Month: February 2007

Iraqi Jew awarded highest Canadian honour

An Iraqi-Jewish refugee has been awarded the Order of Canada, the country’s highest honour. (With thanks: Eli)

Jacob Masliyah, one of the top researchers in extracting bitumen from the oilsands, is a Jew born in Iraq who ended up in Canada because this was the only country that would accept him as an immigrant after he had completed his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering in England.

A professor at the University of Alberta, he has been doing oilsands research for 30 years. His projects have a total of $1 million in research grants attached to them.

The irony of fleeing oil-rich Iraq for the oilsands of Alberta is not lost on him, but he never takes the peace of Canada for granted.

“Virtually every day I remind myself how lucky I am, with my family, to be in Alberta and to be in Canada,” he said. “Sometimes as Canadians we forget how fortunate we are.”

Article in the Edmonton Journal

Playing the ethnic card in Israel no longer works

Israel’s Moroccan-born defence minister Amir Peretz has been criticised for incompetence. Israel’s president, Iranian-born Moshe Katsav, has been accused of sexual harassment – and worse. Is the real reason for their ‘victimisation’ anti-Mizrahi racism? Or is ‘playing the ethnic card’ itself losing its effect?

The journalist Gideon Levy certainly thinks that Peretz is being victimised on account of his Mizrahi origins. He argues in Haaretz:

“Indeed, let’s call a spade a spade: The mockery of Peretz derives from racism. There is no other way to explain the systematic ridicule of his character: his English, his awkward pinning of ranks on the chief of staff, and the covered binoculars. This could happen to anyone, but we laugh at him. So let’s remove the mask: Unlike many Mizrahim, Peretz remains a Moroccan who did not become Ashkenazi in his personality, mustache, mannerisms, diction or place of residence. Unfortunately, he discarded the mantle of the man of peace from Sderot, but he never switched the mantle of his ethnic origin. And he is paying for this now. The problem does not lie in his binoculars, but rather in our binoculars. The ethnic demon is still here, alive and kicking, this time at Amir Peretz.”

Moshe Katsav, the state’s president, has very publicly climbed on to the ‘ethnic demon’ bandwagon. David Green writes in Nextbook (with thanks Albert):

The latest contender is a bona fide heavyweight: the state’s president, Moshe Katsav. Katsav, 61, has been under intense scrutiny since July, when suspicions surfaced that he had sexually harassed a onetime employee at his official residence in Jerusalem. Once this woman came forward with a rape complaint, another 10 women were reported to have lined up at the police station to claim that they, too, had been victims of Katsav’s advances. Some of the accusations predate his six years as president. Yet, in spite of the grave accusations now directed at him, it is Katsav who insists that he is the wronged party, and in his defense he insinuates he’s being persecuted because of his Mizrahi origins.

On January 24, the day after Attorney General Menachem Mazuz announced his intention to indict the president, Katsav delivered an address nearly an hour long, covered live by all local media. He categorically denied everything, and vowed that until “my dying breath” he would fight a “world war, if necessary” to establish his innocence. Most of his 50-minute performance consisted of a frontal attack on the media: an “elitist clique of bloated egos, born with silver spoons in their mouths,” who, he claimed, had conspired with the police to frame him ever since his election to the presidency in 2000.

To observers overseas, Katsav’s words may sound bizarre. He was speaking in code, but delivering a message every Israeli understands. A desperate man, he was playing a kind of “race card,” or, as the Hebrew phrase has it, in translation, he was “letting the ethnic genie out of the bottle.”(…)

In truth, Katsav could be seen as the embodiment of the Zionist dream, an Israeli version of a Horatio Alger character. His family arrived in the young state in 1951, when he was five, spending their first years in one of the makeshift transit camps used to house the many immigrants from Muslim lands whose arrival helped double the country’s population during the 1950s. Kastina, their tent camp southeast of Tel Aviv, was flooded during their first winter, and Moshe’s two-month-old brother died.

Defying the odds, the ambitious Katsav earned a bachelor’s degree from the Hebrew University, and at age 24, returned to become mayor of Kiryat Malakhi, the town that had been built on the site of the Kastina camp. Eight years later, having worked his way up in the Likud, he was elected to the Knesset, and at 38, he became the youngest man ever appointed a government minister, in this case at the ministry of Labor and Welfare. Over the next two decades, Katsav went on to serve as minister of transportation under Yitzhak Shamir, and then under Benjamin Netanyahu, as both tourism minister and as deputy prime minister.

But Katsav’s chief ‘victimiser’ is the attorney-general Menahem Mazuz. And Mazuz is himself a Mizrahi.

A cursory look at Mazuz’s background provides a rejoinder to Katsav. Mazuz was born in Djerba, Tunisia, the son of a rabbi. In 1956, when he was one, his family arrived in Israel and was plunked down in Azata, another transit camp, which eventually became the development town of Netivot, the same town where Barak offered a mea culpa on behalf of Ashkenazim to his Mizrahi countrymen a decade ago. It is more remote than Kiryat Malakhi, and remains an impoverished, disadvantaged community. Now, Netivot’s most famous son will determine the fate of the one-time pride of Kiryat Malakhi. It is hard to imagine Moshe Katsav is now much more than a source of embarrassment in his hometown, compounding his own misdeeds with a misguided attempt to transfer blame from himself to a faded bogeyman.

Isn’t it time for politicians and journalists to stop playing the ethnic card in Israel? David Green continues:

“Israel’s current crop of politicians are hardly morally superior to their predecessors, but ethnic demagoguery no longer has the same effect. That’s why Amir Peretz, the Moroccan-born current chair of Labor, was able to defeat none other than Shimon Peres for the party leadership last year, even while very consciously refusing to make his background part of the campaign. When he became Labor’s candidate for prime minister, in 2006, he declared, “Today we are euthanizing the ethnic genie.”

A year later, the public has repudiated Peretz as defense minister and Labor is preparing to replace him as its head. Yet no one in his camp has the nerve to suggest that he is the victim of ethnic prejudice. He is the victim of his own incompetence and his refusal to acknowledge it.

Israel still has a permanent underclass, and it is largely Mizrahi in background. The gap between the affluent and the impoverished is growing, even as the country increasingly prospers. But these days, the source of the problem is social and economic, not ethnic, at least for the Jewish (as opposed to Arab) population.

Read article in full

The enemy next door: Iran and its Jews

Anti-Zionism has not always been the default position of Iran. In fact, in the Sixties, a group of visiting Iranian intellectuals was smitten with admiration for Israel’s kibbutz socialism. While cultural antisemitism has always simmered in the background, the regime’s opponents today are more likely to be pro-Israel on the grounds of ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’. In the ‘Enemy next door’ author Roya Hakakian, who fled the country 20 years ago, writes eloquently in Guilt and pleasure magazine on the complex and ever-changing relationship of Iran and its Jews.

In December of 1978, a chain of powerful knocks shook our courtyard door in Tehran. But the sound of the iron door rattling in its frame was not nearly as terrifying as the look on the face of the person rattling it. When my father finally buzzed the caller in, there was my Aunt Monavar, her face blurred behind a stream of tears. A greeting must have seemed superfluous to my father, who simply shouted:”What’s wrong, Monavar?”

“She erupted. The words tumbled from her mouth. They sounded tragic, severe, frenzied, although their meaning eluded me. My father and his siblings spoke to one another in the Jewish dialect of their childhood village in central Iran, a language to which I, born and raised in Tehran, was not privy. ”

Read article in full

Persian Jews in US cookie culture clash

A little historical anecdote tells much about the transition of Iranian Jews in Los Angeles over a 25-year span, from strangers to integral — though distinctive — members of the larger Jewish community, Tom Tugend writes in Jewish Journal of LA (with thanks: Albert).

“In the late 1970s and early ’80s, following Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution, the first sizeable wave of Iranian Jews arrived in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.

“Many chose the conveniently located Sinai Temple in Westwood, a prominent Conservative synagogue, as their Shabbat gathering place.

“Soon their large, extended families, speaking Persian, socialized in the lobby on Friday evenings, ate oneg Shabbat cookies, and attended services the following morning.

“Ashkenazi old-timers started grumbling about “free rides” for the newcomers, quite unaware that to the Iranians, paying membership dues to a synagogue was a foreign concept and that it was considered a blessing for guests to take home some cookies and candy after a bar mitzvah or wedding.

Read article in full

US Congress introduces Jewish refugees resolutions

Capital news from Capitol Hill: new resolutions on Jewish refugees have been re-introduced in the recently-elected US Congress House of Representatives and Senate.

Here is the press release from Justice for Jews from Arab Countries:
WASHINGTON, DC (February 20, 2007) – Rarely is any consensus reached on final status issues in the Middle East peace process. Yet, remarkably, US Congressional leaders have agreed on the rights of Jewish refugees displaced from Arab countries.

In a rare display of bi-partisanship, four Senators and four Congressmen, representing both political parties, have introduced landmark Resolutions on Middle East refugees that call attention to the fact that Jews living in Arab countries suffered human rights violations, were uprooted from their homes, and were made refugees. These Resolutions signify that “it would be inappropriate and unjust for the United States to recognize rights for Palestinian refugees without recognizing equal rights for former Jewish, Christian, and other refugees from Arab countries.

On February 16, 2007, formal bicameral resolutions were introduced in the Senate (S.Res 85) and in the House (H.Res 185). These far-reaching Resolutions seek to ensure that all victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict are treated with equality, including Jewish, Christian and other refugees from countries in the Middle East, North Africa and the Persian Gulf. Concretely, the Resolutions urge the President to ensure that in all international forums, when the issue of ‘Middle East refugees are discussed, representatives of the United States should ensure:

“That any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees is matched by a similar explicit reference to Jewish and other refugees, as a matter of law and equity.”

This bi-partisan effort is being spearheaded in the House of Representatives by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) along with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL); Rep. Michael Ferguson (R-NJ); and Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY). In the Senate, sponsors are Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ); Trent Lott (R-MS); Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN); and Sen. Richard Durbin. The Resolutions will be the strongest declarations adopted by the U.S. Congress, on the rights of Jewish and others refugees that were forced to flee Arab countries.

“When the Middle East peace process is discussed, Palestinian refugees are often addressed. However, Jewish refugees outnumbered Palestinian refugees, and their forced exile from Arab lands must not be omitted from public discussion on the peace process. It is simply not right to recognize the rights of Palestinian refugees without recognizing the rights of Jewish refugees,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).

“There can be no true and lasting peace in the Middle East unless the legitimate claims of all refugees displaced by the years of conflict are recognized by the international community,” said Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN).

“Large numbers of both Arabs and Jews have been forced to flee their countries and it is only right and equitable that the President acknowledge and include Jewish and other refugees in any discussion of Palestinian refugees in pursuing this issue in the international arena.”

“It would be constitute an injustice were the United States to recognize rights for one victim population – Palestinian refugees – without recognizing equal rights former Jewish refugees from Arab countries” said Stanley Urman, Executive Director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries. “Both were victims of the very same Middle East conflict and the rights of Jewish refugees must be addressed.”


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.