Month: March 2006

British Board of Deputies backs campaign

The Board of Deputies of British Jews this week backed an international campaign to secure the rights of Jews forced out of Arab countries since 1948, the Jewish Chronicle reports.

The European Jewish Congress is due to launch the International Rights and Redress Campaign in November in order to raise awareness of the existence and heritage of Jewish refugees.

Board vice-president Flo Kaufman represented Anglo-Jewry in Brussels this week as delegates took their demand for compensation to politicians at the European Union.

She told the JC that the Board was very supportive of the campaign and was already considering ways to bring it to the attention of the British government.

“Once the campaign is launched we hope to have put the issue on the agenda in the UK,” she said.

Jewish refugees campaign goes to EU

BRUSSELS, March 28 (JTA) — Jews who fled Arab countries following the creation of the State of Israel have taken their demands for restitution to the European Union.

More than 20 delegates from Jewish communities in seven countries gathered in Brussels on Sunday and Monday under the auspices of the International Rights and Redress Campaign, meeting members of the European Parliament to discuss their demands.

The global campaign aims to raise international awareness of the heritage of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and to document human rights violations and loss of assets.

The campaign’s official launch had been due to take place during Passover, but the sudden incapacitation of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in January and Israeli elections delayed the launch until November.

Organizers hope to bring worldwide attention to the issue in November through media, politics and education.

The campaign was launched by the U.S.-based Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, in conjunction with the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries.

“We want to underscore the fact that Jews were also victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict and should be recognized as such,” said Stanley Urman, the campaign’s director. “It’s an injustice to recognize one victim population but not another.”

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Reproduced in Jerusalem Post

CRIF report (French)

Jewish culture disappears from Tajikistan

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan — Even during Sabbath services on a Saturday in early March, as Rabbi Mikhail Abdurakhimov read Hebrew prayers and the faithful followed along using Russian transliterations, the rumble of construction was distracting, the New York Times reports (with thanks: Albert).

This is a synagogue in its last moments of existence. While the congregants prayed, a bright orange bulldozer growled outside, continuing its work at the synagogue’s edge.(..)

Judaism’s declining influence in this region can be seen as this synagogue lives out its final days.

About 12,000 Jews left Dushanbe after the Soviet Union’s collapse, encouraged, perhaps, by Islamic nationalism during a bloody civil war, from 1992 to 1997. “If they could fight among themselves like that, as if against a different nation or religion, what might they do to us?” Mr. Abdurakhimov said.

Most of the several hundred remaining Jews are elderly, and nearly all have relatives in Israel, Germany or the United States.

Julian Chilmodina, born in Volgograd, Russia, in 1931, was among many thousands of Ashkenazi Jews who moved to Central Asia during World War II, joining Persian-speaking Bukharian Jews who had settled in the region much earlier.

Now he wants to move to Israel, where his younger brother lives. In a bizarre twist reminiscent of Soviet times, he cannot get a visa, he says, because his official ethnicity is Russian, rather than Jewish.

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Algeria limits non-Muslim freedoms

Hard on the heels of the case of Abdul Rahman, the Afghan sentenced to death for converting to Christianity, comes worrying news from Algeria on new restrictions introduced on the practice of Christianity and Judaism. (via Primo-Europe).

By an overwhelming majority the second chamber of the Algerian Parliament recently passed a law whereby anyone attempting to ‘incite, coerce or attempts to seduce Muslims to convert’ could be sentenced to prison terms of up to five years and fines of up to 1 million dinars (10,000 Euros). Printed or audio-visual material ‘aimed at destroying the Muslim faith’ are outlawed. The exercise of non-Muslim religions outside certain authorised buildings is banned.

The new law does not even recognise atheism and agnosticism, and follows hard on another restricting the teaching of French and languages other than Arabic in schools.

President Bouteflika claims that the new law aims to ‘perpetuate the tradition of coexistence and mutual respect between the religions of the Peoples of the Book as well as to protect Islam’.

Worried Christians have pointed out unofficial meetings even in official buildings, declarations in sermons and quoting from the Bible could well earn them up to 10 years in prison. All this in the birthplace of St Augustine. Christianity and Judaism predated Islam in North Africa by at least 600 years.

Algeria is a signatory to the International Charter on Human Rights.

Playing the ethnic card won’t work

As certain politicians prepare to attribute Labour’s imminent failure to win in the Israeli elections to Amir Peretz’s Moroccan origins, this sensible editorial from the Jerusalem Post argues that people in Israel are far more likely to be judged for who they are, not where they come from.

Fordecades, our political scene was burdened by the gaps between Jews of European and Middle Eastern origins. This gap reflected side-effects common to all immigration processes, and problems unique to the Israeli situation. As an immigrant society, Israel was built by layers of arrivals from assorted countries, who initially stuck together and subsequently kept a distance from those who arrived after them.

Similar rifts existed already before the state’s establishment between traditionalist, revolutionary and bourgeois elements and, following the German immigration of the 1930s, between East and Central Europeans.

However, the arrival of massive immigration waves from the Muslim world in the 1950s introduced tensions that reflected deeper East-West gaps. The Jews, who until the 18th century were split evenly between the Christian and Muslim worlds, became 90 percent European by the 19th century, thanks to improving conditions.

The Jews of the Muslim world, meanwhile, declined not only in their numbers but also in their wealth, education and clout. After the Holocaust, the non-Ashkenazi share in the Jewish people in general, and the Jewish state in particular, rose sharply. Eventually, nearly half of Israeli Jews were non-Ashkenazi, while practically the entire political, cultural and financial elites remained Ashkenazi.

Fortunately, since this problem emerged a lot has happened here, and for the better.

Marriages between the two communities have risen steadily over the years and have now become so common that children are often no longer sure how to classify themselves or their friends. The business sector is brimming with world-class success stories like Yitzhak Tshuva, Tzadik Bino, Haim Saban, Shlomo Eliyahu and Benny Gaon, the army is now headed by its third non-Ashkenazi chief of General Staff, and the political scene has seen non-Ashkenazim serve as ministers of defense, finance, foreign affairs and president of Israel, in addition to practically any other position in the legislative, municipal and governmental hierarchies.

This is not to say that our ethnic gaps have vanished. Academia, for instance, remains excessively Ashkenazi, both at the graduate and faculty levels, as does the Supreme Court. Still, in terms of stereotypes, Israel is no longer where it once was, and people are judged not by where they came from, but by who they are.

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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.