Sunday, December 11, 2016

Ministers call a truce over Mizrahi refugee project

 The two most senior Mizrahi women in the Israeli cabinet, Gila Gamliel and Miri Regev, have called a truce after weeks of fighting over who should take responsibility for preserving the heritage of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. The issue, according to this Walla News report, has been declared 'a national interest '. (With thanks: Levana)

 Fighting it out: Top, Miri Regev (whose parents are from Morocco) and bottom, Gila Gamliel of Libyan and Yemenite origin
The government will today debate a proposal submitted by minister for social equality Gila Gamliel , for documenting heritage communities of Jews from Arab countries and Iran. The Ministry of Culture tried to block the program in the past, but now they have reached a compromise.
Likud has become inured to the ongoing battle between the two top women in the party - Minister of Culture and Sports Miri Regev and Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel. For once, the two political rivals were able to agree a compromise: on Sunday the government's latest proposal is expected to be put forward : to establish a national program to document the heritage of Jewish communities from Arab countries and Iran -  and Regev is expected to support it.
Two weeks ago, a similar proposal fell off the agenda following the opposition of the Minister of Culture, who claimed that the field was under her aegis.
Tense relations between Regev and Gamliel became a byword in the Likud. The scene of the last tussle between the two, was the 'Yemenyada' (Yemenite festival) event in Eilat last August. They then clashed  on who should preserve Jewish heritage from Arab countries and Iran. Late last month, Gamliel organized, for the second year running,  a major evening dedicated to mark the day of departure and expulsion of immigrants from Oriental countries. At the Jerusalem convention center, attended by thousands of participants, Minister Gamliel declared her proposal for a Government-backed heritage center with a database that includes testimonials and stories of Jews from Arab countries.
According to the proposal,  ten million shekels will be allocated over  two years from the ministry's budget for social equality to set up a large version of  the film archive by Steven Spielberg. The project will include testimonies of Oriental origin and  personal and community biographies, while encouraging academic research on the subject of  Jewish community life in the East and their expulsion.
But ahead of the vote, the Ministry of Culture and Sport gave its opinion, opposing the decision and demanding that the issue be discussed jointly. Gamliel offered   (Miri Regev) an opportunity to endorse her proposed budget and even to add from her own Ministry of Culture budget, but  Regev refused. Gamliel accused her of sabotaging the decision in order to hurt Gamliel's major event taking place in the same week at Binyanei Ha-ouma in Jerusalem.
Over the last two weeks there were contacts between the two ministries and the two reached a compromise: they will approve the recording of testimonies, while how and where these will be stored will be a decision deferred to a later date. 
According to a new resolution, the Government Press Office will operate the project and will begin to build up the collection of personal testimonies written and filmed in cooperation with bodies who are accountable to Regev, including Yad Ben-Zvi and Beit Hatfutzot (the Diaspora Museum) - but it will not include the establishment of a physical heritage center at this stage.
The office of Regev said that the move went ahead after Gamliel promised that the powers of the Ministry of Culture and Sport will not be curtailed. "The initial proposal of the ministry for social equality dealt with a subject under the authority of the Ministry of Culture. After the Ministry for Social Equality  received  comments from the Ministry of Culture, it made the necessary adjustments, and after the usual consultations, resistance has been removed."
Gamliel welcomed their cooperation and said that this is a shared interest. "After 68 years during which the agenda of the Eastern Jews was pushed beyond the boundaries of the historical canon, it's time to fix it," said the Minister, who has been promoting projects for years to instil knowledge and public awareness of the heritage of the Eastern Jews.
"Facts and evidence will ensure that the Jewish story will be brought  out finally in full: East and well as West. It is not uniquely of interest to Mizrahim, it is of national interest, to all Jews and  Zionists. A people who are Chofetz Chaim (who choose life)  had to acknowledge their past and their legacy in a variety of fields, and this initiative to collect testimonies will ensure it. "

Read article in full (Hebrew)

Friday, December 09, 2016

Homage to a great scholar: Sylvia Kedourie

Sylvia Kedourie z"l

Sylvia Kedourie, who has died aged 90, was the widow of the historian Elie Kedourie and herself a distinguished scholar of the history of the Middle East. The Daily Telegraph carried this obituary:

She was born Sylvia Haim on December 19 1925 in Baghdad and educated there at the French-language Alliance Israélite Universelle girls’ school, where she experienced as an adolescent the growing oppression and persecution of Iraq’s two-and-a-half-millennia-old Jewish population.

Having travelled with her father and an elder sister to visit France and Britain in 1947, Sylvia enrolled at the University of Edinburgh to study Philosophy.
She studied subsequently at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, before completing her doctoral thesis, at Edinburgh in 1953, on the ideas of Abd al-Rahman al-Kawakibi, the Syrian writer who in the late-19th century advocated an Arabian caliphate and became seen in the 20th century as a precursor of pan-Arab nationalism.

Her work in this field led to the publication in 1962 of the highly regarded Arab Nationalism: An Anthology, a selection of texts, preceded by her introduction, that has been of use to countless scholars and diplomats.

Her academic interests largely matched those of her husband whom she had first met when they were teenagers in Baghdad. A year after their marriage, in 1950, he was elected senior scholar at St Antony’s College, Oxford, before being appointed in 1953 to the staff of the London School of Economics.

Thereafter they settled in London and welcomed many a friend and visitor to their house in Belsize Park, where Sylvia Kedourie’s kindness, gentle sense of humour and intelligence were patent to all. Professionally, apart from contributing articles to various academic journals, she collaborated with her husband in the preparation of a number of edited volumes about aspects of the modern and contemporary history of the Middle East.

In recent decades she gave particular attention to Turkey. Such work was all connected to the founding (by Elie Kedourie in 1964) of Middle Eastern Studies – an international journal with a broad reach of subject, free of political slant and devoid of the tunnel vision and jargon so often dear to academia.

Initially, when her children were young, Sylvia Kedourie’s role was to assist in both the editing and production. But not long before her husband’s death in 1992, she had effectively become the joint editor in the full sense of the term, and she subsequently served as the editor right up to the time of her death.

After 1992 Sylvia Kedourie saw to the re-edition and posthumous publication of certain of her late husband’s writings and lectures, with help from her daughter, Helen. A notable fruit was a fine posthumous work on Hegel and Marx, whose preparation was a redoubtable challenge. She also edited two volumes: Elie Kedourie, CBE, FBA, 1926-1992 (1998) and Elie Kedourie’s Approaches to History and Political Theory (2006).

An ongoing legacy has been the series of Elie Kedourie Memorial Lectures at the British Academy, with which she was much involved from the time of their inception. The last such lecture took place at the British Academy only four days before her death.

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Yehudit Ronen of Bar Ilan university adds :  

(Sylvia was)...a super talented editor and academic observer, many times surpassing in her insights and knowledge those of the scholars sending her their articles with the hope she will find them worthy to be published in the highly prestigious Middle Eastern Studies.

Dr. Sylvia, who had  taken on  the editorial task of the MES from Prof. Elie after his untimely death in 1992 (we all were in deep sadness, hoping she will take on the torch) had a strong impact on the field of academic research on the ME's modern political history. Sylvia's skills and hard editorial work caused the MES to rise to the top of the list of academic journals in the area of Middle Eastern studies. To me, as well as to many other colleagues of mine, the MES has always been central to our academic life, being constantly regarded as a premium academic journal, led by an objective and devoted scholar. Sylvia and Elie obviously had founded and nourished a grandiose project of life, immensely contributing to the global academic research world while providing it with a great room for triggering professional debates, presenting new scholarly findings and exchanging views. 

I was honored to have had some of my articles published in the MES. Clearly, the MES has become not only a stage on which to hold an academic discourse but has also become a base of readership for scholars and students alike. Not surprising that both of your parents were highly appreciated for their distinguished professional standards and for their seminal contribution to the global academic community. I'm also so proud and content that the academic world had saluted to both Elie and Sylvia's MES when the excellent journal celebrated its fiftieth anniversary two years earlier.

Clearly, the death of Sylvia is a terrible loss, personally and academically. Yet, I'm sure that her unique and important contribution will be respected and remembered for ever.

Sylvia Kedourie, last of the old-school academics

WJC releases video on N. African Holocaust

In order to complement its work for survivors of the Holocaust in Europe, the World Jewish Congress has launched this two-minute long video to reveal the little-known story of the Holocaust in North Africa. The video summarises the impact of the Nazi, Vichy and Fascist regimes on the Jews of North Africa. It does, however, exaggerate the numbers who were killed. They did not amount to thousands - 600 Jews died in the Libyan labour camp of Giado. Libyan Jews returning from Bergen-Belsen after the war.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

It is you, Bisharat, who hath us offended

 Erez Biton submitting his report to Naftali Bennett, education minister. The Biton report looked at how to insert more Mizrahi content into schools.

Jews around the world have been marking the mass exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries over the last sixty years. True to form, Haaretz has not a positive word to say about it. The Arab-Israeli writer, Odeh Bisharat has just published a piece titled,  If I Were a Mizrahi Zionist, I Would Be Offended.  Sadly, it is a tissue of half-truths and wishful thinking. The gist of his argument is that you can't be a proud Israeli patriot and a refugee from an Arab country at the same time. I have inserted my comments in italics. (With thanks: Stan)

Instead of adding yet another day to widen the rift between them, I would have chosen a day to express the connection between Jews and Arabs.

After 2, 500 years (about a million days) during which they resided in Iraq, the Biton Committee couldn’t find a better way to raise the banner of Mizrahim than to focus on their tragedy.

Actually the Biton Committee did not invent the 30 November commemoration, it simply recommended that this Day, which became an official holiday by Knesset law in 2014,  should be observed in schools.

As result, the ministerial panel decided that their entire illustrious history would be remembered with a day "to mark the departure and expulsion of Jews from the Arab countries and Iran," which would henceforth fall on November 30.

This is not correct. The Biton report contains a raft of recommendations for the promotion of centuries of flourishing Mizrahi culture and heritage.  

First we must explain that versions of history change here according to the season. If it’s hot, a light shirt is enough. If it’s winter, you need a heavy coat, and during stormy weather at other times, you might dress differently every day.

Bisharat reduces the refugee issue to a matter of political opportunism by the Netanyahu government.

Thus, until the mid-1990s, we were taught in school about the bravery of the aliyah activists in the Arab countries, who through thick and thin and using strategies that wouldn’t have embarrassed James Bond, led to the departure – and even more importantly, to the immigration of – these Jews to the Promised Land. But when the clouds started rolling in, in the form of demands to resolve the resulting Palestinian refugee issue, the concept emerged of “Jewish refugees from the Arab states.”

In the early days of the state, Israel focused on the heroic exploits of the Zionist activists who risked their lives to rescue Jews from Arab countries. That focus actually helped integrate the refugees into Israel, and contributed to
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upgraded the concept and raised it to Olympic proportions. (...)

So now the Zionists have to explain whether the arrival here of Mizrahim was a "default" development that was the result of Arab oppression, or whether they arrived here as proud Jews returning to the Promised Land.

To focus on the 'pull' factors does not invalidate the 'push' factors. They are two sides of the same coin.

If I were a Mizrahi Zionist, I would be offended to be told that I’m living in my homeland as a refugee – and not as a proud patriot.

Jews came to Israel as refugees, but it is to the credit of the Israeli government that they are no longer refugees. To have come as a refugee and to become a proud patriot of one's new homeland are not mutually exclusive.

But the glaring truth, which cannot be glossed over either by the ruses of the right-wing leadership or Arab reactionary propaganda, is that the Jews in Arab lands played a very important role in those countries in all realms – culture, economics and politics.

True enough. But the fact that German Jewry also played an important role in German culture and society did not stop them from being persecuted and 'ethnically cleansed' by the Nazis.

The fact that these individuals were not immediately tempted when the Jewish state was founded to answer the Zionist call to emigrate there proves the degree to which they affiliated themselves with the Arab peoples.

 Untrue. As soon as the state of Israel was declared, Jews in Arab countries attempted to immigrate there in their thousands. Over 90 percent of the Jews of Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Libya had moved to Israel by 1951.

A great body of evidence shows that they were neither Zionists nor anti-Zionists. Like every person seeking peace and tranquility, they simply wanted to continue living in their natural environment.

All the more reason why the governments and mobs of Arab states were at fault for scapegoating  their loyal Jewish citizens.   Most Mizrahi Jews were non-Zionists, but they were forced from their 'natural environment' by state-sanctioned oppression and violence.  

The terrible tragedy occurred after the Jewish-Palestinian conflict erupted in Palestine, bringing all the so-called nationalist emotions among both peoples to the fore.

 Untrue.  Israel cannot be blamed for bursts of violence against Jews in Arab countries which predated its establishment: eg the 1912 Fez pogrom, the 1941 Farhud massacre, the Libyan riots of 1945.

And when the Zionists, on the one side, linked up with Arab reactionaries on the other, with the encouragement of the British Mandate – the tragedy of the Jews in Arab countries occurred.

Now there's an interesting piece of revisionism. What Arab 'reactionaries' did Zionists link up with? The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, whose declared aim was the extermination of the Jews not just in Palestine, but across the Arab world? And what 'encouragement' did the British furnish?

It’s hard to estimate the “contribution” of each side to this tragedy, but this “joint effort” wreaked havoc not just on the Jews, but on all the Arab nations, which lost their best and brightest.

In sum, the Zionists share the blame for the Mizrahi tragedy, even though their leaders accepted the Peel Commission Partition plan, the UN Partition Plan, and that Chaim Weizmann declared,'we will accept a Jewish state even if it were the size of a tablecloth'? Clearly Bisharat has a shaky grasp of history and does not recognise that the Arab position,  a maximalist one rejecting a Jewish state in any borders, caused the Mizrahi tragedy.

The unfortunate thing is that while we are witnessing the rise of Arab intellectuals who are sharply critical of the leadership in Arab states for abandoning the Jews, in Israel the opposite is happening. That’s why I am critical of my brethren on the Biton Committee, headed by poet Erez Biton, who instead of using the Jews of the East to help forge a connection between Arabs and Jews, chose to fan the flames.

There are plenty of days here for hatred. That’s why instead of adding yet another day to widen the rift, I would have chosen a day to express the connection between Jews and Arabs, whether it was the birthday of a poet, or the date of an event by means of which Jews left their mark on Arab culture.

Some Arab intellectuals, in Iraq and Egypt for instance,  are indeed beginning to come to terms with their countries' antisemitism - the Farhud, for instance.  They are recognising that their Jews were exposed to violence and persecution. They are more honest than Bisharat, who wishes to bury his head in the sand. He would rather talk about poetry than persecution.  Far from fanning the flames, the Biton commission and the campaign for Jewish refugees from Arab countries wishes to restore truth and balance to the historical record. You can't build peace on a lie.

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Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Arab countries 'cursed' for discriminating Jews

WJC video telling the stories of Levana Zamir (Egypt), Gina Waldman (Libya), R. Elie Abadie (Lebanon) and Edwin Shuker (Iraq) (with thanks: Eliyahu)
There are many Arabs and Jews who believe all the calamities and wars that have beset the Arab world, including the Arab Spring, are part of Allah's curse on those states over the discriminatory treatment toward the Jews. Edy Cohen wrote this article in Israel Hayom to mark the Day to remember Jewish refugees on 30 November.

The leaders of those states didn't want to or couldn't defend the People of the Book, even though the Quran tells Muslims that they should treat non-Muslims, including Jews, with respect, if they accept Islamic rule.

Each Arab state had a different policy toward Jews, but generally speaking, they were treated as second-class citizens or even worse than that. Even though they were loyal to their states, they were forced to leave or were expelled, owing to the rampant anti-Jewish sentiment in those countries after the State of Israel was established in 1948. Those Jewish communities had been there for over 14 centuries, well before the Prophet Muhammad and Islam. They dealt with trade, medicine and law, as well as other fields, and were of great contribution to the economies and societies of every state. The Arabs, who had become accustomed to discriminating against the Jews, couldn't stand the fact that those inferior people had a state.

On December 1, 1947, two days after the U.N. General Assembly approved the Partition Plan, pogroms erupted in most Arab states. These pogroms were a result of the incitement in the state-run media in those countries, and was supposed serve as retribution for U.N. plan. The Arabs considered the partition to be a betrayal by the international community, and many in Arab world still hold that view today and refuse to accept the notion that the Jews should have a state.

The pogroms erupted in the British-ruled Aden Protectorate (now part of Yemen), in Libya, in Syria and in other countries. Hundreds of Jews were killed, dozens of synagogues were torched, and many Jewish homes were looted. In Aleppo alone some 100 Jews were killed, and thousands more fled to Lebanon or Damascus.

• • •
The belief that Allah cursed Arab leaders for their mistreatment of the Jews is very much alive. Some believe the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's demise was a result of his decision to execute dozens of innocent Jews in 1969, even before he was president. Their blood cried out from the grave, and this, say those who believe in the curse, led to Saddam ultimately being hanged by his own people. Some say deposed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was brutally executed by rebels because he targeted Libyan Jews and had many synagogues sealed.

Many Arabs have been gloating over the recent wildfires in Israel. This glee shows that some in the Arab world still believe the Jews are a thorn at their side and cannot be tolerated. It seems that not much has changed since the Jewish expulsion from Arab states; the hatred is still very much there.

Read article in full

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The 'uniqueness' of the Palestinian refugees

A new book by Einat Wilf and Adi Schwartz will  soon be out to address the uniquely insoluble Palestinian refugee problem, the result of a 'foreign imperialist plot'. (But one wonders if it has only become so insoluble because of Israel's failure to stress 'the exchange of populations ' with Jewish refugees.) Here is an extract from a taster in Haaretz

 None of the millions who became refugees in the 1940s are seriously asking to return to their previous homes, and certainly they don’t receive international recognition and institutional support for such a demand. Slowly but surely, sometimes with the gnashing of teeth, the refugees were rehabilitated in the countries where they found refuge and began their lives again.

The unique nature of the Palestinian refugee problem and the reason for its continuation to this day are therefore unrelated to the circumstances of its creation: Even if Arabs were expelled during the war, that expulsion wasn’t exceptional in the global context – not in its scope, and certainly not in its cruelty. On the contrary, the Palestinian Arabs themselves carried out total ethnic cleansing against the Jews, and did not leave a single Jew in the territory remaining in their hands at the end of the war in 1949.

That was also the fate of many Jews who had lived in Arab countries for hundreds and thousands of years: Many of them were expelled or had to leave due to the hostile attitude of the local population and the Arab governments, and found refuge in Israel.

The problem of the Palestinian refugees, its centrality in Palestinian awareness and the fact that it is so acute can be understood only in their context within the Palestinian narrative. According to the Palestinians, this was not one of the usual, if regrettable, side-effects of wars, along with the dead and wounded; that’s why it’s different and cannot be compared to the death and expulsion of Jews in that very same war.

The expulsion and flight of the Palestinians is seen as part of a foreign imperialist plot, of which Zionism was the representative and in the first place was meant to expel a native people from its land. The Palestinians refuse to see their departure from the land as something that happens during wars (in their case, the side that started the war and lost was the side that left), but as part of a conspiracy by a population group that had no rights to the land, which forced itself on a country that didn’t belong to it.

The departure of the Arabs from the country during the war, whether through expulsion or flight, has become a symbol of the injustice which, according to them, characterizes the entire Zionist project. The deliberate Arab decision to continue to be refugees and not to be rehabilitated during all the decades that have passed since the end of the war was and remains a clear political statement, which means nonrecognition of the outcome of the war that centered around the right of the Jewish people to self-definition, at least in part of its homeland.

The Palestinian refugee problem, and particularly its continuation, is not a result of the events of the war itself, but of an Arab and Palestinian decision to convey a clear message: The war they began 69 years ago this week in response to the United Nations Partition Plan, a war whose objective was to prevent the Jewish people from realizing its right of self-definition in its homeland – that war isn’t over yet.

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Monday, December 05, 2016

Song composed for Jerusalem commemoration

This is a song composed by Kobi Oz, a musician of Tunisian origin,'We had nothing,' for the Remembrance Day for Jews from Arab countries. The clip begins with the Nazi occupation of Tunisia in 1942 and traces Oz's family's history through the rain-soaked tent camps in Israel and the Yom Kippur war. The video clip shows Jews from Arab countries now living in Israel - including Rahel Uzan,Kobi's mother - being interviewed about their family histories. The song concludes on an upbeat note:'we managed'. As they finish telling their stories, the emotional interviewees manage a smile.
Oz appeared at a musical extravaganza celebrated in Jerusalem before an audience of 3,000 in Jerusalem.

Levana Zamir (seen interviewed in French on i24News) ,president of the associations of Jews from Arab countries in Israel,poses with the Minister of Social Equality,Gila Gamliel, at the Jerusalem 30 November commemoration. 

 In her speech Minister Gamliel said that she had organised this big event in order to raise awareness of the expulsion and departure of Jews from Arab countries.

The Binyanei Ha'uma hall was packed to bursting point. Three hundred more people, who were left outside because it was fully booked, followed the proceeedings on a large screen. They stood watching for an hour and a half.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

WJC calls for recognition of Jewish refugees

As part of the worldwide commemoration of the 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, the World Jewish Congress held an event at the UN to call for the world to recognise the injustice done to them.
The WJC issued this video to mark 30 November to demonstrate the extent of 'ethnic cleansing' in the Arab world. Sadly the figures are out of date (five Jews in Iraq, 13 in Egypt, none in Algeria, less than 15 in Lebanon).
NEW YORK - The World Jewish Congress, together with Israel’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, honored the 850,000 Jews forced to flee Arab lands after the creation of the State of Israel, at the UN headquarters in New York on Thursday.

Evelyn Sommer, Chair of World Jewish Congress, North America, said that “the time has come” for international community to take concrete steps to ensure that justice be served for the refugees, who unlike Palestinian refugees, have been neither recognized nor assisted in any manner by the United Nations.

 “For those of us old enough to remember what happened 69 years ago, it was a day of great celebration for Jews around the world, 2,000 years of exile had come to an end,” Sommer said, referring to November 29, 1947, when the UN approved a partition plan for the creation of the State of Israel.

 “But in the Middle East and North Africa, Jews could not celebrate because November 29, 1947 marked the beginning of the end for these communities.” “What we do in the WJC is try to tell the world the truth, that there are two sides to the story,” Sommer added.

 Sommer laid out several steps for the UN to take to assist the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, among them to recognize the existence of the Jewish refugees, to remember the suffering of these Jews in any future negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis; to, ensure a real and accurate report of the assets Jewish refugees left behind in their former communities, and to ensure the respect and preservation of the religious institutions, such as cemeteries and synagogues, still existing in Arab lands. “Only once these elements are taken seriously will justice be served,” Sommer said.

 Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, also urged the United Nations to “finally recognize the forgotten refugees." "In the past seven decades, the UN has spent billions of dollars on Palestinian refugees, but not a dime on Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
Read article in full

'I am a forgotten Jew' by David Harris of the AJC

Saturday, December 03, 2016

The refugees keffiyeh-wearers ignore

Lyrical sermon given by Rabbi Andrea Zanardo of Brighton today,  the Shabbat following 30 November, the Day to remember Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran. Evoking the story of Jacob and Esau, he wonders if supporters of the Palestinians can ever stop thinking of them as the only victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict (With thanks: Michelle, Jonathan)

Nowadays I don't see many keffiyehs. You know: that scarf with fringes, usually black and white, which is a sort of a symbol of Palestinian identity. It used to be a regular feature of the uniform of Mr Arafat, and many Israeli haters wear it. But as I said, the number of people wearing such a scarf is dwindling nowadays, even in Brighton. Palestinian identity and fashion don't match anymore. 

Be as it may, I noticed the first keffiyeh of this year only this week. Just one. But it struck me, because it was on November 30th What's so special about such a date, you may ask. Well, in the Israeli calendar November 30th is the "Day to Mark the Departure and Expulsion of Jews from the Arab Countries and Iran". The tragic end of those centuries’ old Jewish communities is remembered throughout the country, with official ceremonies of commemoration, at the Knesset and in various public places, such as schools and city halls. 

I must admit: I was tempted. There was this lady, wearing that Palestinian scarf, one which I haven't seen for a long time, on the day devoted to remember and to honour the tragically lost Jewish communities in the Arab Countries. I was tempted to ask that lady whether she knew the significance of the day in Israel, a State which I suppose she was not so fond of. I was tempted to ask that lady, who certainly cares very much about the Palestinians, if there was room for other Middle Eastern refugees, other victims, in her bleeding heart. If she knew that in 1948 there were more than 140.000 Jews in Algeria, and now there is none. 

Whether she know that Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian autocrat, declared all the Jews enemies of the State in 1956, (yes, just like in Nazi Germany, less than 30 years before), and signed the death sentence for the oldest Jewish community of the Mediterranean. Whether she has heard about the pogroms in Libya in 1966, when the mob assaulted, of all places, the Jewish orphanage in Tripoli, and left the teachers beheaded: that is long before the army of the Islamic State decided to revamp that ancient tradition. 

I resisted the temptation and did nothing of that kind. But the comparison between the Palestinians and the Mizrahim, or North African Jews (and Jews from the Middle East - ed), lingered in my mind for a while. 

What a stark contrast. The Palestinians are kept in refugee camps, in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, (if there are still some there), and the Palestinian Authority: those who at the moment rule the West Bank, that of Abu Mazen. They cannot find a job out of these camps, let alone live. They have to live off the benefits provided by the UN. The United Nations has a special agency, a well funded agency, expressly for Palestinian refugees; while all the other refugees, of all the other conflicts in the world, are cared by another agency. The Agency devoted to the Palestinians needs to justify its existence in order to receive funding from the UN. So they constantly review the very definition of "Palestinian refugees" in order to have a larger number of clients to care for. At the moment if you are a son, or a grandson, or a great grandson, of someone who, prior to 1948, lived in, what is nowadays Israel, for two years in then Palestine, you can call yourself a "Palestinian refugee" and you and your family can receive money from the United Nations, that is from the Western Countries, including England, and of course, oh the irony, Israel. And so you have all these people living in so called refugee camps, that actually are slums of Arab capitals, dreaming of an impossible return, to places that they themselves have never seen and in which only a grandparent had lived, for two years. 

On the other hand think to the Mizrahim, the Jewish refugees from North African Countries (and the Middle East) . Part of them had also lived in refugee camps set up in France, Italy or (mostly) in Israel. But they had left those places after a few months. There is no such thing as a UN sponsored agency for the Jewish refugees. Mostly, because there is no need. They, their children and their grandchildren have moved on, and do not live in the shadow of the tragedy that happened in the past. They have been able to rebuild their lives and to turn the page. 

It helps to put things into perspective, doesn’t it? It is an interesting comparison between Palestinian refugees, and the way they have been treated, one would say even spoon-fed, by the international community. Who did not help the Jewish refugees, that much, as we all know. 

And it reminds me of the comparison between Jacob and Esau, which is narrated in this week’s Torah portion. Rebecca pushes Jacob, we are told, to steal the blessing that his father wanted to give to Esau, his brother. That is what we know from the text of the Torah. But think about what happened afterwards. Esau lived for years, for decades, in the shadow of the event, looking forward to the moment of revenge. While Jacob grew up and became a more mature person, through the vicissitudes that the Torah tells us: he met Rebecca, fell in love, worked for seven years to marry her, was cheated by Laban, found himself with Lea, whom he did not love, worked hard other seven years and finally could marry. 

On one side you have someone, Esau, who became obsessed of being a victim, who could think of himself only as a victim of his brother's tricks, which he had to suffer when he was young. While Jacob, on the other side, built a life for himself and became independent, mature. As a young man, he was so easily manipulated by his mother; as a mature human being, is able to see nuances and to understand complexities. He knows, he has learnt, that things are not always in black and white, that life is more than a perennial confrontation between victims and perpetrators. 

This is not, as we know, the way the media look at the Middle East. They want us to believe that the situation is in black and white, that the Jewish State is the perpetrator, that the Palestinians are victims, always victims, forever victims, the only victims. And by peddling this representation, they erase or ignore the Jewish victims of the conflict. Which of course we, children of Jacob, have the duty to remember. At least one day per year.

Friday, December 02, 2016

B'nai B'rith Canada runs week-long tribute to exodus

With thanks: Imre, Eliyahu and Michelle

From the 1940s until the 1970s, and heightening with the founding of Israel in 1948, nearly one million Jews were expelled from their homes across Arab countries such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Algeria and Iran. In the week that the exodus is being commemorated around he world, Bn'ai B'rith Canada has been running this series: 

IRAQ: Asad Mualim

In Egypt, the government arrested and charged Jews with being part of Zionist or Communist plots. They seized Jewish assets, businesses and property valued at $2.5 billion (U.S.) and set fire to the Jewish quarters in Cairo and Alexandria. In Syria, the Jewish community (which also dates back to Biblical times) was subjected to abuse and draconian laws. According to historian Martin Gilbert, Jews were “ forbidden to own radios or telephones, or to maintain postal contact with the outside world” and all Jewish properties were “confiscated by the state when the owners died.”
EGYPT: Irene Buenavida

Jews were frequently subjected to pogroms, systemic violence and religious persecution. Their exiles were largely attributable to Arab regimes increasing their hostility toward Jews because of the very existence of Israel.
LIBYA: Noemi Lieberman
In Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Lebanon, Libya, Algeria and Tunisia, similar measures were put into place at the direction of the Arab League to eliminate the Jewish presence on these lands.

Today, while stories abound of many Arab refugees, few are aware or even acknowledge this forgotten exodus of Jewish refugees. Only in Israel has Nov. 30, the day after the UN voted to approve the Jewish-Arab partition plan of Palestine, been marked to commemorate their plight.

LEBANON: Ronit Eskenasi

As part of the commemoration of this tragic but little-known chapter in Jewish history, B’nai Brith Canada, together with community partners, have produced a series of videos chronicling the stories of some who endured the prejudice directed toward Jews in the Middle East during these decades, and who have
since come to Canada.
SYRIA: Joseph and Olga Esses

Part1: EGYPT
Part 2: LIBYA
Part 4: IRAQ 
Part 5: SYRIA 

Remembering 850,000 invisible refugees
Forgotten refugees must be part of the equation:

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Who has heard of the 1947 Aden riots?

To mark 30 November, the memorial day for Jewish refugees from Arab lands, Haaretz published this article by Ofer Aderet.  It contains testimony from Shimon Sassoon, who complains that schoolchildren are taught nothing about the Aden pogrom which killed 87 Jews in December 1947. (With thanks:Michelle; Lily)

 Arab rioters set alight the Jewish school for boys in Aden in December 1947 (Photo:AP)

Shimon Sasson, 84, of Tel Aviv, was 15 when the riots broke out in the port city of Aden. It happened just after November 29, 1947, the date on which the United Nations approved the partition plan for Palestine, paving the way for the founding of the State of Israel.

“I heard the report on the UN vote on the radio with my family at home in Aden,” Sasson told Haaretz this week. “Afterward we went downstairs and told everyone who’d gathered outside the house who had voted for, who against, and who had abstained. There was cheering.”

But the joy was premature and replaced very shortly with alarm. “What happened was totally unexpected and hit us out of nowhere,” wrote Ovadia Tuvia, a Jewish Agency representative, describing the pogrom against local Jews to his superiors in Eretz Israel.

Today, November 30, Israel observes the Day to Mark the Departure and Expulsion of Jews From the Arab Countries and Iran, an official memorial day established by the Knesset two years ago.

In Aden, which at the time was a British colony and today is part of Yemen, there was an ancient community of Jews numbering around 5,000 people, who lived alongside the local Arab population. The rioting began on December 2, 1947 and lasted three days. “On the night of December 2 the Arabs started to burn Jews’ cars in the streets,” Sasson recalled. “The next day they invaded our neighborhood. The streets were totally empty. We threw bottles at them.”

A day later Arabs started to torch Jewish stores, businesses, and homes. “A few families fled their homes and ran to our house, which was in the middle of the neighborhood. I opened the door and took in five families,” whose names he still remembers.

The Jewish leaders asked the British for help. In response, they sent a unit of Bedouin policemen under British command. “That’s when the disaster started,” Tuvia wrote. “The hooligans started to loot Jewish stores. The policemen stood aside and smiled. Another minute and you could see them assisting in the looting and pillaging.”

The British declared a curfew. “I didn’t know what a curfew was, so I went up on the roof to see what was happening in the street. I saw a soldier there with a rifle. I ducked and he shot at me.” The bullet didn’t hit him, but hit a 15-year-old girl who had found refuge in his house. “The bullet hit her in the head. She died on the spot,” he said. “There was great turmoil in the house.” They had to wait three days until they could put the body out for burial in a collective grave.

“Any Jew who called out for help or who went up to the roof to put out the fires in his house or to escape it was greeted with a hail of bullets,” wrote Tuvia, who had been born in Aden in 1920, immigrated to Palestine and returned in 1945 to organize aliyah to the soon-to-emerge state. “The mad cries in the Jewish neighborhood tore the heavens. All the Jewish homes were pockmarked with bullet holes. One house was burned. Dozens of bodies fell, one after the other.”

Gavriel David, who was an infant at the time, lost his grandfather, Yihye, in the riots. His recollections are based on the stories he heard from relatives. “Eighty-seven Jews were shot, slaughtered and burned to death. My grandfather was shot in the head by a sniper,” he said. “He didn’t die on the spot. He bled all night at home.” Yihye was evacuated to a hospital the next day, but died of his wound.

After three days, when the British army finally came into the Jewish quarter, the rioting stopped. “On Friday morning they went out to collect the dead,” Tuvia wrote. “A truck went from street to street to collect them. Every home brought down its dead to the middle of the street and Yemenite refugees buried them in a collective grave, with no funeral and no ceremony. The streets were filled with crying and wailing.”

Thirty days after the riots the Aden Jewish Association in Eretz Yisrael held a memorial for those murdered, in the community’s synagogue at 5 Lilienblum Street in Tel Aviv. There, the community issued a call for the Jewish Agency and the country’s institutions to do all in their power to bring Aden’s Jews to the holy land.

Five years ago, a small museum was set up in the synagogue to document the community’s history; it contains testimonies, documents, artifacts and photographs. One corner of the museum is dedicated to the pogrom. A memorial pamphlet lists the names of the 87 people killed in the rioting.

“The Aden community lost 87 people because of the declaration of the Jewish state. Their only sin was the founding of the State of Israel,” said Sasson. A few months after the state was declared, he made aliyah alone. His mother, who was heavily pregnant, and his sisters joined him afterward. His father remained in Aden until 1967, when the British withdrew from the territory.

There were those left behind in Aden, Sasson said. “Not everyone hurt during the disturbances was located in the end,” he said. “There are those who disappeared and were never found. To this day we don’t know where they are.”

Prof. Michael David, director of the Skin Department at Beilinson Hospital and the brother of Gavriel David, is angry at the state for not preserving the memory of those murdered in the disturbances.

“When they mark November 29 in schools, they don’t talk about this pogrom, which was directly connected,” he said. “It’s terrible to make this comparison, but fewer people were killed in the Kishinev pogroms than were killed in Aden. Perhaps if we’d had a Bialik, our memory would look different,” he said, referring to Haim Nahman Bialik’s famous poem, “In the City of Slaughter,” written after the Kishinev pogroms in 1903.

Read article in full  (subscription required)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Remembering 850,000 invisible Jewish refugees

 Nasser: expelled Jews

 Today is 30 November, the remembrance day for Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Events are being organised all over the world, and articles are appearing in the Jewish press to mark the day. Lyn Julius writes in The Times of Israel:

One autumn day in 1956 Lilian Abda was swimming leisurely in the Suez Canal when Egyptian soldiers  arrested her. “I was brought in my bathing suit to the police station,” she recalls. “The next day they expelled me and my entire family from the country.”

Lilian Abda, who now lives in Haifa, was one of 25,000 Egyptian Jews caught up in the brutal aftermath of the Suez crisis 60 years ago. 

Fearful that Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s military dictator, would nationalise the Suez Canal, Britain and France colluded with Israel to attack Egypt. The Israelis were responding to Nasser’s act of war  – the closure of the Straits of Tiran –  and to years of terrorist raids.

Nasser’s revenge against the Jews was not long in coming. Lilian Abda was accused of passing intelligence to Israel. “They called me the Mata Hari of the canal,” she says. British and French passport-holders were given days to leave. Another 500 Jews were also expelled and their property seized, including stateless Jews or those  who held Egyptian nationality.

Jenny Stewart, née Sitton, who resettled in England, recalls:  “We were allowed to take out only 20 pounds each.  I sewed a £10 note in the hem of my dress. My mother’s jewellery was confiscated by the immigration officers when we arrived at the airport.”

The plight of Egypt’s Jews has been replicated all over the Arab world, as Jews were deprived of their civil rights and forced to leave. The majority of Jewish refugees found a haven in Israel.

Two years ago, the Israeli Knesset passed a law designating 30 November as an official date to remember the uprooting of almost one million Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran in the last 60 years.

The date chosen was 30 November – the day after the UN passed the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine. Violence, followed bloodcurdling threats by Arab leaders, led to the destruction of millennarian, pre-Islamic communities. After 1979, four-fifths of the Iranian-Jewish community fled.

Today, Muslim sects and non-Muslim minorities are being persecuted, but people forget that the Jews were one of the first. As the saying goes, ‘First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people.’

Harif is holding several events in November and December to remember the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. From Amsterdam to Sydney, Toronto to Bologna, Birmingham to New York, San Francisco to London, Jewish organisations worldwide, many in partnership with Israeli embassies, are organising lectures, film screening and discussions.

Refugees are much in the news. But until the mass population displacement caused by wars in Iraq and Syria, the world thought that ‘Middle Eastern refugee’ was synonymous with ‘Palestinian refugee.’ Yet there were more Jews displaced from Arab countries than Palestinians (850,000, as against 711, 000 according to UN figures). For the sake of peace, it is important that all bona fide refugees be treated equally, yet Jewish refugee rights have never adequately been addressed.

There are less than 13 Jews in Egypt today out of 80, 000. Jewish refugees like Lilian Abda  have rebuilt their lives without fuss. They don’t expect much in the way of compensation. But they do demand their place in memory and history.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Forgotten refugees must be part of the equation

 South Florida has a growing community of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews fleeing antisemitism, some for the second or third time. Lior Haiat and Henry Green explain in the Miami Herald why the forgotten refugees from the Middle East and North Africa must be part of the equation in any peace negotiations (with thanks:Michelle):

 Miami beach has a growing Mizrahi community
For centuries Jews co-existed for the most part peacefully with their various neighbors across North Africa and the Middle East. Jewish communities thrived from the Atlantic Ocean to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, from Casablanca to Alexandria and Baghdad.

Today, they all have been virtually driven to extinction. Within one generation, from 1948 to 1973, nearly 1 million people were displaced, many becoming refugees.

In the wake of the Holocaust, the establishment of the state of Israel and the rise of Arab nationalism, the Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews in North Africa and the Middle East were increasingly subjected to pogroms, riots, arrest and detention. They were caught between the colonizers and the colonized. But unlike other ethnic groups, the Jews was viewed as a “fifth column.” 

 Jews were stripped of their citizenship, belongings and livelihoods. Communal life was restricted, schools and synagogues confiscated and cemeteries destroyed for urban renewal. In 1969, during the regime of Saddam Hussein, innocent Jews were scapegoated as Israeli spies and hanged in a public square.

Nearly half of those displaced migrated to Israel, about a quarter to Europe and the rest to the Americas. Many experienced several exiles. For example, the Garazi family, fearing rising anti-Jewish sympathies in the wake of the fall of the Ottoman Empire, traveled from Aleppo to Havana and then to Miami post-Castro in 1961. When Solomon was asked if his roots still played a significant role in his life he said: “It is who I am: a proud Jew from Aleppo who left his heart in Havana to go into exile again to be free so I could continue to cultivate my Sephardi heritage”.

The Diaine family fled Algiers in the face of the Algerian Revolution in 1962 and migrated to Paris, only to leave for Miami in fear of the growing anti-Semitism before the Charlie Hebdo massacre. “The feeling is there’s something wrong going on in Europe,” Elisa Diaine said. “The extreme right is rising and, unfortunately, the first to be scapegoats are always the Jews.”

Today, South Florida is home to thousands of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews of Middle Eastern and North African heritage. It is a melting pot of communities and multiculturalism, a haven for refugees of all nations and ethnicities. 

The story of the “forgotten exodus,” Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim countries, has never been part of the discussion regarding Palestinian-Israeli and Arab-Israeli encounters for peace. With each attempt to rewrite history, the voices of these Jewish refugees grow weaker, as witnesses pass on and human-rights agencies exclude them from the equation of justice. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Events kick off to mark exodus from Arab lands

Jewish organisations around the world  are getting ready to hold special events to mark the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran in the last 70 years. The centrepiece of the commemoration in Israel will be a musical extravaganza attended by 2,700 people at Binyanei Ha'uma in Jerusalem on 30 November.

At Bar Ilan university today, minister Gila Gamliel will open a conference attended by all the organisations representing Jews from Arab countries in Israel. The conference has been arranged by Dr Shimon Ohayon, ex-MK, who shepherded the law designating 30 November as Jewish Refugee Day through the Knesset.

 The commemoration kicked off on 24 November when Levana Zamir, president of the Coalition of Associations of Jews from Arab countries, presented an award  to minister Gila Gamliel before an audience of 250 guests.

 The award was in recognition  of minister Gamliel's remarkable contribution to raising awareness of the expulsion and plight of Jews from Arab countries.

Miriam Avigal-Guez, representing Jews of Tunisia, looks on as minister Gila Gamliel (centre) poses with the award presented to her by Levana Zamir right).

The program  on the "Jewish Nakba"( arrests, progroms, properties confiscated, persecution and expulsion of Jews from Arab countries) included documentaries and a lecture by Professor Uzi Arad, initiator and head of the famous Herzliya Conference, and professor at the Interdisciplinary Center, who served during 2009 -2011 as National Security advisor to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Arad made the issue  of Jewish refugees a strategic imperative. MK Ksenia Svetlova made the opening remarks.

 Gamliel, who was on her way to the north of Israel, could not avoid mentioning the criminal fires devastating Haifa and its suburbs.

With reference to the Jewish 'Nakba', minister Gamliel stressed how important it is to record testimonies. She is working on getting a special budget for this task.
Harif, the UK Association of Jews  from the Middle East and North Africa, will be screening 'Rock in the Red Zone' jointly with the Israeli embassy on 30 November, while JIMENA in California has a full month's programme planned. 

Jewish organisations, many in partnership with Israeli embassies, will be holding talks, film screenings and discussions from Amsterdam to Sydney, Toronto to Bologna, Birmingham to New York, Washington to Montreal. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Nadia Haroun's son 'comes out' as a Jew

Shock horror! The Egyptian film star Karim Kassem has revealed that his mother was Jewish. Although this press report in The Algemeiner does not say so, a little digging reveals that Kassem's mother was the late Nadia Haroun, sister of Magda, the leader of Cairo's tiny Jewish community, who continues their father Shehata's tradition of militant anti-Zionism. Kassem's 'coming out' seems to indicate two things: one, that it is more acceptable to vaunt one's Jewish connections in Egypt today. But it also shows that, in spite of his family's vehement protestations of patriotism (to the extent that Shehata let another daughter die rather than forfeit his Egyptian nationality) 'Jew' is still a source of shame and guilt, and Egyptians still conflate 'Jew' and 'Zionist'. (With thanks: Lily, Michelle)

 The film star Karim Kassem revealed that his mother was Jewish on an Egyptian TV show last week.
An Egyptian movie star revealed his Jewish ancestry on a live television talk show last week, much to the surprise of the program’s host and viewers, the London-based, English-language pan-Arab publication The New Arab reported on Tuesday.

 According to the report, Karim Kassem said that though his father is a Muslim, his mother is a Jew, and one of his paternal grandparents was a Christian. As such, Kassem said, he learned from a young age to embrace all three monotheistic religions. “I feel as if I am lucky that I come from a mixed background,” he said, adding that growing up in an interfaith family has taught him about “accepting others.”

 However, Kassem explained, this wasn’t always an easy feat. Indeed, he recounted, even the way he learned of his mother’s origin was shocking. It happened one day upon his return home from school, when he told his sister of certain negative stereotypes attributed to Jews. “Karim!” she shouted. “You don’t know? Your mom is Jewish!” It was not only his surprise that prompted him to keep the discovery to himself, he said. It was also his shame.

The 30-year-old was growing up in a country with rampant antisemitism and, in spite of its peace treaty with Israel, which did not view the Jewish state favorably. In fact, he said during the talk show interview, the reason his mother was among the few Jewish families in Egypt that did not immigrate to Israel after its establishment in 1948 was because of his maternal grandfather’s virulent anti-Zionism.

 He even opposed the Camp David Accords, signed in 1978 between the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

(According to the online magazine Cairoscene, realizing that he had caught the show’s host off guard, Kassem made a point of stressing that he is a true Egyptian patriot who continues to reject Zionism.)

Read  article in full

Friday, November 25, 2016

Iraqi Jews visit Abbas in Ramallah

It is hard to know exactly what this visit by Iraqi Israelis to the Palestinian seat of power in Ramallah will accomplish. Instead of talking peace and  brotherhood, speaking Arabic and reciting verses from the Koran, this delegation should have asked Mahmoud Abbas some tough questions. Instead they have bolstered his image as a peace-maker.   The Jerusalem Post reports (with thanks: Lily)

MK Yossi Yonah meets Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah

On the bus ride over, Tamar Tzaliach, a retired businesswoman from Jerusalem who loves Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, says she is not sure if Abbas is ready to make the compromises necessary for peace.

“I am skeptical; it is possible that he wants to make peace, but he needs to overcome the pressures around him and take a courageous step,” says Tzaliach, whose family comes from Baghdad and Basra.

Zehava Bracha, who operates a website dedicated to preserving Iraqi Arabic among Israeli Jews, says she has not come to make a political statement.

“I am not political, but I believe in peace between both peoples, and that starts with a conversation,” Bracha remarks. “I came to start that conversation.”

As the visitors descend the bus in the Mukata’s parking lot, the PA presidential guard forces welcome and direct them to a medium-sized room, where a number of Abbas’s top advisers are awaiting their arrival.

Among the advisers is Muhammad Madani, the chairman of the Palestinian Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, a Palestinian government body.

Since early 2013, Madani has frequently traveled around Israel, meeting with Israelis from all walks of life, but Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman withdrew Madani’s VIP entry permit in April, making it impossible for Madani to meet Israelis on the other side of the Green Line.

Liberman said that Madani had attempted “to establish a political party” and wanted “to undermine Israel’s political stability,” all claims that the latter vehemently denies.

Madani, together with Zionist Union MK Yossi Yonah, organized Tuesday’s meeting, which comes at a time when there is little discussion of the peace process between the two sides.

Yonah, whose family comes from Nehardea, an ancient Iraqi city, says he met Abbas approximately two months ago and agreed to help arrange for a delegation of Israeli Jews of Iraqi descent to come to Ramallah.

After everyone is seated, Abbas emerges from the doorway and individually shakes each of his guests’ hands.

One guest on the far side of the room recites a verse of the Koran that mentions both Jacob and Ishmael, and Abbas yells in jubilation, “God is great.”

Yonah then takes the floor and delivers remarks in Arabic, while Taleb al-Sana, a former Arab-Israeli member of Knesset, translates into Hebrew.

“Our culture has deep roots and is part and parcel of the region. We also believe that it is still possible to achieve a peace agreement that serves both of our interests,” Yonah says, adding that he “calls on Abbas and Netanyahu to renew talks without preconditions.”

Read article in full

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Seeking my Jewish grandma Liliane from Casablanca

Only surviving photo of Liliane, who disappeared in the 1960s from Morocco.

Fadwa is a Muslim girl living in Casablanca. She has recently received the bombshell news that her mother's mother was a Jewess called Liliane. Liliane was last heard of in the 1960s, when she declared her intention to go to Israel and abandoned her baby (Fadwa's mother). Read her moving story on the Lesite. info website (with thanks; Michelle):

"Firstly, I call on all Jewish Moroccans because our grandmother is Jewish. I forgot to mention that our grandfather was Muslim and that we are also Muslim. I imagine that this difference in religion is one of the factors that made our grandmother disappear.

The story dates back almost 52 years, when my grandfather, Ahmed, met my grandmother Liliane, aged 20-22 at the time. That's all we know about her, we do not know her last name. In Casablanca, she lived in the mellah. He was a butcher in the neighborhood. He was already married and had children and yet they linked up. Obviously, Liliane's family always rejected him, I believe because of his religion.

Liliane became pregnant and had to leave her family to join Ahmed who took her to live with his wife and children. Ahmed's wife did not accept Liliane, but could not say anything in front of her husband, who was somewhat authoritarian, so she decided to put pressure on Liliane and try to drive her out of the house by any means she could. She succeeded.

Liliane had to endure this suffering during the nine months of her pregnancy and finally abandon her baby, who is my mother. Liliane had told someone, just before she left Ahmed's house, that she was going to Israel. She disappeared from that day forth in 1963-1964 and we have no news of her.

 Our mother was raised by a couple who could not have children. At the time she tried to find her mother, but it was not easy because of the lack of means. Today, our mother is also the grandmother of five grandchildren, but we, her children, are hoping to find our grandmother, thanks to new technology.

 Our mother does not know that we are aware of this story that she hid from us for more than thirty years. We learned about her from someone who wanted to shock us. But we accepted this truth and think that finding our grandmother would be the best gift we could offer to our dear mother."

Read article in full (French) 

If you know Liliane or have any information about her please contact me on

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Rare footage of the Mufti meeting Hitler, 1941

With thanks: Lisette
Salim Fattal was the head of Israel's Arabic TV service in the 1960s and made a series about the Jews of Iraq. This programme (Hebrew and Arabic) has some fascinating scenes of a service in the Meir Tweg synagogue (the last working synagogue in Baghdad). Fattal interviewed 100 Jews about their experiences in the Farhud, the 1941 massacre. Even if you do not understand the language, the film is worth seeing for its rare footage of the Mufti of Jerusalem meeting Hitler.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

N. African Holocaust features on BBC radio

 Jews marched off to labour camps during the Nazi occupation of Tunisia

Jews from North Africa are fighting for space in Holocaust memory. For some years now,  a high-profile ceremony in France has been taking place to remember the 9 December 'rafle de Tunis' : the Nazis, who had occupied Tunisia in November 1942, rounded up over 5,000 Jews, damaged the great synagogue in Tunis, and looted Jewish property.

Daniel Lee, of the University of Sheffield, described this and other wartime episodes in the history of the Jews of North Africa in the New Generation Thinkers series on Radio Three on 20 November 2016. The segment begins at 21: 18 and lasts about 20 minutes. (It will be available on the BBC website for the next month or so.)

The French protectorates of Morocco and Tunisia, and Algeria, part of France proper, came under the pro-Nazi Vichy government from 1940. Libya was a colony of Fascist Italy.Vichy racial laws were introduced expelling Jews from schools, universities and jobs in the public sector and the professions. There were 30 labour camps on Moroccan soil for ex-servicemen of the defeated French army.

Among those interviewed is Casablanca-born Sydney Assor, whose British father was arrested as an 'enemy alien'. Assor himself was abruptly removed from his state school and transferred to the Alliance Israelite. This was run by Turkish Jews. " If you had any orifice, they would put knowledge through it," he says.

A Tunisian Jew marched off to the railway station on his way to a labour camp told how his familiar and nurturing world had exploded.  A Libyan Jew describes her experience of Bergen-Belsen: 900 Jews of British nationality were deported there.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Happy as a Mountain Jew in Azerbaijan

 Is it possible to live happily as a Jew under Muslim rule? Yes it is - in Azerbaijan where 9,000 Jews live in harmony, says Said Mousayev in the Jerusalem Post.

The history of Azerbaijan itself and its peoples is multicultural. In particular, the history of the Jews in Azerbaijan is exemplary. This is exemplary because Azerbaijan, a country with a Muslim majority 96%, is against anti-Semitism. In Azerbaijan, religion is separate from the state. All confessions are equal before the law. The national educational system is secular. The official language of the Republic of Azerbaijan is Azerbaijani. According to the most recent census, there are people of 150 ethnicity living in Azerbaijan, 22 of them having compact settlements in different regions of the state.

There are three Jewish communities in modern Azerbaijan: Mountains Jews (or Bukharian Jews), Ashkenazi Jews, and Georgian Jews. The community of Mountains Jews is the oldest, their ancestors arriving to the territory almost 15 centuries ago, according to some data. This version claims that after the Mazdakeans were subdued in Iran (late 5th – early 6th century A.D.), most of the Iranian Jews who had supported them were exiled to the outskirts of the empire, i.e., today’s Northern Azerbaijan and Southern Dagestan. 

The ancestors of the Mountains Jews spoke a South-Western dialect of the Persian language, which the modern Mountain Jewish language of Old Persian origin called Juhuri or Judeo-Tat, related to the Persian spoken by Jews in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and also containing many Turkic and Semitic elements.  

The great synagogue in  Baku (Getty images)

As of 2016, approximately 9,000 Jews live in in perfect harmony with Muslims and other religions in Azerbaijan. Recognized as Juhuros, Mountain Jews self-nominate, would be descendants of the 12 tribes exiled from the Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrian king Shalmaneser V in the VIII century BC.

Historians, however, agree on the presence of Jewish communities in the Eastern Caucasus as early as the 3rd century. Fleeing persecution in Persia, the Mountain Jews settled in the area and were gradually cut off from their Persian roots over the centuries. Thus, in the 7th and 8th centuries, their number increases in the North Caucasus and on the territory of the present Republic of Azerbaijan because they are fleeing the Arab threat to the south, contained by the Khazar kingdom, Crimea to the shores of the Caspian Sea.

Read article in full

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Israeli raises Jewish property question on al-Jazeera

Dr Edy Cohen, an academic researcher at Bar-Ilan university, has raised the question of property seized from Jews in Syria on Al-Jazeera Arabic's most viewed and prestigious programmes.

 In a discussion on 15 November about Syria, Dr Cohen appeared on the al - Fubbia programme ('The opposite way'), which has 70 million viewers in the Arab world.

Dr Cohen attacked Syrian president Assad and Iran's involvement. He said that Israel wants peace and does not interfere in the affairs of Arab countries, even though it has the military power to do so.

 Dr Cohen (pictured below), a Jewish refugee from Lebanon, is believed to be the first Israeli Jew ever to have taken part in the programme.

In 1946 Syria had 30, 000 Jews. Today there are believed to be fewer than 15.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Iranian reformist defies official line on Israel

 Iranian reformist intellectual Sadegh Zibakalam (pictured) has possibly risked arrest - and worse -  by defying  the Iranian regime's sworn objective, to destroy Israel, in this television interview. You can watch the MEMRI clip here.    (With thanks: Lily)

Iranian reformist intellectual Sadegh Zibakalam criticized the Iranian regime on its stance on Israel, saying that by promoting calls for the destruction of Israel, Iran was acting in violation of the U.N. Charter. He further criticized Khamenei's idea of a referendum on the future of Israel, saying that it was unrealistic and furthermore, none of Iran's business, pointing out that Iran's commitment to destroy Israel was evident in its parading of long-range missiles with slogans in Hebrew pronouncing that "Israel must be destroyed." Zibakalam was speaking in an interview held by the Iranian Ministry of Islamic Culture and posted on its official YouTube account on November 13.

Zibakalam: "The UN officially recognized Israel, and Iran is a member state. According to Article 1 of the UN charter, the UN member states must not conduct acts of aggression against one another, and must not wish death and destruction upon another nation.


"Iran should first withdraw from the UN before it may chant: 'Death to Israel' and 'Israel must be destroyed.'


"What Palestinian political movement calls for the destruction of Israel?"

Interviewer: "The Islamic Jihad and Hamas..."

Zibakalam: "Absolutely not. Hamas calls for a Palestinian state. Where does it call for Israel's destruction?


"Most of the Palestinians who became refugees in 1948, almost 70 years ago, are already dead, and some of them emigrated to Jordan, Armenia, or Ethiopia. There are already second- and third-generation (Palestinians) there. Are you really suggesting holding a referendum to determine if they should return to Palestine or not? How would they even identify them?


"Let's say that a referendum is held tomorrow, and the Jews return to where they lived 70 years ago, and the Palestinians return to where they lived 70 years ago... Let's assume that this were possible."

Interviewer: "Are you saying that we shouldn't care about this?"

Zibakalam: "No that's not what I'm saying. I'm talking about Iran's mission to destroy Israel, and about our declarations that we must destroy Israel..."

Interviewer: "We are not talking about destroying Israel with an atom bomb..."

Zibakalam: "Mr. Dehbashi, don't argue with me. Don't say: 'We're talking about a referendum, not about the destruction (of Israel). When you write on your missiles ' Israel must be destroyed,' it's no joke. These missiles have a range of 2, 000-3, 000 kilometers, so if you launch them from here, they will definitely hit Tel Aviv. You write 'Israel must be destroyed' on the missiles in Hebrew, in order to dispel any doubts (about our intentions). Is this really talking about human rights? Who entrusted Iran with this mission? The Arabs? Did the Arabs say: 'Oh Iran, we are incapable of destroying Israel, and, you know, we Arabs love you very much, so please come and do this for us'?! Did the Palestinians say this? Did Hamas? Did the PLO? Did the Palestinian parliament in exile say this? Is this written in our constitution? Was there a poll in which the Iranian people said that Israel must be destroyed? Does Islam say this? Who said that we must destroy Israel?!


"There is a practical reason why they do not arrest me. They say to themselves: Why arrest him? We can just call him and tell him to shut up, and he won't utter another word.

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

How Ataturk saved 30 German-Jewish dons

 Ataturk's Turkey welcomed 30 German-Jewish professors fleeing the Nazis. A new film, Haymatloz, tells their story. Report on

Kurt Heilbronn, a psychotherapist, ...moves back and forth between Germany and Turkey. His father, founder of the Istanbul Botanical Garden, was a respected plant geneticist in Germany before the Nazis chased him out in 1933. Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of modern-day Turkey, offered him a professorship in Istanbul.

Ataturk actively pursued a sweeping university reform in the late 1920s, with the aim of turning Turkey into a modern country – no matter the cost. The German professors who fled Nazi Germany were welcomed with open arms and helped build Turkey′s university system.

Ataturk outlawed Arabic letters and introduced the Latin alphabet. Young Turkish students were to receive a sound education, just like their fellow students in the West. Women, who were no longer required to wear a veil, flocked to the universities, says Eren Onsoz, director of the documentary "Haymatloz".

German Jewish academics forced to emigrate to Turkey in the 1930s (source: mindjazz pictures)

 German Jewish academics forced to emigrate to Turkey (Photo: mindjazz pictures)

The families of all five of the film′s protagonists managed to flee persecution by the Nazis in 1933. Many decades later, these Jewish emigrants′ children reminisce about their childhoods, about growing up in Istanbul or in Ankara – and what awaited them in post-war Germany, where Jewish returnees were anything but welcome.
The film highlights a chapter of German-Turkish history that has largely been forgotten, telling the stories of five German emigrants who worked as professors at Turkish academies, universities, ministries and in public office. In Turkey, they weren′t labelled as Jews, but rather regarded as the "Germans". They taught generations of Turkish students.

After Hitler seized power, Jewish scientists and professors were no longer allowed to hold official positions. Many fled to Switzerland, where they turned to the Emergency Association of German Science Abroad, founded in Zurich in 1933 by a German emigrant, Philipp Schwartz. The association helped more than 2,600 persecuted academics escape and find posts at foreign universities. In the winter semester of 1933/34, Istanbul University hired 30 Jewish professors.

The families of all five of the film′s protagonists managed to flee persecution by the Nazis in 1933. Many decades later, these Jewish emigrants′ children reminisce about their childhoods, about growing up in Istanbul or in Ankara – and what awaited them in post-war Germany, where Jewish returnees were anything but welcome and where no one spoke about the fate of the German Jews.

Susan Ferenz-Schwartz, Egon Bagda, Kurt Heilbronn, Enver Hirsch und Elisabeth Weber-Belling say they don′t really feel at home anywhere.

"We would have ended up in Auschwitz, too," says Susan Ferenz-Schwartz, averting her eyes. "That was the only alternative."

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