay then described how she fled to Israel with her children in July 1971.
Over 50 more Jews were, after 1969, executed or died through torture in jail. Martyrdom is, unfortunately, not a new phenomenon in Jewish history. But the Jewish People, because of its adherence to the eternal Torah, has acquired the characteristic of eternity. This is exemplified now by our beloved State of Israel and the survival of the Jewish People in all lands of freedom and democracy. May we go from strength to strength, mechayil lechayil."

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Levy looks on as a candle is being lit by David Khalastchy who was deputy Chairman of the Jewish Council of Iraq at the time.
Other articles relating to the Baghdad Hangings :

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Non-Ashkenazi Jews elided in public discourse

'Jews of colour' from the Middle East and North Africa  form the  majority of Israel’s population, yet both the country’s supporters and detractors elide the Mizrahi experience. This needs to change, say Analucia Lopezrevoredo and David Shraub. Fascinating piece in the Tablet.

Jews in Morocco
 
The omission of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews in intersectional discourse is symptomatic of a larger problem. In the global imagination, the easy conflation of “Jews” and “white” has blinded many to the internal ethnic diversity within the Jewish community—especially in Israel. Non-Ashkenazi Jews are typically ignored in public discourse or respected only insofar as they confirm the prejudices and ideologies of others. While there are some organizations, such as JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa), devoted to elevating the profile of Mizrahi and Sephardic Jewish concerns, in general American Jewish organizations right, left, and center are notorious for being Ashke-normative—in other words, making the Ashkenazi experience the de-facto Jewish experience. This is similarly the case among critics of the American Jewish establishment, both Jewish and not.

Mizrahi Jews represent a conundrum for Jews and non-Jews alike accustomed to the typical Eurocentric modes of characterization. “Jews living in the Middle East? North Africa? Jews identifying as Jewish and Arab? Jews having Arab names and speaking Arabic?” Yet for more than 2000 years, Jews lived among Arabs, spoke their language, and shared many of their customs. These Jews were responsible for contributing the Babylonian Talmud, and centuries later were crucial in revolutionizing the economies of cities including Aleppo, Baghdad, and Cairo.

Unfortunately, Ashkenazi history and culture primarily dominates Jewish dialogue and experiential learning, and Jews are erroneously being uniformly labeled “white” as a result of it. It’s Yiddish—not Ladino or Arabic—that Jews and non-Jews incorporate into their daily vocabulary. It’s the Holocaust—not the expulsion and exodus of nearly one million Jews from the Middle East, North Africa, and Iran—that students learn about in schools. And it’s kugel and gefilte fish—not kubbeh and borekas—that are served at community events and celebrations. This lack of knowledge becomes even more troubling when one considers that included in those unaware of this history are Jews that grew up in a Jewish home, attended synagogue, and received some form of Jewish education.

Read article in full

Monday, January 25, 2016

Jewish refugee raises money for Yazidis

A Jew who suffered in the Muslim world but has now found freedom is directing her energies towards helping the children of Yazidis in Iraq.

 Gina Waldman: repairing the world

Gina Waldman  of JIMENA has begun a campaign to help a group of Yazidi students finish their studies in India. Already her friends  have managed to pay tuition fees for two of the students and travel expenses from Iraq back to India for one.

It costs $2,000 per student per year to finish their University degree in Bangalore,  India. Fifteen students need help because their parents have lost all of their assets to ISIS.

Gina, who left Libya as a refugee in 1967, was asked to write a D'var Torah (commentary on the Torah portion of the week). The reading dealt with Moses' liberation of the children of Israel from Egypt.

"Like Moses, this broken world is calling on us today to fight for a better future," she wrote."Today, the same despair which befell our Jewish people in Egypt, has befallen so many refugees including the Yazidi people in Iraq. The Yazidis are an ancient non-Muslim minority religious group living in Iraq.

"They has been severely persecuted, forcibly converted to Islam, thousands have been murdered in cold blood, their villages raised to the ground. Over 5,000 young Yazidi young girls have been abducted by ISIS and sold into sex slavery."

If you would like to join the practical effort to help the Yazidi students, please go to this website.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

'Slaughter the Jews', but the world won't listen

Rachel Wahba and her family  have heard the Islamist cry Itbach el Yahud before, when they watched the Jewish communities of Iraq and Egypt disintegrate. But the world is in denial. Read her blog on The Times of Israel (with thanks: Michelle)
 Rachel Wahba

Islamic fundamentalists are preaching “Itbach el Yahud,” slaughter the Jews, cries my parents lived with in their native Egypt and Iraq.Today Jews in France are fair game for radical Islamists.Vows to destroy Israel crowd the Internet.

The world is not paying enough attention. 

Today I live in a country where our leaders cannot link “political Islam” with “terrorism” or “Islamic” with “terrorist.” Abbas and Fatah are seen as “moderate,” unbelievable deals are made with Iran and its vile ayatollahs we keep trying to turn into our new best friends.

Murderous gangs like Hezbollah and Hamas are portrayed as freedom fighters, and yitbach el Yahud goes unnoticed?

The destruction of 2,500 years of ancient Jewish life in the Middle East and North Africa is not enough for these nations who are Jew-free today.
I understand how for those who have not directly experienced the hit it is “hard to believe.”

My parents lived it. They watched their ancient Jewish communities in Iraq and Egypt disintegrate.

My grandmother, who grew up free in Singapore did not believe it, could not believe it, when she moved to Baghdad as a young bride. She was “modern,” she scoffed at how the Baghdadi Jews cowered in fear, “they were like mice!”
She found out the hard way. It wasn’t just the thugs on the street who cursed and threatened Jews.

“I didn’t know (how much they hated us),” she said remembering sitting quietly like a mouse herself, the only Jew, at her well placed friends’ dinner party. The guest of honor was no other than the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini himself.

She sat there stunned, afraid, sick to her stomach as he ranted about the Jews. He promised Hitler would deliver not only in Europe but the entire Middle East and North Africa.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Al-Jazeera reports on Israel's Yemenite A-wa band

 Habib Galbi, by  Israel's Yemenite girl band A-wa, is topping the Israeli pop charts. News of its success has reached the ears of Al-Jazeera:
 

A-wa: music an international language

"A girl band in Israel has been making waves after its debut single became the first song entirely in Arabic to top the charts in Israel.

"Habib Galbi" by the band A-WA - made up of three sisters - gives traditional rhythms and lyrics from Yemen a hip-hop treatment.

"It's a song that has been viewed online over two million times.
The sisters are descendants of Yemeni Jews who relocated (never 'fled' - ed) to Israel after its establishment in 1948.

"But it’s almost unheard of for a Jewish-Israeli band to sing traditional Yemeni folk in a nearly extinct dialect of Arabic."

So far so true, but no report on Arabic news media about Mizrahi Jews is ever complete without denigrating Israel's 'domineering' Ashkenazi establishment, even though Yemenite Jews have a very good reputation in Israel, and the singer Ofra Haza was a national star 40 years ago.

To make the political point about Israel's 'repression' of the Mizrahim, 'Israel's 'poorest and most disenfranchised', Al-Jazeera wheels out the obligatory anti-Zionist commentator. Left-wing activist Orly Noy says:  " The Ashkenazim needed the Mizrahim to 'work twice as hard to prove  they were not 'that type of Arab'".

Iranian-born Noy, who blogs at the leftist +972 Magazine, once wrote a piece to say that she was proud of Iran, but not proud of Israel.



Israeli Jews are 'not familiar with Arab language or culture'


 Outgoing Mossad chief Tamir Pardo (photo: David Vaaknin)

 The outgoing Mossad chief Tamir Pardo has been talking to the press. Much of what he said deals with existential threats to Israel. But this passage, quoted in the Times of Israel, caught my eye.

Pardo recalled meeting an Arab official who bemoaned what he saw as Israel’s refusal to integrate into the Middle East, or fully understand its culture.

“When I first started as Mossad chief, I met with a senior official from the Arab periphery [Maariv speculated that this could be Saudi Arabia or another Gulf state], who asked me if we had actually chosen to live in the Middle East, as he believed we had not,” he said.

“When I questioned him on why he thought this way, he asked me: ‘How many Jews born in Israel know Arabic? How many are familiar with Arab culture? How many even want to know about it? How can you want to understand me when you live in the Middle East and don’t know the language spoken by hundreds of millions around you? How many of your people have ever opened the Quran? Not to pray, but to try to understand what is written there — to understand the culture, understand that we are not all the same, and there is a difference between the Egyptian and the Jordanian, Palestinian, Saudi or Lebanese. You are not familiar with anything. You don’t know anything. It’s easier for you to move to Canada. You will feel culturally more at home there than you do here; what the hell are you doing here? You still haven’t chosen to be part of the Middle East.'”

Although the younger generation has not shown much enthusiasm for the language, plenty of Jews do speak and understand Arabic. Some have even been top Arabic grammarians. But as the Iraq-born author Naim Kattan lamented in his book Farewell Babylon, a Jew's grasp of Arabic did not prevent Jews being excluded from Iraqi nation-building, despite the Jews taking a full part in the Nahda, or Renaissance of the 1920s. Israel has plenty of Arabic-speaking political scientists and intelligence experts who analyse what the Arabs say and do day by day. 

In his statement to Pardo, perhaps it is the Arab official who has betrayed his ignorance of Jews and their intimate connection - linguistically, culturally, historically - with the Middle East. 

We don't know what Pardo said to the Arab official in reply, but it is a cause for concern if he nodded in agreement, as the article might  imply. The Arab official's words betrays ignorance of who Israelis are, and the fact that half of all Israeli Jews come from Arab and Muslim world.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Turkish synagogue vandalised after re-opening


 The Tebah of the 17th century Istipol synagogue in Istanbul's Balat quarter (photo: Jarvis Devon)

Vandals spray-painted hate graffiti on the historic Istipol Synagogue in Istanbul just days after a one-time prayer service was held, the first in 65 years, the Turkish publication Today’s Zaman (picked up by the Jerusalem Post) reported. (With thanks: Eliyahu)

Vandals wrote “Terrorist Israel, there is Allah,” on the external walls of the structure in white paint, in the largely Jewish neighborhood of Balat.

“Writing anti-Israel speech on the wall [outside] of a synagogue is an act of anti-Semitism,” Ivo Molinas, editor-inchief of the Jewish community’s weekly newspaper Salom, said in an interview with the Turkish newspaper.

“There is widespread anti-Semitism voiced in Turkey and it gets in the way of celebrating the richness of cultural diversity in this country,” he added.

Molinas was upset at the linkage made between the Jewish community in Turkey and Israel, emphasizing that the Turkish Jewish community is not connected to Israeli policy.


Read article in full

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Lord Weidenfeld, JJAC vice president, dies

 Tributes have been pouring in to George Weidenfeld, publisher, raconteur, international personality and philanthropist, who has died  aged 96. Lord Weidenfeld, a refugee from the Nazis in Austria, was concerned until his death with the plight of refugees. It is not generally known that he was a UK honorary vice-president of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries.

Lord Weidenfeld

The Jewish Post reported on the launch of JJAC in 2002:

"Justice for Jewish from Arab Countries (JJAC) was formed under the auspices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, World Jewish Congress (WJC), and the American Sephardi Federation (ASF). ... The primary goals of JJAC are: 1) to educate public opinion on the causes, and plight, of Jews displaced from Arab countries; and 2) to advocate for, and secure rights and redress for, Jews from Arab lands who suffered as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.

"Providing a historical context for the claims held by many former Jewish refugees from Arab countries, Lord George Weidenfeld, a member of the House of Lords in the UK and a noted media personality in Europe, detailed how Jews in substantial numbers resided in Arab countries over 1,000 years before the advent of Islam. In 1948, there were nearly 1 million Jews living in Arab countries, whereas today, there remain a few thousand."

Last year  Lord Weidenfeld, who was rescued from Nazi-occupied Austria and transported to Britain by Christians in 1938,  pledged to fund the rescue of Syrian and Iraqi Christian refugees who are suffering at the hands of ISIS. He had "a debt to repay,” he told Britain’s The Times.

Richard Holbrooke, champion of refugees

WashPost graphic leaves out 856,000 Jewish refugees

The Washington Post has twice refused to correct a graphic it published in December 2015 on refugee movements in recent history. The graphic leaves out the mass exodus of more than 800,000 Jews from Arab countries, one of the largest of refugee movements from the Arab world prior to the Iraqi insurgency and Syrian civil war. The media watchdog CAMERA charges that, by its omission, The Washington Post is helping to  'push a narrative that erases the history, and possible future, of a more pluralistic Middle East'. 
The Jewish refugees, remembered by Irish4Israel, but forgotten by the mainstream Washington Post
 
In an act more reminiscent of magician Harry Houdini than a major U.S. newspaper, The Washington Post omitted—and refused to correct—nearly one million Jewish refugees from Arab lands in its infographic “A visual guide to 75 years of major refugee crises around the world” (Dec. 21, 2015).

The graphic, claiming to provide a “brief guide to the major refugee events in recent history,” offers short descriptions of various refugee crises throughout the last 75 years. The displacement of persons from World War II to the ongoing Syrian civil war are noted as “major” events. Inexplicably, the more than 800,000 Jewish refugees who fled Arab lands in the Middle East and North Africa in the period following Israel's War for Independence seemingly does not qualify.
No mention is made of the plight of Jews forced to flee countries or territories, including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Aden (now part of Yemen).

Read article in full

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Egypt revokes IDF spokeswoman's citizenship


Born as Rouleen Abdullah in Alexandria, Dina Ovadia didn't know she was Jewish until the age of 15. She moved to Jerusalem with her family, but angered Cairo when she joined the 'occupation' army. Now she has been stripped of her Egyptian citizenship. Ynet News reports:

Egypt's Prime Minister Sherif Ismail has decided to revoke the Egyptian citizenship of 22-year-old Dina Ovadia from Jerusalem because she moved to Israel and joined the IDF.

 When she was 15, an incident happened that turned her life upside down. "I was at home with my mother and brothers, and all of a sudden bearded thugs stormed into our apartment," she told the IDF journal. "They were Salafists, radical Muslims. They fired into the air and warned us to leave Egypt immediately.


Dina Ovadia
Dina Ovadia

"In all the commotion I heard them call our apartment 'Bayt al-Yahud' and I didn't understand what they were talking about. Only after they left, my grandfather sat us, his three grandchildren, for a talk and told us we were Jewish.
"It was hard for me to comprehend this, because at school we were taught to hate the Jews." 


The family left Egypt in a hurry and found a home in Jerusalem. Ovadia joined the IDF and served in the IDF Spokesman's Unit. Shortly before her release, she was even recognized by the unit as an exceptional soldier.


After receiving the prize, she was interviewed for the IDF journal and filmed a video of herself telling her life's story. "My biggest dream," she said in the video, "is to visit Egypt wearing uniform, tell them my truth about Israel, and declare: I'm Jewish, and I'm proud of it."


Ovadia's interview and video caused outrage in Cairo, which reached its climax on Monday when the well-known TV personality Ahmed Moussa attacked "the country of the Zionist murderers" on air, and revealed that the Egyptian prime minister decided to revoke Ovadia's citizenship. "This is the first time in history that an Egyptian woman serves in the occupation army," said Moussa, who failed to mention Ovadia was Jewish. Ovadia, who was released from the IDF a year and a half ago, is currently studying international relations at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. 


"It's shocking, and a low blow, but I don't want to stoop to their level," she said on Monday. "As far as I'm concerned, they should know I'm first and foremost a proud Jew and Israeli, and only then an Egyptian. Every additional word I say will be twisted in Egypt and used against me." 

Read article in full 

Dina Ovadia's amazing exodus from Egypt

Iran launches another Holocaust cartoon contest

 Another year, another Iranian cartoon contest denying the Holocaust has been launched, as per this Times of Israel report. While the US lifts sanctions, Iran has escaped western condemnation for its tasteless and offensive antisemitism. Will the Jewish community leader have the courage to condemn the regime, as Haroun Yeshayaei did in 2006? I'm not holding my breath.


 Last year's winning entry
 
Iran plans to hold another cartoon contest focusing on Holocaust denial, and Israeli officials have called on the United Nations to condemn the event.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on Wednesday appealed to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to denounce the 11th Tehran International Cartoon Biennial.
In a letter to Ban, Edelstein said that “words cannot describe the revulsion and protestation of the state of Israel and many across the world at the recurring proof that Iran continues in its policy of Holocaust denial.”

The winner of the event sponsored by the Tehran municipality will receive a $50,000 cash prize.

Organizers say the competition is designed to highlight the world’s double standard in defending caricatures of the Muslim prophet Mohammed, whose depiction is forbidden in Islam.

The competition scheduled for June 2016 is expected to draw submissions from artists from some 50 countries, Iran’s semi-official IRNA news agency reported in December.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The lamentable state of minority rights in Iran

Restrictions on the celebration of Christmas, the takeover of church property, unfair inheritance laws to encourage conversion to Islam, a fudge over equalising 'blood money' payments to non-Muslims and the ethnic cleansing of Assyrian Christians -  minority rights in Iran are in a lamentable state. As for Jews, their numbers are dwindling fast and the remainder are used by the regime both as instruments of propaganda and hostages to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Must-read interview in Jewish Journal by Karmel Melamed with Frank Nikbakht of the LA-based Committee for Minority Rights in Iran.

Frank Nikbakht: Jewish minority under constant threat (Photo: Karmel Melamed)

KM: I understand the Assyrian representative at the Islamic Assembly in Iran, who is Christian, has publically protested takeover of a church property by Islamic groups in Iran. Can you shed some light on the situation facing Assyrian Christians in Iran?
The Assyrians are being ethnically cleansed in Iran, while a lot of Iranians living outside of Iran are silent about it. The Assyrian representative has also said that the infamous ex-intelligence minister in Iran, now assigned to the special “Presidential Council for the Religious Minorities”, has washed his hands off the issue of the church take over, saying there is nothing he can do. At the same time, the Farsi language American government radio based in Europe called “Farda Radio” recently pointed out that Iran’s current president Rouhani has not honored any of his promises to the religious minorities, as we had predicted in several interviews at the outset of his charm offensive for the West, a couple of years ago. There are currently at least two major church properties in Tehran, taken over by Islamic entities supported by the government. Such takeovers are not uncommon and in addition to their economic impact, are extremely humiliating traditions, helping push the minorities out of the country.

KM: How have the Assyrian leadership in Iran today been trying to lead the way for greater protections and rights in the current Iranian regime?
The Assyrians, are the same people who back in the early 2000s, challenged the un-equal "Life Value" of Muslims and non-Muslims in Iran. Other religious minorities followed them and finally had the Iranian Assembly act upon it. Of course the Supreme Islamic Guardian Council in Iran, declared equality of Muslims and non-Muslims under the law, as "un-Islamic" and voided the law. Later, some Iranian regime officials decided to make Muslims and non-Muslims "equal", only in traffic accidents, where the difference between the life value of Muslims and non-Muslims would be paid by the insurance companies! This was then falsely advertised as the “equality” of all Iranian citizens, partly thanks to pro-Iranian regime advocates in the West. The Assyrians are also the ones who are being thrown out of Iraq after thousands of years in their own territories, mostly occupied by Muslim Arabs.

KM: I’ve interviewed many Iranian Christians, especially younger people, who had in recent years fled Iran after secretly converting to Christianity from Islam. How common is this conversion in Iran today and is this a reason why the regime has been cracking down on Christians in Iran?
The new generations not only are espousing softer forms of Islamic practice, such as modern Sufism which is itself being persecuted in Iran, because it is a more personal form of Islam and is considered as a rival to the institutionalized Islam represented in the government. In addition, there are relatively large numbers of young Iranians- perhaps in hundreds of thousands- escaping Islam as a whole, and embracing Christianity, Zoroastrianism and other religions. While this is happening both inside and outside Iran, the Islamist government in Iran is cracking down as hard as it can on Christian converts who are considered as a non-stoppable phenomenon, if unchecked at this stage.

KM: The Iranian regime’s officials repeatedly claim that they give equal rights and protection to non-Muslims in Iran today. You are very familiar with the current regime’s official laws on religious minority status in Iran, are their claims accurate?
From the very start, the Islamic Republic of Iran implemented policies aimed at “cleansing” their newly acquired territory-- the country of Iran, of all non-Muslims, by reducing their rights to second or third class citizens and even non-citizens with no rights, in the case of the “non- protected infidels”, such as the Baha’i’s.
Some new laws which tolerated advantages to non-Muslim minorities in case of their population increase, were scrapped from the Constitution. Finally, pressures were gradually increased, properties were confiscated and even legal freedoms were limited, succeeding in ousting over two thirds of non-Muslims from their country. Non-Muslims were them placed under close scrutiny by the Intelligence Ministry and other institutions, in order to make sure they did not increase numerically and they stayed submissive to Islamic laws and Muslims in their vicinity. However, with Islamic pressures affecting most of the Muslim population in many other ways, the new Muslim Iranian generation began to seek other ways to get out of the humiliating and tightly controlled religious spaces and limitations imposed on them.

KM: Can you please discuss how the rights of religious minorities living in the Iranian regime today such as Christians, Jews or Zoroastrians are unequal to those of Muslims?
As the law stands today, the value of life of a Muslim, also called “Blood Value” is much higher than others. This is the compensation due the victim or his “owners” in case of loss of life and limb. By the way, even in the case of Muslim women, their life value is officially half of a Muslim man’s life. The penalty for murdering non-Muslims by Muslims is also much less, and can simply be bought by financial compensation, whereas the other way around, carries a possible death penalty. Traditionally, except for the brief historical period of the Pahlavi Dynasty, inheritance rights had been an important opportunity to gain Muslim converts. Such inhumane Shariah laws have now been revived in Iran. For example, the Iranian regime’s “Civil Code 881” states that an ‘infidel, or non-Muslim cannot inherit from a Muslim'. This is part of an age old Shariah legal code, which says that as soon as a non- Muslim, even a submissive Dhimmi Infidel—meaning if Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians convert to Islam, he or she will inherit all of the assets of the deceased parent. It has even been interpreted that the same applies to the larger family as well, like when inheriting a grandfather's assets. This ongoing problem, is a nasty source of family devastation during inheritance fights which is not uncommon, and is in fact imposed and implemented precisely for that reason: the devastation of non-Muslim families, and the conversion of the greediest ones and their descendants into Islam.

KM: And what about the rights of Baha’is in Iran?
The Baha’is in Iran do not have even Dhimmi rights--  or some limited personal and civil rights for “recognized” religious minorities such as Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians under Islamic law. This means the Baha’is have no right to life and property in Iran, which is why their killers have been set free in the past, because legally, they have murdered people who had no right to life and property in an “Islamic land” in the first place.

KM: What is the situation and status of Jews living in Iran today? The Iranian president Rouhani and Foreign Minister come to Western TV programs and claimed the lives of Jews in Iran are supposedly rosy. They even allowed a Jewish journalist from the Jewish “Forward” newspaper a visa to visit Iran and write about the situation of the Jews in the country?
Well, as they used to say during the Cold War-- “refugees vote with their feet”. Ninety percent of the Iranian Jews, have left their country of 2,700 years and have settled in the United States, Israel, and some European countries. No bought off journalist, or duped self-deluding ideologue, can cover this up! When they mention the brutal but common pro-Iranian regime propaganda expression that “Iran has still the biggest number of Jews among all Middle Eastern countries”, they are knowingly hiding the fact that 90% of the Jews are gone, the rest are still in the process of leaving and that until the number of Jews has dwindled to perhaps 12 individuals, Iran will still be considered as the one with the “BIGGEST” number of Jews!

KM: Do some Jews convert to Islam in Iran today to escape the persecution?
An important fact that the Iranian regime’s officials are hiding is that many Iranian Jews in Iran have had to convert to Islam in order to either secure their businesses, or to be able to marry Muslim women they loved, without the danger of being arrested and possibly killed for “adultery” – the legal definition of the act of marriage between a non-Muslim man and a Muslim woman, but not the other way around- a small detail about which no sell out journalist ever asks their Jewish subjects when they are in Iran. This is besides the fact that even the Islamist Turkey already surpasses Iran in Jewish numbers, which are sadly, also decreasing there.

In any case, the Jewish minority is under the constant threat of losing everything, due to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which is the closest emotional issue in Iran, and is often affecting Iranian Jews even in court rooms. In particular, during military conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians or the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah – which has more rights and privileges, than Jewish citizens – Iranian Jews are in serious danger until the conflict subsides.

Over all, the Iranian government uses the remaining Jews in Iran both as propaganda subjects – like when Goebbels filmed Jewish Theresienstadt concentration camp inmates to show how well the Jews were treated in the Reich – and hostages, reminding Israel that the “biggest number of Jews in the Middle East” can be harmed in a second, if the Iranian regime decides to do it. In fact, this Jewish vulnerability has been openly mentioned to Iranian Jewish representatives outside Iran, over and over by the Islamic Republic representatives who were trying to shut up the Jewish voice abroad and forcing them to be silent on anti-Semitic events in Iran.

KM: The Western news media outlets larger claim Rouhani is a “moderate”, but since his supposed election to the presidency in Iran, has the situation for religious minorities in Iran today improved or gotten worse in your estimation?
Rouhani has not changes anything in Iran, much less in Minority Rights. What he promised to do during his candidacy and his “Western charm” offensive a couple of years ago, was against the Constitution as well as the Shariah, and he knew it too, because he is an Islamic jurist as well as a lawyer in Iran.

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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Herf: Shoah would have taken place without Mufti

 Yes, the Palestinian wartime Mufti had a lasting impact on Islamist ideology, whose legacy is still with us today.  No, he did not influence Hitler's decision to launch the Final solution of the Jewish Question in Europe. Important article by Jeffrey Herf for the JCPA sets the record straight in the wake of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's controversial remarks on the Mufti's role.

The Mufti meets Hitler in November 1941:  he was a collaborator, but not party to Nazi decision-making

Haj Amin al-Husseini (1897-1974) collaborated extensively with Nazi Germany but had no impact on Nazi decision making concerning the Final Solution of the Jewish Question in Europe. He did have a profound impact on Nazi Germany’s Arabic language propaganda to the Arab societies during the Holocaust. He left a legacy of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism that remains an enduring element of Palestinian and Arab politics. If we are to understand his importance for the history of politics and ideas in the Middle East, we must draw a clear distinction.

On the one hand, the Mufti was an important regional leader and Nazi propagandist. In this capacity he engaged in lethal incitement against the Jews, and this is now recognized under international law as a crime because it is an essential step in the process leading to genocide. On the other, the Mufti did not participate in the decision-making process which led to the Holocaust. It is the purpose of this article to demonstrate this proposition by making use of verifiable historical evidence.

Most recently, the issue of the Mufti’s historical responsibility became a subject of public controversy when, on October 20, 2015, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, stated in an address at the 37th Zionist Congress in Jerusalem that Haj Amin al-Husseini convinced Hitler to change his anti-Jewish policy from one of forced emigration to one of extermination. Mistakenly, he claimed that Husseini “was one of the leading architects of the Final Solution,” but later he retracted this statement. It is important to note that authoritative historians of the decision-making sequence leading to the Holocaust found no such role for Husseini. The implication of their work is that, had he never arrived in Hitler’s Berlin in 1941, the Holocaust would still have taken place.

Husseini was a leading figure of the Palestinian national movement from the time of his appointment as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in 1921 to his leadership of the Palestinians during the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948. After the defeat of 1948, his political star declined but his rejection of any compromise settlement with Israel had a continuing ideological impact on Palestinian politics. He claimed that Zionism was a threat to Arabs and the religion of Islam and that Zionists and later, Israelis would destroy or eliminate the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. During World War II and the Holocaust, having been chased out of the Middle East by the British, he found refuge in Hitler’s Berlin. His rejection of Zionism was inseparable from his enthusiasm for National Socialism. However, Husseini did not influence Hitler’s decisions to launch the Final Solution of the Jewish Question in Europe.

Yet if some exaggerate Husseini’s importance for developments in Europe, it would be equally misguided to minimize the depth of his collaboration and its deep roots in his political and religious convictions. In Hitler and the Nazis he recognized ideological soul mates who shared his profound hatred of the Jews, Judaism and Zionism. He expressed his enthusiasm to German diplomats in Jerusalem as early as March 1933. In his confidential conversations with German diplomats and then in a major public speech in Syria in 1937, Husseini made clear that his opposition to Zionism was rooted in his interpretation of the religion of Islam. Husseini’s importance in the history of politics and ideas lay in his ability weave together an interpretation of the religion of Islam with the secular language of Arab nationalism and anti-colonialism. In his reading of the Koran and the commentaries on it, Islam emerges as a religion that is inherently anti-Semitic and is hostile both to the religion of Judaism and to the people who follow it. He was one of the founding fathers of the ideological tradition known as radical Islam or Islamism. That tradition, which continues in our own time, has Sunni and Shia variations. Its original base was in the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood that inspired subsequent organizations such as Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and ISIS but there also is a Shia variation in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Despite their differences, they both share a conviction that, among other things, the message of Islam is inherently anti-Jewish and anti-democratic and that it provides justification for terrorism against Jews, “non-believers” and “infidels” such as Christians, as well as Muslims who take a different view of the Islam. It is “Islamist” because its key texts rest on selected readings of the Koran, the commentaries on it and the Hadith. It is, of course, only one interpretation of Islam but however plausible or distorted its interpretations of the texts of Islam, it could not exist without those texts.

 II. The Islamist Message of the Mufti: The first of Husseini’s canonical texts, “Islam and the Jews,” was delivered in Bludan, Syria at an Arab political conference held on September 8-9, 1937. It took place four years before he arrived in Nazi Berlin and the fact that it was not yet dependent on the Third Reich is important. The speech displays the Islamist message that he brought with him to Berlin and was the product of his very own beliefs. In 1938, a press controlled by the Nazis published a German language translation in Berlin. It became one of the founding texts of the Islamist tradition, one that defined the religion of Islam as a source of hatred of the Jews. By 1938, the Nazi political elite were able to read Husseini’s message. An Arabic edition was made available in the Middle East. As Israeli historian Zvi Elpeleg noted in his 1993 study of Husseini, following delivery of “Islam and the Jews,” the 400 delegates in Syria elected Husseini as honorary president of the pan-Arab organization gathered at the meeting.

 As Husseini was in hiding in order to avoid capture by the British, the text was read in his absence. He wrote: The battle between Jews and Islam began when Mohammed fled from Mecca to Medina…In those days the Jewish methods were exactly the same as they are today. Then as now, slander was their weapon. They said Mohammed was a swindler…They tried to undermine his honor…They began to pose senseless and unanswerable questions to Mohammed…and then they tried to annihilate the Muslims. Just as the Jews were able to betray Mohammed, so they will betray the Muslims today…the verses of the Koran and the Hadith assert that the Jews were Islam’s most bitter enemy and moreover try to destroy it.

 While anti-Jewish passages are present in classic Islamic texts, Husseini’s distinctive contribution was to give them greater importance than had previously been the case and thereby to define Islam as a religion inherently hostile to the Jews. He engaged in what historians and literary scholars call the labor of selective tradition, that is, the selective interpretation of texts in light of contemporaneous concerns. That effort is not possible if the original texts lack relevant material. Husseini’s reading of the Koran drew legitimacy and authority from the ancient texts.

Between 1941 and 1945, Husseini became a major contributor to the Third Reich’s Arabic language propaganda aimed at North Africa and the Middle East. In the process, his speeches and essays of the 1930s and 1940s became canonical texts of the tradition of Islamism and were distributed in thousands of print editions and to hundreds of thousands of listeners through Arabic language radio broadcasts of the Nazi regime. In one of the successor trials in Nuremberg after World War II, Otto Dietrich, Nazi Germany’s Reich Press Chief was indicted and convicted for crimes against humanity due to his role in the Nazi regime’s anti-Semitic propaganda campaigns. Husseini’s key role in producing Arabic language anti-Semitic propaganda could have served as the basis of a similar indictment. In 1946-1947, the United States delivered 3,914 persons for trial to sixteen European countries, two-thirds to France and Poland. Husseini was not among them.

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