Month: April 2006

Bahraini official rewrites Jewish history

The members of the American Jewish Committee in Palm Beach would do well do take some of what the Bahraini ambassador to the US told them about Bahraini Jews with a pinch of salt.

Report by Michele Dargan in the Palm Beach Daily News. (With thanks: Albert, and a special correspondent)

“(…) Nasser M Al Belooshi spoke to more than 50 members and guests of the American Jewish Committee at The Colony. AJC honorary board members Nancy and Mark Gilbert hosted the cocktail reception.

“Al Belooshi, who resides in Washington, D.C., came to the United States in 2003 to coordinate and expedite the signing of the U.S./Bahrain free-trade agreement. The agreement was signed in 2004 and ratified last year. He was appointed ambassador in 2005.

“Al Belooshi also discussed the history of Jewish residents in Bahrain.

“In the early 1900s, many Jewish immigrants from Iraq, Iran and India settled in Bahrain. When Israel was formed in 1948, most of the Jews left Bahrain.

Most Jews did not leave when Israel was formed, but in reaction to local Partition riots in 1947 which destroyed the synagogue and claimed two Jewish lives.

“Today there are 70 to 100 Jews living in Bahrain, but that number is on the rise, Al Belooshi said.

Wrong: there are 30 Jews in Bahrain, though numbers fluctuate if you include Jews serving with the American Fifth Fleet.

“Bahrain has always been inclusive of all religions — Jewish, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Baha’is and Sikhs — whose adherents live side-by-side and are productive members of society, he said.

“Al Belooshi made frequent mention of Bahrain’s longtime friendship with the United States. An island nation nestled midway between Saudi Arabia and the peninsular nation of Qatar in the Persian Gulf, Bahrain is the home port for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

“He said the Gulf States “feel very unsafe because of the nuclear ambitions of Iran,” which Bahrain opposes.

“We need to see a more united front against this,” he said. “America has always been a country that has helped. I hope (the U.S.) will help and push for peace in that region.”

“Bahrain is the only Gulf State that has given Jews land for a synagogue and there has been a well-maintained synagogue for 100 years,” he said.

Wrong: the Jews jointly acquired land out of town during the 1920s for a synagogue. It was destroyed during Partition riots in 1947, and the Jews put up a high wall around the compound so that it became inaccessible. Over the years, the town expanded, and the compound became very valuable because of its location. The rulers of Bahrain offered to pay for the land, and provide the Jews with a piece of land outside town in order to build a synagogue. The Jews refused. They argued that no one would build another Synagogue out of town, and if this piece of land were given up, there would be nothing to show that there was a community in Bahrain. So about five years ago, the synagogue was rebuilt. There are no services there, but it stands for all to see.

“Bahrain also was the only country to have offered American missionaries in 1888 land on which to build a church. The synagogue and the church still exist as emblems of Bahrain’s tolerance of all religions.”*

Al Belooshi was asked if Bahraini officials are afraid that radical groups may target his country because of its alliance with the United States.

Twenty-five thousand Americans and their dependents from the Fifth Fleet live in Bahrain and a half-million Americans pass through the country each year, he said.

“We are an island and islands can protect themselves in a better way,” he said. “Yes, we are afraid, but our responsibility is bigger than other countries. Just imagine an American killed in Bahrain. It would be a disastrous situation. That’s why we have to be careful not once, not twice, but 100 times. That’s why we have a very strong intelligence relationship with the U.S. and Great Britain.”

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*Bahrain’s Jews have benefited from the protection of the island’s rulers, but as in Iran have been known to suffer from the widespread Shi’a popular prejudice that the Jews are ‘unclean’. One Jew who used to install TVs in people’s homes would be invited for a Coke. But his hosts would never drink with him and he would discover the glass he had drunk from had been thrown away.

Update on Iranian Muslim who went to Israel

The BBC has finally picked up on this story, featured originally on ‘Point of no return’ in February (with thanks: Albert):

“My biggest surprise was when I found myself with two other Iranians, completely randomly, on the same minibus from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. I had no idea that Israel had the world’s largest proportion of Iranians in its population, outside Iran itself.

“It was only then I could digest the fact that Israel’s President Moshe Katsaf and Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz, despite their hardline stances against the Iranian government, were originally from Iran. I began to share with my blog’s readers what I was observing, by posting entries, pictures, videos, and podcasts. I shared stories about an Israeli woman who knew the works of Persian classical poet Saadi by heart; an Iranian professor whose wife’s family were killed in Holocaust; an Israeli actor who invited me to watch rehearsals of the play he was appearing in ; a young Israeli academic who had studied Ayatollah Khomeini’s ideas; an Iranian veteran engineer whose biggest wish was to see Iran again.

“I encountered some hostile Iranians in Jerusalem who saw me as a representative of a government of which they didn’t have good memories. But I also wrote about an Iranian family man who generously invited me to his suburban Tel Aviv house, and in return I helped him become the first Iranian to write a blog from Israel.”

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Eli Amir brings the East to Jerusalem

Those who attended Eli Amir’s lecture‘Longing and hope’ in London, part of Harif Week last November, will be particularly interested in this lengthy interview in the Jerusalem Post. (With thanks: Albert)

“(…)Describing the meaning of Jerusalem, Eli Amir has, perhaps unwittingly, also described himself. Meeting with In Jerusalem in honor of Independence Day and upcoming Jerusalem Day, Amir, best-selling author, publicist, former adviser on Arab affairs, former head of the Youth Aliya Department in the Jewish Agency, and regular guest on the popular radio show (with former MK Geula Cohen), “From the Right and from the Left,” reveals much about himself, yet hides at least as much.

Nearly 70 years old, married with three adult children, Amir seems both younger and older. He is both decisive and ambivalent, his language combining both the polemic and poetic, the elegant and the nearly-crude.

Almost like the walls he describes, he is both present and distant, engaged in the interview – but then suddenly making a list of errands and folding it carefully into his pocket. He is alternatively vain and attentive, with an otherworldly eastern quality, sensual and earthy, that is consistently charming and embracing. (…)

“They (the Arabs) know that I am from here, too, and so, in a moment of grace, a Palestinian will be able to say that he recognizes that I belong here, and that the countries of the region owe me a solution to my refugee-ness, too. But no one thinks in those directions today, and that is part of the tragedy, too.

“As a country and society, we must be from here. We must stop acting as a Western colonial conqueror. We must be part of the Middle East. Our children must learn Arabic as well as Hebrew.”

That is why, he says, he is head of the board of the Abraham Fund – to help to make a change, to bring the message of peace and equality.

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A Persian-Jewish actress in Hollywood

The Forward reports:(with thanks: Albert)

Persian Jewish actress Bahar Soomekh earned some serious attention last year when she played a young Iranian in “Crash,” the Academy Award winner for best picture. She’s about to star in an even bigger role — playing alongside Tom Cruise in the thriller “Mission: Impossible III.” On the eve of the film’s debut, the Shmooze caught up with Soomekh to chat about growing up Persian Jewish in Los Angeles and about her road to becoming a star.

“I was born in Tehran. My father is a poet. We moved from Iran in 1979, but before the revolution. I pretty much grew up in Los Angeles and learned English by watching TV. I went to the Sinai Akiba Academy and later to Beverly Hills High School.”

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The cauldron of anti-semitism

Bruce Thornton likens European anti-semitism to another form of ‘dhimmitude’. The Jew is tolerated only when he is a defenceless victim, conscious of his inferiority.

“The position of Jews in the European imagination is similar to their status in the Muslim world. Most Muslims don’t want Jews to disappear, just Israel. Jews have lived in the Muslim world for centuries, but they did so as a subordinated minority whose public behavior and demeanor were always supposed to testify that they were inferior to their Islamic overlords. As possessors of the ultimate divine revelation, Muslims were justified in reminding Jews and Christians, who both rejected that culminating revelation, that they were inferiors allowed to live only by their spiritual superiors’ dispensation, which could be arbitrarily lifted at any time.

This is the contemptuous, conditional forbearance that many today extol as Muslim “tolerance.” It reminds me of the position of blacks in the Jim Crow South. After all, many Southerners who believed in segregation despised the Klu Klux Klan’s terrorism, and sincerely liked black people. These more respectable segregationists didn’t want to kill all the blacks, just to make sure that they lived in a way that publicly testified to their inferiority. Such Southerners believed that given the innate, ineradicable differences between the races, both peoples were better served by maintaining in social and political life the various mechanisms for asserting the superiority of the white race and its natural right to rule. So too with the dhimmi in Muslim societies: they can live and even practice their religion, so long as they demonstrate that they are inferior.

But the existence of Israel upsets all these long-established roles for Jews. Not just because Israel fights — Jews can fight, as they did at Masada and in the Warsaw ghetto. But they’re not supposed to win. To have their own nation, and thus be equal to the world’s other nations, and then to defeat in battle better armed, more numerous enemies, is to violate the image of the Jew established for centuries. It is to make him our equal, and to call forth paranoid fantasies about nefariously influential cabals to explain this disturbing change. For the Jew’s job is to be a victim, and thus perpetually inferior. He is to suffer and die, or else to leech away his Jewish identity and thus not really be a Jew, which is another sort of death.”

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