Friday, March 16, 2018

Jewish Affairs rep fired by Kurdish government

The representative of the Jewish Community in Kurdistan, Sherzad Mahmoud Mamsani, has been fired 'to appease Baghdad' according to this Times of Israel piece. The news does not come as a total surprise to readers of Point of No Return. In March 2017, we reported that the Jewish Directorate had been suspended, ostensibly for lack of funds. From the outset, rumours have been swirling around the figure of Mamsani: he is not a Jew, he is responsible for the 'fake news' that Kurdistan still has a Jewish community - and even enlisted the help of an Israeli rabbi to reconstruct it in order to attract US funds - or, he is an Iranian agent. Whatever the truth, it seems that Kurdistan wants to reset its relationship with Baghdad following the disastrous independence referendum in September 2017.(With thanks: Lily)

Update: Mamsani himself has left a comment. This accuses the journalist, Judith Neurink, of misinformation putting his life at risk:
There is some very misleading information in the report
Some information is threatening my life
I am three years with all my efforts I served my mother's religion in the midst of fire
If I have a position or without positions
I am proud of my Jewish religion and our Jewish and Kurdish people
So far I am a constant activity and struggle
Sherzad Mamsani

IRBIL, Iraq – After working for Iraqi Kurdistan’s Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs for two years, the region’s Jewish representative, Sherzad Mamsani, has been let go. The move is especially peculiar since Mamsani’s position was unpaid.

Mamsani said he was not forewarned about his dismissal, which occurred while he was on sick leave abroad.

Mariwan Nasqshbandy, the director of religious coexistence at the Endowment and Religious Affairs Ministry, hinted that the firing could be an effort by the Kurds to reconcile with Baghdad following shaky relations after an independence referendum in September of last year. In the referendum, 93 percent of Iraqi Kurds voted for secession and an autonomous state.

Nasqshbandy said that the move was likely political because the Religious Affairs ministry previously ignored his complaints that Mamsani was proving ineffective at mobilizing Kurdistan’s dormant Jewish community.

Mamsani was one of seven religious minority representatives whose posts were created by the Kurdistani parliament in 2015. The Jewish representative’s position was unique in that its aim was to unite Kurds whose Jewish grandparents converted to Islam. He wanted to offer them a Jewish education and opportunity to return to their roots.

To help rebuild the Jewish community in Kurdistan, Mamsani looked for help from Rabbi Daniel Edri, the chief of the Haifa, Israel, rabbinical court.
In a telephone call with The Times of Israel, Edri claimed that Kamal Muslim, the Minister of Endowment and Religious Affairs, appointed him chief rabbi of Kurdistan. (Naqshbandy said he had no knowledge of this.)

A December 30, 2017 post on the Facebook page entitled Rabbi Daniel EDRI, Kurdistan claimed that the region had a new rabbi for the first time in years.

Sherzad Mamsani, left, with Israeli Rabbi Daniel Edri, who is helping trace Jewish lineage and rebuild the community in the region. (Courtesy)
“Hello my friends from all over the world,” the post said. “Its Kurdistan have new Rabbi after 70 years [sic]. Its the first time after 70 years a Rabbi can start in Kurdistan the new Jewish life.”

The rabbi stressed that Israel did not send him and that he has no political motivations. “I will only work for the religion, since the [locals] do not have any information on the Jewish laws,” Edri said.

Since the September referendum, Kurdish airports have been closed for international flights and Iraqi troops have taken control of disputed territories formerly overseen by the Kurds, including the oil rich city of Kirkuk. Iran also temporarily closed its borders with the Kurdistan region.

Edri expects to return to Irbil as soon as international flights are resumed, although Naqshbandy said he would prefer to have a Kurdish rabbi who speaks the language.

In most Muslim countries leaving Islam is considered a crime, but returning to Judaism is especially discouraged by the staunchly anti-Israel governments in Baghdad and Tehran. Both countries were incensed when Israeli flags appeared at rallies during the referendum campaign, where Israel was touted as the only state supporting the Kurdish demand for secession.

Read article in full 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Sephardim 'would have set up another Arab country'

 Had Sephardim, not Ashkenazim been first to settle in Israel, they would have set up 'another crappy kingdom' in the Middle East. This is the view of Eli Moyal, Sderot's ex-mayor, himself of Moroccan origin. Moyal's reaction, reported by Haaretz,  was part of the fall-out to the TV screening of The Ancestral Sin, a controversial documentary allegedly revealing  discrimination by the Israeli authorities towards Middle Eastern and North African immigrants.  The film has led to ministerial calls for the Jewish Agency archive to be opened, although at least one academic claims that the documentation has long been accessible to  interested parties.

Sderot ex-mayor Eli Moyal: how many universities in Morocco?

Speaking Monday on Israel’s Southern Radio, Sderot (ex-)Mayor Eli Moyal discussed claims that the authorities, during Israel’s early years, were biased against Jews who were not of Ashkenazi, or Eastern Europe, descent. “It’s good that the Ashkenazim received the Sephardim and not the other way around, because otherwise they’d have set up another Arab country in the Middle East,” he said. “If the Sephardim had come first, this would be another crappy kingdom.” 

The country's Sephardim and Mizrahim should look in the mirror, Moyal went on to say. “How many universities were there in Morocco? What did we know about the developed world? How much technology was there in Morocco? When you move cultures, the first and second generation pay the price. You can’t get away from that. The price is justified, and I understand it. In exchange, we received independence and democracy.” 

Yael Ben Yefet, director of the Sephardi Democratic Rainbow, called Moyal a “racist” and a “collaborator.” 

Moyal's comments were possibly related to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked's declaration on Sunday that she intends to open the Jewish Agency’s archive to the public. Shaked, who is also in charge of national archiving, made the decision in response to the 2017 documentary series “The Ancestral Sin.” 

Aired on Channel 2, “The Ancestral Sin” reveals archive documents, some reportedly shown for the first time, that show the racist, discriminatory attitudes Israeli authorities had toward immigrants from Middle Eastern and North African countries, who were relegated to development towns in outlying areas – mainly in the southern and desert areas. After the series was first broadcast, government authorities including Interior Ministry Arye Dery and Culture Minister Miri Regev demanded that the Agency archive be opened.
“There is no reason for materials that deal with the country’s history not to be revealed. We will go over the documents and recommend publishing them, as long as they do not include matters that could jeopardize state security,” Shaked stated on Sunday.

 Read article in full

Film stirs controversy over development towns

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

'The Christians owned the land, Muslims came as guests'

The Al-Khoei family are religious Shi'ites in Iraq with a reputation for moderation. Here scholar Jawad-al-Khoei demonstrates his sense of history and how distant Islamism can be from his brand of Islam. From MEMRI: (with thanks:Lily)  

Jawad Al-Khoei: Violence in our region has its origins here. We are all in the same boat. There is no difference between Syria, Iraq, and so on. Some of the violence is the outcome of the injustice of the dictatorships that ruled us. Poverty, ignorance, deprivation, and oppression all stem from that. Some of the violence is religious violence. It exploits religion.

 The birth of ISIS is not an anomaly. ISIS is deeply rooted in Islam. Its roots can be traced back 1,400 years, to the first century of Islam. When you read [Islamic] history, you find that people would kill someone, then exhume the body, cut off his head, and then burn the body.

Hostess: But all nations experienced this kind of violence.

Jawad Al-Khoei: Fine. But violence is a bad thing, and when it dons the cloak of religion, it is a hundred times more evil. 

Hostess: From what you are saying it sounds as if violence is predestined to remain in this region, because it is so deeply rooted.

Jawad Al-Khoei: No. This depends on our determination, our resolve, and the will of our rulers. If our rulers really want… I mean, is it really conceivable that to this day, there is not a single page in the religious curricula in Iraq about Christianity or about the Yazidi faith?

Hostess: Even though the first Christians were…

Jawad Al-Khoei: They were the owners of this land, and the Muslims came in as their guests. Read transcript in full

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Iraqi newsman calls for apology: English transcript

An Iraqi top news presenter, Ahmed al-Hamdani, called for Iraq to make an apology to Iraqi Jews (and other minorities) recently and called on the Iraqi foreign minister to 'rectify that historic error'. MEMRI has now posted the full transcript of his broadcast. (However, Al-Hamdani's solution is for Iraqi Jews to return. It is not to recognise that Iraqi Jews are now irrevocably Israeli, but to say that many 'refused to go to the Israeli entity'.) Nevertheless, al-Hamdani's call is historic. In contrast, an Algerian politician conjures up anti-Jewish conspiracy theories while rejecting their 'hellish plan' to 'return' to Algeria, a prelude to their takeover of the world. (With thanks: Lily) 

Al Hamdani: "Some seventy years have passed since our honorable Jewish Iraqi community fell victim to a human tragedy and to reckless behavior, when they were taken prisoner and subjected to forced deportation. The consecutive Iraqi governments that followed the monarchic era realized that this had been an error of historic proportions.

All those governments maintained that the property of the Jews was off-limits. That property remained frozen because of the sense that an historic mistake had been made. If such [non-democratic] regimes have acknowledged the tragedy, it is our duty, after seventy years, to rectify that historic error.

It is the same historic error that has been suffered by the Christians, our loyal compatriots, who were banished or killed. It is the same historic error that has been suffered by the Sabaeans, our loyal and honorable compatriots, who were also banished or killed. And it is the same thing that has happened to our loyal and honorable Yazidi compatriots, whose girls, our sisters and our compatriots, have been abducted, which is a crime of honor, a crime [against] humanity.

Hence, seventy years later and from our studio here, I would like to go on record and say that it is our duty to apologize to our Iraqi Jewish compatriots for the tragedy that befell them.  (My emphasis) We should indeed apologize to them, and those who have remained loyal to Iraq should regain their property. Many of them refused to go to the Israeli entity, and have remained loyal to Iraq in the U.S., in Europe, in Britain…

On the Facebook page of the Iraqi Jews, I saw a story about an Iraqi woman called Majdoleen. She talked about the tragedy of being driven out of Iraq with her family. But to this day, she continues to love and respect Iraq and to be loyal to it. Let’s listen to what she has to say.

Majdoleen: The Jews lost all their property. Everything. My father sold our home and put the money in the bank. Then [the bank accounts] were frozen, and he couldn’t withdraw a single penny. We came here [to Israel], and lived for two and a half years in a tent in a refugee absorption camp – two and a half years in a tent, after having a house in Iraq. My father used to be an accountant for the Iraqi airline.

(Majdoleen here seems to be having a flashback to the 1941 Farhud): Some two thousand Arabs came, and burst open the huge iron door [of the market] with knives and axes. They shattered the door, and within one hour, they had cleared out the Salem Shimon market.

We closed the door to grandma’s home and peeped through the windows. One of the thieves said about grandma’s home: “This is a Jewish house”. We placed all kind of things up against the door so that they couldn’t open it, but two thousand people just gave it two or three blows and broke down the door.

They beat up my grandma. She was overweight and could not go upstairs, so she stayed downstairs. They beat her up. They made an “orange”. Do you know what an “orange” is? A stick with a ball of tar. This hurts! They beat her on the head, asking: “Where are the girls?” They were looking for girls. Each time she screamed, I would cry and say: “They killed grandma”.

Hajj Moussa was a prominent businessman, and we went to him. When we walked in – may they rest in peace… When they saw us, the mother and her two daughters began to cry. The mother was cursing the people who had done this.

The first thing the two girls did was to open the sewing machines. They brought some material and sewed dresses for us. They said: “Here you have new clothes, and you can cook for yourselves, since you do not eat the food of the Muslims”. They gave us a roof. In Iraq, we used to sleep on the roof in the summer. They gave us a roof for ourselves, and they slept on another roof. They brought food from their fields. I heard that they had handed out food to all the Jews in the neighborhood. They gave food to all the Jews, who were left without anything.
It was not like in Europe, where there were camps and ghettoes for the Jews. Our neighbors were just like me. We used to eat at each other’s home.

We have come here, but Iraq is dear to our hearts. We grew up and studied there, and we have friends there. What is happening in Iraq is painful to us.

Al-Hamdani: I salute all of our people who have suffered injustice, including the Iraqi Jews who remained loyal to Iraq, despite the seventy years that have passed since the tragedy. I salute them wherever they may be in the world. Someone asked me what about the [Shiite] Feyli Kurd minority. Well, I salute them just as I salute all the others. People, if we do not care about the tragedies of others, nobody will care about our own tragedy.

If I were the foreign minister, I would invite Majdoleen and say to her: “Here is a plane ticket. Come and see your country after seventy years”. I would give her an official welcome, thus sending a positive message to the world. But where can we find a reasonable person who would understand that? If [Foreign Minister] Ibrahim Jaafari has brains, he should do it. We should get him a doctor to see whether he has brains in his head or something else.

Read article in full
Meanwhile, Algerian MP Naima Salhi, Secretary-General of the Parti de l'équité et de la proclamation, warned of a "hellish plan to create a second Zionist entity - a so-called 'Israeli state ' in the Maghreb," and to restore the Jews from Arab countries to their countries of origin. "By now [they] have taken over the world financially," she said. "[Their state] in Algeria will spread to Tunisia, Morocco, Mali, and Mauritania," she warned.

View transcript page

Monday, March 12, 2018

Dershowitz calls for end to Arab 'refugee' charade

It's long overdue. Alan Dershowitz is the most high-profile figure since Irwin Cotler to take up the question of refugees in the Israeli-Arab conflict. A visit to Morocco has prompted his Gatestone Institute call for Palestinians to end the deadly charade of being called 'refugees'. Strikingly, he calls for Arab governments, not Israel, to compensate them for their losses. (With thanks: Simone, Eliyahu)

The Arab exodus from Israel in 1948 was the direct result of a genocidal war declared against the newly established Jewish state by all of its Arab neighbors, including the Arabs of Israel. If they had accepted the UN peace plan — two states for two people — there would be no Palestinian refugees. In the course of Israel's fierce battle for its survival — a battle in which it lost one percent of its population, including many Holocaust survivors and civilians — approximately 700,000 local Arabs were displaced. Many left voluntarily, having been promised a glorious return after the inevitable Arab victory. Others were forced out. Some of these Arabs could trace their homes in what became Israel hundreds of years back. Others were relatively recent arrivals from Arab countries such as Syria, Egypt, and Jordan.

 Moroccan Jews arriving in Israel

Approximately the same number of Jews were displaced from their Arab homelands during this period. Nearly all of them could trace their heritage back thousands of years, well before the Muslims and Arabs became the dominant population. Like the Palestinian Arabs, some left voluntarily, but many had no realistic choice. The similarities are striking, but so are the differences.
The most significant difference is between how Israel dealt with the Jews who were displaced and how the Arab and Muslim word dealt with the Palestinians who had been displaced by a war they started.

Israel integrated its brothers and sisters from the Arab and Muslim world. The Arab world put its Palestinian brothers and sisters in refugee camps, treating them as political pawns — and festering sores — in its persistent war against the Jewish state.

It has now been 70 years since this exchange of populations occurred. It is time to end the deadly charade of calling the displaced Palestinians "refugees." Almost none of the neatly five million Arabs who now seek to claim the mantle of "Palestinian refugee" was ever actually in Israel. They are the descendants — some quite distant — of those who were actually displaced in 1948. The number of surviving Arabs who were personally forced out of Israel by the war started by their brethren is probably no more a few thousand, probably less. Perhaps they should be compensated, but not by Israel. The compensation should come from Arab countries that illegally seized the assets of their erstwhile Jewish residents whom they forced to leave. These few thousand Palestinians have no greater moral, historic or legal claim than the surviving Jewish individuals who were displaced during the same time period seven decades ago.

In life as in law there are statutes of limitations that recognize that history changes the status quo. The time has come – indeed it is long overdue – for the world to stop treating these Palestinians as refugees. That status ended decades ago. The Jews who came to Israel from Morocco many years ago are no longer refugees. Neither are the relatives of the Palestinians who have lived outside of Israel for nearly three quarters of a century.

Read article in full 

Jerusalem Post

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Where is the outcry about the Islamic slave trade?

 Slavery has always been an integral part of Islamic practice, and Jews among other others were still being sold as slaves in Morocco in the 1890s. In a scathing critique of western liberals, who have a blindspot towards both Islamic imperialism and slave-trading, Denis MacEoin addresses the issue in his piece for Gatestone Institute:

Liberals (do not) mention another issue that should be close to their hearts: the Islamic slave trade.

Slavery has been an integral part of Islamic practice from the start. It is scripturally endorsed, embedded in shari'a law, and has been practiced from the seventh century until today. The slave trade was notably carried on by Arab merchants across the Sahara and brought Africans to North Africa. Liberals rightly condemn the European slave trade and its impact on North America; they – again rightly – act to eliminate modern slavery through trafficking – which is estimated to involve some 40.3 million people worldwide by 2016. It is almost unheard of, nevertheless, for people on the left also to speak of the Islamic (mainly Arab) slave trade.

The educational website History World, for instance, has a substantial account entitled "History of Slavery", in which it describes the use of slaves in Babylon, Greece, Rome, the European Middle Ages, and the Portuguese and triangular (chiefly the Transatlantic) slave trades. Yet it only mentions Islamic slavery in passing, despite its having lasted far longer than the European and American versions. Here are the three short paragraphs the site devotes to the subject, all of which appear to argue that supposedly Muslim slavery was not altogether a bad thing:
Slavery is an accepted part of life in Arabia during the time of Muhammad, in the 7th century, and the Qur'an offers no arguments against the practice. It merely states, particularly in relation to female slaves, that they must be well treated. In general that has been the case[3] compared with the barbaric treatment of slaves in some Christian communities.
Meanwhile the Muslim habit of using slaves in the army has led to one unusual result - in itself an indication of the trust accorded to slaves in Middle Eastern communities.
In 1250 the slave leaders of the Egyptian army, known as Mamelukes, depose the sultan and seize power. A succession of rulers from their own ranks control much of the Middle East, as the Mameluke dynasty, for nearly three centuries.
This article also does not mention the three centuries of the Barbary Slavers: North African Muslims who went out as pirates into the Mediterranean to capture ships from European countries and take crews and passengers as slaves to be sold in the markets of Tunis, Algiers and other towns. Barbary pirates ventured as far as England and Ireland, where they would raid coastal villages, and carry residents off. Professor Robert Davis writes:
"The fishermen and coastal dwellers of 17th-century Britain lived in terror of being kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery in North Africa. Hundreds of thousands across Europe met wretched deaths on the Barbary Coast in this way".
As late as the early 19th century, the new US Navy fought two wars against the Barbary States, bringing the piracy to an end.

Edward Moran's 1897 painting, depicting the burning USS Philadelphia at the Battle of Tripoli Harbor, during the First Barbary War in 1804. (Image source: U.S. Naval Academy Museum Collection/Wikimedia Commons)
Fantasies about the benign effects of slavery under Islam or, more widely, the tolerance enjoyed by non-Muslims living in the Muslim empires are still widespread. Muslims themselves insist that Islam is the most tolerant religion, and many progressives take this on board without much knowledge of the facts. Classroom, a website devoted to education, illustrates the naivety of excessively open-minded Westerners.

Read article in full

Friday, March 09, 2018

'History of Jews from Arab lands has been distorted'

The Jewish cultural institute Spiro Ark recently held the official launch for UPROOTED by Lyn Julius. Lyn is the director of Harif (Association of Jews from Middle East and North Africa), with whom Spiro Ark frequently collaborates on exciting projects. 

 Lyn Julius with her book Uprooted (Photo: Maurice Hoffman)

 Lyn's book addresses many of the difficult questions concerning the exodus of Jews from Arab lands and, during her interview with Saul Zadka, Lyn presented several of her analyses of the causes and effects. See what Saul asked Lyn, HERE. Here is a blog about the launch by Spiro Ark:

We asked Lyn a few questions of our own: 
1) What inspired you to write your book?

"I have been gathering published information on the topic of Jews from Arab and Muslim countries for about 13 years and posting links to articles on  Point of No Return.  It is a much neglected and misunderstood issue, yet is central to an understanding of Israel and the conflict. Academics have written about it, but I realised that there was a need for a book accessible to the mainstream that could also serve as a work of reference."

2) Can you please tell us a little bit about the writing process and your research?
"It was through blogging that certain themes seemed to suggest themselves. I adopted an analytical, rather than a historical approach. I had already written much of the material over time, but it was quite a challenge to knit it all together into a coherent whole without repeating myself too much."

3) What aspects do you feel are often overlooked/what are the misconceptions relating to the experience of Jews from the Arab world?
"I almost chose the title 'Three colonisations'. The first is the colonisation of the indigenous peoples of the Middle East and North Africa by the Arabs and Islam. The second is the 19th century European colonisation: this 'liberated' the Jews from their servile dhimmi status, but ultimately betrayed them. The third colonisation is that of the history books. Jews from Arab countries have been systematically ignored and their history distorted: Israel is blamed for ending 14 centuries of 'peaceful coexistence' between Jews and Arabs."

4) I have heard you mention that the term Arab-Jew is anachronistic, Jews having come before Arabs, can you expand a little on your objection to the term?
"Yes, the Jews are pre-Arab by 1,000 years. I object to the term because it is imprecise. The Jews of the Babylonian exile also settled in Persia, a non-Arab country. Not all Jews speak Arabic. Nowadays, the expression "Arab Jew" is used by Anti-Zionists to infer that Jews are Arabs of the Jewish faith. Therefore, they are not a people with a right to self-determination."

5) Your parents were Iraqi refugees. In Shimon Ballas’s novel ‘Outcast’, set in Iraq, his protagonist converts to Islam and does not emigrate. I interpreted this, in the simplest terms, as Ballas suggesting that it was not possible to remain in Iraq, as a Jew, particularly after the Farhud (the 1941 pogrom of Jews in Iraq). Would you say this is an accurate assessment? 

"Yes, I would agree. Jews found they could not be accepted as equal citizens when Arab states became independent  unless they converted (there is a similar character in Eli Amir's Dove Flyer.) The Farhud showed they could not rely on the state to protect them."

6) Writers such as Eli Amir and Sami Michael, including in the film ‘Forget Baghdad’, express the sentiment that Mizrahi refugees, specifically, experienced discrimination in Israel. You suggested their experiences were not specific to the Mizrahim, can you elaborate on this a little please?

"Social Discrimination was real enough, but it was not confined to Mizrahim. Holocaust survivors were despised as 'sabon'. Ben Gurion wanted the new arrivals to put the past behind them. Of Yiddish he said "that language grates on my ears". He wanted to transform the weak Diaspora Jew into a virile, Hebrew-speaking Israeli who could build the country and defend it. But Ben Gurion did not discriminate against new immigrants on ethnic lines, and once said "I would prefer a fit Persian to a sick Pole"."

Read post in full

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Tunisian film producer gets NYC Sephardi award

The Pomegranate Awards Ceremony on the Opening Night of the American Sephardi Federation's New York 21st Sephardic Film Festival celebrates Sephardi excellence in the arts. Past recipients include Senior Counsellor to the King of Morocco André Azoulay, French-Algerian recording legend Enrico Macias, Kuwaiti star and human rights activist Ema Shah, and Morocco-Israeli poet Erez Bitton.

This year's recipient is Said Ben Said (pictured) , the Franco-Tunisian producer who took a courageous stand for coexistence against Anti-semitic extremism.

A prominent Tunisian-born movie producer, he  has denounced the systemic and deep-rooted anti-Semitism in the Arab world, after he was excluded from North Africa’s most prestigious film festival because of his work with Israelis,  The Tower reported.

Said Ben Said 's invitation to preside over the jury of the 28th Carthage Film Festival in Tunisia had been revoked as a result of his collaboration with Israeli film director Nadav Lapid and his involvement in the Jerusalem Film Festival.

“No one can deny the misery of the Palestinian people, but it must be admitted that the Arab world is, in its majority, antisemitic,” Ben Said wrote. “This hatred of Jews has redoubled in intensity and depth not because of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but with the rise of a certain vision of Islam,” he added, referring to the problem of Islamist extremism.

Hatred for Jews was not limited to radical quarters of the Arab world. He explained how he was taught as a schoolboy in Tunisia through Quranic verses that “the Jews were…treacherous, falsifiers, immoral, evil, etc., and, most importantly, these verses were the words of God.”.... “Every Arab child grows up with these images.”

The ten-day ASF  Film Festival features premiere film screenings and documentaries,  followed by Q&A with filmmakers, as well as special honorees and guests.

This year's film line-up includes Jews of Syria 1930 - 67 by Lisa Ades, a 2010 Mexican fim by Mariana Chenillo called Nora's Will, as well as an 1959 classic called Stars, in which a Nazi officer falls in love with a Greek-Jewish girl. Laura Bialis's popular documentary Rock in the Red Zone and a new production by David Deri called the Ancestral Sin focus on the lives of Mizrahim resettled in development towns.

On 11 March at 5.30 pm, there will be a screening of Starting Over Again, Elliot Malki and Ruggiero Gabbai's film about displaced Egyptian Jews. It will be followed by a Q&A with Viviane Acker-Levy and Lucette Lagnado.

For full listings at the New York Sephardic Film Festival visit their website. For tickets 18008383006 or

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Do not give artefacts to states which expelled their Jews

The injustice of sending the Iraqi-Jewish archive back to Iraq, which stole it in the first place, has been extensively documented on this blog, but few are aware that the US has been signing laws and memoranda with Arab governments which will result in unfair import restrictions on artefacts belonging to exiled minorities.  (Arab states such as Yemen argue these are essential to prevent artefacts being smuggled out of the country). Lawyer Carole Basri explains in The Times of Israel (with thanks: Imre; Michelle):
Detail from a tik (Torah casing) found among the 2,700 artefacts and documents that comprise the Iraqi-Jewish archive
In May 2003, over 2,700 Jewish books and tens of thousands of documents, records, and religious artifacts were discovered by a US army team when in the basement of the Iraqi intelligence headquarters flooded. This written record provides a robust understanding of the 2,600-year-old Iraqi Jewish community: the texts were sent to the US to be preserved, cataloged, and digitized, and they have been on exhibit in a number of cities for several years. Now, based on an executive order signed by President Bush in 2003, and extended by the US government in an executive order signed by President Obama, the Iraqi Jewish archive is set to be returned to Iraq in September 2018.

On a parallel track, but unknown to the Iraqi Jewish community, the Emergency Protection for Iraqi Cultural Antiquities Act of 2004 was amended in 2008 to include import restrictions on Jewish artifacts, including Torah scrolls, made on or before 1990. Then, the State Department put together separate Memorandums of Understanding, where the Jewish religious and cultural artifacts from Egypt, Syria, and Libya would be returned to the governments that had ethnically cleansed their Jews out of existence. Yet the Emergency Protection Act and the Memorandums of Understanding stipulate that religious or cultural artifacts need to be returned to their country of origin (limited, in the case of Iraq, to those artifacts made before 1990). It is like saying Jewish property that was looted during World War II and found in the US must be sent back to Germany. It allows these Jewish artifacts and documents to get into the wrong hands, hands of people who never owned them, and might not protect them from destruction.
The key point to remember here is that these artifacts — religious and cultural artifacts that are sacred to my community — never belonged to Iraq in the first place. The items are expropriated property stolen under the color of law that either belonged to private citizens or to the Iraqi Jewish community. It is critical to note that there is no longer a Jewish community in Iraq.

It is not just about the Iraqi Jewish archive though. They are part of a larger issue impacting Jews and Christians that needs to be solved. The Emergency Protection Act and the Memorandums of Understanding result in unfair consequences, and they do not take into account the circumstances at hand. The issue of potential return of stolen Jewish property to countries such as Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Libya that ethnically cleansed the Jews is growing as red lists are published at US Customs, and countries such as Yemen may be added to those countries covered by Memorandums of Understanding. Suffice to say that the Emergency Protection Act and Memorandums of Understanding are not understanding or protecting at all of Jewish and other minorities’ artifacts.
Indeed, the Jewish populations of those Middle Eastern countries are now minuscule after years of violent persecution leading to ethnic cleansing. Of the million Jews living in Arab countries in 1948, fewer than 4,000 Jews remain. In Iraq in particular, the count is just five Jews.

Yet, the United States government, using the Emergency Protection Act and Memorandums of Understanding has placed import restrictions on cultural artifacts produced by Jews, Coptic Christians and other minority peoples, on behalf of Egypt, Syria, Libya and Iraq. Further, the United States government has promised to return the Iraqi Jewish archive to Iraq’s sectarian government in September 2018, including the notes of the Ben Ish Hai, a 19th century scholar, and a 16th century Jewish book seized by Saddam Hussein’s secret police.

Sign the petition if you haven't already.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

'A Jew asks for favours and does not claim his rights'

Fascinating piece by May Samra, Director of Enlace judio, and president of the Association of Jewish Journalists and Writers of Mexico (APEIM). She describes the last years of the Jewish community of Lebanon. This piece is based on a speech given on 15 February 2018 at the event "Expulsion of Jews from Arab countries." (With thanks: Albert)

"I was born in Lebanon and arrived in Mexico, via England and Israel, aged 18 years old. As such, I know first-hand what it is like to be a Jew in an Arab country:
1) A Jew in an Arab country had no rights.
I learned to drive a car in Mexico at the age of 27, in Mexico. I once took my mother, Shella Samra z"l, in my car down a street in Polanco, when a policeman stopped us, asked for my papers and told me that I had passed a red traffic light (which was not true). He started a discussion like many of those we have all had with representatives of order. Suddenly, my mom leaned out and said to the police: "Sir, please forgive my daughter, she is very distracted, please forgive her". "Mom!" I was outraged, "why do you ask the officer for forgiveness? You know I did not pass the traffic light. " Putting aside my protest, she continued praying: "Please, officer," give us your hand, "my daughter is very absent-minded."
Shella Cohen of Samra Z "L with her grandson David Samra
At that moment, I understood that, despite having a Mexican passport, my mother suffered from old complexes that made it difficult for her to feel like a complete Mexican citizen; since, by force of habit and having grown up in an Arab country, she knew that a Jew does not claim his rights, but asks for favors, an attitude inherited from a whole life in the shadow of discrimination and fear of authority.
2) A Jew was not worthy of nationality.
When the State of Israel was born, my father's family had to escape from Syria to Lebanon through the border between both countries. And they chose Lebanon for a simple reason: they were stateless. Syria did not consider that its Jews, although born in Syrian territory, deserved to have passports or documents of Syrian nationality. Lebanon also did not want to give nationality to the Syrian Jews. So the nationality we just had was ... the Iranian, but granted by the Shah's Iran.
And how did the Jews of Syria and Lebanon get Iranian nationality? There are two versions. One of them explains that the precious passport was exchanged for a school that the Jews sponsored in Iran. The other was told to me by Mr. Maurice Helwani, a Lebanese Jew, who, by chance, had been a banking partner of the man who became Foreign Minister of Iran. It happened that both men had procreated only daughters.

Noting the sensitivity of the situation of stateless Lebanese Jews in Lebanon, Maurice Helwani moved to Iran. He went to see his friend and said: "We both have only daughters. In the Jewish tradition, as in the Muslim one, there is no one who prays for us after the deceased (in Judaism, only males can say Kaddish). Let us do a good deed by which we can be remembered; grant Iranian passports to Jews from Syria and, after 120 years, many will pray for our souls. "  
The Minister agreed, although  his action was not altogether altruistic either, since the beneficiaries had to pay for the desired nationality. Later, in Mexico, my family and I had to vote for Ayatollah Khomeini, but that's another story ...
3) To be an Arab Jew was to secretly profess the love of Israel, and it is this secret love that produced the most fanatical Zionists on the planet.
In 1948, Lebanon was one of the first countries to declare war on the newborn State of Israel. There, the Jews of Lebanon were considered a sort of captive fifth column, subject to the wishes and whims of the authorities.
In spite of that, I would like to say that Lebanon often looked the other way when the Jewish Community of Lebanon served as a stopover for Syrian Jews escaping to Israel. The "Club" of the Jewish community, a recreation area for young people, served as a refuge for these Jewish boys who risked their lives to flee from Syria. Many times we brought them oranges and toothbrushes, and they disappeared the next day.
For security, the slogan of our community was to affirm the following: we were Jews by religion, but not Zionists. Furthermore, we were Jews who completely disapproved of the State of Israel. Therefore, no kippot or necklaces with stars of David in the street, no Israeli flag in sight; Lying if we were asked our religion, saying we were Christians.

After the Six Day War, my father risked his life to bring my mother an exceptional gift: the disc of Yerushalayim Shel Zahav ("Jerusalem of gold"), wrapped in her underwear. I remember the whole family sitting around the turntable, after having carefully closed doors and windows, to listen to the victory songs of our spiritual homeland, so close and so distant at the same time; while, in the streets, demonstrations approached dangerously close to the Jewish neighborhood, to the shout of Falastin Bladna or Lyahud klabna ("Palestine is our land and the Jews our dogs"). In the civil war, my mother destroyed the record, for fear they would find him in our house and accuse us of being Israeli spies.
4) Being an Arab Jew was to make your own textbooks.
And here I would like to pay homage to the Alliance Israelite Universelle school and to the teachers who risked their lives so that we would not lose our Jewish identity and learn such a good Hebrew that, upon our arrival in Israel, no one believed that we were not native speakers. Among them: my mother Shella Cohen of Samra and Moré Moshe Kamhine, z"l.
My mother educated tens of generations, teaching Hebrew in preschool wholeheartedly. She always liked to sing and  did it with her children, teaching them Judaism with joy. Since the school did not have educational toys, my mom bought them with her own money. I carried out the teaching of my grandfather: 'always carry with you two loaves, one for you and another because someone could be hungry'. She shared her breakfast with the children in the class and did not want to leave the school until its final closing in 1975, during the civil war.
El Moré Moshe Kamhine, who died in Mexico, was a Mason and a great Zionist. In Lebanon there were no textbooks for the teaching of Hebrew, but that did not stop him: he crossed the border with Israel and returned with a copy for each level; Next, we young people made our own books with the help of"stencils", a kind of photocopying process. I can assure you that, after the hard work of copying and stapling the volumes, these were the most cared for books in the world.
He taught us the traditions and customs of the Jewish people, organized celebrations of the festivities and their extraordinary "Oneg Shabat" each week. His wife Frida sewed costumes and costumes. Later we learned that he had hidden weapons for the defense of the community, and that he had made an alliance with the Falangists, the Christian militia of Lebanon, which defended the entry of the Jewish neighborhood when the anti-Israel riots got too close. We also learned that the Lebanese authorities forced him to teach Hebrew to the high command of the Lebanese army, but this also benefited him: on the day of graduation, Kamhine took a picture with the class in its entirety, a picture that, with everything and names of the officers, ended up in the hands of Israeli intelligence.

5) To be a Jew was to be considered subhuman
When, in the middle of the civil war, a Jew was killed by a sniper at the gates of the Temple, Mr. Agami, in charge of the synagogue, wanted to give him a dignified burial. He asked a Muslim friend to help him transport the deceased. Suddenly, the same sniper hit the Muslim with another accurate bullet. Relatives of the new victim lamented: a Muslim killed because of a Jew! A Jew! It was like saying: because of a fly! Even Kafka himself would not have said it better.


Monday, March 05, 2018

Iran's 25-year countdown to the destruction of Israel

Iran has inaugurated an “Hourglass Festival” celebrating the “imminent collapse” of Israel, based on a secret “plan” by the Islamic Republic announced in 2015 to destroy the Jewish state within 25 years, Iranian media has reported. The Times of Israel has the story:

The festival, dedicated to anti-Israel art and media productions, is a symbol of the country’s upcoming destruction, said Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Iran’s former Deputy Foreign Minister and current assistant to parliament speaker Ali Larijani, at a press conference launching the event.
In 2015, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei predicted that by 2040 there will no longer be a State of Israel. At a Quds Day rally in Tehran in 2017, the regime unveiled a clock counting down the days until the Jewish state’s predicted doom.

Poster for Iran’s ‘Hourglass Festival’ to celebrate Israel’s imminent destruction.
Amir-Abdollahian said he could not publicly reveal the regime’s plans to ensure the destruction of Israel.

“The Islamic Republic won’t allow the Zionists to play with the security of the sensitive region of Middle East,” he said. “Iran and its allies in the region, who defeated terrorists, will never allow the Zionists to endanger the region’s security,” the Mehr News Agency reported.

Read article in full

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Algerian WW2 survivors recount their stories

 Following the news that Germany is to compensate 25, 000 Jews who survived the pro-Nazi Vichy regime in Algeria, Judy Maltz interviewed several 'survivors' now living in Israel for Haaretz (with thanks: Imre; Pablo) :

As a child living in Algeria under the pro-Nazi Vichy regime, Yehuda Bar-Yechoua has one vivid recollection. “It was Friday night, when we would usually be having Shabbat dinner, and my brother – who was a few years older than me – was crying for food,” he recounts. “‘Just give me a piece of bread,’ he begged. ‘I’m so hungry.’” 

Bar-Yechoua was 4 years old when the Vichy regime set up headquarters in Algeria. Like other Jewish children in the country, he and his eight siblings were told they could no longer attend school. His father, who was chief rabbi of Batna (Algeria’s fifth largest city), lost his job and the family was suddenly without any source of income. 

“We were totally isolated and the only food we had was bread,” recalls Bar-Yechoua, who lives in Be’er Sheva. 

The retired Israeli diplomat is among thousands of Algerian Jews now eligible for compensation for the hardships they suffered during World War II. Earlier this month, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (also known as the Claims Conference) announced that Jews who suffered persecution in Algeria between July 1940 and November 1942 – when the Vichy government was in power – will be eligible for a one-time payment of €2,556.46 (about $3,140). 

The Claims Conference estimates that about 25,000 Algerian-Jewish Holocaust survivors are still alive worldwide, with 3,900 of them living in Israel. An estimated 110,000 Jews lived in Algeria during the war.
“Even at this late stage, it’s very important both for the individuals, because it acknowledges what they went through, and in general, because it creates a historical record which will stand the test of time,” Greg Schneider, who serves as executive vice president of the Claims Conference, told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle about the belated recognition. 

“The further we get away from the events, I think there’s the greater possibility of Holocaust revisionism. When the German government takes responsibility and acknowledges the event, then it makes it a lot harder to refute it.”
Yehuda Bar-Yechoua: "We felt extremely persecuted."(Photo: Eliyahu Hershkovitz)
Bar-Yechoua, who immigrated to Israel in 1961 and has since held various diplomatic posts in Africa, is grateful that the hardships suffered by the Algerian-Jewish community during World War II are finally being acknowledged. “We felt extremely persecuted,” he tells Haaretz.

Meir Zenoude, a retired textile engineer from Netanya, is another Israeli eligible for reparations. He was 5 years old and one of four children in his family when Algeria was taken over by pro-Nazi forces. By then, his father and several relatives had returned to the country after joining French forces in their failed attempt to push back the Nazis. Two older cousins, Zenoude recounts, were captured by Nazi forces in France and ended up in Buchenwald concentration camp. 

“After the great failure of the French army, we all understood that what was happening in France would spill over into Algeria and the rest of Europe,” he says. 

Soon after the pro-Nazi regime was installed in Algiers, all the Jews of Algeria were stripped of their French citizenship. “We were stateless,” recounts Zenoude, “and people would say to us, ‘Why do you even care? There isn’t going to be any Jewish community left here in Algeria.” 

Zenoude recalls many members of the Jewish community being sent to forced labor camps in the country’s south Saharan region. “We were told this was to make sure the Jews didn’t join the underground resistance,” he says. 

He also remembers the local, pro-Nazi police conducting searches in his home. “We were absolutely terrified – it was like a scary movie. Of course, this was not like the Holocaust taking place in Europe,” he says, “but we did suffer a lot.” 

Friday, March 02, 2018

Film stirs controversy over development towns

With thanks: Michelle
 Yeruham is a small, dusty town in Israel's Negev desert. For decades, its population remained static as its residents fled at the earliest opportunity. The town was the setting for a 2004 film called Turn left at the End of the World. For many Israelis living in the centre of the country, Yeruham was the end of the world.

Now a documentary film about Yeruham, and development towns on Israel's periphery, has ignited some lively debate. The film had its premiere at last year's Docaviv film festival and was recently shown on Israel TV's channel 13. 

David Deri, who was born in Yeruham of Moroccan parents, made the documentary with Doron Glazer and Ruth Yuval. Known in its English version as The Ancestral Sin, the film's Hebrew title, Salah, this is the Land of Israel echoes Salah Shabati, the character in Ephraim Kishon's famous 1960s satire about the absorption of immigrants from Arab countries, but hints at the bitter disappointment that Salah would have felt on arrival in his new home. Israel was not the promised land: it was the end of the world.

David Deri was interviewed on Israel TV about his film here  
and here 

After 1956 and into the 1960s, the Israeli government implemented a policy called 'From the ship to the village'. Thousands of refugees, arriving mainly from Morocco at the port of Haifa, were transported by the truckload through the night to new towns being built on Israel's northern and southern borders. Israel's leader, David Ben Gurion, called the strategy 'obligatory discrimination.'

Stories of discrimination against Israel's North African immigrants have been rife for decades, but what is new in Dery's film is the assertion that official 'protocols' or directives existed to sanction any new immigrant who refused to get off the truck, or resisted resettlement in development towns like Yeruham. For instance they could be punished with fewer rations.

The film claims that  Jewish Agency operatives who dispersed the refugees from Morocco despised them as 'blacks' and penniless lowlifes, putty in officialdom's hands. Deri alleges that there was a policy to keep the Moroccans as far away from the centre as possible. Jewish refugees arriving from Poland under Gomulka at the same time, it is alleged, were given better treatment. 

"It's the truth, but it's not the whole truth,' says Avi Picard, a researcher who was consulted during the making of Deri's film. Deri did not uncover any archive material that  had not been in the public domain for 20 years or more, Picard claimed on his Facebook page. He criticised the film for faking some of the 'protocols' for the camera, misattributing quotes, and failing to convey the empathy which many Jewish Agency operatives felt for the refugees or to give voice to their misgivings. The assertion that the state wanted to keep the refugees as far as possible from the centre so that nobody would see them was unfounded.

Picard himself still lives in Yeruham, whereas all but one of Deri's ten siblings have deserted the town. He feels that a complex story - more cock-up than conspiracy - has been distorted for television but will now be treated as historical truth.

It is true that Israel pursued a policy of populating the periphery of the country for strategic reasons. Ben Gurion himself tried to set an example by settling in a Negev kibbutz. The Polish Jews may not have been sent to development towns, but it is also true that Golda Meir 'discriminated' against sick or handicapped Jews, demanding that  Gomulka's Poland send only fit and healthy immigrants.

Enough material for more controversial documentaries in the pipeline.


Top Iraqi newsman issues unprecedented apology

With thanks: Lisette; Lily


In what has been hailed as a 'transformational' development, a top news anchor in Iraq has issued an unprecedented apology to the Iraqi-Jewish community for their dispossession and expulsion.

Anwar Al-Hamdani is one of the top newsmen in Iraq. He  produces and presents his daily, controversial top rated programme Studio 9 or Al Tasi’aa which is watched daily by millions in Iraq.

Al-Hamdani himself contacted the journalist Linda Menuhin in Israel asking her to circulate the clip. It has since gone viral and has had more than 80,000 views.

The clip airs a very powerful testimony by an Iraqi-Jewish woman now living in Israel. In a mixture of Arabic and Hebrew, she tells us her account of her experience of the 1941 Farhud, and  how they were oppressed and their monies, assets, bank accounts and properties were confiscated and their Iraqi citizenship was revoked. Moreover some were executed and almost all were deported from Iraq.

Linda Menuhin has hailed Al-Hamdani's apology as 'transformational'.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Anti-Islamophobics to appeal Bensoussan acquittal

 We have not heard the last of what has been described as a second Dreyfus case: the French historian Georges Bensoussan is to return to court to defend himself against charges of 'hate speech' against Muslims.

Georges Bensoussan

The Comittee against Islamophobia in France (CCIF)  is to appeal against the acquittal of Bensoussan for 'hate-speech'. The appeal, backed by the state prosecutor and two human rights organisations,  is to be heard in the next few weeks.

Georges Bensoussan, director of the Holocaust Memorial in Paris and author of a major work on the history of Jews in Arab Countries, was acquitted  in March 2017 for quoting during a TV debate an Arab sociologist who stated that Arabs imbibe antisemitism 'with their mother's milk' .

In an op-ed in the leading French newspaper Le Figaro, prominent figures allege that the Bensoussan affair undermines recent official moves to fight Islamist radicalisation. Indeed, it is part of 'a strategy to make radicalisation respectable.'

The magazine Charlie Hebdo, the philosopher Pascal Bruckner and the reformed Islamist Mohamed Louizi have already faced similar trials in what has been termed a 'judicial jihad'.

Bensoussan trial divides French thinkers 

* In other news, the French Jewish community has welcomed the decision to prosecute the murderer of Sarah Halimi, Kobili Traore, as an antisemitic crime. Sarah Halimi was tortured and thrown out of the window of her apartment in April 2017.There were fears that the murder would be blamed on Traore's unstable mental state.