Provocative Hetzroni gets one in the eye for his bigotry

Remember Amir Hetzroni? He is the maverick academic and provocateur who created a national scandal on TV in 2015 when he said his interlocutor of Moroccan-Jewish origin should never have been allowed into Israel. We thought Hetzroni was heading out for a new start in Turkey, but that does not seem to have worked out. Back in Israel, he has not changed his views one iota. For these he was hit in the face during a live broadcast. Report in the Times of Israel: 

Amir Hetzroni at a Mimouna in 2015. . Moroccan hospitality does not seem to have changed his views one iota.

Academic, novelist and provocateur Amir Hetsroni was wounded on Monday when someone threw a chair at him during a live broadcast.

Hetsroni, best known for making offensive comments about practically every sector of Israeli society, was recording a segment in Ashdod for “Online TV,” which streams its content on YouTube and social media.

In video from multiple angles that circulated widely on social media, Hetsroni was hit in the face by a chair thrown at him during the conversation. He began bleeding and appeared to be dizzy and disoriented, clinging to the man seated next to him. Hetsroni later received medical treatment and filed a police complaint about the incident.

On Tuesday, police said they had detained a 16-year-old boy for questioning in connection with the incident.

Hetsroni has a long and colorful history of making wildly racist, sexist and otherwise offensive comments. He regularly rails against the presence of Mizrahi Jews — those from Middle Eastern nations — in Israel, stating that he does not believe they should have been allowed to immigrate.

“I was just attacked during filming in Ashdod by the second generation of cavemen that came [to Israel] without selection due to having a Jewish grandfather,” Hetsroni tweeted after the incident on Monday. “Think about this next time you believe ‘selection’ is a bad word.”

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Simplistic US race categories do not apply to Israel

Perceptive piece by David Swift in the Jewish Chronicle demonstrating that US critical race theory does not apply to Israel. Their history of persecution in Muslim countries often holds more significance for  ‘Jews of colour’  than the Holocaust.

Yigal Amir: bullied in his Ashkenazi Yeshiva

To understand the Israeli-Palestinian dispute through the lens of US race relations is a huge mistake, not least because the complex ways in which “race”, class and politics interact in Israel is completely different to the American situation.

Here in Israel, “Jews of colour” (Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews) overwhelmingly support parties of the Right, particularly the Likud, while the Left draws its support almost exclusively from “white” Ashkenazim.

The American progressive association of “whiteness” with support for nativism, Islamophobia, militarism, and so on, and the assumption that “brown” people are against this is turned on its head in Israel. Class, race and education are correlated in such a way that the descendants of the original Ashkenazi immigrants occupy the most socially and economically privileged positions, and make up the vast majority of the support for the Israeli “left”, such as it is.

Back in 2011, a protest in Charles Clore Park, near the waterfront of southern Tel Aviv, demonstrated the complexity of “race” in this country. Organised in opposition to the mistreatment of East African asylum seekers, the crowd consisted mostly of young, Ashkenazi Israelis, descendants of the European Jews who emigrated to Israel in the years around the time of the state’s founding.

In the days before the protest, missiles fired from Gaza at southern Israeli towns had left one dead and 30 injured, and at the conclusion of the march a moment of silence was held to commemorate these casualties. Afterwards, during a succession of short speeches, muted heckling began from the edge of the crowd as a group of five men with distinctively Mizrahi accents demand that the speakers denounce the missile barrage; their heckling increased when an Arab speaker took to the podium, and the atmosphere became increasing vitriolic.
At one point, a protester told the Mizrachi hecklers to “go back to the zoo”, to which the leader of the counter-protesters shouted: “You son of a bitch. Hitler didn’t kill enough of you.”

The invocation of the Holocaust as a means for one Jew to attack another demonstrates the complex of histories of the various inhabitants of Israel, and the particular way in which “race”, class and politics interact in this country. For Mizrahim from North Africa and the Middle East, the Holocaust does not have the same place within their collective memory and contemporary identity; often their mistreatment and expulsion from their native countries after the formation the Israeli state in 1948 or after the Six Day War in 1967 holds greater significance.

In some ways, the Charles Clore Park incident could have taken place in many different countries: a crowd of mostly young, middle-class, “white”, university-educated people protested in solidarity with a group of people different from themselves. They were criticised by working-class men, who accused them of being insufficiently patriotic and who implied that their concern was a result of their “privilege”.

But in this case the group of working-class men were themselves from a group historically and currently mistreated and disadvantaged within their own country due to their ethno-national background and the colour of their skin.

Even to this today, virtually all of the people killed by the Israeli police are Muslim Arabs, Ethiopian Jews, or Mizrachim. In fact, Yigal Amir — who in 1995 assassinated Yitzhak Rabin in response to what he saw as the betrayal of the Oslo Accords — was radicalised at least in part by the experience of being a Mizrachi student at an Ashkenazi Yeshiva, where he was badly bullied.

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Thousands of 19 c Jews settled in Palestine from Muslim lands

 Zionism had its  19th century Sephardi precursors but they are overshadowed by Ashkenazi pioneers and almost unknown in Israel today. A new book tries to redress the balance. Review in Tel Aviv Review of Books by Asael Abelman (With thanks: Michelle): 

There is an ongoing dilemma on how to present the history of Zionism in research, culture, and education. Does the classic Zionist narrative marginalize characters, texts, and events that took place in the Sephardi world? Without denying the demographic data of the past, and without diminishing the contributions of the creators of “Ashkenazi” Zionism to the creation of the modern State of Israel, is it not fair to finally tell the stories of those who were left on the sidelines for decades?

The book Kol Hator, Traditional Sephardic Zionism attempts to meet this challenge. Written by Ophir Toubul, a lawyer by training, DJ by passion and head of the organization Tor HaZahav (Golden Age) an NGO forwarding the visions and needs of traditionalist Mizrahi Jews in Israel, this lovely book presents a new perspective on the history of Zionism, by profiling a large variety of characters who were active in the movement from the beginning of the nineteenth century until today, from all over the Sephardi world—from Morocco to France, the Balkan countries, and Iraq.

At the beginning of the book, the reader is informed of a number of facts largely unknown to Israelis today. First, two of the precursors of Zionism, Rabbi Yehuda Bibas and Yehuda Alkalai, responsible for formulating ideas of nationalism in the first few decades of the nineteenth century, were both Sephardi. Second, in the decades leading up to 1881, when the First Aliyah from Eastern Europe began, tens of thousands of Jewish people emigrated to Palestine from Muslim states, in what is called the Mughrabi Aliyah (i.e., those coming from the Maghreb, North Africa). These Jews worked to renew Jewish life throughout the Land of Israel, adopted modern ways of education and living, married Ashkenazi Jews (something almost completely unheard of in the Old Yishuv); they wrote for newspapers, bought land, and created job opportunities for their Jewish peers. Third, these Jews helped to develop modern education in Jerusalem, and also to revive Hebrew. Fourth, the pioneers of the First and Second Aliyot were not only Ashkenazi Jews. For instance, Jews came to Palestine from Yemen at the same time, out of the hope of a national revival and messianic redemption. The stories of many of these people are unknown today, largely overlooked by the Israeli school curriculum. Kol Hator brings back these forgotten elements of the Zionist narrative.

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19th century Sephardi forerunners of Zionism

Israeli government agrees to open up Yemen child’s grave

The latest development in the saga of the ‘disappeared Yemenite children’ is the  ‘ground-breaking’ decision by the Israeli Health Ministry to open up the grave of a baby who died in 1952. Meanwhile the unpublished findings of a report alleging that medical staff were implicated in the maltreatment of children, primarily from Yemen,  were disputed at a stormy Knesset hearing this week. The Israeli government last year approved a NIS 162 million (almost $50 million) compensation programme to families who lost children. The Times of Israel reports:

Yemenite children with the Alaska Airlines plane which airlifted Jews to Israel (Photo: AJM)

The Health Ministry said Sunday that it is preparing to open the grave of a baby who died in 1952 next week to confirm to the boy’s surviving family of Yemenite immigrants that he really is buried there, and was not spirited away from them 64 years ago.

The planned procedure will mark the first time that a grave is opened for DNA testing in the Yemenite children affair, the decades-old claim by immigrants who arrived from Yemen that their children and siblings were kidnapped from them as babies in the 1950s.

The child is Uziel Houri, and he is buried in the Segula cemetery in the central city of Petah Tikvah. Five families related to Houri asked for and received a court order permitting the exhumation.

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A Knesset Health Committee meeting on Monday turned turbulent during a discussion over an unpublished Health Ministry report, which alluded to medical staff wrongdoing in the so-called Yemenite children affair, with calls to reveal its findings publicly.

During the committee meeting, a Health Ministry legal adviser rejected the unpublished report by former ministry deputy director general Prof. Itamar Grotto that indicated a history of medical staff involvement in the maltreatment of children from Yemen, North Africa and the Balkans during the early years of the State of Israel.

The legal adviser, Meir Broder, instead adopted the criticism of Prof. Shifra Schwartz, a history of medicine researcher, who denied Grotto’s findings of potential medical staff involvement. Broder’s denial of Grotto’s report created a storm at the meeting.

Thousands of pilgrims return to Al-Ghriba after two years of absence

May 14 marks the start of the annual pilgrimage to to the Al-Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba. Some 5,000 visitors are expected this year. DW.com reports:

Inside the al-Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba

For the first time in the more than two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, a large number of pilgrims to the North African country will be taking part in religious festivities over the course of eight days. In 2020 and 2021, pilgrimages were canceled due to the health crisis and access was very limited.

But this year, Jewish community leader Perez Trabelsi told DW, between 4,000 and 5,000 visitors are expected. Trabelsi also chairs the pilgrimage organizing committee.

The synagogue on Djerba is one of the oldest in Africa and a site for Jewish pilgrimage. This is because, as religious legend has it, the 2,500-year-old place of worship — known as the Ghriba synagogue in Arabic — was built using remnants of the first Jewish temple in Jerusalem. The Bible says the temple was destroyed by a Babylonian king who sent Jewish worshippers into exile. These refugees are said to have brought fragments of the temple with them to Djerba.

Today, around 1,000 Jewish Tunisians live on Djerba. This makes it the largest Jewish community in Tunisia and the second-largest in the Arab world. Only the Moroccan Jewish community in Casablanca, between 1,500 to 2,000 members strong, is larger than Djerba’s.

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This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.