Friday, September 04, 2015

Turkish Jews :between antisemitism and assimilation

 Turkish Jews aren't leaving en masse yet - they are adopting a wait-and-see attitude. But the community is caught between the rock of rising official antisemitism and the hard place of sky-rocketing assimilation. Perceptive article by Avi Lewis in The Times of Israel:

ISTANBUL — Gaining entry to Istanbul’s Bet Yisrael Synagogue can be quite an ordeal.

Located on an empty, nondescript street patrolled by armed guards, visitors are required to pass through two bomb-vault doors and a metal detector, weeks after presenting their passports for a security clearance. 

Once inside, a handful of worshipers – mostly aging – are spread out across the vacant seats as a young cantor hums traditional Sephardic melodies.
The feeling of walking into a fortified cavern is augmented by the synagogue’s lack of windows.

Every seat is equipped with a helmet underneath: “Just in case there’s an earthquake,” one congregant tells me jokingly — a wry nod to the truck bombings, carried out by al-Qaeda in 2003 outside this shul and Istanbul’s Neve Shalom Synagogue, that killed 27 and injured 300. A conspicuous number of cameras — inside and out – link to a security room on site.

After the Friday night prayers, all worshipers remove their yarmulkes and replace them with baseball caps, or simply leave the synagogue bare-headed.

Pouring out onto the street with the guards grimacing nearby, the atmosphere seems relaxed and convivial. For a moment, the balmy summer night exudes a whiff of Tel Aviv. But the crowd quickly disperses, leaving the street as empty as before.

Interior of the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul, Turkey. (courtesy Turkish Jewish community)

Interior of the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul, Turkey. Every seat is equipped with a helmet underneath.

While outbursts of anti-Semitic rhetoric and growing hostility toward Israel under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan make the 15,000-strong community increasingly uneasy, some Jewish leaders say they are just as concerned over assimilation, intermarriage and emigration.

But they remain adamant that Jewish life will persist here, regardless of the growing intolerance and Islamization of Turkish society.

A spokesman for the Jewish community’s official mouthpiece says Turkey’s Jews are dismayed by the uptick in anti-Semitic speech and media articles, but still try, in their limited capacity, to bring these issues to the attention of the public and government to solve them via the legal system.
“Anti-Semitism and rising hate speech (conspiracy theories, etc.) are issues for Turkish Jews and we feel the threat,” a spokesman from Turk Musevi Cemaati, the Turkish Jewish Community, says in an email. (Perhaps a case in point: The group and others interviewed asked to review the article ahead of publication before consenting to speak due to previous incidents.)

The spokesman adds that the community’s leaders are lobbying the authorities to crack down on the phenomenon.

“We still believe in a future in Turkey,” he says.

Indeed, Turkey’s Jews aren’t leaving en masse — yet. The emigration rate stands at an inconsequential 120 people per year (0.8 percent), according the community umbrella group. And for those who do mull an exit, the Jewish state is not always the primary choice. The United States, Canada and Europe are also popular destinations due to the education and economic opportunities they offer, with one in every four Jewish students leaving to pursue higher education abroad.

But Israel still remains a cornerstone of the community, and Turkish Jews feel more and more alienated as their support for the Jewish state is questioned and denounced by an increasingly hostile society.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Moroccan Muslim rebukes haters and liars

 It takes  a Moroccan Muslim, on a mission to build peace between peoples,  to rebut the lies being disseminated against Jews and Israel. For instance, the news that 30 Moroccan Jews had been sent to an IDF training camp in Israel. In fact, it was a summer camp with sporting activities, writes Amine Ayoub in the Jerusalem Post. 

Rock climbing at a summer camp in Israel

"Being raised Muslim in Morocco, I did not really get a chance to meet many Moroccan Jews. Even though Jews and Muslims have co-existed in Morocco for a long time, that doesn’t necessarily mean they like each other.

We were raised with the idea that the Jews are evil, satanic. As a kid when you did something bad you would be called a Jew. We were programmed with Jew-hatred.

While attending a Catholic boarding school in the United States, I had my first opportunity for an encounter with a Jewish family. The decision to go took me longer than it should.

I had to think twice, about whether God would be mad at me, or whether my parents be mad at me. I finally decided to attend that dinner; after all I was attending a Catholic high school. Everything went great and all the propaganda that surrounded me in my younger years appeared surely to be false.

Well, 16 years after that dinner, I have suddenly decided to act. The hate and misery in this world is too much and I cannot stand it anymore.

Thinking of Israel and Zionism for a while made me look into this a little deeper. How could a small country that we hear only evil of, and with many enemies, have survived and even thrived the way it has? Many countries in the region are not even close to the economic prosperity and democracy of Israel.

I read about the Fortune 500 companies investing in Israel, about the booming biotech and hi-tech industries and recently about the Israeli pharma Giant Teva’s multi-billion dollar deal with Allergan, and questioned this multitude of successes.

 (Of course great news like this is hard to find; it does not include killings and bloodshed.) After some hesitation I decided to send a short video to the NGO Stand with Us showing my support for Israel and my stance against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

As a proud Moroccan and a practicing Muslim, I employ logic and common sense more than anything else. Bringing historical hatred and religion into this conflict just makes things more complicated. Of course there are political issues that should be solved by the two interested parties with the involvement of the international community. Israel exists and the BDS movement wants only one thing: to erase Israel from the map. Many people don’t actually know that hurting Israel economically is hurting the Palestinians too.

WHEN IT comes to Morocco, the Jewish community settled here more than 2,600 years ago. When asked about the Moroccan Jews by the Nazis, the late king Mohamed V replied that he had no Moroccan Jewish subjects, only Moroccan ones. In the 2011 Moroccan Constitution the Hebraic culture was mentioned as part of Morocco’s cultural diversity, from the Amazigh in the Atlas Mountains to the Hassani in the Moroccan Sahara.

Even tough there are no official diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel, according to Israeli statistics there are Moroccan visitors to Israel in the thousands and economic exchanges in the millions of dollars yearly.

Jews have been coexisting for years with their fellow Moroccan Muslims, but recently as the number of Moroccan Jews significantly decreased and pan-Arab movements have been spreading false propaganda, many are cautious when discussing Jewry or Israel.

The latest such propaganda was about the 30 young Moroccan Jews who visited a summer camp in Israel.

All the newspapers in Morocco have been discussing this visit lately, and some are stating that it was an IDF training camp. Some NGOs went as far as stating that these kids should be prosecuted as terrorists. The way reporters are bluntly stating wrong facts is shameful and unprofessional.

When a regular Moroccan hears such reports, what do you expect from him? To love Israel? If we look up the camp’s website, it is a regular youth camp that charges a fee to attend. Even Moroccan Muslim kids can attend if they pay the fee. The young Jewish people may have been sponsored by certain organizations, but the program was still the same for all attendees, with sporting activities and no military exercises.

This is just one example of the propaganda that is being spread, and voices of rebuke, such as mine, are scarce.

Read article in full

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The galling absence of the Jewish Nakba

On Monday 7 September, the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute will be launching a book about the Holocaust and the Palestinian ‘Nakba’ titled “The Holocaust and the Nakba: Memory, National Identity, and Jewish-Arab Partnership.” It would be more apt, however, to link the flight of Arab with Jewish refugees, argues Lyn Julius in the Times of Israel:

The Mufti meets Hitler, November 1941: he had every intention of exterminating Jews in Arab countries

  Already, the Institute has been fending off a torrent of accusations that the book, which emerged from seven years of collaboration between Arabs and Jews, is making an offensive and dangerous comparison between the systematic murder of a whole people by the Nazis, and the flight of 700,000 Palestinian Arab refugees in wartime. 

To juxtapose the words Holocaust and ‘Nakba’ trivialises the Holocaust. It also de-contextualises the flight of the Arab refugees from Israel: the ‘Nakba’ was a catastrophe that the Arab leadership brought upon their people by failing to inflict a catastrophic defeat on the Jews of Palestine. They would have shed few tears for the defeated Jews had the 1948 war, which they launched, had a different outcome.

As yet few critics of the Van Leer initiative have drawn attention, except in a cursory way, to the galling absence from this distorted reading of history of the ethnic cleansing of a greater number of Jewish refugees — the Jewish ‘Nakba’. Almost a million Jews were driven out of their homes in Arab countries about the same time as the Palestinian Arab refugees fled Israel. If the Arabs lost their war against the new state of Israel, they decisively won their war against their innocent non-combatant civilians of the Jewish faith. Before a single Arab refugee had left what was to become Israel, the Arab League pre-meditated its war against ‘the Jewish minority of Palestine’, and drew up a Nuremberg-style plan of persecution.

Prof. Gabriel Motzkin, director of the Van Leer Institute and a professor emeritus of Philosophy at the Hebrew University, has said: “the real issue about the ‘Nakba’ is that Israeli society is “unwilling to understand the trauma that constitutes the identity of this other people.” But Professor Motzkin spares nary a thought for the trauma suffered by the Jewish refugees. Torture, imprisonment, arrest, murder, execution on trumped-up spying charges, dispossession and expulsion of a million Jews — all count for nothing in Professor Motzkin’s selective reading of the facts.

Jews not only lost livelihoods, homes, shops, schools, shrines, hospitals, synagogues and deeded private land five times the size of Israel, but a 2,500 year-old heritage predating Islam by a millennium.

The Jewish ‘nakba’ was also an Arab-Jewish ‘nakba’ — it tore a gaping hole in the Arab cultural, social and economic fabric from which they have never recovered. Cities such as Baghdad — one-third Jewish — were emptied overnight.

Most Jewish refugees fled to Israel, where half the Jewish population hails from Arab and Muslim lands. This makes Israel both a necessary haven from Arab Muslim anti-Semitism, and the legitimate political expression of an indigenous Middle Eastern people.

A comparison between the two ‘Nakbas’ — one Arab, one Jewish — might be more appropriate: an exchange of roughly equal refugee populations took place, as was common in 20th century conflicts.

But swathes of world opinion are in denial about the Jewish ‘Nakba’. Arab states have never acknowledged that a mass violation of Jewish rights took place, much less admitted guilt or offered compensation. Over 100 UN resolutions relate to Palestinian refugees; not one to the more numerous Jewish refugees.

What is especially painful is that Israel’s own elite army of moral narcissists, such as Professor Motzkin, collude with the purveyors of the ‘Palestinian Nakba‘ narrative, while wiping from memory a trauma that afflicted their own Jewish people. This can only pour fuel on the flames of hatred, while perpetuating a monopoly of Palestinian victimhood.

Oddly enough, the European Holocaust did have an impact on the Jewish ‘Nakba’. The Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini, with the overwhelming support of the Palestinian Arabs, was a willing collaborator in the Nazi extermination of the Jews. He had every intention of perpetrating the genocide of Jews living in the Arab world. After inciting the 1941 Farhud against the Jews of Iraq, he spent the rest of WWII as Hitler’s guest in Berlin, together with sixty other Arabs. His poisonous radio propaganda broadcasts primed an illiterate Arab populace to massacre Jews among them even before the creation of Israel.
 His legacy, and that of the Muslim Brotherhood he partnered, endures to this day.
There’s material enough for another book: “The Holocaust and the Jewish Nakba.” Somehow, I don’t think the Van Leer Institute will be interested in launching that one.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Israel isn't a milkshake, Mizrahim are not the Other

 With thanks: Sarah

Naftali Bennett: "Israel is a mosaic"

As the school year begins, organisations representing Jews from Arab countries in Israel are rejoicing that Israel's minister of Education Naftali Bennett has  criticised a  key educational program introduced by his predecessor, Shai Peron,“The Other is Me.”

Haaretz has reported Minister Bennett as saying, “I do not agree that the Other is me. The Other is not me, everyone is different. I don’t believe in blurring identities; I believe in strengthening identities....
"I don’t believe in making a milkshake so all the students in Israel will come out as a pink liquid. Israel is a mosaic, and that is its strength. We have, for example, the heritage of the Mizrahi communities that has not been expressed in our history studies,” he added, referring to Jews of Middle Eastern descent.

In choosing to make these remarks, Mr Bennett has - the associations of Jews from Arab countries in Israel believe - taken on board a letter sent to him in mid-July signed by all the individual chairmen. The chairmen kept up the pressure, continuing to meet senior officials in the Department of Education.

Says Levana Zamir, overall chairwoman: "This is a turning point and the result of many years of work by Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), JIMENA in the USA and others. We explained to him that more than 55% of the population cannot be "the Other".

The representative organisations have been lobbying to make learning about the Sephardi/Mizrahi heritage compulsory in the school curriculum, a position which minister Bennett is thought to favour. So far, the government has only agreed to make such studies optional.

Israeli describes Lebanese flight in Arab press

It is rare for an Israeli to get an article published in an Arabic newspaper, but Dr Edy Cohen of Bar Ilan University managed to get this published in El Wattan, a Kuwaiti news medium on 27 August 2015:  From a Judeo-Arab Heart to the Gracious Kuwaiti People (translated by Lucille R Kaplan)The Arab-Israeli conflict is nothing but a contrivance, 'their flames kindled by hate-filled plots', he argues.

 Dr Edy Cohen, refugee from Lebanon

Many Kuwaitis are, undoubtedly, unaware of the historically significant facts that nearly a million Jews, in the decades of the last century, lived as citizens of Arab countries extending from the Mediterranean Ocean to the Arabian Gulf, and Jewish tribes had lived on the Arabian Peninsula prior to the advent of Islam, and found refuge and shelter there, in their flight from the Roman oppression that had overtaken the land of Israel.

 I, myself, first saw light over the land of Lebanon, and I grew up and thrived in the Wadi Abou Jamil quarter, where I shared my childhood with Lebanese children made diverse by their faiths. As Christians, Muslims, and Jews, we would play together in the alleys. School benches joined us together without distinguishing among us on the basis of differences in religious affiliation . . . 

That period is impossible for me to forget. It is imprinted on my memory, and I still experience its effects to this day. Though most Jews fled Lebanon at the time of the Lebanese civil war of 1975, my family held steadfast, and did not leave. 

Lebanese governments had treated Jews equitably, and we felt secure even during the most difficult periods in the history of that country, which suffered from a bloody war that was predicated, for the most part, on sectarianism. 

Consistent with the pattern for Jews living in Arab countries, the Jews of Lebanon were loyal to the nation that had embraced them, but tragically, a Hizballah gang supported by Iran entered the Lebanese arena, seeking to wreak ruin and destruction there, and unleashing its hatred upon the Jewish people. Ten Lebanese Jews were kidnapped and executed, and consequently, the Jewish sect of Lebanon collapsed. 

All of us were forced to emigrate in the direction of Israel, leaving behind memories of childhood and youth, and still yearning for the land in which we had been raised, and from whose waters we had drunk. We had buried, in its soil, the fruits of a life that we had built there with our toil and strain.

 I arrived in Israel in 1995, leaving behind 23 years of a life that had ripened in Lebanon, and taking on a culture different from the culture of the people of my community. I felt a sense of exile even the presence of my family, and in the beginning, I encountered difficulty in adjusting, for my mother tongue was Arabic (“the language of the letter Dhad”), and my outlook on life was based on values and customs different from those followed in the nation of my early ancestors. 

I arrived in Israel, coming from a land no farther away than a few kilometers, imbued with a conviction, reinforced by life experience, that peace between the people of Israel and Arabs was a historical reality that surely could be revitalized. 

Jews have lived with Arabs for thousands of years, either in Arab countries or the land of Israel, and they have engaged in dialogue, lived as neighbors, become related by marriage, befriended each other, and defended one another. The current conflicts are nothing other than a contrivance, their flames kindled by hate-filled plots, such as those, recorded in history, of the Nazis, who exploitatively reinforced differences between Jews and Arabs over the issue of Palestine[’s post-World War II status].

Abdallah Al-Hadlaq circulated the article, adding the following quote from Verse 13 of Sura 49 of the Qur’an]: “Oh, Humanity: I created you male and female, and made you into different peoples and tribes, so that you could learn to know each other. . .” 

More articles by Edy Cohen

Monday, August 31, 2015

Mizrahi pop means you're having a good time

They're remarkably free of cynicism, patriotic, romantic, and above all, they're happy, happy, happy. Israel's mainstream Israeli pop kings and queens are flaunting their Mizrahi roots: Israel is a Middle Eastern minority having a good time. Read Matti Friedman's latest piece in The Tablet:

Eden Ben-Zaken's hit 'Queen of Roses' has had 6 million Youtube views 

Sarit Haddad, queen of the Mizrahi scene for the past decade and a half, teamed up in a new video with the producers of Arisa, a line of gay Mizrahi parties named for a spicy Tunisian spread. This is the same crew behind the “Tel Aviv” video, and also the one for “This Isn’t Europe,” which gets my vote for the best Israeli clip in recent memory in any genre. Sung by Margalit San’ani, one of Mizrahi music’s elder stateswomen, this song is a patriotic ode of sorts making fun of Israeli (and, one suspects, Ashkenazi) hipsters’ trendy and pathetic love for places like Berlin. “You’re not from London or Amsterdam/ Your face, honey, is from Bat Yam,” she sings, naming one of Tel Aviv’s sweatier suburbs. The clip, which stars a guy flouncing around dirty streets in a ball gown, is a national document as poignant as “Hatikvah.” I can’t watch it without wondering what Herzl would think.

The neighbourhood may be going to pot, but Israeli youth are having a good time

As that song indicates, a kind of unapologetic national loyalty is present in Mizrahi music as it no longer is in most other Israeli songs, which these days tend to opt for angst, sarcasm, or attempts to pretend we’re all somewhere else. More and more Israeli artists sing in English. But rootlessness is not going to yield much worth listening to, and Israeli audiences know it. Mizrahi music doesn’t pretend to be from anywhere but right here in Bat Yam, honey. It’s not just Israeli music, in other words, but the most Israeli music there is. Many aspects of Israel’s politics and cultural life, like the film industry, are warped by international interest and money and tailored to foreign specifications. Mizrahi music is immune, and everything about it is local. In a new dance number by Eden Ben-Zaken we get the following patriotic expression, apropos of nothing in particular:
The whole city’s up on the roof, on the tables
Everyone’s clapping, raise your glasses!
Welcome to Israel
Can you tell the difference?
You’ve reached paradise, say, “Thank God!”
The same attitude is applied to Judaism. The nature of the current Mizrahi scene in this regard, and in general, can best be summed up with the following scraps from the Moshe Peretz/Omer Adam concert I went to in August:
• Songs about heartbreak performed with pathos, inspiring deep emotional involvement on the part of teenage girls near me, and only slightly less on the part of their mothers, who were next to them.

• A song about partying with the guys at a cheap weekend destination popular with Israelis—Bucharest. This is probably the only party song ever written about Bucharest, at least in a language that is not Romanian.

• Adam brings out a bottle of mineral water. Peretz puts his hand over Adam’s head in lieu of a kippah, and Adam recites the Hebrew blessing said before drinking water. About 8,000 people: “Amen!” The concert continues.

• A rendition of “Tel Aviv,” camels, gay pride, and all. Dancers strut with peacock feathers. Rainbow stripes flash on screens. Ya habibi!

• Adam sings “I Thank You,” based on the prayer recited by traditional Jews every morning upon rising. His movements—arms outstretched, turning from side to side—evoke a particularly devout worshipper in synagogue.

Or these, from the Facebook page of the young singer Haim Ifargan:
• Selfie in car with aviator glasses.
• Photo in pool with friends.
• Cellphone video of fans.
• Soulful selfie with kippah before the fast day of Tisha Be’av: “Have a meaningful fast [thumbs-up emoji]”
• Clip from a morning TV program in which Ifargan does a slow cover of the Arabic love song “Tamali Ma’ak,” made popular by Amr Diab of Egypt.

Zionism traditionally existed in tension with Judaism and the Middle East, and there are still quite a few Israelis who don’t think much of either. Mizrahi music embraces both. If you see Israel as a country of people who happen to be Jewish and are victims of an unfortunate accident that dumped them in the Middle East, this music and its success might grate. But if you accept Israel for what it is—a Middle Eastern Jewish country—it all makes sense.

Welding torches hiss in the rocket workshops of Gaza; centrifuges beep and whir under Persian mountains; farmers on our borders hear the tap-tap-tap of tunneling beneath their fields; up the road the crump of barrel bombs announces that the world that once expelled Mizrahi Jews is now destroying itself; from the radio comes the deep-toned blather of Israeli leaders adept only at confrontation; the odds against a normal future grow longer and longer—and here is a world of innocent love, of dancers on tables and lirdim on the town, a place near the sea where Arabic and Hebrew mix, where Judaism is everything and no big deal and God just another part of life, like sunshine and cigarettes. When you hear Mizrahi pop you’re hearing a minority in the Middle East having a good time. It’s a beautiful sound.

Read article in full

Sunday, August 30, 2015

'Jewish Schindler' 'has nothing to hide'

The Montreal Moroccan Jew who says that he and his non-profit group have rescued 128 Yazidis and Christians from enslavement by Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq is fighting back against those questioning his claims. The Forward reports:

Steve Maman

The attorney for Steve Maman, president of the Montreal-based group The Liberation of Yazidi and Christian Children of Iraq (CYCI), has sent the group of Yazidi activists and spiritual leaders that is demanding an inquiry into his claims a cease and desist letter ordering them to stop talking to or about him — and threatening to sue them for $5,000,000 if they don't.

Read article in full

Extract from Steven Maman's public statement:(with thanks: Michelle)

"During recent days, CYCI has been the target of accusations and scrutiny founded on poor journalism and lack of proper research. We have also seen deep activities of corruption within groups that claim to protect this oppressed religious group that are the Yazidis. I would like to publicly address the issues around this and make it known that CYCI has nothing to hide.

- First and foremost, I believe it to be a reckless request from the so called Yazidi representatives to demand CYCI for proof that would compromise our channels because identifying the victims is going to, by extension, identify the brokers that give us this unparalleled access to these victims and result in compromising our mission and our future ability to continue its execution.

- The allegations made are astonishing considering all the good will seen by CYCI, its volunteers and its avid supporters. This seems to hint of resentment at the success and not representative of a true expression of skepticism.

- We call on VICE News/VICE to get into contact with Non-Yazidi organizations (such as the International Committee of the Red Cross) to whom we will disclose evidence without further publication. Once this evidence is deemed satisfactory, we will ask Vice News to retract or edit its previous unfounded statements.

- VICE News has reported about a letter calling on CYCI to stop taking donations until it proves that it is doing what it claims. Let it be known that Vice decided to report about a letter that was not signed by any of its claimed participants. The letter had no official letterhead either. Basically, we received a letter lacking proper form with defamatory statements not based on facts but on assumptions.

- A cease and desist letter has been issued as our response. CYCI will not deal with pressure groups - we will deal only with authorities who have jurisdiction in the matter."

New Mizrahi music wave finds Arab success

 A-wa: success in the Arab world

A-wa, a new Israeli all-girl girl band inspired by Yemenite musical culture, are taking the Arab world by storm. They and Dana International, the late Ofra Haza and almost all the other Israeli artists who have found success in the Arab world have their Mizrahi heritage in common, Gaar Adams writes in 'Sick Beats and Sykes-Picot' (Foreign Policy):

Haza, the most famous Israeli musical artist to break into the Arab market, is also perhaps the most revered Israeli singer in the country’s history. Haza’s musical explorations of her Yemeni heritage won her tremendous popularity — and surprising adoration in the Arab world.

Born in 1957 to Jewish immigrants who fled Yemen to escape religious persecution less than two decades earlier, Haza was raised in the impoverished Tel Aviv slum of Hatikva. The youngest of nine children, she grew up surrounded by family members singing the songs of her ancestral homeland. After finding initial fame by winning a national singing competition as a teenager, Haza completed her compulsory two-year Israeli military service in the late 1970s and then returned to singing with a string of hit pop singles and albums in Israel.

As one of the first high-profile Israeli pop singers of Middle Eastern heritage, Haza was drawn back to the traditional songs of her childhood after her initial run of success in the early 1980s. It was these recordings — like her biggest album, Yemenite Songs, released in 1984 — that drew the attention of fans from outside of Israel and, particularly, inside the Arab world.

In an interview in 2008, one radio executive explained that the success of Aderet came in part because of the bridges that Ofra Haza had built years earlier: “We grew up in Beirut listening to Ofra Haza, “he said. “It is just music.”


One of Ofra Haza’s most popular songs, based on the Hebrew poem by  17th c. Rabbi Shalom Shabazi,  “Im Nin’alu” (If The Doors Are Unlocked).

Haza was vocal about her relationship with fans from the Arab world, going so far as attempt an unprecedented goodwill trip to Yemen in 1995 as an Israeli artist. (A month before the planned visit, the trip was abruptly canceled after local media harshly criticized Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdul Karim al-Iryani for his quote in an Israeli newspaper assuring that he would help secure Haza a visa.)

When asked about her Arab following before her untimely death from AIDS-related pneumonia in 2000, Haza said, “I get fan letters from Cairo, Kuwait, Dubai, Jordan, Syria. It’s wonderful to see that music has nothing to do with politics. We don’t have the power of politicians, but we have our power to unite people.”

Dana International, Ofra Haza, and almost all of the Israeli artists who have found any measure of success in the Arab world have had one thing in common: their Mizrahi heritage, as Israeli Jews descended from the Middle East.

“Dana’s music issues from a wider and extremely rich phenomenon of Mizrahi pop music in Israel that is Levantine and Middle Eastern … and is therefore comprehensible and ‘local’ to Arab audiences in the Eastern Arab world,” Swedenburg wrote in Mass Mediations. “She pushes at the edges from inside a vibrant and innovating tradition, and this makes her music lively and exciting for many Egyptian young people…. Dana’s liminality, the fact that she is at once Arab and Jew, is precisely what makes her dialogue with Egyptian youths possible.”

Before World War II, these Arab-Jewish musicians were an integral part of the Middle Eastern musical landscape, and their music reflects their ancestral homelands. Mizrahi artists’ use of traditional Arabic sounds like the oud (a bulbous stringed instrument similar to the lute), the qanun (a large, stringed soundbox), and quartertone scales originated in North Africa, Arabia, and the Levant and came to the nation of Israel with the mass Jewish emigrations of the mid-20th century. But in fleeing their motherlands to escape persecution, Arab Jewish musicians did not always find a musical or cultural utopia.

As the new nation worked to forge an identity in the wake of its founding in 1948, the culture and rights of European — or Ashkenazi — Jews were perceived as superior to those of the incoming Arab world immigrants, and Mizrahis were systematically marginalized. This applied to the arts as well: The music of Arab Jews was dismissed as “bus station” or “cassette music” — a pejorative stemming from the phenomenon of Tel Aviv bus stations turning into giant informal marketplaces for Mizrahi cassettes — in the formation of the new Israeli national identity. It wasn’t until artists like Ofra Haza and Zohar Argov began melding traditional Arab-Jewish music with other forms in the early 1980s, that Mizrahi music truly entered the realm of greater Israeli pop culture. Indeed, some of the most talented Mizrahi musicians like the al-Kuwaiti Brothers, who were popular in the Arab world in the 1930s and 1940s, are only now — 75 years later — being honored for their historical musical contributions.
* * *
A-Wa is now a part of this new wave of musicians declaring their Israeli identity while still exploring and reckoning with the implications of their Mizrahi ancestry. Through a combination of linguistics, cultural heritage, and some feisty beats, A-Wa is bridging an entrenched gap between the two musical markets — Israel and the Arab world — that has only been overcome by a very select group of musicians.

The sisters, who range in age between 25 and 31, are descendants of Yemeni Jews who relocated to Israel in 1949 through Operation Magic Carpet — the first wave of a secret operation to relocate some 50,000 Jews from Yemen to Israel after the country’s establishment. And like many Mizrahi Jews, the Haim sisters grew up singing the songs of their ancestral homeland, with its rich oral history having been passed down through the generations. “We used to steal all of our dad’s old records to listen to the old music,” says Tagel Haim, the youngest A-Wa sister.

In collecting this material for their debut album, the sisters decided to release a full LP of songs comprised of Yemeni poetry. Some of the songs they recorded were familiar from their childhood, with lyrics and melodies that were ingrained at an early age. Others were songs that they only discovered in ransacking Mizrahi musical catalogs, like those of Shlomo Moga’a, a Yemeni musician who immigrated to Israel after World War II — many of which included ancient Yemeni songs that were only first recorded in the mid-20th century, once these Yemeni-Jewish musicians landed in Israel.

Before immigrating, the Jewish women of Yemen recorded their own kind of oral history outside of the male-dominated synagogues by passing down poetry through the generations in the local Yemeni dialect. These records reckoned both with life’s mundane tasks — cooking food and gathering water — as well as its tragedies: a family torn apart, an infant lost too soon. Women often added their own verses and tinkered with their own melodies in the poems as they were passed through the years. It was in the spirit of this kind of flexible artistic license that A-Wa’s hit, “Habib Galbi,” was born.

“This tradition allowed us to use history but also do our own thing to the songs on our album,” said Tair Haim, the oldest Haim sister.
But initially, even the sisters’ father — who himself dreamed of being a musician when he was younger — was puzzled as to why they fixated on Yemeni oral culture.
“At first he didn’t understand why we chose this direction. But then he heard us sing it together like when we were younger,” said Liron Haim, 29, the middle sister of the A-Wa trio. “He remembered our connection to it.”
* * *
It was the Arab world’s relationship to poetry that helped Haza transform from a well-known singer into a global sensation — her album Yemenite Songs was a collection of classical Yemeni poetry much like A-Wa. “Nin’alu,” her biggest hit, was actually a poem written 400 years earlier by renowned 17th-century Yemeni-Jewish poet Shalom Shabazi on the glory of the divine:

If there be no mercy left in the world,
The doors of heaven will never be barred.
The Creator reigns supreme, and is higher
than the angels
All, in His spirit, will rise.

To this day, poetry is still highly regarded across the Middle East, and poetry from Yemen — in hailing from the region where the oral form originated and first flourished — is often revered as the region’s most pure and exalted. It is difficult to overstate poetry’s popularity: Even one of the Gulf’s largest television shows, Prince of Poets, cashes in on the phenomenon by pitting the region’s best against one other in the style of an American Idol competition. Like Ofra Haza, A-Wa is accessing the Arab market by tapping into the same proven cultural capital of this highly respected artistic form as ancestors and transmitters of the tradition.

Read article in full

Friday, August 28, 2015

Yazidis demand proof of Jew's rescue mission

Update: Steve Maman has responded to accusations against him.

Vice News is questioning whether the 'Jewish Schindler', a Moroccan-born Jew living in Montreal called Steve Maman, has indeed rescued as many Yazidis and Christians as he said he has. His partner in the rescue mission, Canon Andrew White, has poured scorn on the suggestion that Maman is dishonest or is misusing his funds. Maman himself responds on his website: (With thanks: Gina)

 Steven Maman (Photo: Brigitte Noel)

A group of Yazidi spiritual and political leaders, activists, and aid workers are demanding an inquiry into the work of a Montreal man who claims to have rescued 128 Yazidi and Christian women and children enslaved by Islamic State militants.

Steve Maman has attracted international attention for his Canadian non-profit group, The Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq (CYCI), which on its website claims to have "single handedly helped save over 120 Yazidi and Christian women and children from ISIS [Islamic State, or IS] controlled territories in Iraq" through a network of volunteers. Headlines affectionately dubbed the Moroccan-born Jew and luxury car and crystal dealer the "Jewish Schindler."

As of Tuesday, a GoFundMe page he set up in early July had swelled to more than $580,000 from donors around the world.

But now, concerned members of the Yazidi community in Iraq and the United States — including their top spiritual leader Baba Sheikh — have issued a written statement calling on Maman to cease taking donations until he proves that he's doing the work he says he's doing. (...)

Maman, on the other hand, argued that his group "actually were able to prove (...), with pictures, fingerprints and documents that the people that we have liberated were documented like no other liberators on the ground ... The only one that is able to show credibility so far is me."

Maman said Dawood (an assistant)  brought only 15 names because that is all they felt comfortable disclosing. "We didn't want to divulge anything else other than that. The reason behind it is simple: we knew that if we showed the other 113 names that are missing, these people were going to go running to them to…pay, to take photo-ops and take away those liberations from us."

Maman showed VICE News images of Dawood with the rescued girls and children, followed by photos of the Iraqi man with the Maman family. These, he says, prove that his organization is legitimate.

But when asked to provide proof of the 128 rescued people, Maman showed around 20 photos of the men, women, and children. A handful of these were members of Dawood's family, according to Maman, who showed VICE News an email he'd received, containing photocopies of the relatives' official documents and passports.

Maman explained that he trusts only one member of the Yazidi community. "It's the representative of the Yazidi prince in the world. He's in Baghdad at the head office of the prince. You know there was a king, a Yazidi king, did you know that?" he asked.

Maman said in a second phone call on Tuesday that he would be conducting a rescue mission in the Kurdistan region on Wednesday and that two journalists would be present to witness it. "There's going to be one very prominent United States journalist ... somebody on the ground representing Glenn Beck ... his name is Matt ..." said Maman, who couldn't recall Matt's last name. "He's already met with our team and all that, and he's going on a liberation, he's going to videotape."

"We're basically going to have a lot of people there, so we're going to end the rumors on the ground and we're going to show people how we do it compared to others," he added. (...)

The Reverend Canon Andrew White, who is affiliated with Maman's group, brushed off any concerns that the group isn't above board. In a phone interview with VICE News on Tuesday, he said the group has "evidence of everybody."
"I couldn't care less what they say. They're not on the ground doing it. Of course people will say this. They say this all the time. And I'm not going to argue. Now people are being killed doing it. We're not in here just to mess around with journalists," he said before hanging up the phone.

Read article in full 

Jewish 'Schindler' has nothing to hide'

Moroccan-Jewish saviour for Yazidis and Christians

Israel warns citizens not to visit Morocco

 Moroccan tourism  will be hard hit by an Israeli security alert warning Israeli tourists to avoid visiting the kingdom, Actu-Maroc reports.

A synagogue in Morocco

Israelis come to Morocco at different times of the year to visit family or take part in pilgrimages to saints' tombs, or simply to see the country of birth of their parents.

This bonanza will dry up in view of the Israeli authorities' firm insistence, on the basis of its information sources, that terrorist attacks are increasingly likely.

Moroccan tour operators have been pinning their hopes on increased Israeli tourism for the festival of Hanucah between 6 and 15 December. Whole families have tended to come to Morocco at that time to visit the graves of their ancestors.

Read article in full (French)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Iran: Holocaust denial contains an appeal to repeat it

Holocaust denial  is one of the the three key sides of an ideological triangle, together with elimination of Israel and demonisation of Jews, espoused by the Iranian regime. in this important interview by Karmel Melamed of the Jewish Journal, German academic Matthias Kuntzel says that current Iranian antisemitism has undoubted parallels with Nazism.

 Dr Matthias Kuntzel

Karmel Melamed: Can you please explain why the current Iranian regime for nearly 20 years has had such a massive public and overt obsession with the subject of Holocaust denial? Why do they keep bringing up this topic as a part of their foreign policy?
How can you wish to get rid of Israel and at the same time acknowledge the truth of the Holocaust? That is impossible. Anyone who accepts the reality of the Holocaust can’t at the same time believe that the Jews are the rulers of the world and that Israel of all countries is the root of all evil. These three items: elimination of Israel, demonization of Jews and Holocaust denial – are interwoven and belong together. They form what I call an ideological triangle. If any of the three sides of this ideological triangle is absent, the whole structure collapses.
Holocaust denial is at the same time antisemitism at its peak. Whoever declares Auschwitz to be a “myth” implicitly portrays the Jews as the enemy of humankind, who for filthy lucre has been duping the rest of humanity for the past seventy years. Whoever talks of the “so-called” Holocaust suggests that over ninety percent of the world’s media and university professorships are controlled by Jews and thereby cut off from the “real” truth. In this way, precisely the same sort of genocidal hatred gets incited that helped prepare the way for the Shoah. Every denial of the Holocaust thus tacitly contains an appeal to repeat it. And that is what the Iranian leadership does.
From the former Iranian president Ahmadinejad, to Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei and others in the Iranian regime, they unapologetically deny the Holocaust, embrace Holocaust deniers, sponsor Holocaust denial conferences and Holocaust denial cartoons which have caused an uproar in the West. Do you think they do not care about the negative public relations image this creates? Or is there another motivation?
They care about their negative image. That is why the tone of Holocaust denial has changed since President Rohani and Foreign Minister Zarif entered office. Previously, denial of the Holocaust was the leitmotif of Iran’s foreign policy. Today it is still an undisputed part of Iran’s state ideology, but is no longer the centerpiece of its public diplomacy.
However, even the internationally presentable Rohani is still far from acknowledging the Holocaust. Asked, for example, whether the Holocaust was real, Iran’s new president responded: “I am not a historian. I’m a politician.” To pretend that the facts of the Holocaust are a matter of serious historical dispute and available only for historians is a classic rhetorical evasion.
Later Rohani maintained that “a group of Jewish people” had been killed by the Nazis during WW II. But again: Holocaust deniers commonly acknowledge that Jews were killed while insisting that the number of Jewish victims was relatively small and that a systematic effort to wipe them out did not place.
In your new book, you discuss the role Radio Berlin broadcasted into Iran played and the works of Nazi academics played in exporting their form of anti-Semitism to Iran during World War II. Can you please shed light into why this is important for us to understand today regarding the current Iranian regime’s hatred for Jews?
In defending the nuclear deal with Tehran, President Barak Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry gave the impression that they view the regime’s anti-Semitism as an incidental problem; to take it seriously would be a waste of time. Others believe that Iranian anti-Semitism is merely a response to Israel’s policies. I show in my book, that both assumptions are wrong.
On the one hand, there was in the Shiite tradition always a strong anti-Jewish tendency. And there is, on other hand, still the after-effect of Nazi propaganda: Between 1939 and 1945 the Nazi’s anti-Semitism was exported via a daily Persian-language broadcast from Berlin to Iran. This broadcast was popular and its main radio speaker, Bahram Sharokh, a celebrity during those years.
The Nazis based their antisemitic incitement in Persian language on Islamic roots. They radicalized some anti-Jewish verses of the Koran and combined them with the European phantasm of a Jewish world conspiracy. Ruhollah Khomeini was, according to Amir Taheri, a regular and ardend listener of “Radio Berlin”. His claim of 1971 that “the Jews want to create a Jewish world state” mirrored a classical trope of Nazi antisemitism.
For more than 30 years the Iranian “propaganda ministry” has repeatedly marched out Iran’s sole Jewish members of Parliament and individual Jewish leaders in front of Western media outlets to claim the Iranian regime “loves Jews and treats Jews equally”. As Jews who fled this regime in Iran, my community in America knows these claims are false and the Iranian regime has no love for Jews. I believe the Iranian regime has taken a direct page out of Josef Goebbels propaganda play book in trying to spin a false media image of Jews being treated nicely to cover their true evil. What is your assessment of this phenomenon?
It is true that the Iranian regime distinguishes between Zionism as a menace and Judaism as a legitimate religion and at holiday time, wishing all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashana. However, a “Jew” is here characterized as someone who is willing to support Tehran’s antisemitic program and Israel’s elimination. Only this kind of Jew – the fanatical followers of the Neturei Karta sect, the intimidated leaders and members of the Iranian Jewish community, or the useful idiots of the Jewish radical left – are acceptable to Tehran. All other Jews are fair game.

The killing of five Jewish tourists in Bulgaria in 2012 and the attacks or planned attacks in Thailand, Georgia, and India perpetrated by Hezbollah terrorists and Iranian agents made headlines. Other Iranian attempts to kill Jews in Kenya, Nigeria and Bangkok are less well known.

The 1994 suicide bombing of the Jewish AMIA-Center in Buenos Aires caused the death of 85 persons and injured more than 150. This was the most deadly terror attack against Jews since World War II and it was the Iranian leadership including Khamenei and Rafsanjani that made this decision and instructed Hezbollah to commit the crime. The sole reason was the fact that Argentina did not want to continue its nuclear co-operation with Iran. Who, however, should be blamed and punished for Argentina’s independent decision? The AMIA example clearly shows that Iran’s anti-Jewish paranoid pattern contains a call to kill.
The Iranian regime and its leadership, spews hatred against Israel and “the Zionists” instead of using the word “Jews”. The regime’s leaders claim they have no “ill will” against the Jews but only hate for Israel. Is their hatred really against just Israel, or is this just a cover-up for a deeper rooted anti-Semitism?
You’re right. Though the regimes distributes thousands of antisemitic brochures such as the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” it rarely mobilizes openly against “Jews” but agitates against the “Zionists”. It is important, however, to understand that this regime invests the word “Zionist” with exactly the same sense as that with which Hitler once invested the word “Jew”: namely that of being the incarnation of all evil. Destroying Israel is in their understanding the only way to stop that evil. Or in Ahmadinejad’s words: “The Zionist regime will be wiped out, and humanity will be liberated.”

This sentiment—liberation through destruction—is the one for which the Holocaust historian Saul Friedlaender coined the term “redemptive antisemitism”. It is not so far from that expressed in a Nazi directive of 1943: “This war will end with antisemitic world revolution and with the extermination of Jewry throughout the world, both of which are the precondition for an enduring peace.”

The regime’s hatred of Jews resembles Hitler’s ideology in this aspect: Both have a utopian element. Just as Hitler’s “German peace” required the extermination of the Jews, so the Iranian leadership’s “Islamic peace” depends on the elimination of Israel. It is high time that the White House recognizes this utopian element and takes it seriously.

Read article in full

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Canon White partners Moroccan Jew in Yazidi rescue

 Steve Maman and his family: saving children is Tikkun Olam and Kiddush Hashem

In this interview with Moroccan World News the Moroccan-Jewish Canadian benefactor Steve Maman reveals that his partner in saving Christians and Yazidis from Da'esh (Islamic State) is Canon Andrew White. Point of No Return followers will be familiar with Canon White's devotion to the protection of Jews and their heritage in Iraq - before his stint as Vicar of St George's Church, Baghdad became too risky and he was relocated to Jerusalem. Maman's quid-pro-quo for the publicity is to pay tribute to Morocco as an 'example of tolerance to the world'.

Could you tell us about your foundation in few words and the choice of Yazidis and Christians?
Steve Maman: On June 26, 2015 I created a nonprofit organization called “The liberation of Christian and Yazidi children of Iraq (CYCI)” to support my mission.  Its goal is to negotiate the liberation of children held hostage and used a sex slaves in Mosul. We chose Christians and Yazidi because they are the ones held hostage after a fatwa authorized them to be used and sold as sex slaves for the benefit of ISIS (Daesh) combatants. I would have definitely added the Muslim children to my mission if they were part of this horror.

Does your foundation have other objectives?
Steve Maman: Our unique objective is to liberate as many children as possible. The project has been going on for 8 months now, and the role of this organization is to provide us, in our work, with donations. Until now, I had carried the project on my own and have moved multiple families out of harm’s way.

What made you come up with the idea for this project?
Steve Maman: Well, I as a Moroccan Jew, I found this cause to engage in a true world responsibility. The Torah talks about two things: “Tikkun Olam,” repairing the world, and “Kiddouch Hashem,” to make God’s presence respected.  As a Jew, it was a way to make this world better through actions of goodness and kindness. The goal here is for children to come out alive from this horrible war.

There is no question of religion, race, or nationality being discussed here. There are innocent children that are powerless, caught in the crossfire. But worse, they are being exploited in the crossfire, as if that alone were not enough pain to endure. The exploitations are beyond understanding.  Children beheaded, raped, beat, underfed, left to live in cages!  Why? Because they are Christian or Yazidi, and therefore this does not constitute a sin in the eyes of Islamic law in the way ISIS interprets it.  This is not Islam. I refuse to accept, as a Jew, that this is Islam. This is a deformation, a distortion of Islam. This has to be decried and it has to be fixed. The fixing starts with giving them a chance at life.

I need support. One year has gone by and it has been long enough for world leaders to react and plan a solution, yet we see little being done for those left behind at the mercy of ISIS.

The heroic Government of Canada, with its Prime Minister Stephen Harper,who has gone to Iraq and pledged nearly 140 million dollars in aid to the humanitarian cause, as well as sending Canadian troops, is sending a message to the world. I wish to see more world leaders unite forces in order to find a solution to end this.
May god bless my mission with world leaders being aware of what I do and of what can be done. My mission is centered on the ones who are held hostage. I refer tothe ones kept in cages being hurt, abused molested and raped. The ones I truly wish to help are praying to God after every rape that he ends their pain and humiliation. It is reported they wish they be killed rather than live with such a fate.

God give them the strength to hold on to life for a bit longer until I get to them, God willing.

How much is the amount you have collected until now?
Steve Maman: This is a question that I cannot answer and won’t disclose. But things are moving very well. Jews have been incredibly supportive of the mission, the majority being Moroccan Jews.

How long do you expect this project to last?
Steve Maman: One year maximum is my estimate. I figured that Mosul will be taken back and carnage will befall these children if they are not freed prior.

Does it have supporters and other funders? If so, who are they?
Steve Maman: Yes, until now, I have been funding the project myself. I founded CYCI in order to raise funds.  Jews can relate to this cause,since they lived a similar fate during the Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis. They can relate to what it is to be saved and liberated, therefore granted freedom. I cite Oskar Schindler or Sir Winton as examples. They inspired me to act and do what I am currently doing, but I am definitely a long way from attaining their results.

Which means of communication did you use to approach donors?
Steve Maman: We use Facebook to create awareness.

Are there well known personalities (in Morocco, perhaps) who support this project?

Steve Maman: From Morocco, nothing yet, but God willing my country shall surprise me.
The most important aid I currently have is Canon Andrew White. He is a world-respected humanitarian figure, with many world leaders openly supporting his foundation that assists refugees and the persecuted.

How did you get in touch with him?
Steve Maman: I met Canon Andrew White through Facebook. We became very close. He actually travelled to Montreal and stayed with us. We planned this mission. I was already involved with him 8 months ago when I saved two complete families and moved them to Ankara,amongst numerous other missions. I am currently renting them a house and providingfor all their needs in Ankara. Canon White admired my actions, as he knew the family well. This strengthened our bond.

How did Canon Andrew White help in your work?
Steve Maman: He is instrumental to my success. He has a platform in Kurdistan and in Jordan with camps for handling the children I liberate.

Have you made concrete achievements together?
Steve Maman: Together we have saved more than 102 children so far, and it increases every day. Canon Andrew White has nothing to do with the liberation aspect. He handles and provides support after they are liberated.

Do you have any facilities for rescuing children? Do you make any negotiations there?
Steve Maman: I will explain it this way: I have, on the ground in Iraq, someone I call a brother. He is an Iraqi Christian. He is my hero. He is a young soldier, decorated by the US army and by the Iraqi Government. He is connected to every possible figure inIraq (Sunni, Shiite and Kurd, as well as all factions).

There are some people that seek means to make money around this war. I exploit that to my advantage. Tribal leaders are very helpful.
We never meet ISIS. We never negotiate with ISIS.

For the first time a Canadian Sephardic delegation was formed to be given, as Radio Shalom journalist Charles Lugassy says, its “title of nobility”. In what context was your meeting with the government and its leader organized? For what reason did you meet the Prime Minister? Do you have concrete political support?

Steve Maman: Well, the agenda of the day was specifically to honor Sephardic Jews that are influential.
The delegation was made up of people that make a difference in our world, by Sephardic Jews of all origins. I was chosen for my involvement in this project and mission. It was part of a group of 27 people from Canada.

I met the politicians in a context where the first delegation of Sephardic Jews was invited to Ottawa in a historical context (Purim day). We were greeted witha lunch, a tour, and exchanges with ministers while the Prime Minister was reserved for a select 7 people.

Has the constitution of this delegation been helpful for example in the fight you lead to rescue child victims of ISIS?

Steve Maman: Not at all. There was no relation with the agenda of that day.

You give in your video on YouTube the example of the Jordanian pilot. What was its impact on your project?

Steve Maman: Yes, this moved me very deeply. I wanted to act and not remain a spectator. I basically looked at my watch, and noticed how many lives I could save if I were to sell what was on my wrist. The next morning, I decided I would help children out, using my contacts in Iraq.

What message do you want to send to the world?
Steve Maman: This project is directed by a Moroccan Jew that was born in a country where there is tolerance for all religions that permits them to express themselves openly.

Morocco should serve as an example to the world. I could be more proud to be born to such country. My Moroccan identity is what makes me who I am, someone who cares, who loves and gives to strangers. This character is typical of Moroccans. We are definitely givers. The land inspired us with love for others. The land made us who we are: in my case, a Moroccan Jew with an attachment to my land that is irreproachable. This is proven again through the generosity of Moroccan Jews who are clearly standing with me in my fight to save and liberate these innocent girls and women.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Jews don't trust Iran, with reason

Writing in Jewish Journal, Sarah Levin of JIMENA finds that Iranian Jews have good reason not to trust Iran to keep to the nuclear deal negotiated with the Obama administration +5.

Karmel Melamed, an Iranian-born JIMENA speaker and award-winning international journalist, seems to sum up the sentiments of many Iranian American Jews. “The nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran is very disturbing for Iranian American Jews like myself,” he wrote, “because our families experienced first hand the sheer evil as well as random terror of anti-Semitism carried out by this Iranian regime for more than 35 years.”

Deeply concerned that the lifting of sanctions will have grave consequences, he continued: “We [Iranian American Jews] shudder at the thought of what chaos and destruction this regime will unleash on Jews, Christians and others worldwide who they consider ‘infidels,’ through their terror proxies Hamas and Hezbollah, once the regime is infused with $150 billion of their frozen assets after this deal is approved by Congress.”

The mistrust, anger and extremely negative sentiments of Iranian American Jews toward the regime, in the context of the nuclear agreement and beyond, are justified. Iranian Jews compose an ancient, culturally rich community that was subjected to severe human rights abuses by a regime that continues to treat them as second-class citizens. Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, 90 percent of Iran’s Jews fled, often under duress with just the shirts on their backs. JIMENA has interviewed Iranian American Jews who risked their lives by illegally escaping through treacherous deserts to become homeless refugees in Pakistan.

This story is not uncommon. We’ve interviewed individuals whose family members were executed by the Revolutionary Guards simply for asserting their Jewishness and their right to their property. Despite the regime’s publicity-minded efforts to showcase themselves as a government that is tolerant of its Jewish citizens, JIMENA’s Iranian members continue to share stories of the discrimination, dispossession, torture and murder of Jews simply because of their faith.

George Haroonian, an prominent Iranian Jewish activist and friend of JIMENA, told me: “This regime, no matter how the personalities are branded as conservative or moderate or radical, has hegemonic plans for the Middle East and the world. … All agreements are only steps in achieving their long-term goal.”

Some of JIMENA’s Iranian members take a nuanced view of the nuclear agreement, but remain critical of the regime’s dismal human rights record. However, Elliott Benjamin, JIMENA advisory board member and Iranian American Jewish communal leader, expresses the opinion that seems to be shared by the majority of our membership: “The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, otherwise known as the Iran deal, is a catastrophic mistake of historic proportions.

Read article in full 

Iranian Jews in US 'against Obama deal'

Monday, August 24, 2015

Israel's Moroccan youth project likened to Da'esh

Le récent voyage effectué par une trentaine de jeunes juifs marocains en Israël dans le cadre d’un programme sous le patronage du ministère de la Défense a relancé la campagne des milieux anti-normalisation au royaume. Ils demandent dans une lettre adressée au chef du gouvernement Abdelilah Benkirane d’ordonner l’ouverture d’une enquête « sincère » et « transparente » sur cet incident.
Les signataires de la missive réclament « d’identifier les responsables » derrière l’organisation de ce programme « et d’en prendre les mesures qui s’imposent ». Ils demandent également de « tout mettre en œuvre afin d’éviter que de nouveaux déplacements de ce genre ne soient enregistrés (…) et de poursuivre en justice tout personne ayant participé ou compte commettre des crimes de guerre et de crimes contre l’humanité en Palestine occupée ».
Poursuivre les jeunes avec la loi antiterrorisme comme ceux de Daesh
Les ONG qui qualifient l’Etat israélien de « régime d’apartheid », affirment que la visite est « aussi dangereuse que rallier l’organisation Daesh ». Elles expliquent que « la constitution d’une bande armée par des individus marocains menace la sécurité nationale quelque soit la partie terroriste qui les recrute et les entraine ».
Jouant à fond la carte sécuritaire, les auteurs de cette lettre affirment qu’ « il ne faut en aucun cas sous-estimer les entrainements militaires dans l’entité sioniste sous couvert de considérations politiques ou autre lorsque la stabilité et la sécurité dans notre pays sont en danger ». Ils rappellent également les révélations en octobre 2013 du général Amos Yadlin, ancien directeur des services secrets de l’armée « Aman », à une chaîne de télé de son pays affirmant qu’Israël compte un réseau d’espionnage et de subversion capable, en cas de besoin, de déstabiliser le Maroc.
Le chef du gouvernement est donc face à une nouvelle interpellation des milieux opposés à Israël lui demandant d’agir. Il y a une année, quasiment les mêmes ONG avaient adressé une lettre à l’homme fort du PJD sollicitant son intervention pour interdire les activités de la compagnie israélienne ZIM, une propriété d’un holding public, dans les ports marocains. Une requête jetée aux oubliettes. Le même sort sera-t-il réservé à cette nouvelle doléance des anciens amis de Benkirane ?

...Suite :
Le récent voyage effectué par une trentaine de jeunes juifs marocains en Israël dans le cadre d’un programme sous le patronage du ministère de la Défense a relancé la campagne des milieux anti-normalisation au royaume. Ils demandent dans une lettre adressée au chef du gouvernement Abdelilah Benkirane d’ordonner l’ouverture d’une enquête « sincère » et « transparente » sur cet incident.
Les signataires de la missive réclament « d’identifier les responsables » derrière l’organisation de ce programme « et d’en prendre les mesures qui s’imposent ». Ils demandent également de « tout mettre en œuvre afin d’éviter que de nouveaux déplacements de ce genre ne soient enregistrés (…) et de poursuivre en justice tout personne ayant participé ou compte commettre des crimes de guerre et de crimes contre l’humanité en Palestine occupée ».
Poursuivre les jeunes avec la loi antiterrorisme comme ceux de Daesh
Les ONG qui qualifient l’Etat israélien de « régime d’apartheid », affirment que la visite est « aussi dangereuse que rallier l’organisation Daesh ». Elles expliquent que « la constitution d’une bande armée par des individus marocains menace la sécurité nationale quelque soit la partie terroriste qui les recrute et les entraine ».
Jouant à fond la carte sécuritaire, les auteurs de cette lettre affirment qu’ « il ne faut en aucun cas sous-estimer les entrainements militaires dans l’entité sioniste sous couvert de considérations politiques ou autre lorsque la stabilité et la sécurité dans notre pays sont en danger ». Ils rappellent également les révélations en octobre 2013 du général Amos Yadlin, ancien directeur des services secrets de l’armée « Aman », à une chaîne de télé de son pays affirmant qu’Israël compte un réseau d’espionnage et de subversion capable, en cas de besoin, de déstabiliser le Maroc.
Le chef du gouvernement est donc face à une nouvelle interpellation des milieux opposés à Israël lui demandant d’agir. Il y a une année, quasiment les mêmes ONG avaient adressé une lettre à l’homme fort du PJD sollicitant son intervention pour interdire les activités de la compagnie israélienne ZIM, une propriété d’un holding public, dans les ports marocains. Une requête jetée aux oubliettes. Le même sort sera-t-il réservé à cette nouvelle doléance des anciens amis de Benkirane ?

...Suite :
The fallout from the report that 30 young Moroccan Jews had been on an IDF-sponsored training course in Israel was going to be inevitable. The Jerusalem Post pulled the original article, but the damage had already been done. Not content with smearing the IDF, anti-normalisers in Morocco have gone a step further, accusing Israel of being no different from Da'esh (Islamic state), and plotting to subvert the Moroccan regime itself. This report in Ya Biladi takes a swipe at the Islamist PJD party, who are behind the campaign.
Abdelilah Benkirane, head of government and leader of the Islamist PJD

The recent trip made by thirty young Moroccan Jews in Israel as part of a program sponsored by the Ministry of Defence has renewed the anti-normalization campaign in the kingdom. They have written a letter to Abdelilah Benkirane, head of government asking him to order a "sincere" and "transparent" investigation into the incident.

 Signatories of the letter demand "to identify those responsible" behind the organization of this program "and to take the necessary measures." They are also asking him to "make every effort to prevent further projects of this kind (...) and to prosecute any person involved in committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in occupied Palestine."

 NGOs that call the Israeli state an"apartheid" state say that the visit is "as dangerous as allying with Daesh ."

They explain that "the formation of an armed group by Moroccan individuals threatens national security, regardless of the terrorists who recruit and train them."

Playing the security card, the authors of the letter say that "it should in any case not underestimate the military training in the Zionist entity under the cover of political or other considerations when stability and security in our country is in danger ".

They also recall the revelations in October 2013 by General Amos Yadlin , former director of the army secret service unit "Aman", to a TV channel in his country, saying that Israel has a network of espionage and subversion capable, if necessary, of destabilizing Morocco.

The head of government is facing new calls from circles opposed to Israel asking him to act. A year ago, almost all the same NGOs had sent a letter to the strong man of the PJD seeking his intervention in prohibiting the activities of the Israeli company ZIM, a public company, in Moroccan ports. The call was consigned to oblivion. Will this be the fate of this new protest by Benkirane's old friends ?

Read article in full (French)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Jews went on hunger strike in 1950s Iraqi prisons

 In spite of the moral equivalence with a Palestinian terrorist hunger striker in the final paragraph, this article in +972 magazine by Orit Bashkin gives an interesting insight into how  Jews and Communists went on  hunger strike in the Iraq of the 1950s, leading, she claims, to 'regime change'. One Jewish hunger striker, Regina Lukai, was the subject of an Israeli TV film. (with thanks: Janet)

Many Jews were imprisoned for political reasons, because of anti-Semitism, or because of their connections to radical or Zionist organizations (including this writer’s own great grandfather, who was imprisoned in Russia because he was a Zionist and escaped to mandatory Palestine in 1927). And even in the prisons of mandatory Palestine, communists and revisionists used hunger strikes as part of their political battles.

In Iraq, the subject of my research, Jewish prisoners used hunger strikes in the 1950s.

Since the mid-1940s, two illegal underground organizations had been growing in influence in Iraq among Jewish youth and students: the Zionist and the Communist. The Zionist movement was smaller, in contrast to the Communists, who exerted influence throughout all of Iraq and included all faiths.

The Iraqi government brutally repressed both movements. Many Jews who were, in fact, neither Zionist nor communist, were arrested by the state in 1948 on the false accusations that they were members of those organizations.

One of the most infamous prisons in Iraq was Nuqrat al-Salman, a fortress in the desert where Jewish and non-Jewish political prisoners were kept. In 1951, Nukqat al-Salman held 50 Jewish prisoners out of the 162 political prisoners; 8 Jews had been stripped of their nationality. Paradoxically, moreover, the jails in Iraq became a hotbed for political activity, given that they contained such a concentrated number of Communists.

In July 1951, the prisoners began a hunger strike, which quickly became a nation-wide event. The political prisoners argued that the court which judged them did not have the authority to do so—part of them were, in fact, judged by emergency laws imposed in 1948—and demanded that the prison be closed.
The Iraqi opposition, from both the left and the right, reported on the hunger strikes and the tortures through their newspapers. Protests broke out in Baghdad and in Basra to display support for the hunger strikers. Until today, the 1950s hunger strike protests are remembered as one of the critical aspects of what became a wave of protests against the regime.

Another case relates to a 16-year-old girl, Regina Lukai (now Herzliya Lukai) from Irbil in northern Iraq, who had been arrested because she simply had a letter in Hebrew. She recalls being imprisoned in Irbil with male prisoners who protected her from the police guards.  She was then transferred to Baghdad, interrogated and, though she was not provided an attorney, was sentenced to a two year imprisonment on charges of cooperation with Zionism.

She served six months in Baghdad, and then was again transferred to a prison in Irbil, where she joined communist female prisoners and needed to pretend to be a communist in order to be in their graces. Together, the women began a hunger strike, and Regina was on her 21st day when she was force fed along with her fellow inmates. On the way to the force feeding, the women screamed that they were political prisoners. The strike itself was covered in the press.

Regina, who was ultimately released and celebrated in her city of birth, was the subject of a film shown on Israeli television in 1989 called “Tsamot.” The hunger strike frames the narrative and appears in the beginning and the end of the story.

I assume that at this point many readers might be annoyed, and rightly so. After all, there is nothing alike in the Zionist and Communist undergrounds and the Islamic Jihad of which Mohammad Allan is allegedly a member. The undergrounds in Iraq were secular and modern. The communists encompassed all religions and protested sectarianism. These organizations have nothing in common with Islamic Jihad in their world view or their tactics.

However, all hunger strikers – Iraqi and Palestinian, Muslims, Christians, and Jews – raised similar claims: that prisoners are entitled to the right of a fair trial, that an attorney present their case, that their imprisonment conditions be fair, and that torture would not be a part of their “interrogations.”

Read article in full