Monday, February 20, 2017

Bensoussan trial divides French thinkers

France continues to be hit by fall-out from the trial of  Georges Bensoussan for 'incitement to hatred': public intellectual Alain Finkielkraut has resigned from LICRA -  one of the groups backing Bensoussan's prosecution for saying that Arab antisemitism 'is imbibed with mother's milk.' But more controversially,  support for the Moroccan-born French-Jewish historian, (author of a seminal work on Jews from Arab countries)  is coming from sections of the French far right. Cana'n Lipschitz reports in the Times of Israel (with thanks: Lily):

Georges Bensoussan: antisemitism is cultural

Discontent over Bensoussan’s prosecution spread to more centrist circles, exposing the left-leaning LICRA to criticism by Finkielkraut. Last year he received the country’s ultimate academic distinction when he entered the Academie Francaise pantheon of great thinkers.

On Jan. 29 Finkielkraut, a member of the dovish JCall group of French Jews who oppose Israel’s settlement policy, announced he would be resigning from LICRA over its decision to sue Bensoussan.
The move “dishonored” LICRA, he said during an interview with RCJ radio, accusing LICRA of “opting for inquisition” against Bensoussan.
“I call on all activists, followers and sympathizers to draw their own conclusions [about LICRA] from this ignominy,” he said. Finkielkraut called the prosecution of Bensoussan “an exceptionally grave event politically, judicially and historically.”
During the interview, Finkielkraut noted that Bensoussan in 2015 was paraphrasing the statements of the Algeria-born sociologist Smaïn Laacher, a non-Jew who said that anti-Semitism in Muslim areas is “in the air that one breathes.”
Laacher and Bensoussan were using metaphors, Finkielkraut argued, and neither “speak of any biological dimension to the culturally transmitted phenomenon they describe.” That refutes the “incitement to racial hatred” charge, he said.
But in an election year with the far-right National Front group leading in the polls, this technicality was soon eclipsed in the media by the trial’s broader implications on free speech and race relations.
The trial “is a way of avoiding investigative thought and any public expression on Islam except for praise,” Finkielkraut said in the RCJ interview.
In a scathing op-ed in the Marianne weekly, columnist Martine Gozlan called the trial “shameful” and an attempt to “silence free thought.”
It’s a recurring accusation by advocates of several French thinkers, Jews and others, who have paid a personal and public price recently for speaking out against Islam or in defense of Israel.
The list includes Michel Houellebecq, who has received death threats for writing a novel critical of political Islam; Bernard-Henri Levy, who is reviled by many members of his left-wing circles for defending Israel, and Finkilkraut himself, who was violently ejected from a public gathering recently because he is a “Zionist.”
Gozlan also noted that LICRA’s fellow plaintiff, the Collective Against Islamophobia, has been accused — including by LICRA itself — of propagating anti-Semitic disinformation against Prime Minister Manuel Valls, whose wife is Jewish.
On Feb. 2 Philippe Karsenty, the French Jewish activist and deputy mayor of the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, echoed Gozlan’s sentiment in an op-ed he wrote with lawyer Pierre Lurçat.
“How could a group established to defend Jews come to assist a judicial jihad waged against a Jewish intellectual specialized in the history of the Holocaust?” they asked.
It was a withering attack on LICRA, a group founded by a Jewish journalist in 1926 in an effort to defend a Jew charged with the Paris killing of a Ukrainian nationalist. The Ukrainian was responsible for pogroms in Ukraine in which the Jewish killer’s relatives perished.
Amid growing criticism, the head of LICRA, Alain Jacubowicz, who is Jewish, broke his silence about the affair. In an op-ed published earlier this month, he accused Bensoussan of “benefiting extremists” with his statement on Islam.
Jacubowicz had a point.
Bruno Gollnisch, a Holocaust denier and European Parliament lawmaker for National Front, embraced Bensoussan’s cause. In a Jan. 25 op-ed published on his website, Gollnisch equated Bensoussan’s troubles to those of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was sidelined as the National Front’s leader after multiple convictions for hate speech against Jews and Muslims.
“There are truths we’re forbidden to speak,” Gollnisch wrote about both men.
Bensoussan in turn broke his own silence on the affair and replied to Jacubowicz in an open letter published Monday.
Turning Jacubowicz’s claim against him, Bensoussan wrote that the popularity of a populist, anti-immigrant party like the National Front is being fueled by “a denial of reality, a suicidal strategy of blindness and silence.”

Read article in full 

Freedom of thought goes on trial in France by Lyn Julius

France's New Islamist guillotine by Denis McEoin 

The French Inquisition by Yves Mamou

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Djerba restaurant picketed for serving alcohol

With thanks: Nouredine

 A group of demonstrators picketed a Jewish-owned restaurant on the Tunisian island of Djerba on 17 February in protest at its re-opening after five years and the renewal of its alcoholic drinks licence.

 Oscar's Restaurant: in 'violation of Islamic law'

The picketers were claiming that Oscar's Restaurant, a kosher establishment at Houmet el souk, was in violation of Islamic law and its clients were disturbing local residents.

Oscar's Jewish owner, Harry Bitten, denounced the picket as 'religious harassment'. "These people are harming Tunisia, its tourist industry and Jewish Tunisians," he retorted.

Elie Trabelsi, a Jewish community leader, called the picketers 'hypocrites and racists'. He pointed out that there were more than 12 bars serving alcohol in the neighbourhood.

Bitten is backed by the Tunisian Association for the Support of Minorities. It pointed out that Oscar's restaurant was approved by the Tunisian ministries of tourism and of the interior to sell alcohol, and called for the law to be applied.

About 1,000 Jews still live on Djerba. Tourism is Tunisia's major industry, but it was hard hit in recent years by terrorist attacks on the Barda museum in Tunis and on the beach at Sousse.

More at Al Huffington Post Maghreb (French)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Suez 1956: How we survived exile from Egypt

For Clemy Lazarus (nee Menir), February 2017 is a very significant anniversary. It is exactly sixty years since she arrived in England as a five-year-old refugee from Egypt. Here is her amazing story, as told to Point of No Return.

'The year 1956 was not the first recorded time that the Menir family was exiled from the land of their birth. The Encyclopaedia Judaica records that we lived in Tudela, Spain in the 13th Century, and by the time of the Spanish Inquisition of 1492, we left Spain and had followed the same route to Egypt as the Rambam (Maimonides).

I was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1951, and by 1956 my family was caught up in the conflict that became known as the Suez Crisis. This was for two reasons. Firstly we were Jewish and secondly my mother was a ‘British Subject'. My mother had acquired this status along with a British passport by virtue of the fact that her grandfather had worked for the British in India, generations earlier. My father’s classification, however, was ‘stateless’. Although he and his antecedents, for many generations, had been born and lived in Egypt, they were, nevertheless, deprived of any rights, recognition, or entitlements of citizenship because we were Jewish. I believe the official status is dhimmi. In essence we were subjugated and lived as second class citizens. However, we did enjoy a very good standard of living. My father established a successful cardboard box manufacturing business in Cairo. 

My father was one of four siblings. He was the eldest and he eventually joined my mother in England. The second sibling established a life in Paris. The third went to live in the fledgling state of Israel where he lived under very difficult conditions in corrugated tin huts in a ma’abara for many years. The fourth, a sister, remained in Egypt with her aged parents until my grandfather passed away after which time she and my grandmother eventually moved to Israel. 

As a consequence of the Suez Crisis, my mother, along with all British and French ‘citizens’ were unceremoniously expelled from Egypt. I have a memory of military personnel marching through our apartment delivering the expulsion order. 

This caused my parents and grandparents severe heartache as my parents had five children and my mother was, at the time, six months pregnant with number six. She was obliged to leave for England on her own, without her husband, but with five children in tow. She was 24 years of age at the time. She spoke French and Arabic but no English and she knew no other culture than the Jewish/Egyptian one in which she grew up. 

She was compelled to leave without any money or possessions of any value. She did, however, manage to buy a few gold bangles that she wore as jewellery and sold for the purpose of sustaining us down the line. 

Once in England, my mother was housed in a refugee camp, first in Leeds and then in Kidderminster. These were essentially former wooden army barrack huts.
When my mother was ready to deliver her baby, my siblings and I were placed in the guardianship of the British Red Cross and she was taken to the local hospital to give birth. This was a particularly harrowing time for her as she had no means of communicating her concerns. During this time our suitcases were ransacked and many fine Cacharel clothes were stolen. Added to this, my mother returned from hospital to find that one of her children was missing. Her youngest, Vivienne, had developed measles and had been placed in isolation. 

After six months my mother was at the end of her tether. My mother is the sweetest, most mild mannered, excruciatingly shy woman. Nevertheless, astonishingly, she found the strength to march into the office of the commander of the refugee camp. She banged on his desk, swiped all the paperwork to the floor and in her best newly acquired English she declared, “Captain Marsh, bring my husband!” To his credit, Captain Marsh did his utmost to make this happen and shortly afterwards my father joined us in the camps. 

My father had been given permission to leave Egypt on condition that he abandoned his business, his home and all his possessions. Everything was confiscated by the Egyptian authorities and to this day we have received not a penny in compensation. 
 Marc Cohen, a Jewish refugee departing from Egypt

The early years in England were extremely difficult for my parents. They had no money, no home and no livelihood. Added to this, it was against every economic, social and spiritual tide that my parents maintained a strictly orthodox home.
Shortly after this we were welcomed by the Birmingham Jewish community, where we were housed in a Victorian tenement building along with half-a-dozen other refugee Jewish/Egyptian families, and committed to paying a nominal weekly rent. 

My parents, who started from rock bottom, worked unbelievably hard, living a life of deprivation and self sacrifice. They devoted all their time and energy to caring for their family’s wellbeing and education, to the exclusion of all else. After many attempts to work for others my father was eventually able to set up a small cardboard box manufacturing business which subsequently grew into a highly successful one. In this way he himself was then able to provide employment for many other needy individuals. 

From the moment my parents arrived in England, they showed their gratitude to their British hosts by naming their new born baby Elizabeth after the Queen of England. My father enrolled in night school to learn to speak English and soon spoke English better than any Englishman. My father became a dapper English gentleman, albeit with an Egyptian accent. When he could afford it he bought my mother the finest clothes and had bespoke suits made for himself along with matching bowler hats which he wore jauntily. The pinnacle of his achievement was when he managed to buy himself a Rolls Royce. As a mitzvah, he shared his good fortune by using his car to drive many a bride to the Chuppah

I and my siblings are certainly ‘forgotten refugees’, but the point is that at no time in our life did my parents define the family as such. At no point was that label used as a yoke that bound us to our unfortunate early life. My parents embraced their new life in exile and worked hard to improve their lot. That is why I find the plight of the Palestinian refugees so heart-rending. To hold on steadfastly to a refugee status for seventy years is to deprive oneself, one's children and grandchildren of the opportunity of leading a productive life of promise and fulfilment.'

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Moroccan Christians want same rights as Jews


Christians in Morocco wishing to have freedom to practise their religion are holding up the Jews as the model they aspire to. The mere fact that they are voicing their aspirations on Moroccan TV shows that there is a movement edging slowly towards pluralism. The watershed event was a ruling by a Moroccan religious committee that apostates should not be killed for converting from Islam. Via MEMRI (With thanks: Lily)

A recent TV report highlighted the problems faced by Christian converts in Morocco, who say that they are denied the right to celebrate Christmas and New Year's Eve.

Akouri Abdallah, who complained about the discrimination suffered by Christians, Baha'is and other non-Muslim believers, said: "My message is that we want the same rights as the Jews," who "have been enjoying their rights for years." The report aired on the Moroccan Chouf TV channel on December 25, 2016.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

'Arab' women return to their Jewish roots

 The Israeli organisation Yad Le'Achim has been helping Arab women with Jewish ancestry return to their roots. Arutz Sheva reports: 

 Arab women (Flash 90)

Yad L'achim announced last week that in January they had several cases in which Arab women turned to the organization for help and thereby discovered their Jewish identities.

These women had lived their entire lives as Arabs, grew up in Arab villages and were taught Arab beliefs, lived as devout Muslims, and never suspected themselves to be Jewish.

21-year-old L., 40-year-old S., and 30-year-old A. were born to a Jewish mother and a Muslim father, and did not know their mother's true identity. Each woman approached Yad L'achim separately and of her own accord.

"It's hard to discover when you're already older that you have a different identity," a Yad L'achim spokesperson said. "These kinds of situations need to be dealt with differently. This month, we helped three different women deal with something completely different than what we're used to. These women are 'meeting' their new identities for the first time.

"A. was born and raised in the central Arab city of Qalansuwa. She is a Muslim through and through. A month ago, a relative told her, 'Your mother is Jewish.'
"A. did not give up, and did an investigation which proved the relative's claim to be true. Her entire world was shaken up."

"When I found out, completely by coincidence, that I was a Jew, I didn't know what to do," A. said. "I began to quietly learn about Judaism, and people told me that an organization called Yad L'achim could help me return to the Jewish people.

Read article in full

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Muslims 'embrace' medieval Cairo Jewish life

The Jerusalem Post reporter Seth Frantzman visits the Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo, where the famous medieval Geniza found in the attic testifies to the 'positive relationship between Jews and Muslims'.  Under Gamal Abdel Nasser, however, Jews were viewed as outsiders and potential traitors. 

 The Ben Ezra synagogue: on the tourist trail (photo: Seth J. Frantzman)

A sign from US AID and the Supreme Council of Antiquities adorns a gate and tourists as well as Egyptian students make up the visitors to the old synagogue. A sign on the door says “Property of the Jewish community Cairo.” Around the back, but closed to the public, is a library and an unexcavated mikveh. On the second floor a small door that can only be accessed with a ladder leads to a geniza, or storage room, for sacred documents. It was here that the life story of Maimonides has come to life.

“There isn’t a home of an observant Jew in the world that doesn’t have the books of Maimonides and to be in the place where they were edited and where the texts were discovered is a great vibe, it’s powerful,” says Yitzhak Sokoloff, founder and president of Keshet Educational Journeys and a fellow at the Rennert Center for Jewish Studies at Bar-Ilan University.

On a recent trip to Egypt with Sokoloff and a tour group organized by Dr. Eric Mandel of the Middle East Political and Information Network, we saw up close the Ben Ezra Synagogue where the letters of Maimonides sat in a geniza for almost 700 years. In 1896 Cambridge University academic Solomon Schechter led an expedition to archive the Cairo geniza.

Today some 200,000 documents removed from the synagogue have been catalogued and studied, shedding light on Jewish life through the ages in Egypt and beyond.

Sokoloff says the Maimonides letters illustrate the positive relationship between Jews and Muslims in Egypt in the period. “The geniza opened up a whole world on what Jewish life was like…without that we would only have the products of his intellectual capacity and that is invaluable and moving.”

It shows how Jews traveled throughout the Mediterranean and Muslim world, sometimes as merchants, like Maimonides’s brother.

Even though the Egyptian Jewish community may be fading away, Sokoloff is inspired by the way the government has sought to make Ben Ezra part of the tourist map: “To see Muslim kids coming on a school trip and learning about Maimonides as part of their tradition and heritage, it is something they could have blotted out, but it is something they embrace, the whole experience of Jewish life in Cairo.”

For decades under Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser Jews were viewed as outsiders and potential traitors in Egypt, accused of working for Israel and being part of Zionist plots. Those who remained were imprisoned and suffered other slights. Like Christians and Muslims, they had their Jewish religion stamped on their identification cards, but unlike the others they were often portrayed as a nation apart.

Read article in full

Monday, February 13, 2017

Nachlaot, centre of Sephardi Jerusalem

At one point there were 300 synagogues in Nahlaot, a community built outside the walls of Jerusalem in the late 19th century. Kurds, Greeks Persians and North Africans were among Nachlaot's residents. Ruth Corman took a guided tour:

One of the most fascinating areas in Jerusalem is Nachlaot close to Mahane Yehuda Market.   Its winding lanes and alleyways reveal a variety of architecture, hidden courtyards, artists’ studios and a proliferation of synagogues.

The original residents arrived in the late 1870’s to escape the overcrowded  and unhealthy living conditions in the Old City. The first community built was there was Mishkenot Yisrael.  Sir Moses Montefiore, the British Jewish philanthropist, established  the first community outside the Old City  walls at  Mishkenot Sha’ananim. He then created two Nachlaot communities, Mazkeret Moshe, for  Ashkenazim followed by  Ohel Moshe  for Sephardim in 1882. Three others  were also named in his honour. In 1900 Jews from Syria arrived and 1925  the Yemenites established Nachalat Achim. Nachlaot ultimately comprised 23 groups including Kurds, Greeks, Persians, Italians, Armenians, North Africans plus Ashkenazim from various countries.

Entry to Ohal Moshe 3  best.jpeg
Dedication to Sir Moses Montefiore at the entrance of  Ohel Moshe.

Walking through the narrow cobbled streets one can readily bring to life the rich tapestry of cultures living together harmoniously from the photographs and texts mounted on the house walls telling of the families that once lived there.

Daniel Senior’s family were expelled from Spain in 1492, fled to Turkey and eventually came to Jerusalem. He lived in the Old City, running a vegetable shop in partnership with an Arab. As one of the first to move to Ohel Moshe, then surrounded by fields, he was regarded as the Mukhtar (Head of the Village).   His home comprised one room, on top of which he built a second and then a third – the ground floor eventually becoming a store. 

Rabbi Binyamin Halevy’s family fled from Spain to Livorno Italy where they remained for 240 years, coming to Jerusalem in 1732. Halevy’s descendants became scholars, rabbis and community leaders.  One was Chief Rabbi.  It was he who supervised the re-building of a water and sewage system for Nachlaot damaged by earthquake. He made a huge contribution to Jewish life  and was an ardent Zionist. Another was an emissary who, in 1882, travelled to India to investigate the Black Jews of Cochin whose history dates back to the 12th century.  He returned declaring that they should be allowed to convert to Judaism although it took until 1950 for the majority of them to reach Israel. Halevy’s descendants are ninth generations Israelis. 

Others commemorated in the plaques are  Rabbi Shalom Hadaya,  who chose to live there because “They speak Ladino, which I do not understand, so I will not be able to hear slander” (Lashon hara), and Avraham Cohen – the Dairyman for Nachlaot – whose family have now lived in Israel for ten generations.

Navon familyG_9419.JPG
Photo and text of Navon’s family.

The first Sephardi Israeli president, Yitzchak Navon, was born in Ohel Moshe in 1921, descended (on his father's side) from Spanish Jews who settled in Turkey after fleeing Spain. They moved to Jerusalem in 1670.   As well as being a diplomat and academic, Navon was an accomplished author and reminiscences of his childhood in Ohel Moshe  provided the inspiration for his play Bustan Sephardi ( Sephardi Orchard) in 1970.

Written in Ladino, (a Spanish based language spoken by Sephardi Jews) it is the longest running play to appear at Habima Theatre where it ran for 28 years.  It celebrates, through stories and songs, the vibrant life of Ohel Moshe in the 1930’s.

At one time there were 300 synagogues in Nachlaot, probably the largest number to be built anywhere in the world in such close proximity. Some were simply a room to accommodate the 10 men required for communal prayers. Today there remain around 100  offering a choice of  prayer services to suit all tastes.

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Interior of Ades Synagogue     

Jews from Aleppo built the Ades synagogue, renowned for its unique liturgical style and baquashot (pleas) – a cycle of Cabalistic poetry sung at 3am Shabbat mornings during the winter months. Apparently it plays to full houses and for one brief moment I considered going to the service, but common sense prevailed, added to the fact that I have never been known to rise before 9am.   Instead I visited the synagogue at a respectable hour, found the door open and  was permitted to enter and take photographs.  The interior is exquisite – the Ark  occupies the entire eastern wall and is made of carved walnut inlaid with mother of pearl.  It was brought from Damascus over 100 years ago.  A mural adorns another wall, created by one of founders of the the Bezalel Art School.

ADes aron kodesh..jpg  Ark of the Ades Synagogue

The Or Zarua synagogue (1926),  in Spanish North African style, is now a historic preservation site, and nearby is the Chessed Ve Rachamim ( Kindness and Mercy) Sephardi synagogue, with its richly decorated interior and depictions of the Twelve Tribes and the Eshet Chayil (Woman of Valour) poem on  its frontage.  The building is eclectic, resembling something from Grimm’s fairy tales, but it was still surprising to discover that it had once been a pub. Not something that one normally expects to find in Jerusalem, akin to the fish and chip shop that I discovered in Mahane Yehuda.

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Front of Chessed ve Rachamim Synagogue

90 years ago a local butcher, Isaac Emosa, persuaded the pub owner to vacate the premises immediately  with an offer of £10 sterling.   One of Emosa’s descendants, Cantor Mori Emosa leads the services today – it is said that his  ‘utterly precise cantillation’ is operatic aria.(quote:Jacob Solomon)

After WW1 6,000 people lived in Nachlaot. New immigrants arrived in the 1920’s but many preferred the newer neighbourhoods and Nachlaot became home to those who rented properties – the area became neglected.  Following the establishment of the State of Israel (1948), more arrived, including Jews who had been thrown out of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City by the Jordanians and Jews fleeing from North African countries.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Flights to resume between Israel and Morocco

 Flights between Israel and Morocco will resume in May after 13 years. As Morocco does not have an agreement with Israel to allow direct flights, passengers will change planes in Catania, Sicily. Ynet News reports: 

Moroccan scene (photo: Dudu Edri) 

Israel-based travel agency Flying Carpet is returning to Morocco after 13 years. The company will be launching packages for travelers fly from Tel Aviv to Marrakesh and Casablanca.

The line will begin flying in May and will operate for two months with an option to extend.
The flights will carried out by Italian budget airline Neos, and will include a short stop in Catania, Sicily, before continuing on to Morocco.

Overall flight time will be seven hours, and tickets will cost approximately $600. A full vacation package including breakfast and dinner will cost $1,199.

Flying Carpet used to fly direct between Tel Aviv and Marrakesh, but stopped in 2004 due to the Second Intifada and a low point in diplomatic relations between Israel and Morocco.

However, Israeli tour operators continued to offer packages to Morocco, flying through a third country such as Spain.

Flying Carpet has announced that planes will fly to Marrakesh one week, and alternate to Casablanca the next week, enabling tourists to begin their trips in one location and end in another.

Read article in full

Friday, February 10, 2017

New Year for trees starts tonight

 Tu B'shevat, the New Year for trees, is upon us once more. It has always been more of a celebration in eastern than Ashkenazi communities.

According to Aish, 16th century kabbalists, developed a seder ritual conceptually similar to the Pesah (Passover) seder, discussing the spiritual significance of fruits and of the shivat haminim. This custom spread primarily in Sephardi communities, but in recent years it has been getting more attention among Ashkenazim.

Here is a Tu b'Shevat Turkish-Jewish dessert recipe, courtesy of the Philadephia Jewish Voice: 

During Tu b’Shevat, some Turkish Jews prepare a special dessert called trigo koço. “Trigo” means “wheat” in Spanish. This sweet wheat berry dish originated in the Middle East, and traveled with the Jews to Spain. Following the expulsion from Spain in 1492, the Jews took it with them to the Ottoman Empire. To this day, every guest who stops by for a Tu b’Shevat visit at their home is offered a bowl of trigo koço with a cup of hot mint tea.
Trigo Koço
  • 1 1/4 cup wheat berries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp. orange blossom water
  • 2 tbsp. rose water
  • 1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Walnuts
  1. Pour the wheat berries and 4 cups of water into a heavy pot.
  2. Bring the water to a boil, and then lower the flame.
  3. Allow the wheat to simmer for 1 hour.
  4. Turn off the heat, and stir in the sugar, cinnamon, orange blossom water, and rose water.
  5. Serve garnished with walnuts.

Tu B'Shevat, Sephardi-style

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Rare Westminster mention of Jews from Arab lands

Bob Blackman: rare mention of Jewish refugees from Arab Countries

With thanks: Nelly and Sussex Friends of Israel

A rare mention of Jewish refugees from Arab countries was made today in the British House of Commons.

Bob Blackman, MP for Harrow East, spoke at a debate about Israeli settlements. Three minutes into this clip, he says:

"Not mentioned this far are the Jewish refugees forced out  from Arab countries. There are 2.3 million of them and theyhad to flee for their lives. Some of them went to Israel, some to the United States and others to parts of Europe. These people are never mentioned...Clearly there should be a home for them. When housing developments are put up for refugees from Arab countries we should not condemn them, we should congratulate them on providing these facilities."

Morocco deems apostates should not be killed

Heartening news from Morocco: apostasy from Islam is no longer punishable by death. This is a revolutionary ruling with far-reaching consequences for the spread of Islamism. But the ruling (which may have been adopted in response to US pressure)  pushes back against a central tenet of Islam and remains controversial.  Morocco World News reports: (with thanks: Michelle)

The High Religious Committee has backtracked on a previous ruling

Casablanca – Morocco’s High Religious  Committee has retracted its Islamic ruling stating that apostasy is punishable by death and has decided to permit Muslims to change their religion.

The High Religious Committee in charge of issuing Fatwas (Islamic rulings) released a book in 2012 where it articulated its position on apostasy and argued that a Muslim who changes his or her religion should be punished with death, drawing on a widespread jurisprudence tradition.

Recently, however, the same entity issued a document titled “The Way of the Scholars,” in which it backtracked on its position of killing apostates. Instead, it redefined apostasy not as a religious issue but as a political stand more closely aligned with “high treason.”

The view that the apostate should not be killed in Islam is not a new one and can be found in the teachings of Sufyan al-Thawri in the first century AH. The scholar reviewed historical situations where the prophet Mohammed acted on the ruling, as opposed to the times he did not order the killing of the apostates. He concluded that killings occurred for political purposes and were not decisions based on religion. The apostates could, theoretically, disclose the secrets of the then fragile Islamic nation.

The reasons behind  Morocco’s High Religious Committee’s change in position are not different from those advocated by Sufyan al-Thawri. Their newly released statement says:

“The most accurate understanding, and the most consistent with the Islamic legislation and the practical way of the Prophet, peace be upon him, is that the killing of the apostate is meant for the traitor of the group, the one disclosing secrets, […] the equivalent of treason in international law.”

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

More milk today, another Jew has got away

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, but it also marks the demise of the last Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa. In Iraq, the Ba'ath regime wreaked its revenge on the last 5,000 Jews for the defeat of the Arab armies by Israel. In January 1969, nine Jews were executed and their bodies strung up in Baghdad's Liberation Square. Dozens of Jews were arrested and never returned to their families. Terrorised Jews, their phones cut off, bank accounts frozen, expelled from universities and jobs, were denied passports to leave Iraq.

 View of the Tigris river, Baghdad

In 1971, a ceasefire was signed between the Iraqi regime and Kurdish fighters. An opportunity opened up for Jews to escape illegally through Kurdistan into Iran and some two thousand were to flee in this way.

Vivien Mazin and her family were desperate to leave Iraq. They wanted to join an older married sister, Farah, who lived in England with two young children. The sister was suffering from terminal cancer.  After paying a hefty bribe and numerous pleas to the authorities, their sick father managed to obtain a passport. He needed an escort:  Vivien left with him for England.

 Farah Shina El-Kebir, whose outstanding school record was discovered in the Iraqi-Jewish archive shipped out for restoration to the US in 2003. Farah, seen here with her two young chikdren, died of cancer in England.

Vivien's mother was never to see her dying daughter again, and never recovered from that tragedy. Together with her daughter Nadia and son Freddy she took the smuggling route from Baghdad into Kurdistan. They were arrested by the Iraqi authorities and thrown into separate jails. Now in London, Vivien appealed to Amnesty International for their release, but her plea fell on deaf ears. Had they even heard of the plight of Iraqi Jews?

Eventually Vivien's mother and sister were released but found that strangers had moved into their house in Baghdad. They managed to rent a flat in a building once owned by Vivien's father. It had been confiscated after his departure.

Official restrictions relaxed a little and  the two women managed to leave with a passport in November 1971. Vivien's brother Freddy had successfully escaped through the north of Iraq and had reached England in June that year.

In the aftermath of the hangings, and while still living in Baghdad, Vivien was asked to replace non-Jewish teachers who had fled the Frank Iny Jewish school. She had just graduated in Business from Hikmat university, but was expected to teach subjects like Accounting and Economics she knew little about.

Every morning, another student would be missing in the classroom, their desk vacant. Families slipped out to Kurdistan, as if they were going on holiday. They just locked up their houses  and left in the dead of night, never to return. Because the smuggling operation was secret, nobody, not even the milkman, could be told. Vivien recalls milk bottles accumulating on the doorstep of Jewish homes. She felt sorry for the milkman, who would never be paid!

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

NY Met Jerusalem 'diversity ' show is revisionist

 An exhibition celebrating medieval 'diversity' in Jerusalem at the New York Met is in fact a tendentious exercise of forced equivalence between the three monotheisms and an effort to claim benignity for Islamic rule. Must-read by Edward Rothstein in Mosaic magazine: 

Jerusalem, from an illustration in a Syriac Christian lectionary. 1220, tempera, ink, and gold on paper. (Metropolitan Museum of Art/British Library.)

(...) The Crusaders not only introduced Holy War, they also caused Muslim leaders to distort their own religious teachings by adopting a kind of Holy War in response.

If this argument sounds familiar, it should: a similar argument has gained much traction in recent years among those who regard 9/11 and other Islamist terrorist attacks as a form of deserved blowback for prior Western offenses against Muslims. Intent on its own version of this judgment, the exhibition portrayed the Crusaders as both the single exception to, and the primal cause of any further disruption of, the multicultural paradise of medieval Jerusalem.
To accomplish this sleight of hand required some significant historical manipulation and revisionism. As the exhibition described it, for instance, the ecumenical rebuilding of Jerusalem under the Fatimid caliph in 1130 was necessary both because of earlier earthquakes and because of the “malfeasance” of the preceding caliph. Malfeasance? Earlier in the century, that caliph had ordered the destruction of all churches and synagogues in his Islamic empire; in Jerusalem alone, thousands of buildings may have been destroyed; the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was razed. Why was the nature of this malfeasance not mentioned? No doubt for the same reason that no mention was made of the Muslim massacre of Christians in Jerusalem in the 10th century—long before the Crusader conquest. As Eric H. Cline points out in Jerusalem Besieged: From Ancient Canaan to Modern Israel:
When the Byzantine armies won a series of victories in the field against the forces of Islam toward the end of May 966 CE, the Muslim governor of Jerusalem—who was also annoyed that his demand for larger bribes had not been met by the patriarch of the city—initiated a series of anti-Christian riots in the city. Once again churches were attacked and burned in Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was looted and was so damaged that its dome collapsed. Rioters even killed the patriarch, John VII, who was discovered hiding inside an oil vat within the Church of the Resurrection.
In 1070-71, the Turkic emir Atsiz ibn Uvaq al-Khwarizmi captured the city, and six years later he murdered 3,000 Islamic rebels who had plotted against him, including some who had taken shelter in the al-Aqsa mosque. En route to Jerusalem in 1187, Saladin, founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, slaughtered Christian communities throughout the Holy Land. Later, in 1229, despite the city’s alleged centrality to Islam and just decades after the fall of the Crusaders, a subsequent Ayyubid ruler offered Jerusalem to Frederick II, the Holy Roman emperor, in return for military assistance against a Muslim rival for power. In 1244, another Ayyubid ruler lost control of Jerusalem to Khawarezmi Turks who murdered much of the city’s population. In 1263, almost at the center of the era covered by the show, the Mamluk general Baibars attacked Acre and other cities held by Crusaders. As the historian Simon Sebag Montefiore relates in Jerusalem: The Biography, Baibars “received Frankish ambassadors surrounded by Christian heads, crucified, bisected, and scalped his enemies, and built heads into the walls of fallen towns.”

Nor did brutality, some of it intra-Islamic, stop there. Sacking, warfare, disruption, and rebellion extended all the way through the 14th century—the last span covered by the exhibition and hailed as the apex of “stable reign”—which featured a Mamluk sultan installed at the age of ten and later strangled in a coup and numerous other revolts and upheavals, a chronological account of which would be impossible to relate without seeming to have concocted an extravagant version of the very opposite of the exhibition’s claim for it.

 The Absent Presence of Jews: When the Iberian Jewish scholar Abraham Abulafia visited Palestine in 1260, he could get no closer to Jerusalem than Acre in the north because of the ceaseless fighting. Seven years later, the visiting Iberian eminence Moses Naḥmanides succeeded in making his way to the city and found there only two surviving Jews (or possibly two surviving Jewish families).

And this brings us to the subject I’ve largely postponed till now: namely, the situation of Jerusalem’s Jews. Although Jews and Jewish artifacts were certainly present in various ways throughout the exhibition, their presence was an exceptionally vague and fleeting one, functioning mainly to round out the museum’s picture of three supposedly equal and equivalent monotheistic faiths coexisting in some kind of balance. Thus, if Islam was represented by the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque, and Christianity by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Judaism had what the organizers describe as “The Absent Temple.” Solomon’s Temple, we were told, had been a “vast complex that housed the Ark of the Covenant”; centuries later, after the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, the site became “the focus of Jewish devotional practice both locally and from afar.” Jews, the exhibition noted, would visit Jerusalem “to mourn the destruction” of the Temple and to pray for its rebuilding.

How to present this absent Temple? Instead of artifacts connected to the structure (as in the gallery assigned to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher), or objects from other regions allegedly similar to those in the structure itself (as in the gallery assigned to the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock), the gallery assigned to the Temple offered medieval images and illustrations evoking either it or Roman-era Jerusalem more generally: a painted menorah in a 13th-century Italian manuscript of the Bible, an image of Jerusalem’s Gates of Mercy in a 13th-century maḥzor from Worms, enchanting wedding rings from the 14th-century Rhine valley of which one was decorated with a three-dimensional golden model of the Temple.

The show’s forced equivalences among the three monotheisms thus led to a severely skewed perspective. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was materially substantial in the exhibition, possessing both a history till this day and a continuous (if periodically rebuilt) physical presence. The al-Aqsa mosque was granted an almost sublime aura as if it dwelled outside of history even as it, too, like the Dome of the Rock, remains very much physically present on the Temple Mount. The “absent Temple” was left as a ghostly image from the distant past, with no substantial reality.

Judaism’s presence in Jerusalem, in other words, was not just vague but itself an absence—a “poignant absence,” as the catalog puts it, especially when contrasted with the “richly appointed Christian and Muslim shrines of medieval Jerusalem.” But this poignancy is based on a false parallel. What, after all, was the meaning of Jerusalem for Jews? It was a meaning reflected not in art or artifacts of the kind that might fill galleries at the Met but in a millennium and more of liturgical, theological, philosophical, and legal texts bespeaking an unbreakable attachment as well as in sporadic, short-lived moments of messianic speculation and movements of return.

Almost everything we know about Jewish life during the period of Christian and Islamic rule is at odds with the exhibition’s desire to evoke a wondrous world of diversity.
And that’s only part of the problem. Almost everything we know about Jewish life during the period of Christian and Islamic rule is at odds with the exhibition’s desire to evoke a wondrous world of diversity: a “college town” in which learning, debate, and cross-cultural fertilization conjoined in a thriving renaissance. Jerusalem in the 11th through the 14th centuries could not be considered a center of Jewish learning or indeed of Jewish life. There were such centers elsewhere, but in Jerusalem the community was not thriving at all; instead, it lived subject to extraordinary pressure.

For a minor part of the exhibition’s four centuries, Christians ran the city; for the rest, it was ruled by Muslims of one dynasty or another. As for the Jews, the best that can be said is that they survived. And when Jewish migration to the Holy Land picked up under Mamluk and later Ottoman rule—often as a result of persecutions in Europe—the way Jews could get physically close to the location of the “Absent Temple” was by seeking permission to pray along the Mount’s Western Wall. Everything adjoining the Wall was owned by Islamic authorities, and shops and dwellings proliferated there up through the period of the British Mandate. Not until after the June 1967 war did Israel clear the area in order to provide access to a holy site from which Jews had long been restricted and, for decades of Jordanian occupation, forbidden. Such was the ecumenical nature of medieval Jerusalem and its enduring heritage into the 20th century.

A letter from Maimonides, written in 1170 from Egypt, tells all. It was displayed in the gallery devoted to “The Diversity of Peoples”—presumably because it was written in Arabic using Hebrew script and involved an international issue. But its real “diversity” lay in the unique issue under consideration: the letter was written to raise funds needed to rescue Jews who had been abducted and were being held for ransom. In another letter on display, from 1125, the famous poet Judah Halevi, writing from Toledo, Spain, expresses his longing for Zion. But this letter, too, was related to the same matter, as the catalog informs us: the poet, as a community leader, “was involved in fund-raising for the ransoming of Jews taken captive by Crusaders.”

But it wasn’t just Crusaders who did the abducting. Though we would not have learned this from the exhibition, such kidnappings of “infidels,” including Jews, were for centuries commonplace Islamic tactics (and a source of many slaves)—so common, that an entire corpus of Jewish law was devoted to the means of responding to these extortionist demands: an aspect of “multiculturalism” that seems to have made a bad fit with the exhibition’s confident enthusiasms.

Not only was no notice taken of these matters but, among the three faiths, a tendentious impulse was at work in the exhibition to celebrate Islam above the other two and, in particular, to claim benignity for Islamic rule.

This sometimes went to absurd lengths. The catalog, for example, cites a cloth merchant commenting in 1488 on the styles of dress in Jerusalem and noting, for example, that “Moors wear white, with head wraps of fine cotton or toile de Hollande.” The hat of the Mamluk, he further states, was red, secured by a white cloth with a striped border. As for Jews, they wore yellow; and as for Christians, blue and white linen. The roster is taken as further evidence of diversity, in this case sartorial—in oblivion of the fact that where Jews and Christians were concerned, the color of items of clothing was regularly mandated by Islamic authorities who treated these populations as dhimmis, lacking important rights and required to pay additional taxes. If Jews were wearing yellow, it was likely not because of their taste in color.

Read article in full

Monday, February 06, 2017

Jewish owners lose case to Arab squatters

 The Israeli Supreme Court has overturned a Jerusalem District Court ruling ordering the eviction of Arabs who live on a Jewish-owned property in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina. This is a landmark case, because squatters have for the first time been allowed to stay on in property that is not theirs rather than end up on the street. In previous cases, the Arab residents owned other property. Israel Hayom reports:  

 View of the Old City (

Last month, Jerusalem District Court Presiding Judge Aharon Farkash ordered that the home be evicted by Feb. 12, but the Arab residents illegally squatting on the property appealed to the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court Justice Yoram Danziger overturned Farkash’s ruling and said that “the home in question is the residents’ only place of residence and an eviction order would effectively mean throwing them out on the street.”

The Arab residents had questioned the validity of the property titles presented by the Jews who claim ownership to the home, but the Jerusalem District Court rejected their claim.

Danziger ruled that “no one disagrees that the [Jewish] respondents have the right to exercise their rights to the property rights, as per the [district] court’s ruling even while the appeal in being heard, but given that an eviction would cause irreparable damage, the court must find in favor of the plaintiffs.”

Danziger also denied the demand made by the Jewish property owners to receive payment from the Arabs using the property.

“I have come to the conclusion that a stay of the eviction is warranted, as it would spell the demolition of the structures in which the plaintiffs reside, which would be irreparable and cause them tremendous harm,” he ruled.

Read article in full 

E.Jerusalem home restituted to Jewish owners

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Shayna Zamkanei: Jews as refugees

With thanks: Daniel

Did Jews leave Arab countries willingly for Israel, or were they coerced?  In this podcast by the University of Michigan, Shayna Zamkanei tells how Jews in Yemen had carved the date of their departure into their doorposts. This she interprets as a sign that these Jews were uprooted against their will from their homelands.

Zamkanei, who as a university of Chicago student wrote a doctoral dissertation on the subject of Jews from Arab countries,  explains how the ' Jewish refugee' narrative only took off in the 2000s when it was disentangled from the Palestinian refugee question and reframed as a human rights issue.

She brings up the fashionable issue of 'discrimination' faced by the new arrivals in both Israel and the US. She claims that it was because of ethnic tension that the Israeli government failed to assert Jewish refugee rights in the 1970s. ('Discrimination' in the US would have been quite a different matter, in my opinion. The Mizrahim  have made up a tiny minority of the overwhelmingly Ashkenazi US Jewish community and did not wish to integrate religiously with the majority Conservative and Reform streams. And they are not by nature 'political').

More about and from Shayna Zamkanei

Friday, February 03, 2017

Iraqi forces retake ruined Jonah tomb

 Last month, Iraqi forces at last retook Jonah's tomb in Mosul from Islamic State (ISIS/ Da'esh). But they found only ruins. Article by Hannah Lynch in the Kurdish medium Rudaw (with thanks: Boruch):

 The ruins of the Nebi Yunis mosque in Mosul (photo: Rudaw)

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraq was once home to a vibrant Jewish community and many Jewish sites are found in the city of Mosul. What happened to these sites under ISIS is yet to be known, but an American rabbi who has spent time in Mosul is praying that these sites that reflect Iraq’s diverse history can be saved.

On Monday, Iraqi forces battling to retake Mosul liberated the tomb of the prophet Jonah, the Nabi Younis Mosque, which was first built as a synagogue and then was an Assyrian church before being converted into the mosque.

Jonah, who preached to the people of Nineveh, present day Mosul, after spending three days in the belly of a whale for disobeying God’s command, is an important prophet in all three Abrahamic religions and the people of Mosul valued and protected the site of his tomb for generations. Until that is, ISIS militants blew it up on July 24, 2014 as part of their campaign to destroy sites they deemed idolatrous.

When a Rudaw TV crew entered the site the day Iraqi forces took control of it, they found only ruins.

The Jewish history of the site was recounted to Rabbi Carlos C. Huerta, a retired US army chaplain, when he was based in Mosul in 2003 as a member of the 101st Airborne Division.

“I was told by an old Christian… that before it was a Mosque it was a Synagogue,” Huerta recounted to Rudaw English via email.

“He told me that the Jews recognized it as the place where the Prophet Jonah was buried. They built a synagogue around his grave as in the Jewish tradition, like the Christian, honoring the dead with a place of worship was considered important both to keep the memory of the righteous alive but to also inspire the living to continue their mission of justice and righteousness. When Islam came to Iraq, as the Prophet Jonah is mentioned in the Holy Qur'an, they felt that they should appropriate the Synagogue as he was an important Prophet for them.”

Huerta was the first rabbi in some 50 years to read the story of Jonah to his congregation of soldiers in the place where the tale had played out and is grateful for the care the people of Mosul took of his tomb.

Read article in full 

ISIS destroys Jonah's tomb (with thanks: Malca)

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Jewish ban that made Bernard Lewis change course

 Amid the uproar over President Trump's 'Muslim' ban, many people have pointed out the double standard whereby Israelis are banned from Arab and Muslim countries but the world does not utter a peep. (Is it because of the racism of low expectations, or because Israelis, pace one London radio talk show host this week, have brought it on themselves?) Here Martin Kramer reminds us that an early victim of an Arab boycott, targeting Jews of all nationalities, was his mentor, the eminent historian Bernard Lewis.   

As I followed the fierce debate over President Trump’s executive order, denounced by its opponents as a “Muslim ban,” my thoughts turned the Jewish ban that changed the career of my mentor, Bernard Lewis.

Lewis, the great historian of the Middle East who last May turned 100, travelled extensively in Arab countries in the late 1930s and 1940s. Born in Britain to British-born parents, he traversed French-ruled Syria for his doctoral work, and then served in the British army in Arab lands during the Second World War. In 1949, at the age of 33, he was already a highly-regarded academic authority on medieval Islam and a full professor at the University of London. The university gave him a year of study leave to travel in the Middle East. But the Arab reaction to the creation of Israel derailed his research plans. Lewis explained what happened in an article published in 2006:

 Bernard Lewis: became a Turkish specialist because Arab countries would not let him in
Virtually all the Arab governments announced that they would not give visas to Jews of any nationality. This was not furtive—it was public, proclaimed on the visa forms and in the tourist literature. They made it quite clear that people of the Jewish religion, no matter what their citizenship, would not be given visas or be permitted to enter any independent Arab country. Again, not a word of protest from anywhere. One can imagine the outrage if Israel had announced that it would not give visas to Muslims, still more if the United States were to do so. As directed against Jews, this ban was seen as perfectly natural and normal. In some countries it continues to this day, although in practice most Arab countries have given it up.
Neither the United Nations nor the public protested any of this in any way, so it is hardly surprising that Arab governments concluded that they had license for this sort of action and worse.
According to Lewis (in his memoirs), some Jews fudged their religious identification on visa applications. (“One ingenious lady from New York City even described herself as a ‘Seventh Avenue Adventist.'”) Others simply lied.
But most of us, even the nonreligious, found it morally impossible to make such compromises for no better reason than the pursuit of an academic career. This considerably reduced the number of places to which one could go and in which one could work…. At that time, for Jewish scholars interested in the Middle East, only three countries were open—Turkey, Iran and Israel…. It was in these three countries therefore that I arranged to spend the academic year 1949-50.
In retrospect, it is fortunate that Lewis had to make the adjustment: he became the first Western historian admitted to the Ottoman archives in Istanbul, and his pioneering work in this area opened up a vast field of study. Yet his exclusion as a Jew clearly rankled. It was something he hadn’t experienced in Britain, yet Western governments now failed to stand up for their Jewish citizens by insisting that they be accorded equal treatment. And in the 1950s, it got worse: not only did Arab states not admit Jews, they drove their own Jews into exile. This may have been the animating force behind Lewis’s 1986 book Semites and Anti-Semites, one of the first to analyze the continuing mutations of antisemitism in the Arab world.

Today, Arab states don’t ban Jews as such. They do ban Israelis.

Read article in full 

Trump ban affecting non-Muslims from Iran 

Yemeni Jew detained for hours at JFK airport

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Yemeni Jew detained for hours at JFK airport

 Manny Dahari was born in Yemen and was travelling back to the US - where he is a student - from a family visit in Israel when he was affected by President Trump's travel ban. This article in the Forward explains what happened next, and also gives the background to Manny's prolonged efforts to get the rest of his family out of Yemen - a story which will be familiar to readers of Point of No Return.

Hundreds of refugees, immigrants and even legal U.S. residents were detained this past weekend following President Trump’s controversial travel ban. Most of the people affected were Muslims, but the ban hit Jews, too.

One of them was Manny Dahari, a Yemeni Jew who saved his whole family from their native land. He has a green card and has lived in the United States for almost 11 years; the 23-year-old student is supposed to receive his American citizenship in a couple of months.

Dahari was on a family visit to Israel when Trump signed the order that included a 90-day ban on entry to all citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Yemen.
In a widely circulated Facebook post Dahari wrote before his departure for the States, he acknowledged that “there is a possibility I won’t be able to get on that plane back home. This is truly a nightmare. I never thought Mr. Trump’s decisions would affect me in any way.”

Dahari ended his post saying: “For my friends who have been celebrating Mr. Trump’s decision, you should know this does not only affect Muslims, but it also affects thousands of Jews and Christians escaping war and religious persecutions. I hope you take a moment to think about it.”

Read article in full

How the Shoa affected Libyan Jews

With Holocaust Memorial Day still fresh in the mind, I came across this moving testimony from a Libyan Jew who survived the war and the concentration camp of Bergen Belsen. From the blog Israellycool.

Joseph Labi was born in 1928 in Benghazi, Libya to a family of 19. He was from a proud and renowned family, the grandson of Rabbi Eliyahu Labi, a rabbi and religious court judge in Benghazi. Labi held British citizenship and had a pleasant childhood. But those pleasant memories of early childhood and even the faces of his parents are hard for him to recall.

In 1938, Italian racial laws were extended to Libya. Joseph and his fellow Jewish students were removed from their schools and transferred to a separate school branded with the Star of David. Joseph’s parents died in 1940, leaving the 12 year-old Joseph under the care of his older brothers.

In 1942, along with the Jews of Libya, Joseph’s entire family was deported to the Giado hard labor camp. The Libyan Jews were then deported to Italy, where they were interned at Castelnovo ne’ Monti. In February 1944, the Germans sent the 200 Jews, including young Joseph, to Bergen-Belsen. At first, Joseph refused to eat because the food at the camp was not kosher, but after a week of being hungry, he relented. Most children did not survive in the camps.

One of the camp’s prisoners, a religious Jew, proposed that Joseph have a bar mitzvah ceremony. “I put on tefillin,” said Joseph. “He asked me to share food with those present, but I only had a small potato. Fortunately, a woman secured some perfume. I poured some on everyone’s hand and that was my bar mitzvah.”
In March 1945, in a prisoner exchange deal, Joseph was transferred to France. From there, alone in the world, he made his way to Spain and finally to Portugal.

“When we reached Lisbon, we realized that hell was over for us,” said Labi.
On returning to Benghazi, Joseph met soldiers from the British Army’s Jewish Brigade who suggested that he go to Eretz Israel. “I went to the train station. Somebody gave me a hat and dressed me in a Jewish Brigade uniform and put a bunch of forms in my pocket,” remembers Joseph. “I boarded the train dressed as a soldier and we went to Alexandria.”

But the ordeal was still not over. Under the British Mandate, Labi had to be smuggled into Palestine. He went looking for a new home and to start a new life in several kibbutzim. Labi volunteered for the Palmach, and fought in Israel’s War of Independence in the battle for Latrun.

 Joseph Labi and his grandson

Despite all the adversity, persecution, and deprivation, Labi married, and he and his wife Yvonne have a son and daughter, seven grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter. He still has the tallit that he received from the army chaplain who liberated the camps. He has managed, by many “miracles,” to survive a childhood that was taken from him. A life, a town, a home and his family were destroyed. He is a survivor. One of countless numbers who suffered in the North African Nakba.

The Labi family and the other Jewish families of Libya, were forced to leave everything and sent to hard labor camps, from there sent on to concentration death camps. Many died along the way. Joseph Labi was one of the “lucky” ones to survive, build a family, and reestablish himself in Israel.

Read article in full

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Trump ban affecting non-Muslims from Iran

Update: The US Embassy in Tel Aviv has clarified that President Donald Trump’s travel ban will largely not affect the tens of thousands of Israeli Jews born in Middle Eastern countries. (Most fled persecution and are over 65).

A statement today said the controversial executive order would not be enforced against Israelis from those countries unless they possess a valid passport from one of the seven Arab countries banned under the directive. 
See Times of Israel report.

The 90-day immigration ban from seven Muslim countries has already been having an effect on Jews born in those countries, although President Trump has said that Christian refugees will be given priority for entry to the US and Green Cardholders will no longer be affected.  Here is an unintended consequence of the ban - on a programme originally established in Austria to help refugees from religious persecution in Iran. NBC New York reports:  (with thanks: Michelle)

 President Trump in the Oval Office

Austria has shut its door to about 300 non-Muslim Iranians hoping to use the country as a way station before establishing new homes in the United States, The Associated Press has learned. The action is an early ripple effect of U.S. President Donald Trump's effort to clamp down on refugee admissions.

Under a 27-year-old program originally approved by Congress to help Jews in the former Soviet Union, Austria had been serving until recently as a conduit for Iranian Jews, Christians and Baha'i, who were at risk in their home country and eligible to resettle in the United States. Iran has banned the Baha'i religion, which was founded in 1844 by a Persian nobleman considered a prophet by followers.
  • U.S. officials had been interviewing the candidates in Austria because they cannot do so in Iran. But the United States suspended the so-called "Iranian Lautenberg Program" in recent days, according to Austrian officials, who in turn stopped Iranians from reaching their territory. It's unclear when the program might restart.
 Read article in full

Egoz tragedy was catalyst for aliya

It is 61 years this month since the tragic sinking of the old Pisces launch (renamed the Egoz) with the loss of 44  on board (42 Moroccan-Jewish would-be emigrants to Israel, one Israeli radio operator, one Spanish machine operator - Paco Perez. The rest of the crew survived). The boat was on its 13th illegal voyage to Gibraltar from Casablanca. Gilad Kabilo, whose family was on the 12th voyage, writes in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Lily, Imre, Sylvia)

 Monument to the Egoz dead in Ashdod, Israel

King Mohammed the Fifth, who some say had favorable views of his kingdom’s Jewry, continued to allow aliya (immigration). Moroccan Jews, raised on passionate Zionist ideals, had been making aliya in great numbers – over 72,000 Moroccan Jews made aliya between 1948 and 1955 – and still over 200,00 Jews remained in Morocco.

In 1956, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser began pressuring Morocco to stop allowing Jewish return, reportedly saying to king Mohammed “every Jew you allow to leave becomes a soldier.” In the days of the War of Attrition and rising Pan-Arabism, king Mohammed could not refuse president Nasser, and the aliya efforts went underground. Secret immigration continued, with Moroccan authorities unofficially adopting a very lax enforcement policy.

By 1961, over 30,000 more Jews made the perilous journey from Morocco to Israel, weathering freezing seas and subhuman conditions in their hope to reach the Promised Land.

The Egoz tragedy was the catalyst for a new arrangement. Morocco, always more attuned to the Western world than other Arab countries, began facing pressure from France and the United States to stop preventing Jews from leaving to Israel and to an establish an organized channel for departure. Thus, an agreement was reached between the king and the leaders of Morocco’s Jewish community, with American and French involvement and the oversight of the Israeli government, to allow the immigration of Jews out of Morocco to any country except Israel. This agreement was the precursor to Operation Yachin, under which over 80,000 Jews made aliya to Israel through a third country, mainly France and Gibraltar.

On January 9, a night before the departure of the Egoz, another family made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to their homeland. My family, immortalized in a photo of them waiting for the next ship on the shores of Gibraltar, ended their journey home in the northern town of Hazor Haglilit, with nine children who have since begotten dozens of proud Israelis. Though they left Morocco in the dead of night with nothing but their heaviest blanket, the word “refugee” was never heard in my father’s house. Making aliya through choice and not for a lack of it, this Moroccan family, like thousands of others who make up Israel’s diverse nation, has never looked back – they are home.

Read article in full 

Fifty years since 42 Jews died in the sinking of the Egoz

Monday, January 30, 2017

Freedom of thought goes on trial in France

Wednesday 25 January 2017 will go down as a sad day in the annals of the French Republic. It was the day when France’s freedom of thought and expression went on trial: one of France’s leading historians, Georges Bensoussan, 64, was hauled up before a criminal court accused of ‘incitement to hatred.’ Lyn Julius explains in The Times of Israel:

Georges Bensoussan, target of 'intellectual terrorism'

Arraigned against him was the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, together with various other ‘anti-racism’ groups. The hearing went on for a gruelling 12 hours. At the end, a weary Bensoussan announced: ‘for the first time in my life I am having thoughts of leaving the country.’ 

The drama had begun 18 months earlier. During a TV discussion broadcast on 10 October 2015, Repliques, Bensoussan commented that France could not hope to integrate its Maghrebi immigrants unless it recognised that these immigrants imbibe antisemitism ‘with their mother’s milk’.

Georges Bensoussan, the son of Moroccan Jews, is one of France’s leading historians and editorial director at the Holocaust Memorial in Paris.  The author of an 800-page volume on the uprooting of Jews from Arab countries, Juifs en pays Arabes: le grand deracinement 1850-1975, he claims that he was merely paraphrasing the words of a ‘brave’ Algerian sociologist, Smain Laachar. “Everyone knows it but nobody will say it,” Laachar had declared of Arab/Muslim antisemitism.

Laachar has since denied having said or written this ‘ignominy’. He said it was outrageous for Bensoussan to have claimed that antisemitism was transmitted by blood. To accusations that he is ‘essentialising’ against all Arabs, Bensoussan has countered that Arab antisemitism was not transmitted biologically but culturally:
Every Arab family knows it. It would be monumental hypocrisy not to see that such antisemitism begins at home… People are being selectively indignant. In France today, a section of young French youth of Maghrebi extraction is having trouble integrating and the old prejudices in North African Muslim culture are being revived — conspiracy theories centered around the Jew, aggravated by the fact that the Jewish community has been successful in France.
Bensoussan has charged his critics with ‘intellectual terrorism’. So-called human rights and anti-racist groups had been co-opted in the Islamist struggle to intimidate those who swim against the tide of political correctness. It was notable that the journalist Mohamed Sifaoui, who had, in the past, inveighed against Islamism had, on this occasion, turned devil’s advocate.  He reproached Bensoussan of ignoring the positive aspects of Arab-Jewish interaction. Instead of building bridges, the historian was tearing them down.

But Bensoussan has his prominent supporters. Alain Finkielkraut, presenter of Repliques, was a witness. Written testimony from Boualem Sansal, the outspoken Algerian author of An unfinished business, was read out.

Some have likened the Bensoussan trial to that of Galileo, whose discovery that the earth revolves round the sun put him on a collision course with established orthodoxy. It is a carbon-copy of the barely-reported case brought against the philosopher Pascal Bruckner in 2015. Bruckner had called for a file to be opened on certain groups he claimed were collaborators with Islamist terrorism. He was acquitted.  

Even if Bensoussan wins the case — the verdict will be announced in March — anyone who  states politically-unpalatable fact clearly runs the risk of falling foul of the ‘thought police’. Freedom of expression all too easily can become ‘hate speech’ in France today. The Bensoussan case is another attempt to shut down debate. It’s not the first. And it probably won’t be the last.

Read article in full 

Crossposted at Harry's Place

Georges Bensoussan: ils veulent interdire de penser (JForum - French (with thanks: Eliyahu)