Search This Blog

Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Jews who are neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardi

 There is still much confusion about the difference between Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews. Norman Berdichevsky provides some useful definitions in Heritage Florida Jewish News. (With thanks: Michelle)

Any serious student of Jewish history and tradition knows that the only authentic Sephardim are the descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal. They went on to settle in Western Europe including England, Holland, Denmark, North Western Germany, colonial America, the Caribbean and Brazil as well as in lands dominated by Islam, throughout North Africa, the Ottoman Empire, the Balkans and across the Levant. There are thus many Sephardi Jews who have always lived in Europe and many Jewish communities around the world composed of both Sephardim and Ashkenazim, who lived together and intermarried, notably in Italy, Egypt, Syria and Bulgaria, where later Ashkenazi immigrants arrived and were welcome by Sephardi residents. This has also been true in the Caribbean, South America and modern Israel.

 Kurdish Jews being airlifted to Israel

Just as America's Afro-American population has gone through several self-designations indicating a search for their authentic identity ranging from Black to Colored to Negro and then Afro-American and for some, back to Black (originally a term of disparagement used by whites), Israel's Jews of Afro-Asian origin have shifted from Sephardi to Mizrachi (Oriental). For religious purposes, "Sephardi" describes the nusach ("litugical tradition") used by most non-Ashkenazi Jews in the Siddur (prayer book).

In reality, there are also many Jews who are neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardi. These include the Jews of Ethiopia, Egypt, India, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, the Caucasus region (Georgia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia), all of whom are recognized as being of Afro-Asian origin yet have nothing to do with the original Sephardim. They are the descendants of the Jews who fled into exile following the Assyrian, Babylonian and Roman conquests of ancient Israel. No doubt, they were later joined by numerous converts who were attracted to the high moral and ethical principles that distinguished Judaism in ancient times from pagan and polytheistic religions.

There is indeed a serious social and geo-cultural cleavage in Israel's diverse Jewish population groups, precisely because all the four divisions overlap to a considerable degree. Most of the Jews from Africa and Asia arrived in Israel after 1948 and being relative newcomers had to adjust to difficult conditions. Most of them arrived destitute and unlike many of the Ashkenazim never received any reparations for their confiscated property.

They still tend to have larger families and as a rule are much more religiously observant than the Ashkenazim who established the secular norms and institutions of the Zionist movement and later of the State of Israel. It is only human nature that the new arrivals from Asia and Africa resented the more established veteran European settlers and those new immigrants from Europe who immediately found more personal connections and sympathy with the veteran Ashkenazi settlers through a common knowledge of Yiddish and shared political and social backgrounds.

A list of new army recruits will probably reveal names like de Leon, Toledano, Castro, Franco, Mizrahi, Dayan, Gabbai, Abulafia, Kimhi, Shar'abi, Sassoon, Azulay, Kadouri, Marziano, Ohana, Aflalo and Hasson, as often or more than Schwartz, Goldberg, Wolf, Guttmann, Rabinowitz, Berdichevsky, Kaplan or Finkelstein. So how then can they then be one people? They are, because history, traditions and their faith (whether they are orthodox observant or secular) have instilled in them the idea of sharing a common peoplehood.

Read article in full

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

How 1967 caused a mass Jewish exodus

The 50th anniversary of the Six Day War is also a time to remember that other war - the war that Arab regimes waged against their Jewish citizens. This Tablet piece by Lucette Lagnado gives an overview, but may be criticised for downplaying the antisemitism that bedevilled these countries before 1967. (With thanks: Eliyahu)

The choir at Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue, Alexandria
What wasn’t—what isn’t—forgivable, even looking back 50 years later, was how residents of those countries chose to vent their rage: By turning it against the Jews in their midst, most of who were studiously apolitical and had nothing to do with the war, its outbreak or its outcome.

Even in those countries that were, as some of us like to say, “nice to the Jews”—such as Tunisia, where fairly sizable Jewish communities were left in 1967—there were terrifying demonstrations and expressions of hatred and venom. Jews from Morocco left in exodus. In countries like Libya, murderous assaults took place that prompted an emergency evacuation of hundreds of Jews.
Egypt, where I was born and spent my early childhood, engaged in especially tawdry behavior. My family had left in 1963, following tens of thousands of other Jews out of the country. We did so reluctantly: My father didn’t want to go and it took pressure from my siblings to convince him. He simply couldn’t bear the thought of life outside of Egypt.

That was the case with a lot of Egyptian Jews. While they loved Israel too, they saw themselves as Egyptian. I can still hear Dad’s cries on the boat out of Alexandria harbor: “Ragaouna Masr”—Take Us Back to Cairo.

But our little boat kept chugging along.It wouldn’t turn back. It has taken me years to realize—sort of, as I still love Egypt passionately: Lucky us.
In 1967, there were an estimated 2,500-3,000 Jews still left between Cairo and Alexandria, down from a high of 80,000 in 1948.

On that week in ’67, the Egyptian government began rounding up Jewish men, to send to jails and prison camps. By accounts of the time, as many as 400 or 500 Jews were imprisoned.

While they gallantly left girls and women alone, authorities picked up Jewish men young and old. Even the Chief Rabbi of Alexandria was arrested. Enraged about their failure to defeat the Jewish state, the Egyptians turned their wrath on Jews whose crime, as far as I can tell, was that they were living in Egypt.
Nor did the aftermath of the war lead to the prisoners’ swift release. It is true some were in jail a mere couple of weeks until some foreign embassies helped get them out. But others lingered for months, even years, as Egypt released Jewish prisoners in painful dribs and drabs.

Albert Gabbai, rabbi of the venerable Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia, was 18 and still in school in Cairo that June. He and his three older brothers and two sisters lived with their widowed mother. Their father, once a shirt-maker to King Farouk, had died years earlier and the brothers managed his clothing business along with their mom. Four other brothers had made it to America and the plan, he recalled, was to join them.

Rabbi Gabbai still remembers how the authorities first dragged his two older brothers to prison that week in June. Then some weeks later they came for him and another brother. They carried machine guns, yet were exquisitely polite, he recalls, inviting him to come with them as if they were going out for coffee. The four Gabbai brothers remained prisoners for three years, till June 1970.
There were other Jewish victims across the Middle East. While in Tunis researching a book on Jews of the Arab lands, I met with elderly Jews who vividly remembered that week in ’67, when a country that had treated them exceedingly well became simply unrecognizable.

They recalled how mobs took to the streets, targeting Jewish shops for destruction. They attacked the magnificent Grande Synagogue, whose enormous towering Jewish star was a testament to how tolerant Tunisian culture once had been.

The marauders turned their wrath on, of all places, the Kosher butcher shops on the Avenue de Paris, attacking them with odd ferocity and dragging carcasses of meat from the stores to the sidewalks. It was, I was told, a particularly gruesome sight.

Many Tunisian Jews left then and there, abandoning all they owned—homes, furniture, clothing. The expression I heard was “la clef dans la verouille“—they had left their key in the lock.

And Libya—yes, even Libya once had an important Jewish presence—was especially brutal to its Jews that week, who tried to barricade themselves in their homes to avoid the angry mobs.  “Jewish stores, homes, synagogues were burned and destroyed.  People were violated and killed,” and two families were murdered (except for one survivor who wasn’t there), said Vivienne Roumani, a Libyan Jew who made the 2007 film, The Last Jews of Libya. Later that month many of the Libyan Jews were evacuated to Italy.  It was no longer possible for them to remain safe in Libya.

And that is how a Jewish presence that dated back 2,500 years, effectively ended, says Roumani, a native of Benghazi who left Libya in 1962.

Perhaps that is why, whenever a supporter of the BDS movement targeting Israel insists they are “only” anti-Israel not anti-Jewish, I cast a cold eye, recalling how bogus that distinction turned out to be for Jews of Arab countries. It is as false now as it was 50 years back.

Read article in full

Our promise is to deliver for Scotland, not to divide

Last Thursday’s election was a turning point in Scottish politics.

Across Scotland the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party vote nearly doubled and, in our best result since 1983, a total of 13 constituencies – from the Borders to Banffshire – returned Scottish Conservative Members of Parliament.

I am enormously proud of the campaign we fought and each and every one of the MPs we returned will be local champions for their constituencies.

I want to thank the thousands of Scottish Conservatives activists who were the engine of our campaign and everyone in Scotland who put their faith in us – we will not let you down.

But Thursday’s election has a much greater significance. It was the day on which people across Scotland delivered their verdict on the SNP’s drive for another independence referendum.

Nicola Sturgeon said independence was ‘at the heart’ of the SNP’s campaign. And in ballot boxes the length and breadth of the country, Scotland said ‘No’ to another referendum.

It could not be any clearer. A majority of people in Scotland don’t want another referendum, they have spoken and it is time Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP finally accepted it.

Instead, we need to focus on the challenges we face on education, on NHS funding, on the new tax and welfare powers coming to Scotland – as well as the huge challenge of Brexit.

So that is the work that my new team of Scottish Conservative and Unionist MPs will be getting down to, and what my group of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament will be focusing on over the months to come.

Our promise is to deliver for Scotland, not to divide – and to show how the Union can work for all of us.

It’s time to put the divisions of the past behind us and work for a better future for everyone in Scotland.

Ruth Davidson
Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Coexistence in the Middle East one of the greatest lies

Seeing a newspaper clipping from the era of the Six Day War showing the dumping of rubbish and human waste next to the Western wall in recaptured Jerusalem prompted Seth Frantzman to reflect that there never was co-existence with Jews in most of the Middle East (or Europe). If they accepted second class status, minorities were allowed to exist, not co-exist.

 Prior to 1967 part of the western wall was used as a toilet by local Arab residents of Jerusalem's Old City. One wonders, since we hear from groups that the Wall is also an Islamic holy site called "al-Buraq" why would one build a toilet at it?

We always hear these stories about "coexistence" in Ottoman Palestine before the arrival of Zionists in the 19th century.

But what was this coexistence? Toilets next to holy sites, purposely placed there because the residents knew it was holy to someone else. Let's see, also slaughterhouses and other stench next to the Jewish quarter. Part of the "coexistence" of putting latrines and animal blood next to the religion you "coexist" with? 

After 1948 what was done with Jewish grave stones on the Mount of Olives under Jordanian administration? They were used to pave the walkways to toilets for soldiers. A continuation of the concept of literally crapping on the holy things of others.

The reality of "coexistence" in the Middle East is that there was no real coexistence in most places. There was second and third class status for minorities, whichever those minorities happened to be. If they accepted that status then they were allowed to "exist" not truly coexistence, except on rare occasions.

That means when you "coexist" with people you constantly harass them through dominance; you build religious buildings purposely next to the holy sites of others, or you dump trash and animal parts and human waste next to the houses of worship and holy sites of others.

Even today for instance in the village of Artas in the West Bank the residents just "happen" to dump trash at the entrance to a Catholic Monastery. Surely it's a coincidence.

There never was coexistence in most of the Middle East or Europe. It is one of the greatest lies. There was sometimes mutual existence; side by side, even times when minorities did well; but never was there truly any sense of equality and real respect and deference to others.

Today of course we can see the region suffering under even greater intolerance precisely because of the past low level symbolic intolerance.

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Anger over 'Star of David' symbol on Labour poster

Corbyn supporters in Bristol erect banner showing Magen David earrings on Theresa May 'to highlight her relationship with Israel'

    The banner erected by Labour supporters in Bristol this week
    The banner erected by Labour supporters in Bristol this week (Picture by courtesy of The Bristol Post / Jennie Banks ) 

    A giant left-wing political banner in one of Britain’s biggest cities has been condemned as antisemitic for portraying Theresa May wearing Star of David earrings.

    The banner, which was hung at the Bearpit roundabout in Bristol, depicted Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May facing each other, with positive slogans endorsing Jeremy Corbyn and negative statements about Theresa May’s policies.

    As well as the earrings, the word “Balfour” was also written on the poster next to Theresa May. This November will mark the centenary of the signing of the Balfour Declaration, which called for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”, as well as saying that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”.

    In April the UK government rejected calls by the Palestinian Authority to apologise for the declaration, with the Board of Deputies welcoming “the government’s strong, principled stance”.

    A Jewish resident of the city told the JC he was “incredibly sad and angry that the place both me and my partner, who is also Jewish, live is rife with such disgusting views.

    “It's even more worrying that the Bristol city council have given these views credence by allowing them to be shown in such public space such as The Bearpit, which is driven past by thousands of motorists a day”.

    He condemned the banner as antisemitic, saying “the Magen David [Star of David] earrings are clearly implying that the Jews/Israel have hegemony over our government, which is a century old antisemitic trope.”

    Nima Masterson, one of the organisers who put up the banner, told the Bristol Post that it was not meant to be antisemitic, saying that the earrings were “a tiny element of the whole banner.

    “What we are doing with that symbol – it’s an earring – is a reference to Theresa May’s Government’s relationship with Israel.

    “It is a critique of her foreign policy, rather than against religion.

    “I’m definitely not an antisemite”, Mr Masterson continued.

    “I have Jewish friends, and my half brother and sister are Jewish.

    “This is about foreign policy.”

    Bristol City council have announced that the banner will be removed, according to the Post

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Tale of a Jewish community torn between Israel and India

Over 150 Jews lived comfortably near this synagogue in the Kottayil Kovilakam area of Chendamangalam. Photo from
Over 150 Jews lived comfortably near this synagogue in the Kottayil Kovilakam area of Chendamangalam. Photo from

Tale of a Jewish community torn between Israel and India

Novelist Sethu mixes fact, fiction, myth and legend to create a compelling narrative about a community unsure of whether to uproot itself

For centuries, Jews lived peacefully alongside people of all faiths in southern India’s Kerala. Then came the call of the Promised Land. Hundreds of Jews sold all their assets and began migrating to Israel in the mid-1950s.
Novelist Sethu’s Aliyah: The Last Jew in the Village, admirably translated into English from Malayalam by Catherine Thankamma, tells the story of this migration through the complex and textured relationships between Jews and gentiles alike in Chendamangalam village.

“Aliyah is close to my heart since I have a first-hand experience of this migration as a youngster,” Sethu said in an interview. “When our intimate friends in the school departed, there were emotional scenes in the village as we were sure we were not going to see them again.”

But, over the years, many made sporadic visits back to their ancestral village as tourists, and Sethu said he cherished the chance to rekindle the association whenever he got an opportunity to meet them.

“Do you regret the decision to leave the land?,” he would ask them.

Their reply: “No, never! But we do want to visit the land of our birth occasionally with our kin, since this is our motherland and Israel is our fatherland.”

One migrant, Eliahu Bezallel, 84, even bought a plot where his ancestral home stood and built a new house there.

“It is for my next generation… This is the soil under which our forefathers sleep,” he said.

Aliyah is close to my heart since I have a first-hand experience of this migration as a youngster

Aliyah opens with a dream of a ship surrounded by sea crows that disturbs the young and sensitive protagonist Salamon.

The dream may be the creation of his agitated mind, still undecided about the journey to the Holy Land and worried over what awaits Jewish families from his village there. But his 70-year-old grandmother Eshumma sees it as a divine sign pointing to the unseen world they are set to enter.

The novel draws on the conflicting emotions of Salamon and especially his attachment to his mother Rebecca, his grandmother, aunt Esther, and Elsie.

Salaman is especially anguished over the thought of leaving Elsie, his childhood friend. Nor can he bear the thought of leaving people like the book binder Daveed Chettan, an elderly Jew on whom his grandmother had a crush in her teens; Varuthutty, the master who changed his name from Solomon to Salamon; comrade Pavithran, who spoke to him about class struggle; and his classmate Ramanandan, who wants to settle in Israel despite being a Hindu.

Other questions disturb Daveed Chettan too. Isn’t there a world outside of being Jewish? Is “Aliyah” – the migration of Jews from the diaspora to the Land of Israel – truly a “return”? In a telling detail, when Eshumma is preparing to leave for Israel, she takes some soil from the ancestral village to be placed on her eyes when she dies.

Some of the family are destined to never make the journey. Salamon’s mother, Rebecca, a progressive and educated woman from the sophisticated city of Kochi who rides a Hercules bicycle, easily makes friends with the villagers after her marriage to Eshumma’s middle son Evron. Salamon inherits this personable trait from his mother, despite being a taciturn dreamer.

The book’s Malayalam cover

Eshumma regards Rebecca as if she were her own daughter. When Rebecca sacrifices her life to save the chronically ill Salamon, Eshumma becomes his proxy mother. Having struggled to raise her own sons – Menahem, Evron and Elias – after the death of her husband, she spoils Salamon with her love.

It is only when his chronic indecision and inability to commit leads Elsie to attempt suicide, tainting the family, that his grandmother gets angry with him. Elsie loses hope in Salamon because of his indecisiveness and lack of courage to declare his love for her. When she leaves hospital after her suicide attempt, she asks Salamon’s closest friend Ouso to tell him to leave the village if he wants to make his name as an artist. This shows her true love for him.

Aliyah’s emotional currents are further whipped up when the vivacious, passionate and beautiful Esther, married to Salamon’s uncle Menahem, is shocked to find her husband is no longer the man she fell for in Mumbai. His transformation from a lover of art to someone obsessed with religion bewilders her. Ailing, lovelorn and childless, Esther seduces Salamon only in order to get even with her husband and relieve her frustration.

Torn by guilt and a storm of conflicting emotions, will Salamon join his family’s exodus to Israel? Therein lies the tale.

As Sethu puts itAliyah is a healthy mix of fact, fiction, myth and legend woven into a compelling narrative.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Refugee issue could swing support for a peace deal

Friday, June 02, 2017

Refugee issue could swing support for a peace deal

The question of compensation for Jews from Arab countries could be decisive in securing an Israeli majority in favour of a final-status peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Dr Stan Urman: refugee issue would 'tip the scales'
According to a poll conducted by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research and the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, a startling 40 percent of those who opposed the parameters of a peace deal would switch to supporting it if the issue of Jews from Arab countries were on the table. 

The poll surveyed close to 2,500 Palestinians and Israelis on the parameters of a final-status peace agreement. It presented a “permanent agreement package” based on mutual recognition between Israel and Palestine; establishing a demilitarized Palestinian state within 1967 borders, annexing a number of settlement blocs to Israel in exchange for land swaps, and turning West Jerusalem into Israel’s capital and East Jerusalem into the capital of Palestine. Palestinian refugees will have the right to return to the Palestinian state; 100,000 of them will return to Israel as part of a family unification program, while the rest will be monetarily compensated. This was the "plan" presented during the interviews: 
Forty-eight percent of Israelis (41 percent of Jews and 88 percent of Arab citizens) and 42 percent of Palestinians in the occupied territories said they support this outline.

The poll also included “incentives” to understand what influences the views of both sides on a potential agreement. One was: And if the Jews who left their homes and property in the Arab countries when they had to leave following the 1948 War and the establishment of the state of Israel will be compensated for the lost assets left behind? If 40 percent of Jewish Israelis who opposed the agreement were willing to change their minds if the agreement also includes compensation for Jewish refugees from Arab countries, this incentive would 'tip the scales'.
Stan Urman, executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, calls the finding 'astonishing.' He points out that it that more Israelis chose this incentive than any other, more than 'Israel being recognized as a Jewish state' and even 'access to Jerusalem's Jewish holy sites.' 

 "Without this clause, " says Dr Urman, " there is no majority in favour; with it, a strong majority of Israelis would support the peace agreement."

As the poll was funded by the EU, Dr Urman is confident that JJAC could now approach European countries and show them their own statistics which reveal that rights for Jewish refugees from Arab countries are central to acceptance of any peace agreement by Israel and Israelis.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Auschwitz SS Guard, 95, Dies in Prison

Reinhold Hanning in court

Reinhold Hanning, who served as an SS guard at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland, died on Tuesday at the age of 95.

He was convicted last June for complicity in 170,000 murders and sentenced to five years in prison (that’s one year for every 34,000 murders). The murders were carried out between 1943 and 1944. The court ruled that Hanning had been “aware that in Auschwitz innocent people were murdered every day in gas chambers.”

Reinhold Hanning, who served as an SS guard at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland, died on Tuesday at the age of 95.

He was convicted last June for complicity in 170,000 murders and sentenced to five years in prison (that’s one year for every 34,000 murders). The murders were carried out between 1943 and 1944. The court ruled that Hanning had been “aware that in Auschwitz innocent people were murdered every day in gas chambers.”

Only 43 Auschwitz staff members have been sentenced in German courts.

Hanning said he was sorry for his role in so many murders, but attorneys for the victims argued that his show of remorse was fake and that he downplayed his role in the atrocities.

Thomas Walther, a lawyer for 40 out of 57 victims involved in the suit from around the world, told the court that “from the perspective of the plaintiffs, his statement is an inadequate attempt to make excuses in order to not take any responsibility,” and accused Hanning of acting as if he were “an uninvolved bystander.”

Hanning’s sentence had not yet been finalized by the time of his death, because the German federal court was still reviewing his request to revise the sentence.

According to German media, 28 Nazis are still being prosecuted for war crimes, and the vast majority of them are over 90.

Times of Israel reports about ‘Biafran Jews’ on its front Cover

Times of Israel reports about 'Biafran Jews' on its front Cover

Times of Israel reports about ‘Biafran Jews’ on its front Cover

The “Times of Israel” for the first time has carried news concerning ‘Biafran Jews’ on its Front Cover.

The Times of Israel is an Israeli-based news website launched in 2012. It was co-founded by journalist David Horovitz, who is also the founding editor, and US hedge fund manager Seth Klarman. The online English website covers “developments in Israel, the Middle East and around the Jewish world,” according to the site’s nameplate. It also covers news related to the American Jewish community. The website also publishes Arabic, French, Chinese and Persian editions.

In its article concerning Biafra, The times of Israel reported ”Nigeria on Tuesday marks 50 years since the declaration of an independent Republic of Biafra plunged the country into a civil war, amid renewed tensions and fresh calls for a separate state.

The main pro-independence groups — the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), and the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) — have called for a day of reflection.
Among the IPOB are one of the largest ethnic groups in the central African nation, the Igbo people, and among them is a small minority of practicing Jews, who believe they are descended from the tribes of Israel.

During the last 30 years or so, many Igbo Jews have moved to match their tradition of Jewish descent with the practice of rabbinic Judaism, the learning of Hebrew, observance of kosher dietary laws and observance of Jewish holidays. Many Igbo Jews are passionately Zionist.

In 1970, after nearly three years of fighting, Biafran soldiers, who were outnumbered 10 to one by federal troops and under-equipped, laid down their arms.

The conflict caused an estimated million deaths, many of them by starvation after the secessionist region was blockaded.

With surrender went their dreams of a separate state for the Igbo people, who are the majority in the southeast.

Half a century later, Biafra remains an extremely sensitive subject in Nigeria.

See link below

Why BDS is antisemitic –

  1.  BDS is a global campaign against Israel and only Israel.  It seeks to foment sufficient emotional anger with Israel, and with only Israel, so that people around the world will want to punish Israel, and only Israel.
  2. We are free to criticize whoever we want to criticize and people attracted by BDS are critical about other human rights abuses too; but this specific punishment, exclusion from the global community, is proposed only against Israel.  BDS cannot be defended as free speech; it goes beyond speech into action.  See this debate for more on the issues of singling out Israel; the debate continues here.
  3. BDS says that it seeks to punish only Israeli institutions and not to silence or exclude Israeli individuals.  This is not true.  Israeli individuals, academics, athletes, artists, actors, film-makers, work inside Israeli institutions; where else could they work?  If BDS demands that Israelis should not be part of institutions then it puts an eccentric demand on Israelis.  Follow this link for what happened when the BDS movement tried to disrupt a Hebrew production of Merchant of Venice in London.
  4. The BDS demand that for Israelis to be accepted in the global community they have to emigrate, and so not be part of Israeli institutions, is a claim about the essential illegitimacy of the Israeli state.  See ‘The Myth of the Institutional Boycott‘ for more on this.
  5. Sometimes BDS argues that there should be a political test rather than an institutional test.  For example Israelis have been challenged to criticize Israeli ‘apartheid’ – and if they fail to do so in the terms required of them then they are excluded.  But proponents of BDS never explain what kind of machinery would be set up in a university in Britain, say, or America, to test the political cleanliness of an Israeli.  And they never explain why such a McCarthyite blacklist would only be set up for Israelis.  For more on McCarthyism and BDS, see Steve Cohen here.
  6. BDS is careful to remain ambiguous on the question of Israel’s legitimacy.  It says that it is appropriate for people who oppose only the post 1967 occupation but it also refuses to make a distinction between Israeli institutions within Israel and within the West Bank.  BDS refuses clarity on what it means by the Palestinian ‘right of return’ and it thinks about the creation of the state of Israel itself as the root of the problem.
  7. BDS talks about Israel as a colonial settler state or an apartheid state but it allows no conception of Israel as a life-raft state, a haven for the un-dead of Europe, a home for Jews ethnically cleansed from the great cities of the Middle East, or as an asylum for the Jews who limped away from the carcass of the Soviet Union.  For more on the progressive case for Israel, see this link.
  8. BDS constructs Israelis as white foreigners, who came from outside to settle the land and it constructs Palestinians as indigenous, who have a natural right to the land.  In truth many Jews and Arabs have always lived in Palestine; and both Jews and Arabs moved into the area as it became more developed in the late Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.  There is a historical connection between Jews and the land of Israel.  In any case, the splitting of peoples into ‘foreigners’ and ‘indigenous’, the notion that some people have a natural right to land while others are impostors, is profoundly reactionary.  Moreover the idea, put about by BDS that Israelis are ‘white’ is also highly misleading.  About half of Israelis are descended from people who came from the Middle East; the other Israelis are descended from people who were defined and treated as a racial infection in white Europe.
  9. BDS remains unimpressed about Israel’s role as a potential haven for Jews around the world, if that should become necessary.
  10. BDS says that Israel is an apartheid state.  This analogy mis-states the key problem, which is a conflict between two peoples, not a racist state which seeks to exploit the black majority.  This analogy again refuses to make a distinction between Israel itself, which is fundamentally a multi-ethnic democracy in which everyone is equal before the law; and the occupied territories, in which there are two different legal systems.  Israelis and Palestinians need to find a peace agreement; we need to support those in both nations who recognise the independence of the other.  The apartheid analogy is weaponized by BDS as a thought-free short-cut to the conclusion of boycott.  See this piece by Alan Johnson on the apartheid analogy.
  11. BDS does not impact much against Israel; it impacts hard against Jews around the world where BDS takes a hold.  BDS constructs friends and enemies of the Palestinians in such a way that the overwhelming majority of democratic and antiracist Jews cannot be recognised as friends of the Palestinians.  BDS sets up an assumption against Jews, on campus, amongst progressives and in the Labour movement, that they are enemies of Palestinians and therefore enemies of those who want to support the Palestinians.  BDS sets itself up in opposition to the overwhelming majority of Jews.   See this debate with Claire Potter on the question of antisemitism.
  12. BDS situates itself in the tradition of the boycott of apartheid South Africa but it always remains silent about the other traditions in which it follows.  The boycott of Israel organised by the Arab Nationalist States was formally established in 1945, within a year of the gas chambers in Europe going cold.  Boycotts of Jews from universities and campaigns to ‘not buy from the Jews’ have been integral to antisemitic movements for centuries.
  13. To teach people to relate to the overwhelming majority of Jews, that is Jews do not agree with BDS, as apologists for apartheid, Nazism or colonialism is to teach people to relate to those Jews in an antisemitic way.  If BDS says that Israel is apartheid and that anybody who does not agree with boycotting Israel is a supporter of apartheid, then it is setting up a framework for Jew-baiting.  If antizionists say that Israel is genocidal, is like the Nazis, that Zionism is similar to Nazism, then they are inciting people to treat Jews as though they were Nazis.
  14. BDS operates as though there was no threat to the State of Israel.  Yet in 1948, 1967 and 1973 there were military attempts by Israel’s neighbouring states to wipe it off the map.  The Iranian state continues to argue for and to work for the elimination of Israel and it finances and arms Hamas and Hezbollah in their campaigns against Israeli civilians.  Israel may be strong compared to the Palestinians, but in the world as a whole it is a small state surrounded by states and political movements which want it eliminated.
  15. BDS is a campaign to make people angry with Israel and with Israelis and with those people around the world who are suspected of supporting Israel.  It would be extraordinary if such a campaign did not sometimes bring with it antisemitic emotions and if it did not sometimes draw upon antisemitic tropes.  Experience tells us that BDS does precisely that.  Israel is portrayed as a blood-thirsty child-murdering state; it is said that it is racist because the Torah, with its talk of ‘chosen people’ is racist; it is said that Jews were behind the slave trade; it is said that the Rothschilds financed the state of Israel by stealing diamonds from South Africa; it is said that Israel steals and trades in body parts; it is said that Israel is genocidal like the Nazis; it is said that Israel controls politics and the media around the world.  In these ways old antisemitic tropes, including blood libel and conspiracy, have a tendency to emerge, recycled, out of the BDS movement.
  16. BDS is only thinkable for people who have no fear of antisemitism.  But if we look at the political movements and the states and the militias which seek the destruction of Israel and if we look at the culture which BDS always brings with it into a social space, then having no fear of antisemitism is eccentric indeed.  See this critique of Naomi Klein’s argument for more on this .
  17. BDSers sometimes say that there is nothing to fear from debate.  This is not always the case.  Sometimes there is much to fear from debate.  Some debating questions are racist questions.  For example we would fear a debate on whether the Holocaust really happened; we would fear a debate on whether women should remain in the kitchen; we would fear a debate on whether black people are more aggressive than white people.  In the same way, I fear a debate on whether Israelis, and only Israelis, should be excluded from the global academic, sporting, artistic and economic community.  Antisemitism and racism never opens debate, it always closes off free speech.
  18. It is sometimes said that the claim that BDS is antisemitic is an ad hominem argument, aimed at smearing those activists who are in favour of it.  The truth is the opposite.  The truth is that antisemitism is not a characteristic of people who push BDS, but it is a characteristic of the movement itself.  Antisemitism is not only a hatred of Jews; it is also norms, practices and discourses which discriminate against Jews.
  19. The claim that Jews raise the issue of antisemitism as a dirty trick to silence the BDS movement is itself an antisemitic claim.  It teaches people to recognize someone who raises the issue of antisemitism as being part of a Jewish conspiracy to play the antisemitism card or to mobilize the power of Holocaust victimhood in a disgraceful way.   Usually when people say they have experienced racism or sexism or bigotry, we take that seriously.  But BDS trains activists not to take that seriously when it comes out of the mouths of Jews or Jewish communities.   BDS trains activists to assume that Jews lie.  BDS refuses to teach activists about the history and tropes of antisemitism.  BDS is happy to be in a global coalition with antisemitic movements which hate Israel, such as Hamas and Hezbollah.  BDS treats people who worry about antisemitism as being more of a threat than people who are antisemitic.  Follow this link more on the Livingstone Formulation, the counter-charge that somebody who says they experiences antisemitism is really lying for Israel.
  20. It is understandable when Jews have a special connection to Israel.  Sometimes this is manifested in a special horror or even shame concerning the crimes of Israel, both real and imagined.  This becomes problematic when Jews export their own specifically Jewish obsession with what Israel does wrong into civil society, campus debate and the Labour movement.  It becomes more problematic still when they offer guarantees to non-Jewish institutions and individuals that a focused hostility to Israel, and only to Israel, is not antisemitic.  It is problematic when Jews educate non-Jews to think in antisemitic ways and to support antisemitic movements.  Read more on antizionism, and particularly Jewish antizionism here.
  21. Antizionism forms the intellectual and the emotional underpinnings of the culture in which antisemitic speech and actions are tolerated.  Antizionism is not simply criticism of this or that policy or characteristic or Israel.  It is a political movement which takes hostility to one particular state and it makes it into an ‘-ism’, a worldview; one which has a tendency to position the Jewish state as being central to all that is wrong with the world.  Everything bad that happens in Israel is constructed, within this ideology, as the necessary result of the supposedly racist essence of Zionism.  The aspiration to dismantle the state of Israel, against the will of its citizens, leaving them defenceless against military and political forces which threaten their lives, is part of the antisemitism problem.
  22. Antisemitisms have always constructed ‘the Jews’ as being at the centre of all that is wrong in the world.  BDS mirrors this characteristic of antisemitism by putting Israel as the very centre of the political activity of ‘good people’ all round the world.   It trains people to think of Israel as the key question of emancipation in our age.  But Israel isn’t key.  It is just one rather small, rather unremarkable local conflict.  It is far from being the most important and it is far from being the most urgent and it is far from being the greatest injustice.
  23. For more on the kind of movement which we should be building, a genuine solidarity movement with Israelis and Palestinians who fight for peace, follow this link.

Arabic TV pioneer Salim Fattal dies on Farhud anniversary

Salim Fattal z''l: broke down while recalling murder of his uncle in the Farhud

Brought up by his widowed mother in the old Baghdad quarter of Tatran, Fattal provided a corrective in his memoir, In the Alleys of Baghdadto the nostalgia of Jews from prosperous families. His autobiography records a childhood of deprivation and tragedy. Fattal joined the Iraqi communist party but had to leave Iraq owing to persecution. In his later years, Fattal devoted much energy to fighting revisionist accountsof Jewish-Arab coexistence which downplayed antisemitism in Arab countries 'to flatter'.

 Fattal's uncle Meir, together with his business partner Nahum, were murdered on the first day of the pogrom on Shavuot 1941. Their bodies were never found.  Giving his testimony in 2016 on the 75th anniversary of the Farhud, Fattal choked back his tears when he recalled his mother's words:   Only when I arrived in Israel could I talk about Meir without crying."

In the 1960s Fattal interviewed 100 survivors for a TV documentary series he made on the Farhud.   In 2016 he recorded this clip for JIMENA on the causes of the 1941 Farhud.

One arrival in Israel, he found work as an Arabic-speaking radio announcer, but his communist past caught up with him and he lost the job. He tried several other career paths, and each time he was fired for his past political beliefs.

“I came to the conclusion it’s better to work in a laboratory with mice,” he told a Jewish News of northern California reporter.

In time he earned a degree in biology and a master’s degree in Islamic civilisation and Arabic literature. In 1962 he returned to Arabic-language broadcasting, first in radio and later in TV.

As director of Israel's Arabic broadcasting service, Fattal had to fill three hours of airtime a day. On Fridays, he instituted the Arabic movie, screening bootlegged copies of Egyptian films. The slot became extremely popular, not just among Arab viewers, but Jewish Israelis. In 1968 he created a show called “Sammy & Susu,” one of the  most watched Arabic children’s programmes of the time. He also acquired programs from the BBC and American networks, all subtitled in Hebrew and Arabic.

But the defining event of his life remained the Farhud, which he vividly recalled as a boy of 11 in his memoirs.  His family decided to bribe a policeman to protect them from the mob.

"We could see them right under our noses and if they had decided to attack us then, no one could have stopped them as it was very easy for the rioters to move from roof to roof. So we called our armed policeman from outside and begged him to fire a few bullets in the air to scare them away. Our policeman insisted on more payment and my Uncle Naim argued that we had already paid him generously. But our policeman kept repeating: 'How much will you pay?' while our situation was getting more and more threatening by the minute. Finally they agreed upon half a dinar per bullet. Had he refused, we would have taken his gun. The policeman fired two shots and paused and then two more shots, until he saw the rioters move away."

Salim Fattal's funeral will take place on 1 June at 13:00 Israel time at the Nes Harim cemetery. Israel 's Channel 10 will show episodes of Farhud Stories by Salim Fattal at 14.15 on 2 June,  on Motzae Shabbat on 3 June and on 10 June. 

Recalling the Farhud, 76 years ago

 Today is the first day of Shavuot. For Iraqi Jews who survived the Farhud pogrom, this festival will be associated in their minds with a horrific pogrom which occurred 76 years ago. I am re-posting an article written by Sarah Erlich for the Jewish Chronicle on the Farhud 's 70th anniversary.

June 1 and 2 this year mark the 70th anniversary of what became known as the Farhud ( "violent dispossession" in Arabic). As significant as Kristallnacht, the pogrom sounded the death-knell for the oldest community in the diaspora and was a clear demonstration of the hatred exported to the Middle East by Hitler. The Farhud brought to an end 2,600 years of Jewish settlement, yet little has been written about it, very little is taught in Holocaust studies about it, and the British role has never been fully investigated, although many survivors still bear a lifelong distrust of Britain.

The Jews of Iraq had been living peacefully for millennia in Baghdad since the time of Babylon and by 1941 numbered around 150,000, over a third of the population. Professor Heskel Haddad, now an ophthalmologist in Manhattan, was 11-years- old at the time and recalls a happy and secure early childhood. "We had many Jewish and Arab Muslim neighbours and we were very friendly with them. I was Jewish in religion but I felt very much Iraqi. I loved Iraq and I loved the people, whether Muslim or Jew."

One month before the Farhud a violent coup brought a rabidly pro-Nazi lawyer, Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, to power, forcing the country's regent, a friend of the Jews, to seek British protection. Rashid Ali brought to his side the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, a man with strong ties to the Third Reich who had fled from Palestine. Together, they indoctrinated the country with Nazi propaganda; children in Iraqi schools were taught to praise Hitler and that Jews were the internal enemy; Radio Berlin began regular broadcasts in Arabic. Their aim was to rid Iraq of the British presence and turn the country's oil reserves over to the Germans.

Next, Rashid Ali ordered Iraq's military to destroy the British RAF base in Habbaniya, west of Baghdad –– a non-operational flight training centre equipped with antique planes, manned by cadets. Despite the odds, the Iraqi campaign failed drastically. With his forces humiliatingly defeated and British ground troops advancing on the city, on May 30 Rashid Ali fled the country leaving the capital in a vacuum.

The regent's return was announced two days later, to the relief of the Jews celebrating Shavuot. Their joy turned to horror however when the Muslims mistook their celebrations to be the result of the country's downfall at the hands of the British. A huge mob gathered, armed with knives, swords and guns, chanting "Ketaal al yehud" ("Slaughter the Jews"). Eleven-year-old Haddad was with his family having a festive meal. "Suddenly we heard screams, 'Allah Allah', and shots were fired," he recalls. "We went out to the roof to see what was happening - we saw fires, we saw people on the roofs screaming, begging God to help them. There was a guy across the street from our house screaming: 'Help me! Give me water!' and my father didn't let me give him water because he was afraid that I might be killed by the gangs. The voice of this man ended an hour or two later when I guess he died."

Salim Fattal was also 11, living with his family in the Jewish quarter of Tatran. Like everyone, they were completely unprepared for the violence that hit the city. "We were hiding with all the children and women in the cellar listening to the whistling of bullets around our house," he says. "We had no weapons and there were four men trying to defend 21 women and children with just some sticks and knives. We knew we couldn't defend the house against these armed invaders. It was terrifying."

Taken by surprise and with no protection, Jews either defended themselves with whatever they could find or else bribed Iraqi policemen to protect them. Fattal's mother found one near their alley and approached him with a parcel of money. The policeman agreed to stay with them until midnight.

The violence worsened during the night and the mob was soon in its tens of thousands, targeting every Jewish home in the city. The task was easy as a red hamsa - a traditional hand symbol - had been painted on the exteriors.

"We could hear screams from our neighbours which was a horrifying sound," continues Fattal, even now crying at the memory. "All of them all started to shout and scream and it would last for two minutes or so, and then the sound died. Then the same sound would renew from other directions. These voices have never left me. They were so strong, so close and so clear."

By the second day, Fattal could see from his balcony that the mob was attacking his neighbour's house. "We could see them right under our noses and if they had decided to attack us then, no one could have stopped them as it was very easy for the rioters to move from roof to roof. So we called our armed policeman from outside and begged him to fire a few bullets in the air to scare them away. Our policeman insisted on more payment and my Uncle Naim argued that we had already paid him generously. But our policeman kept repeating: 'How much will you pay?' while our situation was getting more and more threatening by the minute. Finally they agreed upon half a dinar per bullet. Had he refused, we would have taken his gun. The policeman fired two shots and paused and then two more shots, until he saw the rioters move away."

There were also accounts of Muslims acting heroically to save their Jewish neighbours. Steve Acre was nine at the time, living with his widowed mother and eight siblings in their landlord's house. "Our landlord was a devout Muslim called Hajji who wore a green turban, and when the mob came, he sat in front of them and told them that there were orphans in his house and that if they wanted to kill us, they would have to kill him first. So they moved on across the street." 
Acre, who has been living in Montreal for over 50 years, sees Iraqi Nazism as the direct cause of the Farhud, but also blames the British for not having stopped it when it was within their power. (...)

Tony Rocca, who researched and co-wrote Memories of Eden with a survivor of the Farhud, Violette Shamash, agrees. "To Britain's shame, the army was stood down while hundreds of Jews were killed in rioting that raged over two days with damage estimated at £13 million by today's values. Archive material points to one man who deliberately kept the troops out. Sir Kinahan Cornwallis, Britain's ambassador in Baghdad, for reasons of his own, held our forces at bay in direct contradiction to express orders from Prime Minister Winston Churchill that they should take the city and secure its safety."

The violence was stopped only when it appeared the rioters were getting carried away and entering Muslim areas. A curfew was called, and Iraqi troops began shooting looters. But the death toll of around 800 and thousands more injured is a memory Acre can never forget. "When you hear yelling and screaming of women and children, it stays with you forever."

Read article in full 

More about the Farhud

Monday, 29 May 2017

French Jewish Anger Grows Over Savage Antisemitic Murder of Pensioner at Hands of Muslim in Paris Suburb

Dr. Sarah Halimi was the victim of a savage antisemitic murder in a Paris suburb in April. Photo: CRIF.

As further details emerge of the brutal murder of an Orthodox Jewish woman in a Paris suburb at the hands of a Muslim assailant last month, French Jews are increasingly worried and angered by what one prominent member of the community called an “organized silence” surrounding the case.

Dr. Sarah Halimi — a 66-year-old pensioner living in the Paris suburb of Belleville — was murdered in the early hours of April 4 by Kada Traore, a 27-year-old immigrant from Mali.  After breaking into the neighboring apartment of another Malian family at 4:25 a.m. — whose terrified inhabitants locked themselves away as they heard him recite verses from the Quran — Traore jumped over the balcony and forced his way into Halimi’s apartment. As he beat the elderly lady savagely, her screams prompted neighbors to call the police.

Three officers arrived at 4:45 a.m. But on hearing Traore yelling “Allahu Akhbar!” and “Shaitan!” (Arabic for ‘Satan’), they feared a terrorist attack was taking place, and called for backup. Anti-terror officers did not arrive until 5:00 a.m., by which time Halimi had been thrown by her attacker from the window of her third-floor apartment to the ground below. Traore, reported to be a drug dealer and addict with a criminal record, then returned to the apartment of the Malian family where he resumed his prayers, and was not taken into police custody until almost 6:00 a.m.

Shock over the barbaric nature of the murder has been compounded by the reluctance of both the media and French authorities to recognize it as an antisemitic hate crime — even after a silent march of remembrance on the Sunday after the murder was met by local youths chanting “Death to the Jews” and “We Own Kalashnikovs.”

In an open letter to new French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, Alexandra Laignel-Lavastine — a French journalist and expert on antisemitism — charged that “in the advanced decadence that reigns today in the country of (antisemitic comedian) Dieudonné, for whom ‘the Jews are dogs’ (and people laugh hysterically), it seems that a run-over dog deserves more attention than a murdered Jewish woman.”

Laignel-Lavastine also quoted William Attal, Halimi’s brother, who stated, “I have waited seven weeks before I said anything. The absolute silence about my sister’s murder has become intolerable.”

Since the murder, official and media accounts of what transpired have played up claims that Traore was suffering from mental illness, while virtually ignoring the antisemitic element of the crime.

A common theory is that the recent French election encouraged — in the phrase of Michel Gurfinkiel, a leading French political analyst and president of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute in Paris — an “organized silence” around the Halimi murder.

“Such a story would benefit the Right and the National Front,” Gurfinkiel said. “Everyone is convinced this is why there has been such an organized silence around the story.”

A few days after the murder, Marine Le Pen — the leader of the far-right, anti-immigrant National Front — tweeted that Halimi’s fate made her want to “speak about Islamist antisemitism.” Le Pen was defeated by centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron in the second round of the presidential election on May 7.

“The Jewish community was very careful not to be suspected of siding with Marine Le Pen,” Gurfinkiel said. He also noted that state provision of security to religious buildings and institutions means that Jewish organizations are “reluctant to raise certain questions.”

But as more time passes in the wake of Halimi’s murder, the calls to recognize its antisemitic nature are growing. Interviewed by the Le Parisien newspaper last week, the lawyers for the Halimi family, Jean-Alex Buchinger and David Kaminsky, said in no uncertain terms that Sarah Halimi had been “targeted, tortured and killed by her assailant because she was Jewish.”

Halimi’s murder robbed the Jewish community in Paris of one of its most loved figures, known for her work as a doctor and as a kindergarten teacher. “She was very well known and respected, a great person,” Gurfinkiel said. “The tragedy is that she was living in that part of Paris where Jews are gradually leaving, since the security doesn’t exist anymore.”

It also brought forth reminders of the 2006 kidnapping and murder of a young French Jew, Ilan Halimi — no relation to Ruth Halimi — whose body was left for dead by a mostly-Muslim gang who seized him out of the belief that Jews were wealthy and willing to pay ransom money.

“The French police were of no help during the whole (Ilan Halimi) episode, rejecting any idea that antisemitism could have played a role in the affair and preferring to believe the absurd notion that this was the result of some war between rival gangs,” Laignel-Lavastine noted in her letter about Ruth Halimi to French Interior Minister Collomb. “Ten years later, we have reached the same point.”

Traore is currently undergoing psychiatric tests and Jewish communal leaders are impatient for more information from authorities. “The more time passes, the more the community feels that there is something you do not want to tell us,” commented Joel Mergui, head of the Consistoire — the governing body of French Jewish communities.