Sunday, October 15, 2017

Mind the gap...

Point of No Return will be taking a short break. Normal service will be resumed later in the week....

Saturday, October 14, 2017

New head of UNESCO is of Moroccan-Jewish descent

A day after the US and Israel announced their departure from UNESCO in protest at its anti-Israel bias, the body elected a Jewish woman of Moroccan descent to be its next head. Audrey Azoulay is the daughter of Andre Azoulay, the adviser to the king of Morocco. Both he and his wife Katia Brami are from Essouira (Mogador) but their three daughters were born in France. 

Audrey Azoulay: grew up in a very leftwing environment

The Times of Israel reports:

 France’s Audrey Azoulay, chosen Friday to lead UNESCO, said following her election she believed member states must “get involved” in the organization and “not leave it,” a day after the US and Israel announced their plans to withdraw. Stressing that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was going through difficult times, Azoulay said, “In a time of crisis, we need to be more involved than ever, seek to strengthen it, and not leave it.”

 Azoulay reiterated that the “first thing she would endeavor” if confirmed by the General Conference in November, would be to “restore the credibility” of the organization and the confidence of member states. Azoulay was named to head the UN’s embattled cultural agency on Friday, beating her Qatari rival after a politically charged contest clouded by Gulf tensions and accusations of anti-Israel bias. Azoulay, 49, came from behind after six rounds of voting to defeat Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari, also a former culture minister, after he failed to pick up support from other Gulf states which are part of a Saudi-led coalition blockading Qatar. The vote was 30 to 28.

 The campaign to succeed UNESCO’s outgoing chief Irina Bokova was overshadowed by Washington’s announcement Thursday that it planned to withdraw from the Paris-based body after years of tensions over decisions seen as critical of Israel.

Read article in full 

  Who is Audrey Azoulay?

 The youngest of three sisters, Azoulay rose from obscurity to become minister of culture in the Hollande socialist government in 2016. Azoulay has stated that she "grew up in a very left-wing environment" "politicised on the Israel-Palestine conflict". Her views on Israel are unknown, although she was said to have experienced for the first time classic French antisemitism at ENA, the elite school which produces France's political establishment. She spent eight years as director of the Centre International du Cinema.

At Sciences Po she met her husband François-Xavier Labarraque. They have two children.

 Both her parents are from Essaouira and retained Moroccan nationality. Azoulay has only French nationality but made visits to Morocco as a child. She does not speak Arabic. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Egypt's Jews support official UNESCO candidate

Voting for the new head of UNESCO takes place on Monday in Paris. The Egyptian candidate, Moushira Khattab, is a front-runner and has the support of the tiny Jewish community of Egypt, led by Magda Haroun. But Khattab's candidacy has been attacked by rights groups, who claim she has been sometimes 'complicit' in the government's human rights violations. Report in The Times of Israel (with thanks: Boruch):

The head of Egypt’s minuscule Jewish community has voiced support for the country’s UNESCO candidate, as the cultural body prepared to vote for a new leader Monday amid intense Israeli lobbying to thwart perceived anti-Israel bias. A statement from Egypt Jewish community head Magda Haroun said that Moushira Khattab has shown an impressive and “genuine commitment to our cause to protect Egypt’s Jewish heritage.”

Moushira Khattab 

A US-educated longtime diplomat, Khattab is believed to be among the front-runners for the UNESCO top post, to replace Irina Bukova. Voting is due to start on Monday in Paris.

Khattab has also served as chairwoman of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and was one of the main architects of legislation prohibiting the marriage of underage girls and female genital circumcision.In expressing her support for Khattab, Haroun cited a 1990s campaign for women’s rights when Khattab served as a top aide to the country’s first lady at the time, Suzanne Mubarak.

 Khattab’s candidacy has been opposed by a number of Egyptian human rights groups, with a top Egyptian rights lawyer saying the country’s candidate for UNESCO’s top job is not qualified for the post because of her silence and “sometimes complicity” in the government’s repressive policies.

  Read article in full 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Jewish-Muslim links become a hot topic outside Morcco

Aomar Boum made his name by researching Muslim-Jewish relations in his native Morocco, where there remain fewer Jews than in his adopted home of Los Angeles. Now the topic is becoming hot, and he is working on books exploring the issue of displacement and the Holocaust in North Africa. Interview in the Daily Bruin (with thanks: Michelle):

"The formula is to at least allow a future generation to at least respect diversity and difference is training and education, from the bottom up," Boum said.

Aomar Boum, associate professor of anthropology

Boum added he thinks his partnerships with individuals in his home country and with researchers at UCLA are a model for teaching and fostering student initiative and involvement.
Boum said his research on the Moroccan Jewish community examines a history not widely discussed outside Morocco for centuries, and at the same time looks at how the group views itself in the present.

There are approximately 4,000 people who identify as Moroccan Jews living in Morocco today, compared with almost 10,000 Moroccan Jews in Los Angeles, Boum said.
He added he thinks the recent termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program highlighted the dual presence minorities feel between their current places of residence and their ancestral heritage.

"The hyphenated identity is a question always being debated, especially with all the debates about (immigration) now," he added.

Boum is collaborating with a young Moroccan artist to develop a comic book that tells a story of a young Jewish boy who fled Berlin during World War II and was taken in by a Muslim and Jewish family in Casablanca, Morocco, until the end of the war.

The book will address the situation of refugees around the world, including individuals displaced in Myanmar, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, Boum said.

Sarah Abrevaya Stein, a history professor, who is co-editing a book with Boum titled "The Holocaust and North Africa," said their work focuses on topics that are often not covered in a single department.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Kuwait donors fund aid for Yemen Jews

Food aid being delivered to Jews in Sana'a

Volunteers of the Yemen-based charity Mona Relief delivered food packages to poor Jewish families in Sanaa this week thanks to Kuwaiti donations, the Jerusalem Post reports. Since the outbreak of the civil war, the stipends the Jews received in their Sanaa compound dried up and the remaining Jews are struggling to make ends meet. The article puts the number of Jews in Yemen at 86, but there are probably half that number. Last year, the Jewish Agency airlifted the last group of Yemeni Jews who wished to move to Israel. (With thanks: Lily)

It is the fourth time the organization has provided aid to the tiny Jewish community that remains in Yemen, as part of the NGO’s wider humanitarian relief projects. The donations began in 2016 when a journalist alerted Mona Relief founder and CEO Fatik al-Rodaini about the poor conditions in which the Jewish community was living. Rodaini visited the families in December 2016, and met with their leader, Yehia Yousef. Several days later Rodaini reached out to the community with food packages, blankets and hygiene kits funded by the NGO’s online fund-raising campaign.

“That was the beginning of our initiative to the Jewish minority in Sanaa,” Rodaini told The Jerusalem Post. “I promised to help them monthly with food aid and medicine to Jewish members who are sick with chronic diseases. However, I couldn’t fulfill my commitments toward them due to the lack of resources. But I tried to help them annually.”

Rodaini has managed more than annual aid; the last two times, however, were made possible with the aid of anonymous Kuwaiti donors.

Asked about the unusual circumstances of Kuwaitis donating to Jews, Rodaini said that not only had the donors accepted to help the cause when he had asked, they subsequently offered unsolicited donations to the community.

“We are talking about humanity and not about their religion,” said Rodaini, adding that the NGO delivers supplies to 86 Jews in Yemen, making up some 20 families.

Read article in full

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Algiers, 1942: 'the Jews will have to wait'

Operation Torch marked the American invasion of North Africa in 1942, and the first stage in the defeat of the Vichy regime in Algeria. But this significant event merits little mention in the history books and the role of the Jewish resistance gets even less attention. The immediate failure to restore Jewish rights would put down a  marker for America's future Middle Eastern policy, claims Robert Satloff in Mosaic (with thanks: Imre)

Until Torch, the misfortune facing the Jews in lands under fascist domination was, for the Roosevelt administration, a faraway problem, distressful to contemplate but distant from the battle front. Torch changed that equation. For the first time during the war, Torch’s success put American troops in direct control of territory in which Jews faced government-ordained and -implemented persecution and possible death.
This reality made “the Jewish question” a pressing issue. Moreover, thanks to one remarkable but little-recognized fact, it became an immediate issue as well.
In the early morning hours of November 8, 1942, as U.S. and British forces waited anxiously on troop ships spread across the North African coast, 377 young men, led by a twenty-year-old medical student named José Aboulker, had fanned out across Algeria’s capital city of Algiers to execute a daring mission that would help determine the fate of Torch.Aboulker and other resistance leaders had established clandestine contact with the Americans, who promised to supply them with machine guns, grenades, and other weapons. Those promises had gone unfulfilled; but the conspirators were undeterred. Armed only with knives, pistols, and antiquated 19th-century rifles, they aimed at nothing less than to take over the city, arrest the local Vichy generals, admirals, and prefects in their beds, cut communications with the outside world, and immobilize thousands of French soldiers in their barracks.

Astonishingly, through gumption, guile, and guts, these ragtag volunteers succeeded. By 2:00 a.m. on the morning of the invasion, Algeria’s capital was theirs. No less astonishingly, they then proceeded to hold it for an additional five critical hours, making it far easier for Allied troops to enter Algiers than had proved the case in the landing zones of Casablanca and Oran.
If mainstream histories of Torch mention this episode at all, they describe it briefly as but one in a line of heroic tales of French partisans. The official U.S. army account of American military engagement in North Africa, for example, records that “Algiers came under control of the irregulars of the French resistance at the time the landings began.”
Read article in full

On 28 November Harif is putting on a London screening of Rami Kimchi's 'Night of Fools', a documentary about the Jewish role in facilitating the American wartime landing in Algiers. Details here.

Monday, October 09, 2017

Were Egypt’s Jews expelled? Bonan rebuts Bisawe

Israel Bonan 's plans to leave Egypt were disrupted when he became  one of 400 Jews jailed for up to three years after the 1967 war. Haaretz has published his long rebuttal to an earlier piece by Eyal Sagui Bisawe  which argued that Egyptian Jews were not singled out for expulsion: their exit was not as dramatic nor as  systematic as they claim, but a result of decolonisation targeting all minorities. (Bisawe’s claim that Jews from Arab countries exaggerated their persecution to gain legitimacy with Ashkenazi Jews is commonly heard on the left.) Bonan argues that Jews were targeted over and above other minorities and for their religion, not nationality (with thanks: Pablo, Eliyahu, Imre and Lily):

Israel Bonan and his family, Alexandria, 1950s

"We can imagine rows of hooded soldiers gathering Egyptian Jews in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and giving them two options: convert to Islam or be expelled. Or even not giving them the choice but expelling them all. But such an event simply never occurred." 

Putting aside the vulgar and unworthy lack of empathy, the ridicule and venom, what is the definition of the word expulsion? A common definition would be: “The process of forcing someone to leave a place, especially a country.”

A process usually entails more than one step to accomplish a purpose.

So, what was the process used to expel the Jews and other minorities from Egypt? These steps spanned many years, promoted by successive governments all marching to the same tune: "Egypt for the Egyptians". 

The process follows the same template of Nazi Germany, and of all forms of fascism. Loss of citizenship rights and protection, loss of jobs in the private and public sectors, no prospect for future employment, dispossession of assets, death, and expatriation/expulsion. 

In 1929 Egypt enacted a nationality law that stripped the great majority of Egyptian Jews, who’d lived in Egypt for centuries, of their nationality and their citizenship rights and protection. This law forced the Jews of Egypt to outright seek such protection from foreign governments by proving plausible lineage to those countries, or to remain stateless.

In case Mr. Bizawe misses the significance of that law, it implied that the majority of the Jews were not to be considered Egyptians, because of their religion.

In 1947 Egypt enacted the Company Law, which mandated Egyptian citizenship for 90% of employees and 70% of management in any private or public company. The Company Law, in one fell swoop, denied most Jews, as well as Armenians, Greeks, and other ethnic minorities, of their livelihood.

This one-two punch is a true example of economic ethnic cleansing; first you declare they are non-Egyptians, and then you restrict work in the public and private sectors to Egyptians only. After that, Jews quickly learned they would never find a job. 

Once again, in case Mr. Bizawe misses the significance of that law: Greeks and Armenians were targeted for their nationality, but Jews for their religion.

In 1954 Egypt enacted the Nationalization Law, stripping Jews and even well-to-do Egyptians of their businesses, and nationalizing their assets. 

With the rise of Arab nationalism and the onset of the UN partition debate over Palestine, the political environment in Egypt grew progressively more hostile toward the Jewish community. Mr. Bizawe ignores the significance of the final incarceration and expulsion of Jewish adult males in 1967.

Did the Mizrahi Jews "leave of their own volition"? My sister left Egypt first, to be betrothed; my brother followed a year later, after he finished his engineering studies; and I had one month left before I could earn my own engineering degree and, together with my elderly parents, join my siblings. 

What is "of our own volition?” History is about cause and effect: the laws and measures taken left us with no option but to leave. 

Read article in full

Sunday, October 08, 2017

New Sephardi Museum planned for Netanya

The Sefarad Museum: Sefardi and Oriental Jewry Heritage Center, in Netanya, Israel, is scheduled to break ground in 2018, to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary, according to Canadian Jewish News. Note that this project will be devoted to the Jews of Spain, and should not be confused with the Museum of Jews from Arab Countries, which is projected to be built in Jerusalem. (With thanks: Imre)

Artist's impression of the Netanya Museum

It promises to be the most significant museum of its kind, illuminating over 2,000 years of Sephardi and Oriental Jewry’s intellectual and cultural contributions to Judaism. The 5,000-square-meter facility, set on four floors, has been spearheaded by the Netanya Academic College and the municipality of Netanya, with support from Israel’s Ministry of Culture and Sport, as well as Jewish donors from around the world.

 Integrating traditional display techniques with interactive technologies, including virtual reality displays and interactive touch screens, the museum’s highlights will include a Ladino music centre, a state-of-the-art research library, a gallery on Christopher Columbus and Sephardi Jewish maritime achievements in the Middle Ages, exhibits on Maimonides and Judah Halevy, and a history of Spanish Jewry.

 It’s slated to open in about three years.

Read article in full

Friday, October 06, 2017

Egyptian diplomats make Yom Kippur visit in Paris

Two Egyptian embassy officials paid a courtesy call to a community of Egyptian Jews in Paris on Yom Kippur. The visit seems to herald a better era in relations.

“The Egypt which no longer wished to know us has not quite forgotten us,” declared Yves Fedida of the Nebi Daniel Aasociation. The visit recalled that of General Neguib to the Cairo community in 1952.

Deputy Chief of Mission Hesham el Mekwad and First Secretary Mohamed Kandil called on the Oratoire Nebi Daniel on the holiest day of the Jewish year. In his report of the event, Mr Fedida praised the Egyptian government for taking steps to preserve Egypt's Jewish heritage.

They have pledged to protect three cemeteries in Alexandria from intruders and vandals and are undertaking a survey of graves. The Egyptian government will finance the repairs to the Nebi Daniel synagogue in Alexandria to the tune of 5 million euros. In Cairo the Drop of Milk charitable association has been revived to catalogue registers and restore Cairo cemeteries. The Association also aims to establish an exhibition space and cultural centre.

Egyptian Jews are still waiting for the government to follow through on its promise to permit them to obtain copies of communal records.

The Nebi Daniel Association is keeping up the pressure by urging people to sign the petition here.

Tunisian police arrest Jew on Kippur eve

Hundreds of Jews demonstrated as Yom Kippur ended for the release of Tsion Haddad, in police custody. Story in Actualite juive ( with thanks: Michelle)

Hundreds of Jews demonstrate for the release of Tsion Haddad.

  Haddad, 70, was stopped by police for having illegally-acquired meat in his car on the eve of Yom Kippur.  The meat, they alleged, was unfit for human consumption. As soon as the festival was over, hundreds of Jews still wearing their skull caps demanded the intervention of the prime minister and the minister of the interior. A similar incident has not occurred for 20 years. To-date it is assumed that Haddad has still not been released.

 Some 1,000 Jews live on the island of Djerba, one of the most ancient of Jewish communities.

Read article in full (French)

Thursday, October 05, 2017

US senator urges government not to send back archive

Senator Charles Schumer has called upon US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson not to return the Iraqi-Jewish archive, as mandated by an agreement signed between the provisional government in Iraq in 2003 and the US National Archives and Records Administration which shipped the archive to the US for restoration. To return the collection to its Jewish owners would require a new agreement, according to the Times of Israel (with thanks: Lily):

Schumer is among a group of US lawmakers who have joined Jewish groups in lobbying to keep the archive in a location accessible to Iraqi Jews and their descendants, who today live outside Iraq after being driven out amid intense persecution. Iraq and proponents of returning the archive say it can serve as an educational tool for Iraqis about the history of Jews there and that it is part of the country’s patrimony. “It’s disheartening that parchments of a Torah scroll and prayer books were discovered in such poor condition inside a flooded Baghdad Intelligence Center. After the United States preserved this ancient collection, it makes no sense to return the items to the Iraqi government, where they will no longer be accessible to the Jewish community,” Schumer said Tuesday in a statement released along with the letter.

Children's Haggadah from 1902

 Earlier this month, Rodriguez (State Department spokesman Pablo) said the United States “will urge the Iraqi government to take the proper steps necessary to preserve the archive, and to make it available to members of the public to enjoy.” Major Jewish groups have remained largely silent on the issue following the announcement of the 2018 return date. The Zionist Organization of America released a statement last month urging the State Department not to send back the archive, and Israeli lawmaker Anat Berko told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pressure the US to not send back the artifacts. The archive is set to be exhibited at the Jewish Museum of Maryland from October 15 to January 15.

  Read article in full

Have you signed the petition yet?

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Only 24 Jews remain in Turkish capital

The ancient Turkish community dates back to biblical times but today its 24 members struggle to make a minyan on Yom Kippur. Article in Haaretz (with thanks: Lily)

“The Jews of Ankara are so far and few between that I can fit them all around my dining room table,” says Israel's ambassador to Turkey, Eitan Na’eh, as he surveys the congregants for Yom Kippur services in the nearly empty synagogue.

Located in Ulus, the tumbling old quarter of Turkey’s capital, the synagogue dates back to the 19th century and was radically refurbished by an Italian architect in 1906. Na’eh is surrounded by a sea of little carpets that are laid out on the synagogue benches, which remain unoccupied throughout the holy day.

In 1923, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk proclaimed Ankara the capital of the newly founded Turkish republic, but the history of the city — and that of its Jewish community — date back much further.

A minyan (prayer quorum) is a struggle at the Ankara Synagogue, Turkey. (Esti Judah/Davide Lerner)

The Jewish community of Ankara can be traced back to the biblical period. The Byzantine-era Jews, known as Romaniots, inhabited central Anatolia well before a wave of thousands of Sephardi Jews came to the region following their expulsion from Spain in 1492. The community peaked at about 5,000 members in the 1930s, according to researcher Enver Arcak, who has produced a new documentary, “Hermana,” (“Sister” in Spanish) on the history of the local Jews.

Ankara’s Jewish community now numbers a mere 24 people, and that includes the Jewish members of the diplomatic corps and UN officials posted in the city. Just a few of the 24 turned up promptly for the start of Saturday morning’s Yom Kippur service, which was led by a rabbi sent from Istanbul. It took several hours and many desperate phone calls to gather a minyan, the minimum of 10 male Jews required to start the prayers.

“When I was a child the whole neighborhood of Samanpazari of Ulus was bustling with Jewish life,” bemoans Can Ozgun, president of the local Jewish community. “The synagogue was open every day,” adds Moshe, one of the community elders.

“Now I only open it once or twice a year,” Ozgun says, fidgeting with the keys to the synagogue. The rest of the year Ozgun is rarely available, declining requests to open the synagogue for curious passersby.

In his documentary, Arcak tries to identify the key turning points in the Jewish depopulation of Ankara and the region. “Thousands of Jews, as well as Greeks and Armenians, were forced to leave Turkey in 1942 after the issuing of the so-called levy on wealth and extraordinary profits,” he says. “The tax was deliberately tailored to transfer their riches to ethnic Turks by requesting sums from the minorities that they were unable to pay.”

Against the backdrop of an economic slump following World War II, another wave of Turkish Jews left for the newly founded State of Israel, Arcak explains. While Turkey’s neutrality during WWII helped save the Turkish community from the fate of European Jewry, Turkey did not prove immune to the postwar economic downturn that crippled much of Europe. Like many other Europeans, Ankara’s Jews packed their bags to search for better economic fortunes overseas, heading to North America and Israel; others settled closer to home, in Istanbul and Izmir.

Prayer led from the pulpit of Ankara Synagogue, Ankara, Turkey. Esther Judah

By the 1960s and '70s, the Jews of Ankara numbered 500 to 600 people. “We would sit in the right-hand corner [of the synagogue] squeezed together,” recalls Ozgun’s wife, Vicky. “That’s where the young people would sit, and our mothers would sit on the central balcony over there,” she continues, pointing to the empty, dusty women’s balcony above. Broken neon lights flicker above the terrace. On the ornate ceiling, with cracked, peeling paint, a chandelier dangles above us, half its bulbs burned out.

Moshe was born across the street from the synagogue in 1948 and is a proud speaker of Ladino, the Judeo-Spanish dialect. “We are the last generation to keep the language alive,” he says. Moshe and his wife grew up in the Jewish quarter of the old city, which lies below the Roman citadel. “We moved away from Ulus in 1956 toward Kizilay, the modern central quarter of the city, where there was running water and electricity; we then moved upward toward Ayranci, the city’s hilly residential area,” he recalls.

Moshe now lives in a modern high-rise apartment block a far cry from the abandoned houses in front of the synagogue, in the heart of what is now the slums of Ulus. “With the jobs [available] in Istanbul, people moved on,” he says, especially as they became less involved in civil service and government institutions in the capital. Most Jews are in trade and found better work opportunities on the Bosphorus, he adds.

With the exception of some 1,400 Jews who live in Izmir, Istanbul is home to almost all of Turkey’s 17,000 Jews. But there, too, the community has been shrinking. As many as 500 Jews have left for Israel since the July 2016 failed coup that ushered in another era of political and economic instability in Turkey. Of those who have remained, thousands have obtained Spanish and Portuguese citizenship, based on laws passed in both countries offering citizenship to descendants of Jews exiled from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492.

As Yom Kippur draws to a close, Viktoria, one of the elderly women of the community, slumps down in her chair next to me. “It breaks my heart that he married a Muslim,” she laments while flicking through her phone showing me pictures of her son’s wedding, where he is pictured standing next to a pretty Turkish woman in a décolleté dress.

The last wedding in Ankara’s synagogue was held in 2008; the one before that, 16 years earlier. With the closing prayers of Yom Kippur, Viktoria slips her phone back in her purse, and the muezzin's call from the local mosque echoes through the broken window. Before long, Viktoria grabs her phone again, this time to film the pinnacle of the Yom Kippur prayers, the ne’ila, and send the clip to her son.

When it comes to religious observance, the community is very relaxed, with members using their phones in the synagogue. Indeed, the Jews of Istanbul make fun of the president of the Ankara community, Ozgun, who is a wholesale supplier of non-kosher meat.

Before the closing prayers and the symbolic shutting of the front door, the women fuss over Can and Vicky’s daughter, a tall woman in her early 20s, with long brown hair. “You have to go to Israel to find yourself a husband darling,” one of the women tells her. “Hedi, hedi,” they add for good measure — the Turkish word for “c’mon.”

Intermarriage has played as important a role in the disappearance of the local community as migration has.

“We can’t remember the last person to have used the mikveh,” says Hannah, one of Ankara’s elderly Jews, referring to the ritual bath where a woman immerses herself before her wedding. “It must be somewhere around here,” she adds. “I assume it’s under some rubble around the synagogue. When I was married we used the hamam,” she chuckles, referring to the Turkish bath.

The last rabbi of Ankara’s community immigrated to Israel in the 1980s. In the wake of a coup in 1980, the community sent half of its Torah scrolls to Israel for safekeeping, but they have gone missing, say local Jews. In the run-up to the military takeover that year, which included violent clashes between left-wing and right-wing factions in universities and public places, many Jews and other Turks left for good.

At the end of the Yom Kippur service the Torah scrolls are taken to a back room, more of a former janitor’s cubby hole for safekeeping, “in case they are stolen or if there is a fire,” says Meir, a younger member of the community, who clings to the scrolls tightly.

Ozgun, holder of the key and president of the tiny community, ushers the few remaining Jews out the door and flicks the lights off. “Will see you next year, Inshallah,” Vicky waves as she watches her husband lock the gates of the centuries-old synagogue. Before she bids her final goodbye she turns and adds, “that is, if we are still here next year.”

Read article in full

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Iraqis may be softening towards Israel

Here is more evidence that Iraqis are becoming less hostile to Israel. Palestinian involvement in bombings and support for Saddam Hussein, Kurdish sympathy for Israel and the Iranian threat, are all factors. Report in al-Monitor:
Waving the Kurdish and Israeli flags (Ala al-Marjani/Reuters)
BAGHDAD — Some Iraqis are calling for closer relations with Israel, feeling a common bond of past persecution and a desire for peace and stability. Many people might find two factors cited in this change quite surprising: Iraqis' guilt, and some resentment of Palestinians.

"There is a dramatic shift that has changed [Iraqi] public opinion [toward Israel] as a result of the Palestinians' involvement in supporting the [late Iraqi] dictator Saddam Hussein and thus getting involved in terrorist operations," writer and political analyst Ali Mared al-Asadi told Al-Monitor recently by phone.
"Most Shiites in Iraq have a sense of guilt because they did not support the peaceful Jewish community with whom they lived for hundreds of years in peace and harmony in one homeland, but who were persecuted and displaced during the monarchy [1958-1963] and the Baathist regime [1968-2003] eras.”

Much of the fanaticism and hostility toward Israel appears to have declined in central and southern Baghdad, where the majority of people are Shiite.
On Sept. 9, Asadi wrote, “It is not in the interest of Shiites to antagonize Israel. Shiites and Jews ought to reach understandings based on common humanitarian grounds that guarantee peaceful coexistence in the Middle East.”

Asadi told Al-Monitor by phone, “If we put the influence of Iran and the remnants of the Baathist culture aside, Iraq would have no excuse to keep officially antagonizing Israel, especially since the majority of the Arab states, [even] the Palestinian state itself, hold relations with Tel Aviv.” Asadi apparently was referring to Arab states having contacts or other ties with Tel Aviv, because most Arab states do not formally recognize Israel..

Monday, October 02, 2017

If the archive must be returned, let it go to Kurdistan

 Harold Rhode was in Baghdad when waterlogged Jewish documents and books were discovered in the basement of the secret police headquarters in 2003. In this interview with the JCPA's Lenny Ben-David, he pays tribute to Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi leader who first drew Rhode's attention to the trove. If the collection has to go back to Iraq, Rhode says that it should go to Kurdistan, where the population is sympathetic to Israel. (With thanks: Imre)

 Harold Rhode being interviewed by Lenny Ben-David of the JCPA. Click here to see video.

Harold Rhode: Here’s the problem. According to international law, you cannot steal the patrimony of another country that you take over. So the Americans, the State Department decided you can’t allow this material, it has to go back to Iraq. But the question really is, and periodically it comes up. Now, the Iraqi government – because it is still basically anti-Israeli – the Iraqi government cannot be seen to allow this to be coming to a place like Israel, because then all their Arab brothers are going to get upset with them and they will be shamed and Middle East shame is more important than anything. Shame is what other people say about you and they lose honor, so they can’t agree to us. So how do you solve this problem? Well about five years or so ago, the Iraqi government graciously agreed to let the material stay in the United States for about five years, if I’m correct, and they had exhibits all over the place in the United States. And the material in the meantime remained in the American archives. Now we’re getting to the end of that five-year period…what do we do? Well, the American government wants to return it to the rightful owners by international law which they have decided, since they signed an agreement with an American, that it belongs to Iraq. Well no, it didn’t belong to Iraq! It is the heritage patrimony of the Jewish community; it is their materials, their documents. Who and where are these people? About ninety percent of them today are here in Israel. That’s who it belongs to!

Lenny Ben-David: So it’s going to go to the Iraqis and they’re going to put it in another basement? Can that move be stopped?

Harold Rhode: Well, here are some possibilities. First of all, from a legal point of view, the American government took from Iraq millions and millions of documents about the Baathist leadership in Iraq. Now that is the patrimony and heritage of the Iraqi people. America has no intention of giving this material back, but the Jewish material, well who cares about the Jews? And they want to give this back, why don’t they want to, since they took the all of this material, shouldn’t they be responsible for giving it all back? Well, no one wants to handle that issue. That could create an international problem, and God forbid that should happen. Now, here are the solutions that we could come up with. The Iraqi government could, if it wanted and if the State Department wanted, keep the material in the United States under the guise of going through additional exhibitions, here, there, or God knows where.

Lenny Ben-David: And I assume there are Jewish communities in the United States that would be happy to host such exhibit.

Harold Rhode: Not a question of a doubt. It’s been all over the United States so far, since there were twenty-seven hundred items, they chose 27 items. That’s one possibility. If it has to go back to Iraq, the Kurds in northern Iraq who, on September 25th, which is a few days from now, are going to have a referendum for independence. The Kurds in northern Iraq love Israel; they would be very happy, I’m sure, to have this material. If it has to go back to Iraq, send it Kurdistan.

Lenny Ben-David: I would also add that they have got very good relations with the Jews who still live in Kurdistan.

Harold Rhode: Yes, there are not that many, but there are. This is the patrimony of the Jews who lived in Iraq – that’s who it belongs to. We know that Saddam stole it. We have a witness of someone who saw it being stolen from the last functioning Jewish synagogue. That’s who it belongs to. That’s where it should be returned to. And hopefully, in the future, it possibly could end up in the only museum in the world which is dedicated to the history of the Jews of Iraq or the Jews of Babylonia – the ancient title of what is Iraq – and that is in Or Yehuda, that museum being outside of Tel Aviv.

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Sunday, October 01, 2017

Menasce synagogue is added to Egypt's heritage list

 The Egyptian government's decision, announced in Al-Ahram online, to classify the Menasce synagogue as 'national heritage' is welcome. It means that it will be obligated to preserve and protect the building at its expense, ending the sort of wrangles that we have seen recently over who should pay for repairs to the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue, for instance. (With thanks: Boruch)

Antiquities officials have decided to add the Menasce Synagogue in Alexandria to the national heritage list of Islamic, Coptic and Jewish monuments.

According to Mohammed Metwali, general director of antiquities in Alexandria, the synagogue was built by philanthropist Baron Yacoub de Menasce in 1860.
The decision by the Supreme Council of Antiquities’ board of directors comes after inspection and investigation of the synagogue’s architectural and archaeological conditions.

Mohamed Abdel-Latif, a deputy minister of antiquities and head of the Islamic, Coptic and Jewish Antiquities Department within the ministry, told Ahram Online that the decision came within the framework of the ministry’s keenness to add all Egyptian monuments to the country’s heritage list, regardless of era or religious affiliation.

“All the monuments, whether ancient Egyptian, Jewish, Coptic, Islamic, on Egyptian land are the country’s properties and unique heritage,” he said.
Abdel-Latif explained that the registration of the synagogue, which is located in El-Manshia Square, will make it an official historical site under the antiquities protection law, law no. 117 of 1983, and under its amendments in law no. 3 of 2010.

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