Month: May 2008

Baghdad Jews dwindle to a fearful handful

Stephen Farrell in The New York Times gives this melancholy update on the last Jews of Iraq, who are too few and too fearful to muster a prayer quorum or minyan. The Jewish Agency is standing by if and when they want to leave.

“Saleh’s grandson is now alone. His mother died two decades ago, his older brother left in 1991, and his father, now 87, was among the last handful of Jews taken from Iraq by the Jewish Agency after 2003, reducing the current community to single figures.

“Most of his other relatives departed in 1951, among more than 100,000 Jews who fled Iraq between 1949 and 1952, in the years after the state of Israel was created. Their exodus was code named “Operation Ezra and Nehemiah,” after the Jewish leaders who took their people back to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon beginning in 597 B.C.

“Some of the remaining handful of Iraqi Jews are middle class, including two doctors. Others, including Saleh’s grandson, are poor and unemployed, dependent on handouts.

“We see each other if there is something necessary, like a death, or to discuss some important things, or if someone needs help,” he wrote. “We take care about the people in the Jewish community only, not the half or part-Jewish. We don’t know about them after they left us.”

“Some Jews say they are too old to leave. Some do not want to leave their friends behind.

“The few remaining Jews ignore the entreaties of worried relatives and friends abroad and await an unlikely renaissance, demographic extinction or a more sudden end.

“Concern for their safety rose two years ago when one of them, a middle-aged man, was kidnapped. They have no idea whether he was taken because he was Jewish, wealthy, or whether the abduction was random.

“We don’t know anything about him, and don’t know the reason,” Saleh’s grandson said.

“His relatives voice frustration at his insistence on remaining in Iraq, saying he cannot be persuaded to relinquish the family home. He wants to sell it for $300,000 to help build a new life abroad but has had no takers.

“I talk with him all the time,” said his older brother, who lives in Europe and requested anonymity to protect his brother. “I call him every two weeks, and always I give him advice to leave, because it is dangerous, and because he needs to build his life and to find a wife.”

“The family argues that if buyers were going to come forward they would have done so long ago. They say that in Iraq’s current instability, an unscrupulous buyer could simply steal the money back, knowing that Saleh’s grandson would have no recourse without a tribe to protect him.

“Now there is nobody buying because of the situation in Sadr City,” his brother said. “I keep telling him, ‘Money is nothing.’ ”

“The Jewish Agency for Israel, an organization that arranges immigration to the Holy Land, has offered to relocate the entire group. “Should the remaining Jews in Baghdad request to immigrate to Israel, the Jewish Agency will immediately facilitate this request and also take care of their absorption needs in Israel,” said Zeev Bielski, the agency’s chairman.”

Read article in full

Jew confirmed as Bahraini ambassador to US

It’s official: Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has appointed a Jewish woman as envoy to Washington – the first Jew in the Arab world to become an ambassador. The Jerusalem Post has the story:

Houda Nonoo.
Photo: AP

The king named lawmaker Houda Nonoo, a 43-year-old mother of two boys, as an ambassador on Wednesday, the official Bahrain News Agency reported Thursday.

The decree did not say where she would be posted. But Nonoo confirmed she will be US ambassador for the Gulf nation. She was widely tipped earlier this year by Bahraini media as next envoy to Washington.

“It is a great honor to have been appointed as the first female ambassador to the United States of America, and I am looking forward to meeting this new challenge,” Nonoo told AP by telephone.

She said she was proud to serve her country, “first of all as a Bahraini,” adding she was not chosen for the post because of her religion.

Bahrain – a pro-Western island nation with Sunni rulers and a Shi’ite majority – is a close American ally and hosts the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.

The Jewish community in Bahrain dates back to ancient times, and the country contains the only synagogue in the Persian Gulf.

Today, there are between 30 and 50 Jewish citizens among a population of some half a million, compared to nearly 600 Jews before the State of Israel was established. The community boasts a synagogue and a small cemetery, though both are usually closed.

Read article in full

New envoy British-educated – Jewish Chronicle

Cancellation of Egyptian roots trip – update

As 45 Egyptian Jews nurse their disappointment over the cancellation of their ‘roots trip’ to Egypt, there are questions over the role of the Cairo Jewish community, headed by Mrs Carmen Weinstein, in sabotaging it. Did Mrs Weinstein fear that her authority was being challenged? Was she in cahoots with Amr Adib, the populist broadcaster who first made the false accusations against the visitors? In any event it seems that Mrs Weinstein suffers from a terminal case of arch-dhimmitude.

Just before the trip was due to take place, the The Jewish Community Council in Cairo had printed the following statement in their journal Bassatine News, disassociating themselves vigorously from it.

Now Levana Zamir, the trip organiser and President of the Israel-Egypt Friendship Association, has issued the following reply:

“In spite of that announcement, a nice, international group of Jews of Egypt had formed, paid for registration, accomodation, etc., and the Alexandria Jewish Community wrote to welcome us for a prayer at Eliahu Hanabi Synagogue in Alexandria.

But as you know, because of false rumours about our coming to claim our properties, at the last moment the Marriott Hotel cancelled the group’s block booking. This was followed by an epidemic of refusals to accommodate us by other Cairo hotels, and to the cancelling of our Tour.

“As for Carmen Weinstein’s announcement rejecting the group, it makes one wonder about the connection between Weinstein and Amor Adib, the TV reporter who spread the false rumours.

“This does not lessen the dreadful and unjustified reaction of the Marriott hotel and other Egyptian parties, leading to the brutal cancellation. Without them, the cancellation could not have happened.

“We all know that our trip’s aim was not to make claims, but even if we were coming to talk about those property claims – SO WHAT !”

The saga of the cancelled Cairo trip runs and runs

The saga of the cancelled Egyptian-Jewish roots trip rumbles on, with Magdi Abdelhadi filing the story on the BBC website. It is interesting how the Beeb tries to rationalise the reasons for the cancellation as ‘anti-Israel’ sentiment. But I thought the Arabs had nothing against Jews – let alone elderly Jews vising their childhood haunts – only Zionists!

Allegations were broadcast on Egyptian television last week that the group was coming to claim confiscated property.

The trip organisers denied that, saying it was purely a personal journey.

But anti-Israeli sentiment in Egypt is so strong that no business is willing to take any risk, particularly when it involves such a highly sensitive issue.

The woman behind the trip, Levana Zamir, is an Egyptian-born Israeli who runs an organisation in Tel Aviv that seeks to promote better understanding between the two cultures.

Ms Zamir, who speaks Arabic fluently, said she was one of a group of elderly Jewish people of Egyptian origin from all over the world who wanted to visit their ancestral homeland with their children, to see old neighbourhoods.

But a few days before the group was due to arrive in Cairo, she was told by the Egyptian travel agent that their hotel reservation was cancelled and that no other hotel in Egypt wanted to receive them.

Many believe it is all down to the populist television presenter, Amr Adeeb, whose programme is widely watched here.

Mr Adeeb urged the authorities last week to prevent the trip from going ahead.

He said all the department stores that were established by Egyptian Jews at the turn of the past century were now the property of the people of Egypt.

A local organisation that represents the few remaining Jewish people in Egypt has distanced itself from the trip.

Despite a peace treaty that ended decades of war between Egypt and Israel, relations between the two countries remain tense.

Read article in full

Meanwhile, complainants to the Marriott hotel have received a standard response citing security concerns as the main reason for the cancellation, and stating that the hotel had helped to try to find alternative accommodation for the group. Israel Bonan sent this rejoinder:

The group’s visit was cancelled because no other hotel would accept their stay.

I believe that is business as usual when it comes to the Egyptian way of conducting business. I ought to know, I was born and raised and myself expelled penniless from the country after being physically abused and incarcerated in 1967.

A little factual knowledge spread around can only serve to quash the media’s invective-filled rumors.

Zionationhas more.

Jewish pilgrims stress ties to Morocco

Moroccan Jews profess their loyalty to the state during the annual pilgrimage to the tomb of Rabbi Nessim ben Nessim, Earthtimes reports:

Rabat, Morocco (dpa) – Moroccan Jews have stressed their ties with their country on the occasion of an annual pilgrimage to the sanctuary of a Jewish saint, rabbi Nessim Ben Nessim, in the province of Essaouira 400 kilometres south of the capital Rabat, press reports said Monday.

The week-end pilgrimage, which brought hundreds of Jews from several countries to the village of Ait Bayyoud, was a sign of the respect and fraternity between Jews and Muslims in Morocco, said Boris Toledano, president of the Jewish community in Casablanca.

Simon Levy, president of the Jewish community in Agadir, called on foreign Jews to invest in Morocco.

Visitors to the moussem (festival honouring a saint) also included Andre Azoulay, an advisor to King Mohammed VI, who also advised Mohammed’s father Hassan II.

Read article in full

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