Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Cairo lobs legal bomb at the King David Hotel

In a landmark case, an Egyptian bank is suing the Israeli government in Israel for the return of its shares in the King David Hotel, Jerusalem. Is this  a case of Egyptian chutzpa, given that Egypt has seized much Jewish property The case is shrouded in opacity and ambiguity, but could open a legal can of worms. Report in the Times of Israel, based on an article (Hebrew) in the Calcalist:

An Egyptian bank has filed a lawsuit to reclaim its shares in Jerusalem’s luxurious King David Hotel, bought before the establishment of the State of Israel, the Calcalist daily reported on Monday.

The bank, government-owned Banque Misr, submitted a lawsuit at the Jerusalem District Court through Israeli lawyers Ron Yeshayahu and Gil Makov demanding the restoration of 1,000 stocks in the hotel which it owned in the past. 

The iconic King David Hotel, the hotel of choice for visiting heads of state and many other VIP guests, was built at the initiative of Jewish Egyptian businessmen in 1929.

Egypt’s Zilkha Bank (founded by Jews - ed), which also invested in its construction, was allotted 1,000 shares when it opened. In the 1960s Zilkha Bank was merged with another bank when then-Egyptian president Jamal Abdel Nasser nationalized all Egyptian banks, establishing Banque Misr.

Banque Misr has 500 branches in Egypt and other countries.

Over the years ownership of the King David Hotel has passed through several hands. Today it is owned by the network of Dan hotels.

Banque Misr first made its claim for stocks in the hotel in 2008, after Israeli-Arab lawyer Ashraf Jasser alerted the bank to the fact that it still deserved ownership of hotel shares.

The Egyptian bank appointed Jasser to file a lawsuit on its behalf, but the lawyer ended up swindling the bank, claiming that filing the suit required court fees of NIS 10 million ($2.6 million). After receiving the money, Jasser filed the lawsuit – paying the actual NIS 975 ($258) fee – and pocketed the remainder of the money.

For this and other acts of fraud, Jasser was convicted in the Haifa District Court two years ago and sentenced to nine years in prison.

Read article in full

Read Calcalist article in full (Hebrew)

Egypt sues in Israeli courts for King David shares  

Levana Zamir, newly-elected chairman of the Forum of Organisations of Jews from Arab countries in Israel comments: 

"The State of Israel, through the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, is being sued by  Bank Misr - and rightly so. This is what happens when the Israeli government refuses to claim the vast remaining Jewish property in Egypt - both private and communal. Article 8 of the Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt states a Claims Commission must be established,  but to-date  such a commission has not yet been established, and the loss is the State of Israel's. This could make the state treasury liable for billions of dollars, some of course coming from the Jews of Egypt.  Israel 's failure also applies to Iraq, Libya, and Syria and all the Jews in Arab countries. Failure of the State of Israel to secure the restitution of seized Jewish property in Arab countries, would cause endless problems. "
עו"ד רון ישעיהו. טוען שהמידע בתביעה החדשה לקוי בכוונה תחילה
Lawyer Ron Yeshayahu representing Bank Misr (Photo: Orel Cohen)

מלון המלך דוד כיום. "קיר של אטימות ושרירות לב", טוען הבנק כלפי המדינה
The King David Hotel today

Monday, July 06, 2015

Re-inventing, not rediscovering Egypt's Jews

The Ramadan series, Haret al-Yahud, has been praised for its surprisingly sympathetic view of Egyptian Jews. However, argues Steven A Cook of the US Council of Foreign Relations, the Jews depicted here serve as just a useful device for Egyptians to imagine a more tolerant society. The film does not attempt to make Egyptians squarely confront the reality of the ethnic cleansing of their Jewish community. As such,  the TV series is revisionist.

An Egyptian soldier guarding the walls of the Israeli embassy in  2011(Photo: Mohamed Al-Ghany)

The nostalgia for lost Jewish communities has been a recurring theme since at least 2012 with the release of Amir Ramses’ documentary Jews of Egypt. The latest installment is the Egyptian Ramadan serial called The Jewish Alley (Haret el-Yahood). In between, there has been a rediscovery of Jewish life and culture in Tunisia, Morocco, and Lebanon, where the Maghen Abraham synagogue has been undergoing a lengthy renovation. It is easy to overstate the case given Egypt’s recent history of seemingly pathological anti-Semitism, but Egyptians seem to have gone further than others in the region in their rediscovery of Jewish life and culture. This should make well-meaning people feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but what is happening in Egypt is actually less rediscovery than reinvention.

When Israeli forces reached the east bank of the Suez Canal on the morning of June 8, 1967, they constituted the largest number of Jews in Egypt at the time. In the preceding two decades, the vast majority of their Egyptian coreligionists had fled to Europe, the United States, and Israel. The largest exodus came after the 1956 British-French-Israeli attack on the Sinai Peninsula and the Suez Canal zone. A small number remained, believing their nationalism and anti-Zionism would protect them. It did and it did not. Crude and vicious anti-Semitism became the stock and trade of the Egyptian media as well as a long list of so-called intellectuals who happily blurred the lines between Jews and Israelis.

At the same time, the remnants of Egypt’s Jewish community never experienced pogrom–like violence. (Not true - riots erupted in 1948, murdering hundreds of Jews, and there was much damage to property in the Cairo Fire in 1952 - ed) Cairo’s unused synagogues—there was rarely the required ten people, or minyan, for prayer—were always well protected. This may have been a cynical effort to draw a distinction between official hostility to Israel and Judaism, but importantly, those houses of worship remained as a testament to Judaism’s past presence in Egypt.

Jews did play important roles in Egyptian commerce, culture, and politics in the first half of the twentieth century. Ramses, his producer Haitham al-Khamissi, and the people who brought about The Jewish Alley want to leverage a sanitized version of this history to make claims about Egyptian society—especially its once, and future, religious tolerance and inclusivity. In Jews of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Zionists conspired to make the once allegedly idyllic Jewish existence in Egypt a nightmare of sequestration, suspicion, anti-Semitism, and exodus.

This Ramadan, unlike some holiday mini-series from the recent past that were notable for their anti-Semitic themes, Jews are portrayed sympathetically, as authentic Egyptians, and as victims of the Muslim Brotherhood. The profound national trauma of post–uprising Egypt has some Egyptians looking back to a time when the country was not locked in an all-consuming struggle with its violence, Jacobin–like discourse, pervasive repression, and widespread distrust.

Under these difficult circumstances, Jews are a perfect device through which Egyptians can create a tolerant past if only to give the audience some faint hope of a more just, open, and less prejudiced future. With so few Jews left in the country, their history in Egypt is entirely malleable. It is true that Ramses features Jews outside the country who nurture fond memories of all things Egyptian, but it is clear that he is interested in telling a story about Egypt rather than an accurate reflection of the history of its Jewish population and why it has dwindled to so few.

It may well be that the hagiography of Egypt’s Jews is part of a new set of positive myths that will help Egyptians answer questions about who they are and what kind of society they want. For this then, everyone should welcome the new interest among some Egyptians in Egypt’s Jews. Yet that is not enough. In order to build that socially just, tolerant, and more representative society that Egyptians want, they will actually have to grapple with and revise a history that only has a vague resemblance to what they have been telling themselves about their Jewish brothers and sisters.

Read article in full

Egyptian TV series slammed as 'anti-Israel'

Ramses breaks the 'Jew taboo'

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Yolande Harmor: Israel's glamorous spy from Alex

During the 1940s, Alexandria-born Yolande Gabbai de Botton — also known as Yolande Harmor  - provided intelligence to the political and military leaders of mandate-era Palestine, often at great personal risk. Now, several decades later,  her extraordinary clandestine life is revealed in a  documentary film, “Yolande: An unsung heroine.” The film was made by Yolande's grand-daughter Miel, sister to the philosopher Alain de Botton and daughter of businessman Gilbert de Botton. Read Anne Joseph's account of Yolande's life in the Times of Israel (with thanks: Lily):

Written and directed by veteran, independent Israeli filmmaker, Dan Wolman, the film received its UK premiere this month during SERET, the London Israeli Film and Television Festival. The film uses a combination of remarkable footage, photographs and interviews with Harmor’s colleagues including key players in the Haganah — some of which had been conducted for an earlier version of the film made by her son, Gilbert de Botton.

“We hadn’t known what she’d done,” says Miel de Botton, Harmor’s granddaughter and the film’s producer. “[All] we knew was that — under the cover of a journalist — she basically helped to form the State of Israel. We weren’t given any details.”

Born in Alexandria in 1913, Harmor was educated in St Germain-en-Laye in France. At 17, she returned to Egypt to marry businessman Jacques de Botton but divorced him when their only son, Gilbert, was three or four years old.

The mysterious Yolande Gabbai de Botton -- also known as Yolande Harmor -- is the subject of a new documentary, 'Yolande: An Unsung Hero.' (courtesy)
The mysterious Yolande Gabbai de Botton — also known as Yolande Harmor

Gilbert, founder of the financial firm Global Asset Management, and father to Miel and philosopher and writer, Alain de Botton, rarely spoke to his children about his mother, or his own past.

But his contribution in the film is perhaps the most affecting of all the interviewees. Having spent his early years with his grandparents in Alexandria, he barely knew his mother until he went to Jerusalem with her in 1942, in the wake of Rommel’s advance. He describes life with a single parent, a woman who was often absent because of the demands of her espionage work, and admits to having felt fear and concern that something would happen to her.

Yet he never criticized her for her actions, says his daughter. He only ever referred to her in idealized terms.

After Gilbert’s death in 2000, the family discovered trunks of diaries and photographs — information that had, until then, remained a secret.
Glamorous, charming and intelligent,Harmor first became drawn to Zionism in the early 1940s when she attended a lecture in Cairo given by Italian Zionist Enzo Sereni. He subsequently introduced her to Yishuv activists such as Moshe Sharett and Elias Sasson.

By 1945, she was recruited as an Israeli secret agent. Her cover as a journalist, writing articles about important Egyptian politicians, gave her easy access and acceptance into the upper echelons of Egyptian society, which included establishing a strong connection with the Egyptian royal court.

According to Ora Schweitzer, her assistant at the Jewish Telegraphic Society in Cairo, Harmor was unique. Not only was she very bright, she knew how to hide her intelligence by playing the dumb blonde. But although men may have fallen for her charms but the oft-used comparison with double agent and exotic dancer, Mata Hari, is an inaccurate one.

“My father hated that label,” explains Miel. “My grandmother was a sophisticated person and not a double agent. She had good relations with both sides,” she says.

The film evokes the exoticism and excitement of 1940s Cairo. It was a bewitching time and place. One Haganah activist describes the terrace of the Hotel Grand Continental where the representatives and agents of the intelligence and underground movements would each watch the other.

In 1945, Harmor was operating a network of agents that included members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Teddy Kollek, who at the time was Head of Intelligence at the Jewish Agency, emphasized that the dangers of her work were not to be minimized.

Following World War II, head of the Haganah David Ben-Gurion visited her in Cairo — Gilbert recalls picking him up at the airport with her — and in January 1948 she flew to Lydda in Palestine to pass him secret plans by Syria and Egypt to invade the newly established State. The papers had been sewn into her shoulder pads.

After this, it was felt that Harmor should not return to Cairo as it was deemed too dangerous. But she disagreed: her mother and son were still in Egypt.
She returned, but in 1948, she was outed by the Muslim Brotherhood, which was outraged that an Israeli spy was permitted to move freely. She was arrested and put in jail, where she became very unwell – it later transpired that she had stomach cancer.

She was released after a few months and in September 1948 she and Gilbert moved to Paris where she was active in the Israeli delegation to the UN. But it was here that she fell gravely ill and spent five months in a clinic. Having made some semblance of a recovery, she insisted on returning to Cairo where she continued to be engaged in espionage work.

According to Gilbert, by 1951 it was clear that Harmor’s role in Egypt had come to an end. She and Gilbert moved to Israel, into a small apartment in Jerusalem. Yet, she was not nostalgic for the life she could have had in Egypt or Paris, he said, “She was not that type of person.”

But once in Jerusalem it became obvious that she had become marginal and was placed to work in an inconsequential desk job within Protocol, in the Foreign Office.

A combination of her illness and a prevailing shift of opinion in Israel meant that there was no longer sympathy or need for the old world that she had represented.
“She was dovish and her best days were obviously over,” says Gilbert in the film.
She was European educated and “elegant in a country where elegance was a sign of decadence. She was refined and gentle in a place where people were hard and pioneers,” describes diplomat Dan Avni Segre.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Do you know Pat from Pakistan?

It's a long shot, but do you recognise the young woman on the left? She will be in her 80s, if she is still alive.

 Her name is Pat Massey, and she was friends with Alice, whose mother was a Baghdadi Jew from Iraq.

The two young women were close friends back in the mid 1940s.  The photo was taken in Karachi, India, (now Pakistan). For years, Alice kept it on her mantlepiece.

Pat Massey was Austrian and had escaped from a Nazi death camp with the help of another young couple.  Alice found her one day on a street corner, in ragged clothes.  To cut a long story short:  Alice took her home to meet her family.  The family took Pat in and she stayed with them for several months, before she met and ended up marrying a British soldier who happened to be posted there at the time (India was still under British rule then).

Pat and her British husband soon left for England and Alice never heard from her again.

Alice is now 86 and lives in Canada. She would like to get in touch with Pat Massey before it is too late.

If you can help, please email  bataween@gmail.com

Sequel will return Jewish 'exiles' to Morocco

From June to December 2015, Kamal Hachkar will be filming the sequel to his highly-acclaimed Tinghir-Jerusalem: echoes from the mellah. He will be taking the Israeli singer Neta Elkayam back to her 'homeland' Morocco, building cultural bridges along the way. Hachkar's project is an essay in nostalgia and intends to boost Morocco's image as a pluralist and tolerant society.
This nostalgic Israeli woman born in the Berber village of Tinghir (with her grand-daughter) features in Hachkar's film

"For his second film, Kamal Hachkar continues to explore this multifaceted memory, through the portrait of the third generation of Jewish and Muslim artists who keep alive this common heritage and celebrate the plurality of Moroccan identities. This film faces the fatality and irreversibility of history that separated our parents from one another, and opens paths to those who today are committed to reverse this historical narrative, to rebuild bridges and reweave ties of conviviality, and to write a new chapter recreating togetherness and a sense of continued and shared destiny.

"Synopsis :  "Return to the Native Land" is the portrait of the third generation of Moroccan Jews and Muslims who continue to perpetuate a common heritage through the arts - music, painting, writing. What is the Native Land? How to wrestle with the idea that we cannot live where our roots once were? Can these artists find in the Arab-Berber culture answers to the questions they have about their identity? Their dream is to return and walk in the footsteps of their families and live for a while in Morocco to hone their craft and obtain Moroccan citizenship. (My emphasis - ed) It is for them a way to repair the wounds of exile: these artists symbolize this young generation that carries with them the proud heritage of their grandparents and parents born in Morocco.

 "Little by little, tracing a portrait of these artists, the film will unveil a mosaic of plural Moroccan identities that is emerging, a kaleidoscope of diverse experiences of those who dream, sing, paint and fantasize their Morocco. After Tinghir-Jerusalem : echoes from the mellah, and with the portrait of this third generation in Israel, in the United States in Canada, or in France, suddenly the dream to recreate bridges with Morocco, takes shape and becomes reality."

See video trailer 

Read article in full 

'Coexistence' films make great PR for Morocco

The Moroccan government plans to rehabilitate the ancient Jewish quarter of Marrakesh: (Jerusalem Post - with thanks: Lily)

Synagogue in Marrakesh (Photo: Ysotszky)

The Jewish quarter renovation, estimated to cost $20 million, is part of a larger $32 million city rehabilitation effort jointly funded by Morocco’s housing ministry and the City of Marrakesh, Morocco World News reported.

Read article in full

Thursday, July 02, 2015

MK Svetlova 'will work to preserve Jewish heritage'

 As a fluent Arabic-speaker, Ksenia Svetlova has been following that Ramadan institution, the TV soap opera. As she explains in the Times of Israel, she is heartened that the Egyptian series Haret al-Yahud marks a change of tone for the better in its portrayal of Egyptian Jews. At the same time the future is bleak. Jewish refugees from Arab countries can take heart that Svetlova, a newly-elected MK, will use her  status as head of the lobby to preserve Jewish heritage in Arab countries to defend their rights.  
New MK Svetlova: 'Jewish culture and heritage must neither be marginalised nor forgotten'

However, this year Egyptian TV presented a new drama. The Jewish Quarter tells the story of a beautiful young Jewish girl, Leila Harun, who is in love with a dashing army officer (a Muslim) fighting for the liberation of Palestine. Israeli aircrafts bomb the city, and residents of the so-called Jewish district — Jews, Muslims and Christians — find refuge in the synagogue. Soon Leila finds out that her brother is on his way to Palestine to fight for the Independence of Israel against the coalition of Arab armies. Leila condemns her brother and says to her parents: “You brought up a Jewish Egyptian, not a Jewish Israeli.”

Meanwhile, activists of the Muslim Brotherhood and “Young Egypt” (an Islamist organization of which Anwar Sadat was a member) try to fight the revolutionary “Free Officers” movement, and attempt to divide Jews, Muslims and Christians and pit them against one another. There is not a single word in the series on how the Jews were denied Egyptian citizenship, and were robbed and expelled from the country — and this is sad, because it heightens the injustice of this tragedy even more.

But at the same time, the glass is half full. The series is notable for its marked change of tone in its portrayal of Jews — albeit not without flaws. For the first time in decades, Jews are represented without horns and a tail; they do not use blood to cook the Passover matzah, nor do they kill children or strive for world domination. They live, love, dream and dance like everyone else. When I compare the series “Harat al-Yahud” and other films and TV series about Jews – for example, “48 hours in Tel Aviv”, “Cousins” and “The Embassy in a Building,” not to mention the anti-Semitic shows mentioned above, there is a genuine attempt to portray Jews as human beings. Despite this, the fact is that Magda Haroun, one of the last Jews in Cairo and head of the Jewish community, made only two comments on the show: that the Jews were not so rich, and that in her time skirts were longer. The show was originally supposed to be aired two years ago, but the Islamist President at the time, Muhammad Morsi, forbid it. Now, with relations between Israel and Egypt improved, the show got a green light.

In Egypt itself, the reaction is mixed. I watched the show online, and found many anti-Semitic comments and insults. Some believe that the show is too sympathetic to the Jews, while others are offended that the handsome officer has chosen a Jewish girl. But there are also others who like what they see. They nostalgically reminisce about old times that will never return — the blend of the cultures, the coexistence, the freedom of speech, the times when Jews were involved in the commercial and cultural life of Cairo, along with other minorities — Greeks, Armenians and Italians.

However, despite The Jewish Quarter’s refreshingly positive portrayal of Jews, the situation is bleak. Today almost nothing is left of the Jewish community of Egypt, and Jewish landmarks are neglected. Synagogues and old Jewish cemeteries may make for an excellent background in a TV series, but sadly these historic sites are crumbling and in dire need of protection and reconstruction. As head of the lobby to preserve the heritage of Jewish communities from Arab and Islamic countries, I will do everything possible to preserve the history of the Jews in Egypt and elsewhere, and to protect the rights of Jewish refugees from these countries. The Jews of the Arab world have a rich culture and an important history that must neither be marginalized nor forgotten. I look forward to working on behalf of these communities.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

After Bardo and Sousse, is Djerba next ?

With thanks: Ahoova

Following the terrorist massacre of the beach at Sousse,  a Tunisian organisation dedicated to protecting the rights of minorities has alerted the authorities to threats being made to the Jewish community of Djerba, the Tunisian medium Highlights reports.

Yamina Thabet (pictured), head of ATSM, a minority rights group, reproduced  a screenshot on her Facebook page of a spine-chilling message, addressed to the handful of Jews living on the island of Djerba: "get ready you Jews, the airplane is about to take off." Another Facebook message, referring to the attack in March on the Bardo museum in Tunis, read: "Bardo, Sousse...Djerba."

 Messages threatening the Jews of Djerba

There are some 1,500 Jews on Djerba. In 2002 the al-Ghriba synagogue was attacked by terrorists, resulting in the death of 19 tourists.

Read article in full

More about Yamina Thabet

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

'Seeds of conflict' could sow confusion

 Kibbutz pioneers 'did not understand' Arabs

 A documentary to be broadcast tonight on PBS blames the conduct of Jewish pioneers in a particular incident in 1913 for the start of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Lyn Julius offers an alternative perspective in the Times of Israel, claiming the programme obscures a history of persecution of Jews by Arabs in Palestine.

One day in 1913, a group of Arabs stole some grapes from the vineyards of Jewish pioneers in Rehovot. An altercation followed, leaving one Arab camel driver and one Jewish guard dead. The incident marked an irrevocable break between Jews and Arabs in Palestine, and planted the seeds of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Far-fetched as it may sound, this is the theory advanced by a one-hour PBS documentary, ‘Seeds of Conflict,’ shown in the US on 30 June. Grievances between different communities, once happy to mingle in coffee houses, were allowed to fester, the programme argues, and the conflict soon took on the proportions we know today. 

Those most to blame for ruining the hitherto idyllic relationship between Jews, Muslim and Christians, it claims, are the young Ashkenazi Jews of the Second Aliyah, who came to the land of Israel fleeing Czarist pogroms.

Seeds of Conflict, (preview here) which the film-makers say was made in consultation with a number of experts, insists that, according to the Arabic press and complaints of the time, these Jews showed ‘no understanding of the ways of the Arab inhabitants’ — unlike the earlier Jewish inhabitants in Palestine, who were Sephardi and spoke Arabic.

The so-called Old Yishuv was indeed composed of Arabic-speaking Jews who had settled in Tiberias, Jerusalem, Hebron and Safed, boosted by 15th century refugees from the Spanish Inquisition.

But life for these Jews was neither secure nor prosperous, and they subsisted on charitable handouts from abroad. Crucially, they had to ‘know their place’ under Muslim rule. From time to time, the Arab inhabitants made the Jews ‘understand their ways’ — which could consist of bloody pogroms. For instance, in 1834, the Palestinian Arabs of eastern Galilee took advantage of a regional war between Egypt and Turkey to attack their Jewish neighbours in Safed and strip them of everything they had — clothes, property, homes. Jews were beaten to death, sometimes by their own neighbours, synagogues destroyed and holy books desecrated.

The 1929 Hebron massacre targeted mainly members of the Old Yishuv, not the new Zionists from Russia.

The small Sephardi community of Palestine was so abased under Muslim rule that a contingent of Ashkenazi followers of the ‘false Messiah’ Shabbetai Zvi, seeking refuge in Jerusalem in 1700, refused to put up with the humiliations suffered by the Sephardim. “The Arabs behave as proper thugs towards the Jews…” one wrote. Jews could be slapped by passing Muslims, have stones thrown at them by small children, be banned from riding a horse — a noble animal — and suffer all manner of degradation as second-class ‘dhimmis’.

Jews were not allowed to worship freely at their holy places. The Mamluks forbade them from treading beyond the seventh step on the staircase to the burial place of the Patriarchs in Hebron. “Nothing equals the misery and suffering of the Jews of Jerusalem”, wrote Karl Marx. “Turks, Arabs and Moors are the masters in every respect.” To be a dhimmi was to be continually reminded of Islam’s supremacy over Judaism and Christianity.

In truth, it could be argued that the breakdown of the traditional dhimmi relationship was one of the root causes of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Perhaps the decisive incident took place, not in 1913, but in 1908, when the Hashomer Hatza’ir pioneers of Sejera dismissed their Circassian guards — who protected their settlement against Bedouin raids — ­ and replaced them with Jewish guards. For the Jews, this was an ideological statement of self-sufficiency. But for the neighbouring Arab fellaheen, they had crossed a red line. They had reneged on their part of the bargain: the dhimmi, who was not allowed to bear arms, should always look to the Muslim for protection.

The arrival of the young Zionist pioneers, with their socialist vision of a brave new world, threatened to overturn the existing pecking order. Yet many Arabs benefited from the influx of European Jews. As the Jews toiled to drain the swamps and make the desert bloom, waves of Arab immigrants flooded in from neighbouring countries, eager to take advantage of the jobs and prosperity created.

The program’s creators say that 1913: Seeds of Conflict dispels a number of myths and is ‘an admittedly arbitrary glimpse that captures the Palestine of a hundred years ago’. But to substitute a tale of ‘European colonialists’ invading Palestine in order to trouble a multiculturalism of mythical equality would be to indulge in dangerous revisionism.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Egypt-Israel talks signal warm-up

One week after Egypt said it would return its ambassador to Israel after a three-year hiatus, top diplomatic envoys from the two states met Sunday for talks in Cairo to discuss the deadlock on the Palestinian front and security issues facing the region. Relations between the two countries are warming up, for the first time in four years. The Times of Israel reports:

While specific details from the confab were under wraps, the Israeli Foreign Ministry said it was “pleased” with the outcome of the talks and that the two countries see “eye to eye” on a number of issues, the NRG news site reported. The session was believed to be the first between senior Israeli and Egyptian figures in Cairo since 2011. 

Israeli diplomats were said to be satisfied with Cairo’s plans to maintain its tough stance toward the Hamas group, which rules the Gaza Strip, despite recent media reports signalling an easing of restrictions on the Palestinian enclave.

Foreign Ministry director Dore Gold and Egyptian diplomats hashed over topics such as Iran’s nuclear program, growing Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, Cairo’s foreign policy toward Hamas and a possible re-launch of peace talks with the Palestinians — in the first powwow of its kind between the two nations in four years.

Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister Osama al-Majdoub made it abundantly clear to Gold that Cairo views the Palestinian deadlock as “the heart of the conflict in the region,” and stressed the importance of restarting high-level negotiations between Jerusalem and Ramallah, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said, according to Reuters .

“It is the Arabs’ central problem, and its solution is a basic condition to reaching stability in the region,” al-Majdoub said.

Egypt’s position regarding the Palestinian issue remains “unchanged” and solutions to promote the peace process were “at the top of the agenda” during the consultations, he added.

Israeli officials noted that recent reports regarding the removal of Hamas from Egypt’s list of terror groups reflected a “tactic” rather than a change in overall strategy, and that Cairo’s outlook on regional developments is closer to Israel’s than expected.

“In Israel [we] speak Hebrew, in Egypt [you] speak Arabic, but when discussing regional challenges, both countries speak the same language,” Gold told his Egyptian hosts, according to NRG.

Hazem Khairat (YouTube screenshot)
Hazem Khairat (YouTube screenshot)

Official relations between Jerusalem and Cairo have been relatively warm since President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi rose to power. Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “deeply welcomed” Egypt’s appointment of its new ambassador to Israel, Hazem Khairat.

Cairo’s last ambassador to Israel, Atef Salem, arrived in the Jewish state in October 2012. He was recalled soon after, in the wake of Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza.

In the unrest that followed the ouster of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi in July 2013, Israel reduced the number of its diplomatic staff posted to Cairo, but it has begun building up its presence in the city more recently in light of the relative calm.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A potted history of the Jews of Sousse

 The bloody massacre of 39 people, mostly tourists, in the Tunisian resort of Sousse has prompted this piece of research into the Jews of Sousse. At its height, in 1951, the community numbered 6, 400 souls. Very few Jews, if any, remain - having migrated to Israel or France. Tunisia's Jews once numbered 100, 000. Via Harissa.

  Sousse Casino  

Sousse is a port and fishing center, near the city of Kairouan (in the center of Tunisia).

 The Jews appear to have settled in Sousse in the 7th century, before the Arab conquest. Until the capture of the city by the Almohades in 1158 (extremely devout Muslims whose influence extended far beyond North Africa to Spain), the community flourished economically and culturally. Many Jews were then engaged in commerce and trade.

Tunisia's main export - clothing- was largely under the control of Jews in the city. The Almohades, who ruled the city from 1159, offered the Jews a choice between conversion to Islam or death, which caused the  cultural, economic and spiritual collapse of the community. Accordingly, many Jews converted while others fled the country or were martyred.

Sousse centre and shoreline

Under the Hafsids (1228-1524), Jews were allowed to return to live in the town. Many converts returned to Judaism. The majority of them settled in a separate area  known as the "Jewish quarter" where they took up their economic activities once more.

In the 15th century, the Jews of the city were spiritually led by Rabbi Isaac B. Sheshet (nicknamed the Ribesh) and Rabbi Simon B. Benati Duran.

In the 17th century, the Jews of Livorno (Italy) arrived in Sousse where they were known under the name "Grana", from the Arab name of Leghorn-Gorna. Despite the tension between the wealthy, new  Grana community and the local native community (Tounsa), there was no separation between the two until 1771,  when the Grana established their own community with its own institutions.

From 1899, there was a single chief rabbi for all of Tunisia;the first was Rabbi Nathan Abergil.

At that time, the community was composed of about 100 families, among them famous Dayanim (religious judges) and many Torah scholars, such as Rabbi Shlomo Assuna.

The French protectorate was established  in 1881 and brought to Tunisia a degree of modernization and French cultural integration: the Jewish community was a beneficiary. 

The Alliance Israelite ( "Kol Israel Haverim") opened  schools for boys and girls in the city:  they learned French and other subjects in addition to religious studies.

In 1916, the  "Terakhem Zion" association was founded by influential men of the community. They included David Tubiana and Sober Baraness.

Early history (French)

Modern history of  Sousse after 1916 (French)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Why did it take 74 years to mark Farhud Day?

Writing in a number of news media, Edwin Black asks why it took so long to establish International Farhud Day, marked for the first time this year on the anniversary of the bloody pogrom in Iraq. The crushing weight of the Holocaust, the minimisation or ignorance of the role of the Mufti of Jerusalem, and the scepticism of the politicising media all contributed to the marginalisation of the Iraqi-Jewish Kristallnacht :

 From left, Shahar Azani of StandWithUs, Israeli Ambassador David Roet, Malcolm Hoenlein of the President’s Conference holding the proclamation, historian author Edwin Black, Avi Posnick of StandWithUs, Rabbi Elie Abadie of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries and Alyza Lewin of the American Association of Jewish lawyers and Jurists, at the United Nations on International Farhud Day.

First, persecution of Jewish victims in Arab countries did not conform to the established line of study that followed the classic Holocaust definition, as archetypically expressed by the USHMM’s mission statement: “The Holocaust was the state-sponsored, systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945.” Note the pivotal word “European.” This geographic qualifier left out the Jews of Iraq as well as their persecuted coreligionists in North Africa, where some 17 concentration camps were established by Vichy-allied and Nazi influenced Arab regimes.

Second, because the persecution of Jews in Arab lands during WWII and their forced exodus was considered beyond the thematic horizon, the type of well-financed and skilled scholarship that has riveted world attention on the Holocaust in Europe, generally by-passed the Sephardic experience. Certainly, the overwhelming blood and eternal sorrow of the Holocaust genocide was experienced by European Jewry. But their deeply tragic suffering, including that endured by my Polish parents, who survived, does not exclude the examination of other groups. Years of focus on the plight of Gypsies, Jews in Japan, and other persecuted groups proves that. Undeniably, a solid nexus clasps the events of the Middle East, roiling in oil, colonialism, and League of Nations Mandates, to a European theatre brimming with war crimes and military campaigns.

After the 1941 Farhud and during the subsequent years Husseini was on Hitler’s payroll, the Mufti of Jerusalem toured European concentration camps and intervened at the highest levels to send European children to death camps in occupied Poland rather than see them rescued them into Mandate Palestine. In his diary, Husseini called Adolf Eichmann “a rare diamond.” What’s more, the tens of thousands of Nazified Arabs who fought in three Waffen SS Divisions in the Balkans and across all of Europe, were fighting for a Palestine and a greater Middle East Arab cause that hinged on Jewish extermination and colonial upheaval. When I wrote The Farhud in 2010, the focus was on excavating the details of a forgotten pogrom and a forgotten Nazi alliance. Only in recent years has a renewed trickle of excellent scholarship yielded gripping new research into the Arab role in the Holocaust. For example, there is Islam and Nazi Germany’s War, which The Wall Street Journal reviewed as “impeccably researched.” A second book, Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by (Barry Rubin and... - ed) meticulous Arab and Turkish culture researcher Wolfgang Schwanitz, was published by Yale University Press. There are several excellent others.

Third, critics say, that many of the leading Jewish newspapers and wire services, now vastly more politicized than they were in the prior decade, did not devote sufficient space and informed knowledge to the topic. Moreover, some these critics suggest that in recent years, the Jewish press seemed to have marginalized the atrocity and its aftermath as a political discussion. “When former Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon was doing his 2012 campaign for Jewish refugees from Arab lands,” asserts Lyn Julius of the British organization HARIF – Association of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East, “hardly a day went by when certain Jewish or Israeli newspapers did not politicize the matter, or suggest Israel was exploiting the issue for political gain.”

In that vein, the day before the June 1, 2015 UN event, one prominent Jewish newspaper published an article on the Farhud, which included this observation: “Now, Jewish organizations and the Israeli government deploy it [memory of the Farhud] frequently to support their claims for refugee recognition on behalf of Middle Eastern Jews.” Before the UN ceremony, three different irate members of the audience showed me this article on their tablets, and the consensus of disdain was expressed by one Sephardic gentleman who objected, first quoting the newspaper with derision: "'Deploy it frequently to support their claims for refugee recognition on behalf of Middle Eastern Jews?'" and then adding, “They would never say such a thing about the European Kristallnacht!” The complainers were equally astonished that this prominent article made no mention of the Mufti of Jerusalem. They felt the complete omission of Husseini’s involvement and the marginalization of their nightmare was typical of the roadblocks they had encountered during their decades-long struggle for recognition of their anguish.

But on June 1, 2015, yes, 74 inexcusably years late and, yes, not an hour too soon, after waiting for thirty minutes beneath a gaggle of umbrellas in the torrential rain at a narrow admittance gate on First Ave, and then into a packed hall at the UN, attended by diplomats from several countries, human rights activists of various causes and key Jewish leaders from a communal spectrum, in an event broadcast worldwide live by the UN itself, the stalwarts of Farhud memory gathered to finally make the proclamation of International Farhud Day — and made it loud and clear. In doing so, they made history by simply recognizing history.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Egyptian TV series slammed as anti-Israel

 Episode 4 of Haret al-Yahud. You can view other episodes here

The Israeli embassy in Cairo initially welcomed Egyptian Ramadan TV soap opera Haret al-Yahud as projecting a more positive image of the Jew (although the series misrepresents all Jews as rich, for example). Later, it criticised the series for its attacks on the state of Israel. Egyptian Jews have also been critical. Report by AFP:

 The series initially won praise from Israel whose embassy in Cairo said it was pleased to see "for the first time, Jews represented according to their true nature, as human beings".

The show is openly anti-Zionist, however, and the Israeli embassy later criticised what it described as a "negative turning point" in the series and "attacks against the state of Israel".

The soap is being aired during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, considered television peak season in Egypt.

More than 80,000 Jews lived in Egypt before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 marked the start of an exodus.

Today only a few dozen, mostly elderly women, remain in Cairo and Alexandria.
With the many wars waged between Egypt and the Jewish state and the anti-Semitism they generated, Jews were either expelled or pressured to leave the Arab world's most populous country.

The plot revolves around the love story of Aly, a Muslim officer in the Egyptian army fighting in the 1948 war, and his Jewish neighbour Leila, an elegant francophone saleswoman working in one of Cairo's upscale department stores, which were owned by influential Jewish businessmen.

It stars Jordanian actor Eyad Nassar and Egyptian actress Menna Shalabi.
"We discover Egypt at a different time," said Rana Khalil, 23, an enthusiastic viewer of the series, sitting in a posh Cairo cafe.

"The characters are elegant and well-dressed. I am also learning a lot about Judaism," she added.

The show highlights the political upheavals that shook the flourishing Jewish community, particularly bombings targeting Jewish businesses which it blames on the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Islamist movement has been the target of a sweeping crackdown since Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief who has since become president, ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

One scene shows Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna encouraging supporters to stage attacks, saying: "The war is not only in Palestine. Jihad here is no less important than it is there".

Sisi has pursued closer ties with Israel than Morsi, who had promised a tougher stance towards its neighbour without calling into question peace agreements.

The television series has however faced criticism from Egyptian Jews.
Magda Haroun, the chief of Egypt's tiny remaining Jewish community, pointed out historical errors including religious practices presented in the series.

She also denied that Egyptian communists supported Zionism as the show suggested.

Albert Arie, 85, was also disappointed.

The Jewish former communist activist, who converted to Islam to marry his Muslim wife, had taken part in a campaign against cholera in the Jewish quarter back in 1947.

He explained that unlike the characters in the series, residents of the district "were among the poorest Jews in the world".

"I asked myself: 'What is this crap?'" Arie said, speaking in French, and suggested that the show would have been more credible if it had been shot in one of the Cairo neighbourhoods inhabited by middle class Jews.

"The set makes no sense. It shows rich houses while Haret al-Yahud was a jumble of alleys, with old houses and houses that collapsed," recalled Arie, who was jailed for 11 years for his activism.

Despite the inaccuracies, however, he acknowledged the fact that the series showed "a positive image of the Jew, who is no longer a bastard".

Read article in full 

New York Times article (with thanks: Lily)

Muslim-Jewish love story sends sparks flying (NPR)

 Egyptian series does not call for normalisation 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

BBC tells Libyan Jewish refugee's story

 With thanks: JIMENA

It's progress of sorts: the BBC has decided to show both sides of the story in its examination of the repercussions of the Six-Day War.

This World Service Witness programme (10 minutes - downloadable MP3) tells the story of Liliana Serour, a 19-year Libyan Jew now living in Israel. In June 1967,  she was caught up in terrifying riots in Tripoli. Crowds screamed 'kill the Jews'. "You could see the hatred in their eyes,"says Liliana. The family received threatening 'phone calls 20 times a day. Her father's high-level contacts with the government could not save them.

Despite the BBC's valiant efforts to show balance, the equivalence between a Palestinian Arab 'refugee' and a Jewish refugee from Libya collapses: Israel soldiers allowed the Palestinian family to move back to Jerusalem, while Liliana's family, together with some 4, 000 others, was forced out of Libya for good, because the government could not assure their safety. Today there are no Jews in Libya.

Gina Waldman: I escaped with my life

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Jews are our cousins, say Kurds

 Did you know that Shimon Peres was a Kurd? Seth Frantzman, who writes for the Jerusalem Post, found much sympathy for Israel when he visited Kurdistan. Here is his report, published in The Forward:

The tomb of Nahum...hard to find (photo: Haaretz)

Writing for an Israeli newspaper, flying over territory held by ISIS to a Muslim country in the heart of the Middle East could create difficulties. “Don’t worry, they love Israelis here,” Huff told me. He asked if I could bring along a prayer book. I had also been in touch with an organization called Shevet Achim, which helps children with life-threatening heart problems by flying them to Israel for treatment. “Can you bring us Polycose, a dietary powder? There is an extremely malnourished child who needs it,” their local volunteer asked. So we had two large canisters with giant Hebrew writing on them, and I couldn’t stop thinking how odd it would look at customs: a Jewish prayer book, and some canisters full of white powder.

On the ground in Kurdistan. all fears were allayed. Old peshmerga fighters cradling AK-47s reminisced about the 1960s, when Israel helped them in the war against Saddam Hussein.

“My uncle went to Israel through Iran in the 1960s to be trained. Israelis came here to the mountains to help us,” one told me. There is a warm affinity for Jews among many Kurds. “Did you know that in most Muslim countries Jews could not carry weapons and had to wear a distinctive ‘Jewish’ dress ( a sign of dhimmitude - ed),” a Kurdish professor from Syria living in Erbil noted. “Jews in Kurdistan carried weapons and dressed like us and had the tribal names of our tribes.” One Kurdish fighter was convinced there is a mountain named Peres in Kurdistan that proves Shimon Peres is Kurdish. “Israel is a brave country fighting all the time against the enemy; they are in everyday war and they are like us, except we have been fighting since before 1948 for our independence,” another Kurdish officer explained.

Overlooking the Nineveh plain, with its yellowish parched grasslands that fan out around the large city of Mosul, which is held by ISIS, is the ancient Christian village of Al-Qosh. Before 1948 there was a Jewish community here and a synagogue with the prophet Nahum’s grave. After passing through a checkpoint to get into the village, we inquired about its location, but people seemed uninterested in helping us locate the building. Although recent reports claimed that the tomb is “in danger from ISIS,” the fact is, the Jewish heritage faces danger only from neglect. After 2008 a corrugated metal roof was built over the ancient brownstone structure whose roof is caved in. A Hebrew inscription is mounted on one wall. Rubble and barbed wire adorn the place. The old Jewish quarter is easily identifiable by the houses left in ruins nearby. Looking for the grave and being sent in circles on the hot day, I joked to our Kurdish colleague from Duhok, “Even the prophet Nahum couldn’t find his own tomb.”

It reminded me that all is not what it seems in Kurdistan and Iraq. Here was a Christian village whose residents seem nonplussed by tourists looking for a Jewish site, and here was a large Muslim nation of millions with a keen interest in Jewish heritage. In Erbil we met an Arab professor from Mosul whose family chose to stay and live under ISIS. One of the professor’s close friends on Facebook is a Jewish academic. “ISIS uses religion as a mask, but we must all relate to each other as people first,” the professor said. Even bookshops in Erbil sold history books on the Jews of Kurdistan with a small Star of David on them. Biographies of Golda Meir were also on offer.

Many Kurds asked us why Jews who left Kurdistan don’t come back. A former government minister from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan told us: “In some places there is anti-Semitic propaganda, but not in Kurdistan. Even if we critique the policy of Israel, you cannot confuse Jewish people and the politics of Netanyahu.” Back with the peshmerga , sitting under the scorching sun 30 kilometers from Mosul, a 50-year-old officer boasted to us that he had killed two ISIS fighters with his Soviet-made AK-47. “We are proud to have journalists from the U.S. or Israel here. You are our cousins.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Turkish Jews host iftar meal

The Turkish Jewish commmunity has been hosting an iftar dinner (the meal that ends a day of Ramadan fasting) in the newly renovated synagogue at Edirne in north-western Turkey. What this article does not tell you is that the Edirne community has a splendid new synagogue, but just one Jew. The Daily Sabah reports:

The iftar meal (Dogan News agency)

Turkey's Jewish community hosted an iftar dinner for hundreds of Muslims in the Great Edirene Synagogue, also known as Kal Kadosh Ha Gadol, in the northwestern city of Edirne on Monday.

Around 250 people were hosted at the dinner during which an exhibition of Jewish clothes and dresses from the Ottoman era took place and a choir from the Culture and Tourism Ministry performed hymns of Turkish Sufi music.

The dinner was announced by İshak İbrahimzadeh, leader of the Turkish Jewish community. Reported on June 3, he said: "We are preparing a special event on June 22. It will start with an exhibition of Jewish clothes and dresses from the Ottoman era. A choir from the Culture Ministry will then sing hymns to be followed by an iftar dinner. Our community in Istanbul will join their fellow citizens at the dinner. We are also planning another iftar outside the synagogue."

The community also organized another iftar dinner for around 700 people on Sunday. Regarding the organization, İbrahimzadeh indicated that the community has been holding iftar dinners for 15 years in Istanbul and said: "This year, we opened the Great Edirne Synagogue with the General Directorate of Foundations. We could not thank the people of Edirne enough. So we thought about how to deal with this issue and felt that sharing this iftar dinner, contributing to their iftar, was the best way of presenting our thanks. We thank all of them very much."

Warm relations between the Turkish state and the Jewish population in the country are good despite an article published in The New York Times alleged before that the Turkish state promotes anti-Semitism in the country with many Jews deciding to go to Spain where a law of return has recently been passed. In a statement that the Turkish Jewish community made to Daily Sabah following the publication of the article, the community rejected the claim of pressure from the state and pointed out that freedom of expression should not be an excuse to make generalizations and does not reflect the opinion of the whole community.

Read article in full 

When Jews mark Ramadan

1942: Radio silence in Nazi-occupied Tunis

When the Nazis directly occupied Tunisia in November 1942, they turned the Great Synagogue in Tunis into a giant warehouse for radios confiscated from their Jewish owners. 

So as not to offend their Italian fascist allies, the order did not affect  Jews of Italian citizenship. For this reason too, the Nazis did not implement a systematic deportation of Jews to death camps, although Jewish males were sent to labour camps. From the Documentation Center of North African Jewry:

"December 12th, 1942 - Walter Rauff (the Commander of the SS in Tunisia) wrote: "Today began the confiscation of all the Jews' radios, except those of the Italian Jews. The procedure was carried out smoothly, with the help and support of the French police. The confiscated items were put at the German forces' disposal."

"December 13th, 1942 - Clement Houri (a Tunisian Jew who kept a diary during the German occupation) wrote: "I brought my radio to the synagogue, and it was clear to me that the Germans were taking the most attractive and lightest radios for themselves. Going into the synagogue with the radio that I had brought with me was a very difficult experience. The whole room was filled with radios of all shapes and sizes, of all makes… and whoever came in was not sure if this was the Great Synagogue on Paris Avenue or a huge department store."

  More details at the site of the Documentation Center of North African Jewry during WWII

More about Walter Rauff, SS commander in Tunisia

Monday, June 22, 2015

Moroccan Miri's cultural revenge?

Is Miri Regev, Israel's minister of culture of Moroccan origin,  striking back at Israel's Ashkenazi-dominated elite in what Israeli newspapers have called the country's 'culture wars'?  Disparaging comments by predominantly left-wing writers, artists and actors about the country's predominantly Mizrahi Likud supporters, created a storm. While the left-wing Independent fears Regev's threats to cut arts funding to 'defamatory' works are political censorship, centre-left commentator Ari Shavit (below) pens  a surprisingly scathing critique of Israel's elites.

 Miriam "Miri" Regev , a former Brigadier-General and IDF spokeswoman, was born in Kiryat Gat in 1965 to Moroccan-Jewish parents.  Revital Madar (a Tunisian-Israeli writer in Haaretz), has argued that Miri Regev had faced discrimination within the Likud hierarchy due to the fact that she is a Moroccan woman, "whose forthright behaviour is perceived as being stereotypically Mizrahi." But Ms Regev has also defended the rights of lesbians and gays in the IDF. Despite the left's attempts to stereotype her as a cultural fascist, she seems to revel in her unpredictable 'difference'.

The (UK) Independent states:  

Miri Regev, the hard-right Israeli Minister of Culture, has accused the country’s artists and performers of being “tight-assed” hypocrites after they raised vocal objections to her policies, which many consider a threat to freedom of expression.

Ms Regev’s remarks, aired in a television interview, were the latest escalation in what Israeli newspapers are calling a “culture war” between the government and much of the country’s predominantly left-wing artistic community.

Ms Regev, a reserve brigadier-general who formerly served as the chief military censor, alarmed many artists after she took office in May by saying she would cut government funding to those who harmed the army or contributed to “defamation” of Israel.

She followed this with threats to cut funds for an Arab-Jewish children’s theatre after its founder, the Arab Israeli actor Norman Issa, refused to perform with the Haifa Theatre at a settlement in the occupied West Bank on grounds of conscience. The settlements are considered by the international community to be illegal.

Israeli Minister of Culture Mire Regev  

Israeli Minister of Culture Miri Regev
"Ms Regev cut funding this week to the Arabic-language al-Midan theatre, which has been staging Parallel Time, a controversial play about the prison life of a Palestinian who killed an Israeli soldier. Her office said the decision was made after the director of the play, Bashar Morcos, told a culture ministry official that he identified with the killer. However, Mr Morcos denies this and is threatening to sue Ms Regev over the claim.

"Also this week, the Jerusalem International Film Festival dropped a film about Yigal Amir, who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 and is serving a life sentence, after Ms Regev threatened to withdraw funding. According to a deal struck with the culture ministry, the film is to be screened out of the festival schedule at a private theatre."

Read article in full

Ari Shavit writes in Haaretz:

" Instead of leading Israel in a mature, responsible way to a different future, the center-left sank into a toxic swamp of dejection, querulousness and disapproval. Lost is the joie de vivre. Gone is the daring with which it faced reality. An oppositionist obsession, sterile and bitter, gradually became a spiteful maliciousness, which is very hard to break out of. So anyone who thinks one strong man or another will save the center-left in the next elections is mistaken.

Anyone who thinks that a sharper ideology (on the one hand) or a blurrier ideology (on the other hand) will do the trick, is delusional. Of all people it was the artists, with their intense expressions, who exposed what the soft-spoken politicians are trying to hide.

The center-left is ill. On the one hand, it is beset with cannibalism that leads it to devour itself while delighting in its leaders’ slaughter. But on the other hand its hatred of others distances most Israelis from it. On the one hand, it is incapable of real soul-searching and accountability for its past mistakes and failures. On the other hand, it is incapable of offering a convincing, inspiring vision.

 The obsessive, constant preoccupation with bashing Bibi, the settlers, the ultra-Orthodox, the successful and the heartland Israelis makes the center-left irrelevant. It does not convey love of man or radiate love of Israel. Nor does it bring to the national table new ideas or inspiring new proposals. All it does is gather in the shouters’ corner and the whiners’ alley, which long ago lost all trace of appeal and effectiveness."

 Read article in full (registration required)

A dose of Neanderthal realism

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Egyptian TV series does not call for 'normalisation'

 With thanks: Lily 

Update: whereas the usual suspects (Islamists) have slammed the series as an attempt at 'normalisation' with Israel, Magda Haroun, who heads the tiny Jewish community in Egypt, has criticised the series for depicting Jews as rich. She points out that the gateways of the Jewish Quarter were not as splendid as they are depicted  (indeed, much of the Old Jewish Quarter of Cairo was a slum). Not all Jews had  refrigerators in the 1940s - indeed only the king and a few others had them at that time.  The scenes inside the synagogue are imaginary and the Jewish worship rituals mostly gibberish;  no one, let alone Jewish women, wore mini-skirts in 1944 ; the scene about the air raid of Cairo grossly misrepresents the Jewish community as having better access to shelters than non-Jews. 

Trailer for Haret-al-Yahud, Egyptian TV series for Ramadan

Egyptian viewers are currently glued to their Ramadan TV soap opera, Haret al-Yahud. As already remarked on Point of No Return, Jews are portrayed in a more sympathetic light than in the past - reflecting the new Al-Sisi regime's thinking. This does not mean that the series advocates 'normalisation' with Israel - far from it.

In this TV studio discussion (via MEMRI) with the makers and actors of Haret al-Yahud (Jewish Quarter), the scriptwriter,  Medhat al-Adhel, says he has tried to evoke the cosmopolitan Egypt of the past where different communities rubbed along in harmony. He also evokes al-Andalus in medieval Spain, where Jews thrived under Muslim rule.

Al-Adhel says that Israel is still the Arabs' primary enemy. The panellists are agreed that a distinction must be made between Jews and Zionists: Egyptian Jews are Egyptians first.

However, one actress is appalled that Egyptian Jews are not even able to practise their religion in freedom (She thinks there is quite a community, although there are in fact only eight Jews living in Cairo). She asks why all synagogues are locked. She was told that Jews are afraid to say they are Jewish, describing themselves as Christians.

The writer El-Adhel puts forward the novel idea that Israel is to blame for enticing poor Egyptian Jews to Israel as a result of the Lavon affair. The wealthy Jews expelled by Gamal abdul-Nasser did not go to Israel, but to Europe and elsewhere, he maintains.

According to Wikipedia, The Lavon Affair refers to a failed Israeli covert operation, code named Operation Susannah, conducted in Egypt in the Summer of 1954:

Egyptian Jews were recruited by Israeli military intelligence to plant bombs inside Egyptian, American and British-owned civilian targets, cinemas, libraries and American educational centers. The bombs were timed to detonate several hours after closing time. The attacks were to be blamed on the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian Communists, "unspecified malcontents" or "local nationalists" with the aim of creating a climate of sufficient violence and instability to induce the British government to retain its occupying troops in Egypt's Suez Canal zone. The operation caused no casualties, except for operative Philip Natanson, when a bomb he was taking to place in a movie theater ignited prematurely in his pocket; for two members of the cell who committed suicide after being captured; and for two operatives who were tried, convicted and executed by Egypt. "

This explanation fails to account for the flight of  14, 000 Egyptian Jews to Israel in 1948/49 following violence - ironically,  much of it in the Haret al-Yahud in Cairo - arrests and internment. A substantial number of Jews expelled by Nasser also went to Israel.


This extract from the 3rd programme in the series shows that the prayers and rituals are mostly made up.(Clip: Elder of Ziyon)