Saturday, November 30, 2013

Iraqi Jew in Canada wants her report card back

Dr Caroline Bassoon-Zaltzman, now living in Canada, and (right) as a four-year-old in Iraq

 In the first piece to appear in the mainstream Canadian National Post, the Canadian foreign minister makes an unprecedented public call  for the Iraqi archive to be restored to its rightful Jewish owners - outside Iraq. Dr Caroline Bassoon - Zaltzman, who will be visiting the archive exhibit in Washington DC - tells reporter Joe O'Connor that she wants her report card back. It was found among the 2,700 documents stolen from the Jewish community. (With thanks: Tony, Mira and others)

Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird, added his voice to his American counterparts in an email to the National Post Friday. “It is unfortunate that Iraq is simply not prepared to openly chronicle this tragic history as a monument for the people of Iraq, towards a meaningful reconciliation, or towards the historical preservation of archives and other items that document the ancient heritage of Iraqi Jewry,” the minister wrote.

There also ought to be justice for those who were forced to leave with nothing and have an opportunity to reclaim not only their irreplaceable personal property, but crucial pieces of a past that is so vulnerable to being forever lost.

“For the last Jews in Baghdad and their descendants in Canada and beyond, Iraqi Judaica is ultimately their history to preserve and cherish.”

The Iraqis, meanwhile, insist the items be returned, as per the original agreement — a position the U.S. State Department currently supports. An adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki recently told the Reuters news service that the Jewish documents are part of an “Iraqi legacy owned by all of the Iraqi people and belong to all the generations, regardless of religious, ethnic or sectarian affiliations.”

Dr. Caroline Bassoon-Zaltzman is sitting at the kitchen table of her spacious Thornhill home. She is petite, with coppery blond hair, tanned arms and a hard to identify accent. She pours me a cup of green tea, adding a generous dollop of sugar. English is her first language, though she does summation in her head in Arabic. She confesses that she doesn’t know what, exactly, she is: Iraqi? Canadian? An Arab-Jew?

Caroline Bassoon-Zaltzman, 6, with brother Felix, age 5 in their backyard. (Courtesy)
She was 14 when her family fled the country. It took her 20 years to be able to talk about it. The past was too painful. But she is speaking out now because she is afraid the past is being forgotten; that the Iraqi Jews, deprived once of their cultural patrimony, are at risk of being robbed of it a second time.
“I have very few good memories of Iraq,” she says. “I never ate in a restaurant, went to a movie theatre or slept over at a friend’s. I went to my Jewish school and came straight home.

“Jews weren’t allowed telephones, or passports. Every letter we received had already been opened. We carried yellow identity papers. My father, David, couldn’t work for a Muslim, or hire a Muslim.

“All our neighbours in Baghdad were Muslim and Christian. But I don’t ever remember talking to them. By the time I was old enough to be aware we were already so isolated, as Jews. I was a little girl and I was always afraid. My parents, on the other hand, have some very fond memories of Iraq. My father was an accountant and worked for a Christian family until it became too dangerous for them to employ him.

“So as a kid I remember my Dad always being home and I remember I’d come home from school not knowing if he would be there.”

Two of her uncles were tortured by the Ba’athist regime, which first seized power in a 1963 coup. Iraqi Jews were cast as Israeli spies. There were show trials. Public hangings.

Dr. Bassoon-Zaltzman’s parents are still alive and live nearby. Her father tells the story of his daughter as a toddler. Regime thugs barged through their front door and began searching the house for weapons. Little Caroline spoke to the men in English, a language she used at home since the family was always preparing to leave — always had a bag packed and a dream of starting over someplace else.

Hearing a little girl speak English was enough to get her father arrested. The Bassoon family walked out of their house, with its beautiful garden, in an old Jewish corner of Baghdad, at 3 p.m. on Aug. 13, 1971. They were packed as though they were going on vacation and left practically everything — photos, heirlooms and report cards — behind. A childhood friend of David’s, a Muslim, secreted money to the family. Bribes were paid to Kurdish smugglers. Three days later they were in a hotel in Tehran. Two weeks after that they were in Israel. They moved to Montreal in 1976.

Dr. Bassoon-Zaltzman is heading to Washington with her husband next week to visit the archive.

“I don’t even know if I’ll be able to see my report card,” she says. “But I am going to try and get it back. I am going to see what I can do.”

And then she laughs, because it all happened so long ago, and because so much about her life since — Canada, the two kids, the loving husband, the great career — has been rich and rewarding and safe. She is not a scared little girl anymore. The bad memories are faded, like an old photograph or an old report card, finally come to light.

“Thank God I did so well in school,” Dr. Bassoon-Zaltzman says, grinning. “I always told my husband I did well and he always joked about how he wasn’t so sure, because he didn’t have any proof.

“Now I have proof.”

Read article in full

Friday, November 29, 2013

Sixty-six years ago, refugee problem born

Jewish refugees in ma'abarot or tent camps in Israel

 Sixty-six years ago, the passing of the UN Partition Plan unleashed two refugee problems.The Arabs need to integrate their refugees, while greater international diplomacy must secure recognition, and therefore justice for Jewish refugees, argues Eli Hazan in Israel Hayom:

The Arab refugees became a prop that was cynically used by the anti-Israel propaganda machine. That is how the myth of the so-called Nakba (catastrophe) grew with each passing year. Over the years, the Arab states have deliberately ignored the human tragedy inflicted on the Jews in Muslim countries. The Jews were slaughtered and expelled and their property was expropriated. In today's terms, an equivalent of $300 billion was confiscated. This was coupled by great mental anguish. 

The Jewish Nakba has been all but forgotten by the ensuing geopolitical realities. The Palestinian refugee issue keeps coming up in international propaganda and various peace initiatives. Until recently, the Israeli establishment chose not to deal with the plight of the Jewish refugees. 

But this has changed. First, their story is gradually becoming part of the mainstream and is making inroads into published works. Various people have come out and provided testimonials on their experience, to the point that the Senior Citizens Ministry has launched a project dedicated to passing the story on to the younger generations. And finally, a special caucus has been formed in the Knesset. 

What is needed is more vigorous public diplomacy efforts in key places around the world. Although some campaigns are already underway, they should be bolstered because international recognition is essential if justice is to be served. The campaign may result in more people understanding the events that led to the establishment of the Jewish state. The world would realize that those who were persecuted after Nov. 29, 1947, found a safe harbor in Israel and built a new home, albeit with great difficulties. They are now living a secure life in Israel.

Read article in full

Archive reveals rare 'Rashi' script examples

The 2,700 documents of the Iraqi-Jewish archive are providing rich pickings for scholars. They are being digitized by NARA (the US National Archives authority)  and gradually put online on this site. 

Dr Ezra Chwat from the National Library of Israel department of manuscripts has been studying documents relating to the famous rabbi Ben Ish Hai (Hakham Yosef Haim) who died in 1909. Dr Chwat has identified rare examples of a type of script used by Jews in Iraq known as Khatzi Koulmous (meaning 'Half a Pen').

According to Maurice Shohet of the World Organisation of Jews from Iraq, the Hebrew writings in Iraq (and used by Jews in other Arab countries until the mass emigration to Israel )  until the first half of the 20th century used to be in Khatsi Koulmous

" It is very rare to find today people outside academic or religious institutions in Israel who still know how to read and write in the Khatsi Koulmous script. It used wrongly to be called“Ktav Rashi” (Writing in Rashi letters), due to the fact that in the first books in Hebrew they printed the Rashi Commentary using the Khatsi Koulmous script to distinguish it from the biblical text", says Maurice Shohet.

Fox News TV report (with thanks: Ben)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Last High Atlas Jew passes away

The 2,000 year old Berber Jewish presence in the High Atlas mountains of Morocco has come to an end with the passing of Hananiyah Alfassi. Alfassi was also guardian of the shrine of Rabbi Shlomo Ben Lhens.

Diarna reports:

"I recently received news of the death of Hananiyah Alfassi, the last Jew to live in Morocco’s Ourika Valley and the caretaker of its shrine to Rabbi Shlomo Ben Lhens, a Judeo-Moroccan “Saint.” You may recognize Hananiyah as the hobbled but proud guardian of this rural Jewish pilgrimage site in several Diarna tour videos. His death marks the end of an era.

"Thousands of Jews once lived throughout the Ourika Valley and surrounding countryside. After all of them left, Hannaniyah remained — maintaining a constant, solitary vigil at the shrine of Rabbi Shlomo. Hannaniyah welcomed visitors from around the world and upheld the shrine’s rituals until the day he died: blessing pilgrims, lighting candles, and holding court with legends of the mysterious rabbi, whose name means “son of the snake.”

"On several occasions, Diarna team members were beneficiaries of Hannaniyah’s hospitality, once even spending the night in the shrine’s small guest quarters. When we interviewed him several years ago, Hannaniyah worriedly wondered who would preserve the shrine after he passed on. “Insh’allah,” he said, “May it be God’s will that someone will come to protect the tomb.”

"Hannaniyah feared what his absence would mean for the perpetuation of Rabbi Shlomo’s memory. His passing is a reminder of the urgency of Diarna’s mission. If Diarna had not met with Hannaniyah and paid witness to his unique guardianship, the chronicle of his life’s work could have faded along with the stories of multitudes of Jews who once inhabited the Valley."

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Memories of an Egyptian Hanucah

 With thanks: Moise

Tonight is the first night of Hanucah, which celebrates the victory of the Jews over the ancient Greeks. We light eight candles or oil lamps, to recall that the oil in the Temple in Jerusalem lasted a miraculous eight days.

Memories of how Hanucah was celebrated in Arab lands are fading fast, but for Moise Rahmani it was the highlight (literally) of the Jewish calendar.

Moise lived in the Heliopolis suburb of Cairo until his family was expelled in 1956. He recalls how every Hanucah his mother would drive to the outskirts of Heliopolis to collect  the fine, white sand of the Egyptian desert.

She would arrange the sand in a tray and plant the first candle, which she would light with the shamash candle. Each night she would plant a candle of  every hue in the sand. The wax would melt into the sand, leaving ever-growing heaps of sand coloured red, green blue, yellow, etc. in the tray.

Years later, now living in Belgium,  Moise tried to re-create the magic of an Egyptian Hanucah for his own children. But the sand of the North Sea coast was not the same as the sand of the Egyptian desert, and Moise is obliged to keep his childhood Hanucah memories to himself.

Wishing all readers  Hag Hanucah Sameah - and if you are celebrating Thanksgiving too - a very Happy Thanksgivukkah!


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Archive: Let the tug-of-war begin

 Documents rescued from the flooded basement of the secret police headquarters drying in the sun

Both sides have staked their claims: let the tug-of-war for the Iraqi-Jewish archive begin. Buried towards the article's end: the US state department has noted the loud opposition of the Iraq-Jewish diaspora to the return of the archive to Baghdad. It will be talking to the Iraqis about 'longer-term loans'. Reuters reports: (with thanks: Edwin)

A National Archives spokeswoman said the materials, whose removal from Baghdad was agreed in 2003 - when a U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam and the country lurched into widespread sectarian turmoil - would be going back to Iraq and the decision was made by the U.S. State Department.

Members of Iraq's Jewish community, many of whom fled the country in previous decades, say the materials were forcibly taken from them and should not be returned.

Edwin Shuker, 58, who escaped to Britain with his family from Baghdad in 1971, said he had discovered his long-abandoned school certificate on display as part of the National Archives exhibition.

"This is more than a school certificate - it is the identity we were forced to leave behind," he told Reuters, likening the document's journey and survival to his own.

"I would like to be reassured that my children and future generations will have unrestricted access to this collection."

Cynthia Kaplan Shamash, from the New York-based World Organisation of Jews from Iraq, said Iraqi Jews were grateful for the restoration but did not want the archive to go back. "Returning the collection to a Jewish-free Iraq in the current conditions is incomprehensible and unacceptable," she said.

Shuker said: "It is not a sectarian issue. Nothing is safe, no shrine or holy place let alone a site where Jewish artefacts are stored. There is a complete breakdown in safety and security in Iraq now."

Sectarian-motivated bombings and shooting attacks by Shi'ite and Sunni Muslim militants continue almost daily today.

Ali al-Moussawi, an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, said procedures for the archives' return from the United States were "in full swing".

"They have agreed to hand over these documents to the Iraqi side and currently there is no problem, despite attempts by the Jewish community in America to obstruct this matter," he said.

"The Iraqi government will not accept to give up any part of these documents. This is Iraqi legacy owned by all of the Iraqi people and belongs to all the generations, regardless of religious, ethnic or sectarian affiliations."

Iraqi Jews have mobilised support from members of the U.S. Congress to try to block the return. In a letter signed this month by nearly 50 U.S. lawmakers, Secretary of State John Kerry was urged to enable the return of the items "to their rightful owners or their descendants" instead.

"The government of Iraq has no legitimate claim to these artefacts," the letter said.

Iraq's Jewish community numbered around 150,000 in 1947 and has dwindled to just a handful today. Jewish communities in the Middle East stretch back over 2,500 years but anti-Jewish violence, fanned by Arab nationalism, started to sweep through the region in the early 1940s, gradually driving out most Jews.
Conditions deteriorated for Jews in many Arab countries after the establishment of Israel in 1948 and an Israeli-Arab war in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes.

The State Department has said it has made a commitment to return the archive. It has paid for Iraqi archivists to train in Washington to make sure that the pieces are preserved and protected, Brett McGurk, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq and Iran, told a hearing earlier this month.

U.S. authorities are expected to talk to the Iraqi ambassador in Washington about the possibility of longer-term loans in the United States to make sure that people can view the pieces, he added.

"We have heard very loudly and clearly the concerns from the community, We've listened to those. We've taken them to heart. And we'll see what we can do."

Read article in full 

Click here to search the collection

Pisces controversy makes waves in Israel

 In the annals of the Jews of Morocco, the sinking of the Pisces (later known as the Egoz) with the loss of 44 Jews and one Spanish crew member in January 1961 was a terrible accident. The ship, chartered by the Mossad, was on its 14th journey from Morocco through the straits of Gibraltar with its cargo of illegal immigrants.The catastrophe was a watershed: following the tragedy, Morocco decided to lift its ban on Jewish emigration, and permitted 100,000 Jews to leave for Israel under Operation Yakhnin.

A lecturer at the Sorbonne (Paris VIII), Moroccan-born Israeli Dr Yigal Ben-Nun,  has been making waves in Israel on the question of the Pisces, casting doubt on the accepted version of events.  His research points the finger of blame for the sinking of the Pisces at foreign minister minister Golda Meir and Isser Harel, head of the Mossad.

"Are you telling me that Golda and Harel deliberately planned the sinking of the Pisces?" the interviewer asks Ben-Nun incredulously in the above clip. The academic's answer is that they may not have intended the disaster as such, but that they did everything possible for such an eventuality to occur. Ben-Nun cites several Israeli reports on the poor seaworthiness of the ship. The Mossad continued to operate it even though an agreement with the Moroccans to allow legal emigration had 'almost' been signed.

More shockingly, Ben-Nun says that in the run-up to the Pisces disaster, the Mossad was looking for a spectacular event - even at the risk of human life - to shake up the Moroccan authorities into lifting the emigration ban. "We need Jewish martyrs," the Mossad was reported to have said.

 Ben-Nun's story is, of course, a gift to Arab and Palestinian propagandists, who have been busy making hay out of it.  

His accusations of 'Cruel Zionism' are hard to swallow but probably contain some truth. If there was negligence, the Israeli authorities need to be accountable to the families who lost their loved ones. However, Ben-Nun loses credibility entirely in his reply when the interviewer evokes a parallel with the Exodus, the rickety ship packed with Jewish refugees from Europe defying the British blockade of Palestine in 1945.

Ben-Nun alleges that the Jews of Morocco had not reached the heights of despair of the  refugees on board The Exodus. They were in no physical danger whatsoever. Indeed, they were living a 'Golden Age' in Morocco.

Yet historians such as David Bensoussan in 'Il etait une fois le Maroc' point to the climate of harassment and hostility prevalent in Morocco at the end of the 1950s. Postal links with Israel had been cut, Morocco had become a member of the Arab League and Nasser had made an official visit. Jews were arrested for wearing a kippa, Jewish girls were being forcibly converted to Islam. Above all, Jews were being denied a fundamental human right - the right to leave the country. Those who tried to do so could be jailed, and in some cases beaten and tortured. 

Golden Age? I'm not so sure.  


Monday, November 25, 2013

Jews were targets before Israel's creation

 Charred and damaged remains of the Great synagogue in Aleppo, Syria, one of 18 synagogues attacked by rioters in late 1947, causing half the city's Jewish community to flee. It is not known if the site has been further damaged in the Syrian civil war.

Sixty-six years ago to the day, on the eve of the UN vote on the Partition of Palestine, Heykal Pasha, the UN Egyptian delegate, made bloodcurdling threats of violence against the one million Jews of the Arab world - more proof that Jews were being targeted for violence before the establishment of Israel. Lyn Julius blogs in the Jerusalem Post:

To paraphrase TS Eliot, November was always a cruel month for Jewish citizens of Arab states - and never more so than in the 1940s.

Three popular myths surround the 870,000 Jews who left Arab countries after Israel was born. The first is that they departed of their own free will. Second, if they did flee as refugees, it was because Arab states lashed out spontaneously against their Jewish citizens like a bull to a red rag (and who could blame them?). Third, the Arab states took revenge on their Jews for the plight of Arabs driven out of Palestine.

There are several things wrong with this reading of history. First, the pressures on Jews were shared with other non-Muslim and ethnic minorities. Secondly, Arab leaders were making threats against their own Jewish citizens, and devised a coordinated plan to persecute them, before the 1947 UN Partition Plan was passed. Thirdly, violent riots against defenseless Jews in Arab countries preceded the outbreak of war in Palestine and the resulting flight of several hundred thousand Arab refugees.

Sixty-six years ago this week, the Political Committee of the UN General Assembly sat down to debate the proposed Partition of Palestine. The Egyptian delegate, Heykal Pasha, made the following remarks:
"The United Nations...should not lose sight of the fact that the proposed solution might endanger a million Jews living in the Muslim countries. Partition of Palestine might create antisemitism in those countries even more difficult to root out than the antisemitism which the Allies tried to eradicate in Germany...If a Jewish state is established, nobody could prevent disorders. Riots would break out in Palestine, would spread through all the Arab states and might lead to a war between two races."
Sure enough, a wave of violence spread in Egypt following the vote in favor of Partition on 29 November 1947. Demonstrations were called for 2 - 5 December. It was only because the police prevented the mob from attacking the Cairo Jewish quarter that lives were spared.

In Bahrain, beginning on 5 December, crowds began looting Jewish homes and shops and destroyed the synagogue. Two elderly ladies were killed.
In Aleppo, Syria, the Jewish community was devastated by a mob led by the Muslim Brotherhood. At least 150 homes, 50 shops, all 18 synagogues, five schools, an orphanage and a youth club were destroyed. Many people were killed, but the exact figure is not known. Over half the city's 10,000 Jews fled into Turkey, Lebanon and Palestine.

In Aden, the police could not contain the rioting. By the time order was restored on 4 December, 82 Jews had been killed. Of 170 Jewish-owned shops, 106 were destroyed. The synagogue and two schools were among the Jewish institutions burnt down.

Arab statesmen were making threats against their Jewish citizens six months before Ben Gurion declared Israel established.

More alarming still, Jews had been targeted for violence years earlier. In Iraq, 179 Jews were murdered in a Nazi-inspired pogrom, the Farhud, seven years before Israel was created.

In November 1945, two years before Israel was declared, and before the UN Partition Plan vote, a series of anti-Jewish riots broke out in several Arab countries on the anniversary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration.

In Egypt, anti-Zionist demonstrations were called by the Muslim Brotherhood, Misr al-Fatat and the Young Men's Muslim Association. Mass demonstrations took place on Balfour Day (2 November) in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities.
Jewish businesses in Cairo and in the Jewish Quarter were looted and the Ashkenazi synagogue ransacked. The disturbances soon spilled over into anti-dhimmi violence, with Coptic, Greek Orthodox and Catholic institutions also attacked. Of 500 businesses looted, 109 belonged to Jews.

Amazingly, only one policeman was killed in Cairo. Five Jews were among six killed in Alexandria.

Far worse was the pogrom in Libya which began on 4 November 1945 in Tripoli. Thousands went on the rampage in the Jewish quarter and bazaar. Jewish homes and businesses had been marked out beforehand for exclusive attack.

The violence spread to other towns. Over three days of rioting, the police stood by and British and US servicemen on the outskirts waited until three days later to impose a curfew. By then 130 Jews were dead including 36 children. Women were raped, some 4,000 Jews were left homeless and nine synagogues destroyed.
In Syria a mob broke into the great synagogue in Aleppo and beat up two elderly men. In Iraq, the government avoided a repeat of the 1941 Farhud by banning public demonstrations.

But in November 1947, the blood-curdling threats coming from Arab officials were none other than state-sanctioned incitement.

The Palestine Post ran an editorial entitled "Unwilling hostages" on 11 December 1947. It quoted an editorial in the Manchester Guardian the day before, entitled 'Hostages'. This article deplored inflammatory statements made by Arab leaders which could be interpreted as threats against the Jewish minorities.

Both in Syria and Iraq "pressure has been put on the Jews to denounce Zionism and support the Arab cause. One cannot help wonder what threats have been made to bring this about."

The riots of the previous week had been attributed by Arab governments to the 'fury of the people'. The editorial charged that " the governments concerned, if they do not activate or instigate them, look upon them with a benevolent eye."
As well as approving or instigating violence against their Jewish minorities, the member states of the Arab League drafted a plan to victimize their Jewish citizens 'as the Jewish minority of Palestine.'

The Palestine Post of 22 December 1947 carried a report about harsh measures that the Arab League was considering taking against Jews in Arab lands. They would first be denaturalized, their property confiscated, their bank accounts frozen, and they would be treated as enemy aliens.

'While there is no news of the acceptance of this resolution by the Arab League, it is significant and tragic that such a document should have been drafted," the editorial lamented.

"It is easy for them to play the bully and to keep a sword hanging over the heads of many hundreds of thousands of Jews who are at their mercy."

The Lebanese government issued orders of expulsion against Palestinian Jews in Lebanon.

Although it was not passed, aspects of the Arab League draft resolution were adopted by individual Arab governments. The human rights lawyer and Canadian ex-Justice minister Irwin Cotler has called them 'Nuremberg-style measures.'
Jews were liable to be arrested and sometimes executed for the crime of 'Zionism', but the boundaries between Judaism and Zionism were always blurred.

By the time Israel was established on 15 May 1948, the Jewish communities in Arab countries had been rocked to their very foundations. As the historian Norman Stillman writes, the Palestine issue was a major contributing factor, but it was not the only one - it was more of a catalyst.

Arab and Islamic nationalism could find no room for ethnic and religious groups that deviated from the norm, and Jews found themselves alienated and isolated from society at large.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

These music stars have no Jewish successors

Zohra al-Fassia, who used to perform for the Moroccan king

Shoshana Gabay has a fascinating 'tour d'horizon' of Jewish artists who brought their music from Arab countries to Israel, complete with clips hitherto unseen. Their online following today is mainly Arab. The subtext is typical of much of what appears in +972 - that Israel  did not know how to appreciate these artists' musical culture, unlike the US vis-a-vis Russian Jewish artists (an unfair comparison, perhaps). The proof is that Gabay had her film proposal about the Iraqi musician Filfel Gourgy turned down by the Israel Film Fund. But the article fails to acknowledge that if these communities had not been brutally driven out of Arab lands, they would still  be performing for live Arab audiences today.

 We might examine more closely the odd reversal that occurred in Israel in the life of the Jewish Arabs compared to their brothers, the Jewish artists from Russia. The latter arrived over a century ago from their oppressive country to the United States, and were actually quite fortunate in gaining worldwide acclaim. If the Russian artists experienced the American dream of ‘rags to riches,’ then the experience of Arab Jewish artists in Israel was the reverse: ”from riches to rags.”

When we say, “what once was is no more,” about the Diaspora musicians who arrived in Israel, the intention is not nostalgic. It simply communicates that these great musicians had no Jewish successors. The next generation was hardly able to master the art and language of their parents. Of all the important musicians only a few played in the Arab Orchestra of the Israeli Broadcasting Authority. For instance, Alber Elias, Zuzu Musa from Egypt or qanun player Abraham Salman. It was renowned violinist Yehudi Menuhin who kissed Salman’s hands, fully recognizing his genius. Those are fine examples of artists who learned music in schools and academies. Yet that sort of musical education was not available in Israel.

The students of artists such as Yosef Shem Tov were in fact Palestinians, whose elite, including Palestinian musicians, was uprooted from their homeland in 1948. There were not many Jews like the musician Yair Dalal who took the trouble to come and learn from masters such as Salim al-Nur. Al-Nur composed pieces of intellectual and emotional complexity. But on YouTube, a melody he composed at the age of 17 in Iraq, ‘Oh You Bartender,’ attracted many listeners in the Arab world: it was sung by Jewish singer Salima Murad, the national singer of Iraq, and the words were written by the poet and caliph of the house of Abbas, Ibn Al-Mu’tazz of the 9th century.

Hand in hand with the erasure of the active role of the Jews (sometimes as an avant-garde) in the creation of modern Arabic music, the number of Jewish listeners has declined. In the first Mizrahi immigrant generation, those in the Mizrahi Jewish community still completely understood both the palimpsest of this high musical language that was developed, layer by layer, over generations and the musical talent of the geniuses of their generation. They continued to consume this music over the entire course of their lives. High art and popular culture were not considered separate entities. Everyone was a connoisseur.

As the years went by, the audience grew older. The young generation turned to ‘Hebrew’ music and was asked to abandon its roots. According to the conventions of Arab culture, an artist needs an audience that can understand what he (or she) sings about, and that would discern the beauty in the musical phrasing he sings or plays. She needs this sigh of pleasure and wonder: ‘aha’ or ‘alla.’ Without this feedback, he cannot sing and play. This sudden breach in a naturally developing culture was the reason our musical heritage died.

Logging in to Arab cyberspace, when entering the names of those forgotten artists in Arabic, we will find out that their names are cherished by musicologists on musical forums, in discussions on Iraqi television and radio, and in audio and video clips uploaded by Arab internet users. The acceptance of and excitement over the best of our artists evokes sad thoughts of those who were supposed to be our brothers in Israel.

Salim Halali. He is all beauty, elegance and cosmopolitanism – features that the Israeli nouveau riche has always craved.

Salim Halali: sang of the exile of the eternal wanderer

In Israel, the conversation of the greatness of these musicians has become strange. How is it possible to describe that which is no longer apparent? Many of the youth in Israel no longer understand profoundly the beauty of the sound in the manner of their parents and grandparents and the current young generation of Arabs. One can always praise and exalt, yet she who has Arabic music for breakfast, without saying a word, already knows that Salim Halali and Filfel Gourgy reach great heights. Of course it is possible to talk about the past status of the distinguished musicians and to bring historical evidence to their detractors, that Saleh al-Kuwaity and Zohra al-Fasia were the artists of the king. Yet this is a defensive discourse. After all, the essence of our tragedy is not that al-Fasia does not have a king to sing to. The problem is that she has no one to sing to.

And this is what Salim Halali sings about in “Ghorbati” (my Alienage), a beautiful lamentation about the exile of the eternal wanderer in the places of others (loosely translated): “I, who was silver, turned into copper and the garment I was wearing left me naked. I, who gave advice to the others, now have lost my mind, my wisdom turned to madness.”

Read article in full

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Save archive, says UN refugee conference

From left to right: Ambassador Ron Prosor, World Jewish Congress’ Robert Singer, witness Levana Zamir, Minister Silvan Shalom, witness Linda Menuhin, former president of the Aleppo Jewish Communty Tofic Kassap, former ambassador Ron Lauder, Sylvain Abitbol of the Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, Rabbi Elie Abadie of NYC’s the Edmund J Safra Synagogue (photo credit: courtesy of the Israeli Mission to the UN)

Several media carry reports on the Israel government/World Jewish Congress/JJAC meeting at the UN Headquarters on 21 November. As well as urging more attention for Jewish refugees, speakers called for the Iraqi Jewish archive not to be sent back to an uncertain fate in Iraq. The Algemeiner reports:

Israeli Minister of Energy and Water Silvan Shalom, whose grandfather was once the leader of the Jewish community of Gabes, Tunisia, said, “Over the last 65 years, the U.N. and its agencies have spent tens of billions of dollars on Palestinian refugees, but not a cent on Jewish refugees.”

 Ron Prosor, Israeli ambassador to the U.N., noted that since 1947 there have been 687 U.N. resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including 101 that speak specifically of Palestinian refugees, but no resolutions on Jewish refugees.
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, reiterated a recent statement by 42 groups on the fate of the Iraqi Jewish Archive, a collection of artifacts recovered from the basement of the Iraqi intelligence ministry and restored by the U.S. government that are currently on display in Washington, DC, but afterward are set to return to the Iraqi government despite the belief that Iraq stole them from the Jewish community.
“We urge our government not to send them back to an uncertain fate in Iraq, where hundreds of holy Torah scrolls remain in disuse and decay,” Hoenlein said.
Prosor told regarding the Iraqi archive, “There were a lot of resources and assets put together in order to compile it the way it is, it was saved, and we don’t want it to be lost again.” Robert Singer, CEO of the World Jewish Congress, told that the fact that 42 groups signed the statement about the need to protect the archives and make them accessible to Jews shows “a unified position of the Jewish community on this issue.”

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder praised the Canadian parliament’s recent recommendation that Canada officially recognize and encourage the need for justice for Jewish refugees from Arab countries as part of any resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“We hope that all countries follow Canada’s lead,” Lauder said.
Read article in full

Jerusalem Post

Times of Israel 


Yisrael Hayom 


Jewish Weekly

Friday, November 22, 2013

Israel compiling list of lost assets and property

Jewish refugees campaign gains momentum

 New Knesset lobby group for Jewish refugees, chairman Shimon Ohayon (centre)

The campaign for Jewish refugees is gathering momentum, not just in Israel, but internationally, comments Lyn Julius in Israel National News:
A few days ago, a news article appeared in the leading Arabic news medium Al-Sharq al Aswat: "Lieberman calls for rights and property of Jews of Arab descent", screamed the headline. The strap line read: 'Re-raise the Issue of 'Jewish Refugees' Which was Adopted by the Israeli Government.'

The Sharq al Awsat reporter, based in Ramallah, had been attending a meeting at the Knesset. The meeting’s aim was to set up the first lobby group of its kind to advocate for the rights of the 870,000 Jewish refugees driven from their homes in Arab lands in a single generation.  The meeting was addressed by  Avigdor Lieberman, an indicator of how important the newly re-instated foreign minister rates the issue.

Lieberman did not mention recovery of seized property, but the Arab reaction has proved typical. Whenever Jewish refugees are discussed, the Arab press and media react with panic, imagining that the Jews will be coming to reclaim their property back. Well they might: It is estimated that Jews lost twice as much property as Palestinian Arabs. Arab states have offered neither apology for expelling their Jews nor compensation for what was abandoned or confiscated.
The Ramallah reporter had otherwise jumped the gun: the issue of ‘Jewish refugees’ has not been adopted by the Israeli government - not yet, at any rate.The formation of the lobby group is nevertheless essential to getting a key piece of legislation through the Knesset. The bill’s stated purpose is to designate a day in the calendar as a Memorial Day to mark the exodus of 870,000 Jews from Arab lands in a single generation. The date is likely to be 17th February, to recall the date in 1948 when the Arab League drafted a plan to persecute their Jewish citizens.

Advocacy organisations outside Israel intend to turn the occasion into an International Day. We at Harif are planning an evening of commemoration and celebration, followed by a briefing in the UK Parliament on Jewish refugees.

But first and foremost, the Memorial Day will be about plugging a gaping hole in the Israeli education system.
Shimon Ohayon (Yisrael Beteynu) chairman of the lobby, and a former schoolmaster,  puts it as follows: Every Israeli child learns about the Kishinev pogrom, but has anyone heard about the Farhud in Iraq? Everyone remembers the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising,  but hardly anyone knows about the Zionist underground activity in Arab states. The education system teaches about the first exodus from Europe, while the second exodus – the one from Islamic countries – is missing from textbooks. “
Some 54% of Israeli Arabs polled in 2012 were more likely to link Jewish refugees from Arab countries with Palestinian Arabs displaced from Israel, compared to only 48% of Israeli Jews. Even more worrying, 96% of the Jewish population was found to have no knowledge of the issue, compared to 89% of Israeli Arabs. Yet over 50 percent of Israeli Jews descend from Arab and Muslim countries.
It’s not enough to promote educational and political awareness at home. After years of neglect the Israeli government has woken up to the need to raise the issue in American and international diplomatic fora.
As I write this, a meeting is taking place at the UN Headquarters in New York titled ” An untold story: Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries”. The UN has a shameful record of neglect when it comes to Jewish refugees. Not a single resolution concerns Jewish refugees, whereas over 170 resolutions deal with Palestinian refugees.

“The world has long recognized the Palestinian refugee problem, but without recognizing the other side of the story – the 850,000 Jewish refugees of Arab countries,” has declared World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder. “Yet for any Middle East peace process to be credible and enduring, it must ensure that all bona fide refugees receive equal rights and treatment under international law.”

This is the second time that the Israeli government and the WJC are taking the case of the Jewish refugees to the UN as part of an awareness-raising campaign. This year, the Justice for Jewish Refugees event takes on added significance with the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
While western public opinion is still only dimly aware of Jewish refugees, the Arab world views the subject with mounting concern. Apart from routine efforts to deny that the Jews were refugees, they are stumped for an answer. News of last year’s UN meeting on Jewish Refugees brought forth what ex-deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon has called ‘babbling responses’ from the Palestinian and Arab media.

Still, the momentum behind the Jewish refugees campaign is coming mostly from outside Israel. It was only after the US congress passed a resolution in 2008 that the Knesset was moved to pass a law in 2010 requiring  Jewish refugees to be on the peace agenda.

Now Canada, which has the most pro-Israel government in  its history, is blazing a trail in the field of Jewish refugees.
Last week, a Report was tabled in Canada’s Parliament summarizing a recent study by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee after it heard  the testimony of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. The Report concludes by calling on the Government of Canada to formally recognize Jewish refugees from Arab countries and to encourage Israeli and Arab negotiators to take all refugees into account in any future peace agreement.

It is to be hoped that other governments will follow the Canadian lead. Only by restoring Jewish refugees to the picture will people get an undistorted idea of the facts of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The truth, in turn, should promote mutual understanding and eventual reconciliation between Jews and Arabs.

Read article in full

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Iraqi minister 'calls for apology'

 This video by Tony Rocca, co-editor of Memories of Eden, shows Baghdad as it was when 20 percent plus of its inhabitants were Jewish

We have heard pleas for tolerance from Iraqis before, but this statement by a senior Iraqi government official Fawzi Al Atrushi, excavated by the excellent  Elder of Ziyon blog, is unprecedented: he is calling for Iraq to apologise to all oppressed minorities. It may, however, been a straw in the wind or words hastily retracted: EoZ could find no other mention of Al Atrushi's statement on the ministry of culture's website.   (With thanks: Malca)

"Aswat al-Iraq reports that Iraqi Undersecretary of the Ministry of Culture Fawzi Al Atrushi, at a conference on the rights of minorities in Iraq, said that 20% of the population of the city of Baghdad in 1921 were Jews, but now they are just footnotes in archives. He also warned that the same could happen to Iraqi minorities like Christians, whose rights continue to be restricted.

In a speech at the opening of the conference in Baghdad yesterday that "tolerance is not just a word to be thrown around."

"When King Faisal I entered Baghdad in 1921 some 20% of the city's population was Iraqi Jews, and now we are in the year 2013, this component of the Iraqi has turned into a mere archive we are trying to retrieve from the United States after they were repaired and restored."

Al Atrushi ccontinued, "The rights of minorities and tolerance among factions is part of culture and education and must reflect conduct on the ground, and not mere meetings and slogans and allegations about a reality does not exist."

"[Tolerance and coexistence] are the common ground and the common denominator between all religions and laws and international conventions, and it requires first and foremost the concrete embodiment on the ground. "

He said, "Indeed, majorities still prey on minorities, and males dominate, prey and marginalize women because violence is the dominant language among us."

Al Atrushi warned that "minorities in Iraq are in danger, and this is our challenge for advancement of all of us to build a civilized country linked to the world today, not in the past. "

He added that Iraq is "at a crossroads. Either live and come to terms with a state of citizenship and civil rights and democracy, or a divided nation, as happened in Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and other countries."

He warned that Christians, who are at "the root of the historical identity of the nation, are diminishing daily. The Mandaeans, who make up one of the oldest peoples of Iraq, are subjected to exclusion and marginalization, and other Iraqi factions as well."

"Even the Kurdish people were threatened by the former regime by a most heinous racist war that threatened their existence."

Atrushi said, "We in the Ministry of Culture are interested in maintaining diversity and pluralism and coexistence between the segments and the components of the Iraqi people, whether ethnic, religious, sectarian or intellectual, because that is the way to weave a national identity of an Iraqi culture of diversity rather than a culture of one type. "

He stressed that for tolerance to be a reality it "must be accompanied by an apology, an apology from the majorities to the minorities, which provides a clean atmosphere and environment for reconciliation, all experiments done by civilized peoples prove it."

Read post in full

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

UN Jewish refugees conference tomorrow

For the second year running, a coalition of Jewish organisations will air the issue of the Jewish Refugees at the UN in New York tomorrow.   The “forgotten refugees” of the Arab-Israel conflict – Jews forced from their homes in Arab countries - will be addressed at the United Nations tomorrow (21 November 2013) at a conference convened by Israel's Mission to the United Nations, the World Jewish Congress and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and Justice for Jews from Arab Countries. (With thanks to all who emailed me)

Jewish refugees from Yemen
Jewish refugees from Yemen

NEW YORK: The Untold Story of the Middle East: Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries will urge that American and international diplomacy recognize the rights of the Middle East’s Jewish refugees on an equal footing with those of other refugees in the region, including Palestinian Arabs – an especially salient topic given ongoing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

 “The world has long recognized the Palestinian refugee problem, but without recognizing the other side of the story – the 850,000 Jewish refugees of Arab countries,” said World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder. “Yet for any Middle East peace process to be credible and enduring, it must ensure that all bona fide refugees receive equal rights and treatment under international law.”

The conference will hear presentations from Israeli Minister of National Infrastructure Silvan Shalom, Israeli Permanent Representative to the UN Ron Prosor, WJC President Ronald S. Lauder,   Conference of Presidents Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein, and Co-President of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries Sylvain Abitbol.

The film 'The Forgotten Refugees', a documentary distributed by Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA), will be screened. Other speakers will include Lucette Lagnado, the author of two memoirs about her Egyptian Jewish family; Linda Menuhin, a Middle  East commentator and an Iraqi-Jewish refugee; and Levana Zamir, president of the International Association of Jews from Egypt.

WJC announcement

Last year's UN conference on Jewish refugees 

Iranian Jews used as human shields

Jewish women 'demonstrating' outside the Fordo nuclear plant (photo: AP)

Here's a rather pathetic and sickening sight in this Associated Press report in The Times of Israel: the Iranian regime using its Jewish community to show their support for the nuclear programme - outside the Fordo enrichment plant. It's all staged of course: the helpless Jews of Iran have a history of being coerced to  do the regime's bidding.

TEHRAN, Iran — Hundreds of Iranians including university students and members of the country’s Jewish community rallied Tuesday in support of the Islamic Republic’s disputed nuclear program on the eve of the resumption of talks with world powers.

Iranian state TV showed students gathered at the gate of Fordo enrichment facility, carved into a mountain south of Tehran. They formed a human chain, chanted “Fordo is in our hearts” and denounced the West, which has put pressure on Iran to curb enrichment activity which can be a step toward weapons development. 

In Tehran, meanwhile, several dozen people identifying themselves as Iranian Jews gathered outside a UN building. It was a rare public display by the community, which tends to keep a low profile despite being the largest in the region outside Israel and Turkey.

Iran’s nuclear program is popular, including among critics of the clerically dominated system, but any major gatherings or demonstrations would need official approval.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Jewish Hospital 's role in Iranian Revolution

 The nursing staff outside Sapir Hospital

Love thy neighbour as thyself: that was the motto of the Jewish Hospital in Tehran, all the more poignant during Iran's Islamic Revolution. Fascinating article in Haaretz by Leor Sternfeld, a PhD student in Texas researching Iran's social history. (With thanks to Orna for her translation from Hebrew)
The 1979 revolution in Iran was one of the most popular in the 20th Century. Although it became "an Islamic Revolution”, it started as a revolution of the masses, including Iran's minorities.

In this respect, the Jewish community was no exception. The victory of the Islamic factions overshadowed the participation of other groups. In addition, the animosity between Iran and Israel resulted in a union of interests and similar narratives amongst the fighting factions: the Iranian administration  refuses to share the “rights “of the revolution and Israel makes it convenient to forget the role that the Iranian Jews played during the revolution.

Stories like the one below demonstrate the cooperation of many Jews with Iranian citizens, it also casts doubt on the familiar assumption about Israel’s  unreserved support of the Shah’s dictatorial regime.

 In the heart of the historic Jewish community there  is a Jewish Hospital called Sapir (after the doctor who established it – Dr Ruhalla Sapir). In the past it was called Cyrus the Great (Koresh Kabir - BIMARSTAN)  after the king who was known in Jewish history to have given the Jews their freedom from Babylonian exile and let them return to Jerusalem.

At the entrance to the building there is a big sign, written in Hebrew and Farsi, “Love thy neighbour as thyself”. That was the motto that guided the hospital staff. It was more poignant during the Revolution. The 1979 Revolution was in fact the culmination of many demonstrations and skirmishes between demonstrators and the Shah's army.

The demonstration started in 1978: it resulted in many injured. It was dangerous to seek hospital treatment: the hospitals were obliged to report to the secret police (SAVAK) on the arrival of injured demonstrators who were taken for interrogation, rarely to emerge.  It was not long before it was acknowledged that the Jewish Hospital did not turn in the injured to the Secret Police. Therefore more and more demonstrators went to the Jewish Hospital. In those days Jewish intellectuals formed a small group. Most of them were communists. They tried to encourage activists from the Jewish community to join the Revolution. The group managed to get elected as the community leadership in March 1978.

Two of the activists  were in prison during the Shah’s regime and there they met Ayatolla Sayed Mahmood Talakani, who became Khomeini’s envoy in Paris. Together the group and Talakani established a First Aid Unit that drove through Iran’s streets and collected injured demonstrators and evacuated them to the Hospital.

On Ashura Day (one of the most important and holiest days in the Shi'ite calendar)  in December 1978, there occurred the largest demonstration against the Shah. The Iranian media called it “the Demonstration of the Millions” and it is still remembered as one of the milestones to deposing the Shah. It is estimated that 5,000 – 12,000 Jews took part (out of 40,000 Jews living in Tehran at the time).

The Hospital was ready for casualties, 70-80% of the injured were brought to the Jewish hospital, and the state of emergency took 72 hours. The staff was motivated by humanitarian reasons. To turn in the injured was against all their principles.

After the Revolution, the Jewish Intellectual Group established a revolutionary newspaper called “Tamuz” that was popular everywhere. In its second edition, it published one two-page article about the hospital’s function during the Revolution.

 Nurse Prangis Hasisdim was quoted as saying: “we were looking after so many injured, for hours the hospital resembled a war zone. At one point we heard a loud noise from the car park when I saw many soldiers looking for demonstrators and revolutionaries; we were under siege for 24 hours but did not turn in anyone”.

 After the Revolution, the majority of hospitals and schools were nationalised, including the Hospital. Its name was changed from Koresh Kabir to Chosro Golesorchi, after a leftist Iranian exile who was executed by the Shah’s regime after a well-documented court case.

The Jewish community and the Doctor’s family decided to fight the decision to change the Hospital’s name.  They lodged a complaint and asked to change the name of the Hospital to its former name. They were successful and the name was changed to Sapir Hospital.

The Jewish community was a part of the Iranian social tapestry, its sons and daughters were represented in the whole political spectrum - from supporters of the monarchy to radical revolutionaries.

The story of the Hospital shows the range of political activism, from revolutionary activity to helping out for pure humanitarian reasons. What’s more: the members of the Jewish community enjoyed extra privileges, being a minority, but they extended a helping hand to their neighbours, applying the Mitzvah, ”Love thy neighbour as thyself.”

Read article in full

Knesset sets up Jewish refugees lobby

 (Top) Shimon Ohayon MK, chairman of the new lobby. (Middle) Iraq-born Ambassador Zvi Gabay with head of the UN unit at the MFA Daniel Meron on the right. (Bottom) The meeting was attended by politicians from all parties and addressed by Foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Update: a report by the Ramallah correspondent of the London Arabic newspaper Sharq al-Awsat has appeared under the heading: Liberman calls for rights and properties of Jews of Arab descent. It demonstrates the concern with which Arabs view the raising of the Jewish refugee issue. See link below.

For the first time, the Knesset is establishing an official body to speak up for the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab lands who migrated to Israel. The Knesset Lobby for Jewish Refugees from Arab Lands was inaugurated by MK Shimon Ohayon (Yisrael Beytenu), who will chair the committee. One of its main aims will be to encourage the Knesset to pass legislation establishing a day to recall the exodus of Jews from Arab countries on 17 February. Arutz Sheva reports:

As the date for Israel's independence edged closer throughout the 1940s, Jews who had lived for centuries in Arab-majority countries such as Egypt, Iraq, and Libya found themselves increasingly persecuted by their Arab co-nationals.
When Israel was established, approximately one million Jews from Arab countries were forced to leave their homes due to pogroms, state discrimination and persecution. In many cases, such as the former Jewish community of Libya, entire Jewish populations were simply expelled in one go by the government.
With nowhere else to go, most of them fled to the nascent State of Israel. Almost none received any kind of compensation for the substantial assets they were forced to leave behind.

Despite the lack of money and resources, Israel made great efforts to absorb these immigrants, and despite the many problems of poverty and discrimination they initially faced, the country was able to successfully absorb most of them. Few, if any, expressed a desire to return to their countries of origin, but polls show that the vast majority want their property back.

Today, Jewish refugees from Arab countries and their descendants account for more than 50% of Israel's Jewish population. The assets they left behind have been estimated at around $4.4 billion.

Successive Israeli government have been criticized by refugees and their descendants for their near silence on the issue - much of which stemmed from the fact that few Jews wanted to go back to Arab lands due to rampant anti-Semitism, and that the prospect of any Arab country agreeing to compensate expelled Jews was considered too remote to even consider. But in recent years, as the Palestinian Authority continues to demand a “right of return” for the significantly fewer Arab refugees from the 1948 War of Independence, many in Israel have begun to assert the rights of compensation for Jews expelled from Arab countries.

Ohayon commented on the way that Arab states and the Palestinian Authority have worked to prevent Arab refugees and their descendants from restarting their lives, as a way of perpetuating the so-called "refugee problem".

“The Palestinians preserve their refugees, unlike Israel, which absorbed them properly,” he noted.

The PA and Arab countries care little about Arab refugees, using them only as a weapon against Israel, he continued. “In the refugee camps in Syria tens of thousands of Palestinians are being killed, and PA chief Mahmoud Abbas remains silent.”

As the representative of the expelled Jews, Israel had an obligation to stand up for their rights, said Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who also attended the event.

“We must, with all our might, demand their rights and property. We began working on this several years ago, and we plan on addressing this in all international forums. There is a wide political consensus on this among all Zionist parties, regardless of the differences between them,” he declared.

In a statement, MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud) said that Israel should not look at the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands as its “answer” to demands by the PA that Arabs be repatriated to their original homes in Israel.

“The property rights of the Jews were taken from them without any issues of national sovereignty,” Feiglin said. “As representative of these Jews, Israel must speak up for them,” because Israel is the state they live in.

However, unlike the Arabs, Feiglin says Jews from Arab lands needed to be compensated as individuals for their property, contending that by "allowing" the Arab countries to hijack their refugee status for their national struggles destroy Israel, the Arab refugees had lost the right to make individual demands for compensation.

Read article in full

Jerusalem Post  article

Sharq al Awsat article (Arabic) English version (Google translate)
ليبرمان يطالب بحقوق وأملاك اليهود من أصول عربية

Monday, November 18, 2013

Iraqi-Jewish archive: an Arab view

 The documents drying out in the sun soon after their discovery in 2003

 This article in the Egyptian news medium Al-Ahram is busy casting aspersions on the truth of the mainstream version of the Iraqi-Jewish archive story. It questions whether the documents were seized from the secret police headquarters; the involvement of Ahmed Chalabi, who tipped off the Americans about  the trove, suggests that it may have been planted. It is the US which is guilty of 'looting Iraq's cultural heritage' (with thanks: Maurice): 

According to a story widely used by the American and Israeli media, the items were found in a flooded Baghdad basement in May 2003, just days after invading US forces captured Baghdad and ousted Saddam.

This story goes on to say that a group of US soldiers happened upon the Jewish documents while searching the headquarters of the mukhabarat, Saddam’s intelligence services, for evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

Nearly identical reports say that the documents, including books and records five centuries old detailing the life of Baghdad’s Jewish community, were found submerged under four feet of water in a building’s basement.

However, a new version of the archive story, published last month by Harold Rhode, an American specialist on the Middle East who worked as an analyst at the Pentagon and was in Iraq at the time of the 2003 invasion, gives a different account.

According to this version, it was Ahmed Chalabi, an exiled opponent of Saddam who arrived in Baghdad with the US invading forces, who called Rhode to tip him off about the trove to be found in the intelligence building.

Rhode was working at the time as a policy analyst with the US Defense Department and was assigned to the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) that took over the administration of Iraq after Saddam’s ousting.

Writing in Arutz Sheva, an Israeli news outlet on 27 October, Rhode said the documents were found in the Israel and Palestinian section of the mukhabarat, which had been submerged in water after the building’s water system had been destroyed by an American bomb.

American preservation specialists from the National Archives in Washington were summoned to Baghdad to salvage the items. A few weeks later the documents were flown to Washington.

As the discovery was made amidst the turmoil that spread across Baghdad after the fall of Saddam, there have been no Iraqi eyewitnesses or officials who have been able to provide details of how the collection was found or who authorised its transfer to the United States.

The US preservation project for the documents says on its website that this was done with the agreement of Iraqi officials.

Since then, the materials, which include 2,700 books and tens of thousands of communal records in Hebrew, Arabic and English, dating from the 1540s to the 1970s, have been given the name the “Iraqi Jewish Archive.”

The documents have never been seen in public and nor have they been registered officially in Iraq. It is also not clear if the sensitive materials have been used for research or documentation, or if they have been removed to a third country while in the US National Archives’ custody.

The US media has reported that some materials have been deposited with the Centre for Jewish History in New York, which is in partnership with other Jewish organisations.

The present exhibition in Washington has now led to Jewish activists in the United States, as well as some members of the US Congress, to demand that the artefacts never be returned to Iraq and that they be given to Iraqi Jews in the United States.

The lobbyists have been claiming that the documents were stolen from members of the Iraqi Jewish community before they emigrated to Israel or went into exile from Iraq.

They claim that the artefacts are part of the Iraqi Jews’ heritage and say that Iraq does not have the right to recover the sacred objects of a now-exiled population.
Among their other claims is that there is no constituency of Jews remaining in Iraq to ensure that the books are well-maintained, especially since the country is still riven by violent conflict.

An online petition has been organised to collect signatures urging the US government to keep the Iraqi Jewish archives. Some activists have written newspaper opinion pieces urging that the items be shared with the exiled Jewish community or that torn pieces of Torah scrolls be buried, as is customary for Jewish holy texts that are no longer useable. (No exhortation needed: the Iraq authorities have given their consent to the burial - ed).

However, under international law the artefacts and all other cultural and official materials removed from Iraq during the US occupation belong to Iraq and should be returned to the country.

International conventions relating to armed conflict clearly state that warring parties should take measures to prevent the theft, pillage or looting of cultural property.

The Society of American Archivists has also said that the seizure and removal of the documents from Iraq was “an act of pillage” prohibited under the laws of war.

The Obama administration has rejected requests to keep the pieces in America and has said that the collection will be returned to Iraq upon the completion of their preservation and the exhibition.

The US State Department also says that under an agreement that the US National Archives signed with the CPA in Iraq, the documents are to be returned to Iraq “following their restoration”.

Read article in full

What will become of Iraq's Jewish artifacts ?(Commentary: with thanks Eliyahu)

Iraqi archive: Up close and personal

The exhibition of the Iraqi Jewish Archive at the National Archives building is not just a historical record of a now-extinct Jewish community, but is deeply personal for Iraqi Jews and their descendants.

According to the president of the World Organisation of Jews from Iraq (WOJI), Maurice Shohet, community members have travelled from London, Ohio, Boston, Memphis and other cities to see the IJA exhibition in Washington, DC.

The National Archives informed WOJI that among the visitors was Professor Sami Gourgy Shina, from Boston. He was interviewed for a Washington Post article when the story of his late sister Farah Shina al-Kebir was featured last August (Archives readies a schoolgirl’s records and a trove of Jewish treasures for return to Iraq). 

Farah Shina al-Kebir's outstanding school records were featured in a Washington Post article. Farah (above) died in the 1960s in Oxford.

On 15 November, Sabah Daniel, the son of Salman Daniel, head of the management committee of the Jewish Community in Baghdad in the 1950s, came to visit the exhibit from Pennsylvania.

Amira (nee Shohet) and her husband Jack Bernstein came from Ohio. Amira is the daughter of Yaacob Moshe Shohet. He was a Hebrew teacher at the Frank Iny School and published prayer books and the yearly Ibur (Hebrew calendar) of the community. Amira discovered the Minha and Arbith (Maariv) prayer book in the exhibit. Titled Siddur Yaacub Shohet, it  was authored by her late father (below).


In several cases the actual document owners are alive: for instance Edwin Shaul Shuker, an activist on behalf of Jews from Arab countries based in London, was astonished to be told that his school records were on display.

Ben Cohen, a former BBC producer and  writer based in New York who publishes frequently on Jewish and international affairs, recognised a letter(pictured above) addressed by his grandfather, Haham Solomon Gaon of the London Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregation, to the president of the Iraqi-Jewish community in 1953. The letter enquired after the estranged Baghdad-based husband of a woman in London who was denying her a Get (bill of religious divorce).

Carole Basri, a spokeswoman for Iraqi Jews and US lawyer who spent time in the country following the US invasion in 2003, also has a personal stake in the Archive. She is the grand-daughter of Frank Iny, who founded the last Jewish school in Baghdad. There is a large collection of documents from the Frank Iny school in the Archive. The school closed its doors in 1974.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Iranians behind Israel's rescue missions

In this interview in Farsi, Colonel Ramtin Sebti says he would be willing to undertake a rescue mission to Iran if necessary

Name one country (apart from Iran) where Iranians have reached the highest ranks in the military.  Yes, it's Israel. (Come to think of it, Iranian Jews would never be appointed to senior military posts in Iran).  Ramtin Sebti is the Iranian-born commander of the IDF rescue mission to the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan. Meir Javedanfar explains in the Times of Israel:

First was Shaul Mofaz (formerly known as Shahram Mofazazkar). He was one of the commanders of the elite Israeli special forces team which flew to Uganda to save Jewish and Israeli hostages as part of the legendary operation Entebbe.
The Esfahani origin, Tehran born Mofaz’s job was to command a team which destroyed all of the Ugandan air force MiGs on the ground. Failure to do so could have enabled Idi Amin who was helping the terrorists to use these planes to chase the Israeli planes after they had taken off. Mofaz’s team had to do this while other Israeli commandos fought off Ugandan forces and Palestinian and German terrorists who were keeping the hostages.
That was in 1976.

And  just days ago, Colonel Ramtin Sebti another Iranian commander in the IDF, commanded an Israeli rescue mission of a different kind: to the Philippines to help the victims of typhoon Haiyan. The mission consists of 148 specialists, a field hospital, 100 tons of humanitarian and medical aid.

Colonel Sebti, originally from Tehran’s Yousef Abad neighborhood, belongs to my generation of Iranian immigrants. He left Iran 26 years ago in 1987 at the age of 15, and was smuggled across the Iranian border to Pakistan, much like many of my school friends. Today he heads one of the most coveted forces in the Israeli army, the National Search and Rescue Unit. This unit is in charge of rescuing victims of missile attacks as well as natural disasters such as earthquakes and typhoons. It has taken part in rescue operations in places such as Haiti, Kenya, Turkey and now the Philippines.

Canada comes a step closer to recognition

 Refugee arriving at the Sha'are Aliya camp near Haifa (photo: Robert Capa)

In the wake of the publication of the Canadian parliamentary foreign affairs committee report recommending recognition for Jewish refugees, Shimon Fogel in the Times of Israel writes that the flight of Jews from Arab countries is proof of the history of opposition to the Jewish state's existence. I would go further, and say it is proof of the opposition to Jews per se (with thanks: Michelle).

"The international community cannot understand the elusiveness of peace today without taking into account the consistent history of opposition to the Jewish state’s very existence, of which the precipitous flight of Jews from Arab lands is primary evidence.

And Palestinians who harbour national aspirations for independence will never achieve their goal without addressing the Palestinian rejectionism that has forestalled statehood since the 1947 partition vote. This can be fully achieved through a peace agreement that includes mutual recognition not only of the legitimacy of the other today, but also an acknowledgement of the suffering of the other in the past.

Last week, a Report was tabled in Canada’s Parliament summarizing a recent study by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on the experience of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. The Report concludes by calling on the Government of Canada to formally recognize Jewish refugees from Arab countries and to encourage Israeli and Arab negotiators to take all refugees into account in any future peace agreement.

As Jewish Canadian activists, parliamentary validation is another key milestone in an effort long-in-the-making, and one that has been an important priority on the advocacy agenda of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). Our hope is that it will lead to an imminent change to Canada’s standing policy on Middle East peace in line with the committee’s recommendation.

Members of the Foreign Affairs committee from across the political spectrum deserve our applause for examining this issue thoroughly and forthrightly, a responsibility too few governments around the world have been willing to undertake. CIJA joins with the international coalition, led by JJAC – Justice for Jews from Arab Countries – to urge other governments to correct the historical record and validate the experience of Jews from Arab countries.

Should the Canadian government take the next logical step and heed the committee’s advice, Canada’s influence as a credible voice on the world stage can help establish balance in the conversation around Middle East refugees – and encourage the historic reckoning that will be essential to a lasting peace."

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