Month: September 2007

Arabs were allies and supporters of Nazism

The Sephardi Perspective blog nails the myth, articulated most recently by President Ahmadinejad, that the Arabs, and especially the Palestinians, were innocent bystanders to Nazism (with thanks: Lily).

“There is a myth that has gained increasing currency in many quarters that the Palestinians and the Arabs should not suffer as a result of what was done to the Jews in Europe during the Holocaust. This myth of course relies on another myth; that the State of Israel was created purely on the ashes of the Holocaust. The fact is that the Balfour Declaration, Weizmann-Feisal Agreement and the Peel Commission report, to name but a few events that pre-dated the Holocaust; all led significantly to the creation of the Jewish State.

“The more insidious myth is the fabrication of history that allows for complete innocence on the part of the Palestinian and Arab populations during the Holocaust. The Arab stance towards Hitler and the Nazis was as an ally and supporter. The Arab masses and leadership gleefully welcomed the Nazis taking power in 1933 and messages of support came from all over the Arab world especially from the Palestinian Arab leader, Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, who was the first non-European to request admission to the Nazi party. The most influential party that emulated the Nazis in the Arab world was “Young Egypt,” which was founded in October 1933.

“They had storm troopers, torch processions, and literal translations of Nazi slogans – like “One folk, One party, One leader.” Nazi anti-Semitism was replicated, with calls to boycott Jewish businesses and physical attacks on Jews. Sami al-Joundi, one of the founders of the ruling Syrian Ba’ath Party, recalls: “We were racists. We admired the Nazis. We were immersed in reading Nazi literature and books… We were the first who thought of a translation of Mein Kampf. Anyone who lived in Damascus at that time was witness to the Arab inclination toward Nazism.”

“There was of course the infamous pogrom in Iraq led by the pro-Nazi Rashid Ali al-Kaylani in 1941. Kaylani also asked from Hitler the right to “deal with Jews” in Arab states, a request that was granted. Apart from the secular pro-Nazi stance, there were many other religious Arab leaders who issued fatwas that the Arabs should assist and support the Nazis against the Allies.

“However, the most infamous Arab figure most closely identified with the Holocaust was the leader of the Palestinians Arabs, Haj Amin al-Husseini. Husseini had fled to Germany in 1941 and was immediately granted a special place amongst the Nazi hierarchy. The Mufti and Hitler relayed many declarations to each other explicitly stating that the main enemy they shared were the Jews. However, the Mufti’s ideology transcended words and directed his actions. In 1945, Yugoslavia sought to indict the Mufti as a war criminal for his role in recruiting 20,000 Muslim volunteers for the SS, who participated in the killing of Jews in Croatia and Hungary.

“Adolf Eichmann’s deputy Dieter Wisliceny (subsequently executed as a war criminal) in his Nuremburg Trials testimony stated “The Mufti was one of the initiators of the systematic extermination of European Jewry and had been a collaborator and adviser of Eichmann and Himmler in the execution of this plan… He was one of Eichmann’s best friends and had constantly incited him to accelerate the extermination measures.” On a visit to Auschwitz, Husseini reportedly admonished the guards running the gas chambers to work more diligently. Throughout the war, he appeared regularly on German radio broadcasts to the Middle East, preaching his pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic message to the Arab masses back home.

“Even the Mufti himself explained that the main reason for his close cooperation with the Nazis was their shared hatred of the Jews and their joint wish for their extermination. “Our fundamental condition for cooperating with Germany was a free hand to eradicate every last Jew from Palestine and the Arab world,” the man who was known as the ‘Fuhrer of the Arab World’ wrote in his post World War Two memoirs. There is even evidence recently unearthed from British secretive records that the Palestinian Arabs had begun to draw up plans for a concentration/extermination camp in Palestine should the Nazis make their way there.

“In North Africa there were more than mere plans for concentration camps. From June 1940 to May 1943, the Nazis, their Vichy French collaborators and their Italian fascist allies applied in Arab lands many of the precursors to the Final Solution. These included not only ‘racial’ laws depriving Jews of property, education, livelihood, residence and free movement, but also torture, slave labor, deportation and execution. Thousands of Jews perished under Nazi and Axis control and in most cases, like their European counterparts, the local population at times assisted, collaborated and participated in this oppression and murder. Robert Satloff has written extensively on the Arabs and the Holocaust and he found that much of the local Arab population willingly participated in this institutional Jew-hatred. One example Staloff provides is in an interview with a survivor from the concentration camp in Djelfa, in the Algerian desert. When asked whether the local Arabs who administered the camp were just following orders, he replied “Nobody told them to beat us all the time. Nobody told them to chain us together. Nobody told them to tie us naked to a post and beat us and to hang us by our arms and hose us down, to bury us in the sand so our heads should look up and bash our brains in and urinate on our heads. . . . No, they took this into their own hands and they enjoyed what they did.”

(Robert) Satloff’s book “Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust’s Reach into Arab Lands” chronicles much of the nature of the Holocaust in Arab Lands and Sephardi communities in North Africa and the Middle East. He tries to show that there were Arabs who helped rescue and hide Jews during the Holocaust, but just like in Europe these examples are exceptions to a sadly more pervasive assistance or indifference to Jewish suffering and murder.

In Libya, many Jews were sent not only to
local concentration camps but also to European camps like Bergen-Belsen
and Biberach. In a film titled “Goral Meshutaf” (Shared Fate), some
Tunisian eyewitnesses claim that the Nazis had begun building gas
chambers there. If the Allies had not won the decisive battle at El
Alamain, perhaps the fate of North African Jews would have been the same
as that befell European Jewry. A willing or indifferent local
population was an important ingredient in the destruction of European
Jewry and it was certainly present amongst the Arabs of North Africa.

Many of the current leadership in the Middle East owe their power base to the emergence of their predecessors during these murky times. The Palestinians still revere Al-Husseini and many of the terrorist groups are named after groups he founded. Many have suggested strong links between the Baath parties of Assad’s Syria and formerly in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Gamel Abdel Nasser, the founder of the modern Egyptian State and the greatest proponent of Pan-Arabism, was a friend of the Nazis and hid many fleeing Nazis after the war.

The Holocaust is often thought of as a disaster that befell only European Jews. However, more and more documentation is arising about the suffering of Sephardi Jewry outside of Europe, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East. The lie that the Arabs were innocent bystanders to the Nazi Holocaust is well known by Sephardim who lived through these dark times. It is about time that this capricious myth was exposed, not just for the sake of correcting false histories and their like, but also out of respect to those Jews who suffered at the hands of the Nazis everywhere.”

See similar article in Front Page magazine by Professor Alan Dershowitz

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Israeli reporter attends Damascus synagogue

Ynet News‘s intrepid man in Syria, Ron Ben-Yishai, bribes his way into a Yom Kippur service at the last functioning synagogue in Damascus. This article is an appetiser: the full report is yet to come.

SYRIA – As I walk along one of the alleys in the poorer district of the city, where the ancient houses tilt and threaten to crumble, I spot, sitting there against the wall, a young mustached man. When he saw me approaching he rose and moved forward to block my path.

He was wearing civilian clothes, but the gun sticking out of the belt of his trousers was noticeable.

Synagogue in Damascus

I explained to him in English-laced Arabic what I was seeking. You cannot, he answered. After a brief negotiation and the handing over of several bills, the plainclothes officer – or was he a member of the al-Mukhabarat (Syrian intelligence) – was content and walked over to a narrow alley between two houses.

A bridge over the Euphrates: the reporter is on the left

Ten minutes later a short man of about 50 came towards me, wrapped in a Jewish prayer shawl. “What can I do for you?” the Jewish man asked in French. I decided to avoid taking a risk and identified myself as a tourist, a geography professor. Albert Kamao mulled this over for a moment and then without asking any further questions, told me to come in two hours time, towards the end of the prayer.

“Yom Kippur is a holy day for us, the Jews,” he said, in English now. “We do not wish to be disturbed while we pray to the creator of the world and ask him for forgiveness.” I did as he instructed.

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How Arab are ‘Arab’ Jews?

A young law student at Cornell recently had an article published in the university newspaper entitled Arab Jews – an oxymoron?

‘Many people in the West have never heard of Jews from Arab countries,” J. R. Rothstein writes. “They do not know that Jewish roots in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and other ‘Arab’ countries stretch back thousands of years. ”

Indeed. It is as well to point out to the legions of well-meaning peace and interfaith groups around the world that Jews and Arabs need no instruction in how to live together: they have done so for hundreds of years.

Others do know that Jews lived in Arab and Muslim countries, but they might think they were ‘Jewish Arabs’. Anti-Zionists and Jewish communists add to the confusion. ( Ella Shohat and David Shasha talk about Arabs of the Jewish faith. They deny that the Jews are a separate people, and imply they are not entitled to a state of their own.)

In search of enlightenment I reached for my yellowing copy of Jews and Arabsby the late, eminent Princeton scholar SD Goitein (first published in 1955). Goitein made a speciality of studying those most genuine Jews living among the most genuine Arabs – in Yemen.

From Arabia in the 7th century the Arabs spread their language and religion – Arabic and Islam. But the Arabs did not necessarily always rule the areas they conquered, ceding that role to foreign soldiers from Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Was Israel just another Arabian tribe? After all, both peoples are said to be semitic. Goitein dismisses the myth of the semitic race: “The fact that negroes in the US talk and think exactly like other Americans does not prove they once formed a single race.”Among the affinities between Jews and Arabs was a certain primitive democracy, a similar concept of the ‘slave’ and the existence of women in public life.

But the differences in values are considerable. The Jews grant more freedom to their women. The Arabs cling to appearances, and would be polite even if they felt like insulting you. Sabra Israelis can be rude, even if there is every reason to be polite.

Ancient Israel was an agricultural people to whom the desert, except for a short Biblical sojourn between Egypt and Canaan, was alien. Their calendar was agricultural. Yes, their social structure was tribal, but this does not mean that Israel was of Bedouin origin. Goitein points out there is a difference between sheep and cattle-raising semi-nomads – as the Patriarchs would have been – and camel-breeding Bedouins. The Israelite ideal was that each man should sit under his own vine or fig tree. This changed in Islamic times when the Jewish people, most of whom were living under Arab rule, transformed themselves into a nation of artisans and merchants.

The Jews tried to do everything to minimise the transfer of property, while to Arabs, everything was sellable. Their laws of inheritance differed. The Jews followed the law of ‘primogeniture’. The Jews passed as much as property as possible to as few as possible, whereas Arabs divided property among as many as possible. A daughter inherited half as much property as a son. The central unit to Jews was the family; to Arabs it was the clan.

Although Judaism and Islam have much in common, there are also differences: for example, the Jewish Sabbath is a Day of Rest. The Bedouin, being on the move and working irregularly during the week, had little use for a Day of Rest but retained it as a day of assembly and prayer.

Arab classical literature was written down in sedentary environments, but ‘its every page betrays the origin of its people in the Arabian desert. Nothing of that kind is to be found in the Bible’, says Goitein,’ where everything breathes the fragrance of the Palestinian soil and reflects the life of farmers and shepherds.’

Another big difference was the Arab attachment to language, and the emphasis on elegance and form. The Jews concentrated on ideas and paid very little attention to form. They readily gave up their own language, translating the Bible into other languages, including Arabic, while the Arabs clung tenaciously to theirs. Goitein describes Arab poetry as like an ornament, rigidly traditionalist. The fact that literary Arabic has not been allowed to evolve has led to spiritual stagnation. But Goitein also points out that without the influence of Arab Muslim language and literature, medieval Jewish philosophy, poetry and Hebrew grammar would not have developed in the way they did.

By adopting the Arabic language, however, the Jews did not become Arabs. They exchanged one language, Aramaic, for another, Arabic.

Can a Jew also be Arab? By Naim Kattan

Iran friendly to Jews? Yes and no

In the wake of President Ahmadinejad’s controversial visit to New York, this UPI report tries to give a balanced picture of Iran’s treatment of its Jews. However, it fails to provide any sense of the fear and intimidation felt by non-Muslim minorities in Iran, nor does it refer to the traditional anti-Jewish bigotry inherent in Shi’ism.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 25 (UPI) — The Iranian president’s meeting with an anti-Israel Jewish group in New York Monday and a television series in Iran about the Holocaust reflect the country’s complex relationship with its Jewish population and reveal a sympathy from their Muslim compatriots that is hidden by Tehran’s bombastic rhetoric toward Israel.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has garnered international anger by denying that the Holocaust happened, while at the same time government-run television aired the series “Zero Degree Turn.” Based on the actions of actual Iranian diplomats, the series tells the story of a fictional Iranian diplomat who provides passports for Jews to leave Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.

The series has been a massive hit, and its airing on state-run television has been puzzling to some who note Iran’s history of Holocaust denial.

In 2005 Ahmadinejad called the genocide of Jews in World War II a myth, but during his speech at Columbia University in New York on Monday, he seemed to distance himself from the position, saying the subject needed more research to verify the details. (…)

Iranian leaders, including former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, have long questioned the Holocaust, according to Abbas William Samii, an Iran expert and regional analyst with the Center for Naval Analyses.

“So it is not just one guy spouting off crazy stuff, it is a perspective shared by leading officials in that regime. The distinction is that Ahmadinejad has no clue how his comments play out in the rest of the world, and so he seems to say whatever he is thinking. Other figures such as Rafsanjani and Khatami, the former presidents, recognize that their comments have an international impact, so they try to keep those views limited to their domestic speeches,” Samii said.

But the Iranian government, including Ahmadinejad, does claim sympathy with Jews.

“We are friends with the Jewish people. There are many Jews in Iran living peacefully with security. You must understand that in our constitution, in our laws, in the parliamentary elections, for every 150,000 people we get one representative in the Parliament. For the Jewish community, one-fifth of this number they still get one independent representative in the Parliament,” Ahmadinejad said at Columbia University.

What is crucial to the Iranian government’s thinking is the somewhat fuzzy but bold line they draw between the Jewish religion and the state of Israel.

“What the government tries to do is to say, at home we respect Jews, and they go on to say what the Iranian government objects to is Zionism, rather than Judaism. So they try to make that distinction. And it is on that basis, according to the Iranian government, that it opposes the Israeli state,” Samii said.

As if to underscore this point, while in New York, Ahmadinejad met with the Neturei Karta, a very small organization of orthodox Jews who oppose Zionism and the state of Israel.(..)

The government also makes token gestures to the Jewish population. It funds a small part of a Jewish charitable hospital in Tehran and in September announced it would build a $3.2 million Jewish cultural and sports center in Tehran.

These actions by the government can also be attributed to self-interest, a self-interest that is apparent in the Iranian television series about the Holocaust.

“I think the reason they are doing this is, other than straight entertainment value, and showing the program as history of Iran, it is trying to make the regime look good. Demonstrating that Iranians are friendly towards Jews, that they are a kind and generous people,” Samii said.

The government’s relationship with Iranian Jews is not always cordial, however. In 2000, 10 Jews were prosecuted on charges of spying for Israel. Human Rights Watch, and international group that monitors religious freedom, among other things, condemned Iran at the time for persecuting the Jewish defendants and said the charges were unsubstantiated.

According to the U.S. State Department’s 2007 International Religious Freedom Report, Iran guarantees freedom of worship for Jews in the country, but in practice they face persecution and “government imprisonment, harassment, intimidation, and discrimination based on their religious beliefs.”

This discrimination is common, if not overt.

“It is not so clear that there is a state policy, but discrimination does take place against Jews in terms of getting jobs, in terms of economic, and in terms of access to education. For example, applicants for university places have to pass examinations on religious subjects. If you are a Muslim, the chances of passing a test on Islam are much greater than if you are a Jew or a Christian,” Samii said.

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‘Caspian rain’ adds to shower of books on Iran

While Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sparked plenty of verbal fireworks on his visit to New York, an explosion of interest in books about Iran generally has been taking place.

Gina B Nahai is an Iranian Jewish author whose latest novel, Caspian Rain, is here reviewed in the San Jose Mercury News:

“Why do some have the ability to overcome loss, while others pass the sorrow down to their children, like blue eyes or a bad temper? In her fourth novel, “Caspian Rain,” Gina B. Nahai demonstrates that suffering is a cultural imprint; that people, particularly in the East, don’t make lemonade from lemons. Rather, they carry a ton of lemons on their hearts and shoulders for generations.

“In this case, the bearer of suffering is Yaas, a 12-year-old Jewish girl growing up in pre-revolutionary Iran. Her father, Omid, a well-bred socialite, mingles with Tehran’s Muslims. He wanted an easy marriage, so he chose Bahar, a teenager from the Jewish ghetto who dreams of American movie stars. Yaas suffers not only from her parents’ loveless marriage, but from a genetic illness that is robbing her of her hearing.”

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