Monday, May 28, 2018

Works in Arabic translation can be unscholarly and manipulative

A German scholar fluent in Arabic has discovered numerous flaws in an  Arabic version of Professor Mark R. Cohen’s Book Under Crescent and Cross. The Jews in the Middle Ages, calling it  highly manipulative, Islamically-correct and deficient in scholarship.  Such a translation cheats the author, the official sponsors and the unsuspecting reader. Friedhelm Hoffmann summarises his findings for Point of No Return:

Professor Mark Cohen: 'would be enraged' by the Arabic translation of his work

The Point of No Return post of 2 May 2018, “What do you think you are kidding, Mr Abbas?, blamed the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for distorting history. Speaking during the National Palestinian Council in RamallahAbbas had stated that “such pogroms did not take place in Arab nations, which had Jewish communities”. Abbas’s statement seemingly relied on evidence provided by Jewish scholars. Indeed, he might have been truly convinced that his opinion was actually supported by serious historical research done by leading western scholars of Jewish studies.
Maybe Abbas had had his views confirmed by reading the Arabic translation of a treatise on Jewish history in the Islamic world, authored by the renowned American scholar of Jewish studies Professor Mark R. Cohen from Princeton University. Could he have assumed that what he had read in Arabic corresponded to what Cohen actually had written in the English original for the American and international readership? Not necessarily. He might have been unwittingly duped by a manipulated and “politically correct” Arabic translation.

This would be the case had he relied on the Arabic translation “Bayna l-hilāl wa-l-ṣalībWaḍʿal-yahūd  l-qurūn al-wusṭā / بين الهلال والصليب : وضع اليهود في القرون الوسطى” (Cologne/Baghdad 2007) of Prof. Cohen’s book “Under Crescent and Cross. The Jews in the Middle Ages” (Princeton 1994). A decade after Cohen had written this historical treatise, he himself saw to its translation into Arabic and delegated the task to two promising Arab researchers at the Free University of Berlin, Islam Dayeh (إسلام دية) from Jordan and MouezKhalfaoui (معز خلفاويfrom Tunisia. The aim was noble, the result disillusioning, despite the fact that leading research institutions and networks in Germany and the US, such as the Berlin research programme “Europe in the Middle East – The Middle East in Europe” and the Berlin Institute for Advanced Study, the Department of Near Eastern Studies of Princeton University, the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt and the Zeit Foundation Ebelin and Gerd Bucerius,were the project’s official sponsors.

What a noble aim – to overcome the gap between western scholarship in the field of Jewish studies and the Arab readership – to open up western humanities to the Arab reader in his own tongue: a truly enlightened endeavour. Moreover–and this might have been the real reason behind the whole enterprise– this translation granted an academic seal of approval to the twoArab translators. Promoting them as open-minded researchers who do not shy away from delicate topics, such as the situation of Jewish minorities in the Latin West and the Islamic East during the Middle Ages.

Alas, neither aim was reached. What deep disappointment awaits readers of Arabic! One might choose at random any page of the Arabic translation and would find it full of mistakes and misunderstandings of every kind, sometimes even downright and deliberate distortionsThus, the Arab reader will be confronted with quite astonishing historical and religious assertions. He will read that the Roman emperor Constantius [II] ruled in the fourth century BC (p. 297 n 1); that Judaism counts among its holy scriptures a Hebrew (pp. 87, 268) as well as a Jewish gospel (p. 315); that Islam reveres the “Evangelical personalities” of the Jewish Bible as prophets (p. 309); that the better conditions Jews experienced in the medieval Polish realm, compared to other Western European kingdoms and principalities, materialized in the fact that the Polish monarchs treated their Jewish subjects as badly (sic) as did their Western European counterparts (p. 27). Moreover, according to the Arab translators Dayeh and Khalfaoui, Voltaire (sic) advised Arabs to build modern nation states (p. 43 n 2). And to believe this translation, Cohen talks about “the peoples of Israel” (p. 86) and “all the Jewish peoples in the Islamic world” (p. 233) in the plural. The Arab reader will encounter this kind of mistranslation (and unconscious manipulation) all over the book.

More worrying are the downright distortions wherever Cohen’s facts or judgments do not fit into the worldview of the two translators. To give a major example: Cohen states that “this indulgence of non-Muslims ended abruptly with the Mongols’ conversion to Islam in 1295’: he implies that the “pagan” Mongols were more tolerant rulers prior to, than after their conversion to Islam. Since such a positive judgment in favour of non-Muslims seems not to be acceptable to Khalfaoui and Dayeh, they elide the Mongols’ conversion into “the invasion by the Mongols” [of Baghdad] (p. 25 n. 2), thereby postponing the Mongol invasion of Baghdad from 1258 to the key date of 1295. By this manipulating ruse, the translators manage to lay the blame for the deteriorating standing of non-Muslims in Iraq after 1295 on the alleged invasion by the pagan Mongols, while Cohen originally had traced the deterioration to their very conversion to Islam. Apart from the ideological twist, the translators thereby commit a grave historical error, disclosing their own ignorance of Islamic history, the destruction of the Abbasid Caliphate in 1258 on the hands of the Mongols being a major turning point.

This is just one of many such distortions, which seem to have their origin in a mindset close to the Muslim Brotherhood’s. Apart from the distortions, the translation does not comply with generally-accepted academic standards. One third of the annotations in the footnotes have been omitted for no reason, another third have been kept in the English original, and the last third have been rendered into Arabic in a way which can best be called a preliminary draft.The neglect of the annotations deals a further blow to the academic character of the book.

The translation of the main text is of a higher quality. Nevertheless, it abounds inmisunderstandings and mistranslations in addition to a deficient Arabic vocabulary of Jewish and Christian terms and general historical terminology relating to Western EuropeIndeed, the translation does not meet the prevalent academic standards in serious Arabic publicationsin this field.

Finallythe most serious defect is the complete lack of any references to contemporary Arabic publications in the field of Jewish (and Israeli) studies as would be normal in similar publications by serious scholars and translators in the Arab world.

The Arabic reader will not find any references in his own language, be they Arabic translations of international standard treatises of Jewish studies or indigenous Arabic treatises on Jewish and Israeli topics. This lack cannot be justified on any grounds, since Arab scholars have been building up quite a voluminous library of Jewish and Israeli studies over the last decades.

To sum up, this translation gives a misleading impression of the English original, thereby misrepresenting the discipline of Jewish studies as pursued at American universities. It exploits the Arabic reader’s good faith in the trustworthiness of the translators and the quality of the translation. Yet, this is exactly what Prof. Cohen himself affirms in his preface to the translation. Cohen enthusiastically thanks the able translators and stresses the high quality of the Arabic rendering, thereby admitting that he never read any part of it, otherwise it would have enraged him.

For thArabic translation reaches its lowest ebb when even the Islamic creed “I confess that there is no god but God” is gravely distorted in the Arabic rendering, thus shaking any Arab reader’s trust in Cohen’s scholarship. If the mistranslation of the Islamic creed was intentionalone can only assume that the two Arabic translators wanted to make fun of Professor Cohen and ridicule his reputation as an international expert of Islamic studies in the eyes of the Arabic reading public.

Such a lopsided, manipulated and “Islamically correct” translation into Arabic does not benefit anyone. It only furthers the careers of the translators who fake their intellectual grasp of the topic translatedNeither will the westerscholar know the Arabic readership’s response on his treatise, since they did not get to read what he wrote, but deficient version of it. The Arabic readership are cheated as well, since they put their trust in a translation which does not accurately render the ideas of the western scholar. If the two translators thought it wise to distance themselves from some of Professor Cohen’s more delicate topics and conclusions, they could have easildone so in the notesinstead of stealthily interfering in Cohen’s main text.

To come back to my starting point: What is the benefit of joint academic projects between western and Arab scholars, like this translation, if in the end the Arabic readership is deceived and made to believe that they are getting a trustworthy rendering of what the western scholar has writtenHow can they critically compare between their own viewpoints and convictions and those held by authors and scholars from the West? Does it not, in the final analysishamper mutual understanding, when the Arab readership, among them decision-makers like Mahmoud Abbas, are misled ?

Readers who are interested in a more detailed treatment of the Arabic translation discussed above and with a reading command of German, are invited to ask for a PDF copy of the complete review essay (136p.) from the reviewer Friedhelm Hoffmann<>.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

On Farhud's 77th anniversary, let's mark the Jewish 'nakba'

While the Nakba is marked every year with demonstrations and wide media coverage, the Jewish expulsion, heralded by the Farhud in Iraq 77 years ago,  does not merit public or media notice, argues Zvi Gabay in the Jerusalem Post. It is about time it did (with thanks: Imre, Lily):

This despite the fact that its human and physical dimensions were larger than those of the Nakba (the number of Jewish refugees forced out of their homes was about 856,000, while the Arabs who left Mandatory Palestine numbered about 600,000).

Only on February 22, 2010, was the issue placed on the Israeli agenda with the enactment of the “The Law of Preservation of the Rights to Compensation of Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries and Iran,” which states that any negotiations for the achievement of peace in the Middle East must include the subject of compensation for said Jews.

And only four years later, on November 2014, did a memorial ceremony take place in the president’ residence to honor the existence and expulsion of the Jews from Arab countries, according to a law adopted by the Knesset that year.

The attacks against the Jews in Arab lands occurred even before the establishment of the State of Israel. In Iraq, they began with discrimination, in the economy, in education and public life.
Afterward, Arab nationalism ignited rioting against the Jews, which came to a peak in the Farhud of 1941. Similar tragedies happened to the Jews of Libya, Aden and other Arab countries. In Egypt, a mass expulsion took place in the dead of night.

In Iraq, the combination of xenophobic Sunni nationalism and antisemitism produced a powerful hatred of the Jews.

This hatred was abetted by Nazis such as German envoy to Baghdad Dr. Fritz Grobba and pseudo-religious leaders such as Haj Amin al-Husseini, who fled from Mandatory Palestine and found in Iraq a convenient venue for his anti-Jewish activities.

The Jews were left with no choice but to flee Iraq and the rest of the Arab countries that they had helped to found and bring into the modern era with their contributions to government, the economy, medicine, education, literature, poetry and music.

Seven years later, the threatening anti-Jewish climate that prevailed in every Arab country was accompanied by inflamed anti-Jewish declarations broadcast on radio, and even from the podium of the United Nations. Government harassment and popular attacks drove the Jews of the Arab world to migrate en masse to Israel.

There were certainly Muslims in the Arab countries who did not support the attacks on the Jews, but their voices were not heard. The Jews were the scapegoats in internecine power struggles between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites, just as today Israel is at the center of the struggle between the Shi’ite Iran and the Sunni states.

In recent years, a process of awakening can be discerned in the Arab world, especially among intellectuals, who recognize that it was not only the Palestinian Arabs who suffered a “nakba” but also the Jews of the Arab world.

For the sake of history and educating the future generations, a proper commemoration of the plight and the heritage of Jews from Arab countries should take place in Israel.

Palestinian leaders would do well to stop parroting slogans about “the right of return” and deluding their people, because there is no turning back the wheel of history.

Read article in full

More from Zvi Gabay

Friday, May 25, 2018

Historian Bensoussan wins hate speech appeal

The historian Georges Bensoussan won his case in the Paris appeal court and was acquitted of all charges of racism and incitement to hatred yesterday.


The case was originally brought against him by the CCIF (Committee against Islamophobia in France) and other human rights bodies. The CCIF had appealed against his original acquittal in March 2017.

 The March 2018 appeal was heard in an atmosphere noted for its aggressiveness towards the historian, who ,among other works, wrote an 800-page volume on Jews in Arab lands.

Bensoussan confessed to feeling very angry, not just against the Islamists and their leftist apologists, but against all those who had supported the case against him. While the acquittal came as a relief, Bensoussan is not out of the woods yet.

 His relationship with the Memorial de la Shoah, where is the director, has been rocky in recent months and his future there may not be assured.

  Read article in full (Marianne - French)

  Anti-Islamophobics to appeal Bensoussan acquittal

Thursday, May 24, 2018

How Habiba Messika created a Maghreb sensation

 Murdered aged 27 by her lover Eliahyu Mimouni, Habiba Messika had a short but scintillating career as one of Tunisia's superstar singers and actresses (She was known as the second Sarah Bernhardt). Chris Silver, who collects North African Jewish music, writes that she recorded a staggering number of records between 1924 and her death in 1930. (with thanks: Elbie)

‘Never before in Tunisia’, noted the worried French Protectorate’s Director of Public Security, ‘has such a funeral taken place’. The cause of his concern was the funeral of North Africa’s first superstar, held in Tunis on 23 February 1930. By half past twelve, thousands of people had gathered on the Avenue de Londres, the main artery leading to Tunis’ Jewish quarters. They had come to mourn the singer Habiba Messika, who, aged 27, had been brutally murdered two days earlier.

In French-occupied Tunisia, this was an unusually large ‘native’ gathering and it gave the authorities cause to worry. Messika’s death had not only brought Muslims and Jews together, but it had also attracted Destourians, Tunisian nationalists. Members of the Destour – a political party founded ten years earlier with the aim of reclaiming Tunisian sovereignty – had long regarded Messika as a fellow traveller. Her records, especially her interpretations of pan-Arabist songs made for the Baidaphon record label, had recently been found in the possession of Destour supporters.

From the Avenue de Londres, some 5,000 people began a two-and-a-half kilometre procession to the city’s Jewish cemetery. At the funeral, the celebrated theatre director Bechir Methenni delivered an impassioned eulogy. Habiba Messika’s murder, he told the mourners, ‘was stupid and sadistic’. But neither her memory nor her music would be forgotten. He then addressed the deceased:
Alas dear comrade, your voice may no longer be with us but rest assured that its memory remains etched in our minds. When our children listen to your records, it will be with tears in our eyes that we will tell them about your life, about your generous spirit, and that we will instill in them the idea that no one was ever the equal of your genius.
His words were not empty. In the aftermath of Messika’s death, her records circulated rapidly across North Africa. A French intelligence report described Messika’s shellac discs as having the potential to ‘provoke unrest in the Muslim milieu’. Speaking to her fans from beyond the grave, the French authorities thus moved to silence her.

The brief but extraordinary career of Tunisian Jewish superstar Habiba Messika is little known, even among those familiar with her music. Between 1924 and 1930 Messika released a staggering number of phonograph records – close to 100 – for the Pathé, Gramophone and Baidaphon record labels. She was an accomplished actress, heralded as the ‘Second Sarah Bernhardt’ by her 21st birthday. Her style and looks also earned her a coterie of (male) fans known as the ‘soldiers of the night’, an ‘army’ which included Habib Bourguiba, who would become the first president of independent Tunisia in 1957. That Messika achieved so much, so quickly and did so at such a young age meant that her interwar funeral constituted one of the largest and most significant Tunisian gatherings of the early 20th century.

In the aftermath of her murder, Habiba Messika’s memory was kept alive by the recording industry that she had helped shape. Her records flowed across Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco in huge numbers, outselling anything else released in the Maghreb since the birth of the recording industry at the turn of the 20th century. Messika’s death also inspired recorded outpourings of grief by half a dozen Tunisian and Algerian artists. Those laments, made in Tunis and Algiers and distributed transnationally across the Maghreb and beyond, included songs like ‘Moute Habiba Messika’ (‘The Death of Habiba Messika’), recorded by Tunisian-Jewish vocalist and dancer Flifla Chamia for Gramophone in December 1930. Chamia sang from the perspective of the slain Messika, asking – in rhyme – what strange (ghriba) and unprecedented (ʿajiba) events had befallen her (Habiba). The song is made available here for the first time in nearly a century.

Despite the fragility of the shellac on which Habiba Messika’s history was inscribed – and the years of war, movement and displacement to which its owners were subjected –many of her records survive. Messika’s oeuvre allows us to examine the largely overlooked North African and Middle Eastern soundscape, in which a burgeoning trade in Arabic-language records animated fans, fanned French fears of subversion and were passed from hand to hand for decades. More than a mere echo of the period’s politics, narrating a history of the greater Middle East through its records challenges many of the most basic assumptions about the region’s history – of the ephemeral quality of music, of an unravelling Jewish-Muslim relationship and even of the exclusivity of emerging nationalist movements.

Habiba Messika’s story is that of an Arabic-singing Jewish star, as comfortable in her blended identity as her mixed audiences of Jews and Muslims. Her legacy is that of an interwar Tunisian nationalist who was equally at ease playing the role of Romeo on stage as she was dressing as a flapper off it.

Marguerite Habiba Messika was born in Tunis in 1903. Like many North African musicians of her era, she descended from a musical lineage. And, like many associated with music-making in the countries of the Maghreb in the early 20th century, Messika was Jewish. At the outset of the last century, just as the phonograph began to be widely used in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, a striking number of indigenous Jewish vocalists and instrumentalists, record label concessionaires, record-store owners, proprietors of cabarets and musical impresarios began to play a prominent role in the production of Arab music. Among these music-makers was Messika’s father, an amateur musician, who may have recorded a small number of discs. But it was Leïla Sfez, Messika’s aunt, a staple of the café-concert scene of Tunis and among the country’s first artists to record for French Pathé in 1910, who provided her entry into the music industry.

Pathé’s Tunisian record catalogues in the early 20th century were filled with Jewish artists like Sfez and the label’s local artistic director was an Arabophone Jew. When Messika began recording for Pathé a few years after being discovered in 1918, she would do so under the direction of Tunisian-Jewish virtuoso pianist Messaoud Habib.

Acoustic recording to flat, shellac disc began in Algeria and Tunisia during the earliest years of the 20th century, as it did in many parts of Europe. Pathé, for example, started recording in Algeria as early as 1904. The English Gramophone Company began its operations there and in Tunis in the same year. The French subsidiary of the German Odéon label soon followed. In French Algeria, indigenous Jewish impresario Edmond Nathan Yafil not only served as interlocutor for the labels but directed their efforts on the ground. By hand-picking which musicians were brought to the recording studio in the coming years, Yafil himself would be largely responsible for the construction of a burgeoning North African music scene based around an overwhelmingly Jewish group of music-makers. By the outbreak of the First World War – when recording around the world ground to a halt – a half dozen labels operating in the Maghreb boasted deep catalogues of mostly Jewish artists performing Arab music.
The postwar period was an auspicious time to embark on a career in music in North Africa. After the First World War, public concerts recommenced. The 15-year-old Messika, ‘discovered’ at the war’s end, soon headlined thousand-plus seat venues across Tunis, Algiers and further afield. ‘More than 1,500 people applauded the return of our talented and incomparable Tunisian star, Mademoiselle Habiba Messika,’ the Tunisian newspaper Le Petit Matin reported of a concert at Le Palmarium in Tunis in September 1921. Messika garnered similar responses in the capital’s grand Municipal Theatre.

Municipal Theatre, Tunis, c.1910.
Municipal Theatre, Tunis, c.1910.

As with the concert circuit, the record industry picked up where it had left off just before the war. Pathé resumed its activities in the Maghreb, as did Gramophone, which began recording again in Tunis in 1921. By 1925, Messika had begun recording with Pathé and appeared, heralded as a ‘superstar’, on the cover of its Tunisian catalogue for that year.

Messika made dozens of records for Pathé, including some of the era’s most popular and ribald Egyptian songs, such as Sayyid Darwish’s ‘Harrag Alaya Baba Ma Rouhchi Cinéma’ (‘My father didn’t let me go to the cinema’) and ‘Cham el Cocaine’ (‘Snorting Cocaine’), Tunisian folklore and the lighter pieces of the Andalusian repertoire, a classical genre inspired by Islamic Spain. Her voice – crisp, clear, smooth and sensual – captivated her audiences. She became known as the ‘queen of musical ecstasy’. Habib Bourguiba and other ‘soldiers of the night’ were infatuated with the young Jewish superstar, though they were taken by more than just her voice. The few surviving headshots of Messika show a young Tunisian woman who dazzled in black and white. She was a flapper, the likes of which few in the region had seen before.

Messika was also among the most sought-after theatre actors of her generation in North Africa. Throughout the 1920s, she committed herself to demanding roles. These included Romeo in an Arabic-language staging of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette in Tunis in 1924. In assuming the male lead, Le Petit Matin proclaimed that Messika was conjuring ‘Sarah Bernhardt in the role of l’Aiglon’ – Edmond Rostand’s six-act play about the child emperor Napoleon II. When Messika later played Napoleon II in Tunis, the comparison to the ‘divine’ and ‘fantastic’ Sarah Bernhardt – the pencil thin, Jewish actress who conquered the fin-de-siècle French stage in traditionally male roles –was cemented. Both the press and her peers began referring to Messika as ‘the second Sarah Bernhardt’.

Between 1925 and 1928, Habiba Messika continued to record for Pathé while also recording for Gramophone. In a world of exclusive contracts, which bound musicians to a single label, Messika was among the first North African artists to record for multiple labels simultaneously. Similarly, when most of her peers were paid only for their initial recording session, Messika demanded – and won – the right to her royalties. In 1928 Baidaphon, established by the Baida family in Beirut and since headquartered in Berlin (a centre of the global recording industry), began operating in full swing in the Maghreb. Theodore Khayat, recently installed in Casablanca as head of North African operations, made contact with Messika. By April 1928, the Tunisian superstar was heading to Berlin to record with the label.

In a letter written to the executives at Baidaphon, Messika regarded her recordings for the label as ‘better than anything I have recorded previously’. She was especially taken by Baidaphon’s foray into electric recording, which, unlike acoustic techniques, allowed for the unparalleled reproduction of her voice and multi-tonal sounds of her instrumentalists. But recording in Berlin had another advantage: she could do so away from the watchful eye of the French authorities. While she continued to make records with suggestive titles, like ‘Ala sirir el nom’ (‘On my bed, spoil me’), she also recorded a number of marches dedicated to King Fuad in Egypt, King Faysal in Iraq and the Bey of Tunis, Muhammad VI, as well as anthems extolling Egypt and Syria.

Read article in full

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

US to share Holocaust archives with Morocco

With thanks: Lily, Shulamit
The wartime sultan of Morocco

The exchange of WW2-era information with Morocco continues apace. First Jewish documents held in France were handed over, now the Holocaust Museum in Washington is following suit. (With thanks: Lily, Shulamit)

WASHINGTON, DC -  On May 7, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., signed a cooperation agreement with the Archives of Morocco to share archival materials on the Jews of North Africa during the Second World War held by each institution. The agreement will expand the Museum’s archival holdings on this understudied aspect of history and will enable scholars from North Africa, Europe and around the globe to conduct research both in Morocco and at the Museum.

The agreement follows a meeting in Morocco in October 2017 between Prince Moulay Rachid and a Museum delegation that included Museum Director Sara J. Bloomfield. The participants discussed the importance of Holocaust education both as a way to memorialize the victims and to help educate people about the dangers of extremism and hatred today.

“The signing of this agreement with Morocco is an important step in the Museum’s work in collecting archival documentation from North African countries and making them available for research,” said Tad Stahnke, the Museum’s Director of International Outreach. “The Museum signed an archival sharing agreement with the Moroccan National Library in 2008, and Morocco remains the only Arab nation with which we have an archival agreement. We are extremely pleased that this relationship will benefit our understanding of how the Holocaust touched the North African region.”

Read article in full

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Did the media do more to mention Jewish refugees?

The 70th anniversary of the state of Israel has given Jews,  Israelis and their supporters cause for celebration. But the media are always scrupulously careful to 'balance' the story of the miraculous rebirth of the Jewish state with the catastrophic nakba in which 700,000 Palestinian refugees lost their homes.

In past years, the parallel story of the Jewish refugees seldom got a hearing. Has this year been any different?

Nurit Greeger in her Jerusalem Post blog told the story of two refugees - one Jewish and one Arab - while Emily Shrader on Politics Web wrote about the Double Nakba.

In his forensic account of how the Palestinian refugees have been uniquely indulged by the international community,  Efraim Karsh makes only an incidental reference to Jewish refugees. Moshe Arens writing in Haaretz did not mention them at all. Even the BBC website did better.

This year, the media should have been paying even more attention to the Jewish refugees when Hamas declared the Great March of Return  - its ultimate objective being to seek to breach the border with Israel in order to allow Gazan refugees to exercise their 'right of return' to Israel proper. Joseph Puder writing in Front Page magazine unveils their real agenda.  But his mention of Jewish refugees from Arab lands is still a cursory one and he fails to explain how a political accommodation might be reached.

By far the biggest surprise of the 70th anniversary/Nakba coverage has been Jeff Jacoby writing in the Boston Globe. Jacoby devotes most of his piece to the Jewish refugees from Arab countries. This is an important milestone: the story is getting into the mainstream.

Jewish refugees made their debut on Simon Schama's BBC radio programme

Another first was the historian Simon Schama's BBC  Radio 4 programme Israel at 70: a personal reflection, in which Lyn Julius, author of Uprooted, was given several minutes to describe the plight of Jewish refugees (her segment starts from about 9 mins 54. The programme, first broadcast on 18 May,  may be heard until 18 June 2018.)

Elsewhere, the media and public events did their customary best to focus on Palestinian refugees and ignore the Jewish refugee issue. Writing in The Australian, Vic Alhadeff slammed the Sydney Writers' Festival for its failure to mention the greater number of Jewish refugees.

Even the Jewish Chronicle gave space to a Palestinian, Ehad Naser. It was left to readers like Lyn Julius to point out the omission of the 'Jewish Nakba:' Her letter was published in the 18 May issue (no link). She wrote:

"More Jews than Arabs were made refugees and robbed of their property and ancient heritage. Hundreds were murdered. Many Arab cities - Baghdad was once a quarter Jewish - are today Jew-free. Mizrahi refugees and their descendants today comprise over half Israel's Jewish population.

The Palestinian leadership must be held to account, not just for dragging the Arab League into war with Israel, but for inciting violence - such as the 1941 Farhud pogrom in Iraq - against Jews in Arab lands.

No solution can be found to the Palestinian - Israeli conflict unless a permanent exchange of refugees is recognised to have occurred."

Hen Mazzig went further, and in his Jerusalem Post op-ed The Nakbas, drew parallels between the Jews, Armenians, Assyrians and other victim peoples of forced Arabisation and exile.

Conclusion: while there are notable signs of progress, the story of the Jewish refugees has still to make further inroads into public discourse.

On the 77th anniversary of the Farhud, a Holocaust event

The holiday of Shavuot is now past. It is an occasion to remember the gruesome events of the Farhud, the pro-Nazi pogrom which devastated the Iraqi-Jewish community over Shavuot 1941. Tiffany Gabbay's father was nine at the time. She writes in The Rebel (with thanks: Lily, Shulamit): 

 Tiffany Gabbay

There are few chapters in history that have ever revealed the face of evil or wrought more human suffering and degradation than the Holocaust. What many don't realize, however, is that the poisonous barbs of Hitler’s final solution were not confined solely to Europe, but stretched far beyond to the Middle East where Arabs, even more practiced in their anti-Semitism, were eager to commit a genocide of their own. Leading the charge was Palestinian-icon, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.

During the Shoah, notorious "Palestinian" Jew-hater, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, sought to realize his long-held goal of purging the Middle East of its Jewish communities. Believing that what the Nazis were orchestrating in Europe could also be successfully implemented in the Arab world, the mufti began his courtship of Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and other prominent Nazis. Steadfast, the mufti traveled to Germany requesting the practical and material support required to "solve the problem of the Jewish elements in Palestine and other Arab countries."

After all, he reasoned, “the Arabs were Germany’s natural friends because they had the same enemies.”

While Hitler never publicly declared his support for al-Husseini, he did fulfill his promise to furnish the Arab nationalist with "practical aid to the Arabs involved in the same struggle” and help facilitate the "destruction of the Jewish element residing in the Arab sphere.”

One of the most significant gifts the Nazis bestowed on al-Husseini were the tools needed to conduct successful propaganda campaigns — ones far more sophisticated than the Islamic world were privy to before. Their pilot program began in Iraq, where a pro-Nazi government had already been successfully established.

By the late 1930s, Nazi-Arab momentum had gained considerable steam and the German embassy in Iraq was headed by Nazi diplomat Fritz Grobba. Under his stewardship dissemination of anti-Semitic propaganda material increased markedly. By purchasing Arab newspapers and translating Nazi content into Arabic, soon Iraqis were feasting not only on their own brand of Quranic anti-Semitism, but also a Western equivalent that validated their already-held, twisted beliefs.

In fact, one such newspaper, al-Alam al-Arabi (The Arab World), published the first Arabic-language translation of Mein Kampf. Likewise, Grobba ordered German Nazi broadcasts to be translated into Arabic and aired across Iraqi radio. The German embassy also spurred the creation of al-Fatwa, the Muslim counterpart of Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth).

To illustrate how effective Nazi-Arab collaboration was, consider that al-Fatwa's rallying cry invoked Hitler's perceived grandeur. Historian Edwin Black documented that a delegation of al-Fatwa members even attended a Nazi rally in Nuremberg in 1938. Upon their return they'd often be heard chanting in Arabic, "long live Hitler, the killer of insects and Jews."

Needless to say this was fertile ground for anti-Semitic atrocities to take place and soon the Arab street became more dangerous than ever for Jews who'd called Iraq home, in some cases, for millennia. With the environment primed, the mufti's next step was to organize a full-fledged pogrom.

On June 1, 1941, Jewish families in Baghdad were home preparing meals in anticipation of Shavuot, a holiday that marks the gifting of the Torah (Bible) by God to the Jewish people on Mt. Sinai. By all rights it is a festive occasion and although members of the Jewish community were aware Arabs were conspiring against them, they were assured by local leaders that they would remain safe.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.

As the holiday commenced, Jewish homes and businesses were marked with a bright red hamsa, or “hand of God," to single them out for attack. And, with the mufti's plan in place, a violent mob of Iraqi Muslims took to the streets armed with swords, axes, knives, guns, torches and pipes. They killed every Jewish man, woman, and child they could find.

No one was spared, neither young nor old. Jewish women were raped in the streets while their infants were murdered before their eyes. Jewish men were hacked to death with axes. Even bearing in mind the long history of Islamic Jew-hatred, the massacre that took place on Shavuot, 1941, was bloodier and more gruesome than anything that had occurred, to that point, in modern-day Baghdad.
My father was there. He recalled the savagery in complete and utter detail for the duration of his life. And although he was only a child no older than nine, the situation demanded he become a man. As the oldest son, my father felt an onus to stand by his father and protect his family.

Somehow numb to the fear that should have overwhelmed anyone such tender age, he resolved to fulfill his duty and positioned himself on the roof of his house, poised with metal buckets brimming with scalding hot cooking grease, heavy stones, bricks, a knife and a metal pipe. My grandfather, meanwhile, remained below with his guns — a rare commodity back then, but one he was fortunate enough to have.

As the rampage continued, savages stormed the grounds of my family’s home and my father launched his defensive, emptying the pails of cooking grease and hurling projectiles from on high. Once he'd depleted his reserves he ran downstairs to fight the attackers off with knives while my grandfather fired his shots with precision. The attackers were wild with rage but ultimately, dispersed. How many of them were wounded or if any were even killed, remains unknown. Also unknown is how my family managed to stave off that violent mob and certain death, at all. Such are the mysteries of life.

In the end, British forces intervened to disperse the rampaging mob and restore some semblance of order, but it was too little too late. The Babylonian Heritage Museum estimates that 800 innocent Iraqi Jews were killed. In addition, an estimated 1,000 Jews were injured, nearly 600 Jewish businesses were looted, and another 1,000 Jewish homes ransacked.

The bloody, two-day massacre was called the “Farhud,” Arabic for “violent dispossession.” It came to be known as the forgotten pogrom of the Holocaust.
It was also the beginning of the end of Iraq’s 2,700-year-old Jewish community.
Shortly after the Farhud my father fled to Israel, but the rest of my family, along with approximately 130,000 Iraqi Jews, would remain another ten insufferable years until most were ultimately rescued by Israel in Operation Ezra and Nehemiah. Their homes, businesses, money, jewelry, even photographs and birth records were confiscated. It was the price to pay to escape living under Islamic authoritarianism.

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