To alarmed Jews in Turkey, prime minister Erdogan‘s antics at Davos – quoting at least one antisemite in his rejoinder to Israel’ s president Shimon Peres’s impassioned speech – must have seemed the icing on an ever-rising cake of Turkish antisemitism. Here’s a news item in the Turkish paper Zaman:
“Turkey’s Jewish community is worried about anti-Jewish feelings spreading through Turkish society following Israel’s deadly offensive in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli minister of welfare and social services said yesterday.
“Isaac Herzog, who is also the minister of the diaspora, society and fight against antisemitism, made his remarks during a radio program on the Israeli army radio station, the Anatolia news agency reported, noting that the program focused on the reaction of the Turkish public against Israel’s offensive.
The Israeli government has been in constant contact with the Jewish community in Turkey concerning the issue, Herzog said. Anti-Israeli feelings and enmity toward Jews have been confused with each other following Israel’s operation into Gaza, and “the Jewish community has been worried about its life and property safety,” he added.
“Herzog, however, noted that the Turkish police had been taking the necessary precautions and that both the prime minister and members of the Turkish Cabinet had been sensitive, particularly in the past 10 days, concerning the issue.”
Only four Jewish families have moved from Amran province to Sana’a, where the government has promised them a house and 2 million Yemeni rials each (about $10,000). The remainder, who are still being harassed and threatened in Amran, grumble that the accommodation offered is too small:
SANA’A, Jan. 28 (Saba) – “Four Jewish families have arrived in Sana’a coming from Amran province launching the relocation of Jews to the city, a spokesman for head of the Parliament Committee on Freedoms and Rights.
“As they arrived they were handed over four houses at the Sa’awan Tourist City, the spokesman said.
“Among the arriving Jewish families was the family of the Jew who was murdered (in December) in the district of Raidah in Amran by an ex-pilot, a Jewish source said.
“However, the four Jewish families have not yet settled in their new houses in Sana’a as they are being equipped.
“Meanwhile, Jews are trying to convince authorities that houses allocated for them in the Sa’awan Tourist City are not suitable as they will not be sufficient to accommodate all Jews families.
“A Jewish household consists of at least 16 members.
“Moreover, many Jewish families in Amran refuse to move to new houses in Sana’a claiming there are not a warship place (sic) and a school to teach children.
“In this regard, the spokesman said that all issues relating to the relocation were discussed with Jewish representatives last week.”
The Yemen Times reports that a local human rights organisation, HOOD, has so far failed in its bid to get the trial of the suspect accused of the murder of Moshe al-Nahari moved to Sana’a:
“Concerning the murder of the Jewish citizen Masha Ya’ish Al-Nihari, Khaled Al-Anisi, secretary general of the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms, also known as HOOD, which volunteered to defend the Jewish citizens in Yemen as a minority, told the Yemen Times that the Attorney General didn’t accept the demand of HOOD to move the court hearings from Amran to Sana’a under the pretext that such a procedure can be taken only by the Minister of Justice. Al-Anisi said that the Minister of Justice hasn’t given them any response yet.
“Our demand is legal. We requested to change the place of court hearings to Sana’a as security authorities in Amran couldn’t maintain security there and prevent threats of murder that relatives of the murderer cast against Al-Nihari’s family,” said Al-Anisi. “We want to tackle the situation of the Yemeni Jews on a national basis. This includes providing absolute justice that is guaranteed by Islam. This justice also preserves the safety and property of all Yemeni citizens, regardless of their religion or their beliefs.”
“Al-Anisi added that Yemeni Jews are afraid of the threats they receive from extremists who are protected by sheiks. “A well-known man protected by Kahlan bin Mujahed Abu Shawareb intimidates Jews in Amran,” he said. “He threatens them and he hasn’t been arrested so far despite the President’s directives to arrest all those who harm Yemeni Jews. There is something going on in secret which we don’t understand in this respect!”
“Observers concerned with affairs in Yemen said that “some influential individuals may be preparing to seize the property of the Yemeni Jews and expel them from the country, as they did with their ancestors in Yemen.”(My emphasis -ed)
The Israel Pensioners Affairs Ministry has created a new department over the past two weeks that will begin to collect specific claims by Jews who lost their property when they left Arab countries during the 20th century, The Jerusalem Post reports.But will the department survive the forthcoming elections?
More than 850,000 Jews fled or were expelled from Arab lands and Iran, most after Israel’s founding in 1948. Estimates of the value of the property they were forced to leave behind are hard to come by, ranging from as low as $16 billion in known assets to as high as $300b. when estimates of the value of their abandoned real estate are included.
“Israel has talked about this on and off for 60 years. Now we’re going to deal with it as we should have all along,” said Dr. Avi Bitzur, director-general of the Pensioners Affairs Ministry.
The ministry established a department with an initial staff of five to begin to collect the claims of the Jewish refugees, about 80 percent of whom settled in Israel. Bitzur will host a panel on the issue at next week’s Herzliya Conference*, and over the next two weeks hopes to pass a decision through the cabinet mandating discussion of Jewish refugees whenever the question of Arab refugees are raised in peace negotiations.
According to Bitzur, who is also a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University, the new effort comes to fill a gap in awareness both in Israel and abroad. “The UN has dealt at least 700 times with Arab refugees and their property, but not once with the issue of Jewish property,” he says.
It’s also time for Israelis to get to know better the history of the Jews of Arab lands, who make up some 60% of the ethnic ancestry of Israeli Jews.
“It’s time to deal with this amongst ourselves,” says Bitzur. “I say that as a citizen, as a father and as an academic. We should know the history of the pogrom in Baghdad in 1941, of the Libyan Jews who ended up in Bergen Belsen. (…)
In late 2007, Baghdad-born American Jew Heskel M. Haddad, representing the World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries, called on the Israeli government to begin to seriously examine the issue of Jewish property left behind in Arab lands.
At the time, Haddad told The Jerusalem Post that WOJAC had a staggering 100,000 square kilometers in property deeds.
Yet it is uncertain whether the recent initiative can survive after the February 10 Knesset elections. The Pensioners Affairs Ministry was established as part of a coalition deal with the Gil Pensioners Party in 2006. With the Pensioners currently polling below the threshold to return to the Knesset, would the ministry – and with it the newly-formed department – survive in a new coalition?
According to Bitzur, emphatically yes. “The department was formed by a government decision which continues to be in effect after the elections. The department has been approved and funded by the Finance Ministry, and its workers are government workers with all the implied protections,” he explains.
Internationally, too, the project has support. “The US Congress [in mid-2008] decided that any discussion of refugees in the Middle East must include the Jewish refugees from Arab lands. The current presidency of the EU, the Czech Republic, agrees with this position,” he says.
Today, Holocaust Memorial Day, is also the 40th anniversary of the hangings of 14 people in Baghdad and Basra by Saddam’s brutal regime. Nine were Jews executed on trumped-up spying charges.
Iraq was reeling from Israel’s lightening victory over the Arabs in June 1967. It turned against the few thousand Jews still living in Iraq. Persecution was at its worst at the end of 1968: scores were jailed upon the discovery of a local “spy ring” composed of Jewish businessmen. Fourteen men – eleven of them Jews – were sentenced to death in staged trials and hanged in Liberation square in Baghdad. Others died of torture.
On January 27, 1969, Baghdad Radio called upon Iraqis to “come and enjoy the feast.” Some 500,000 men, women and children paraded and danced past the scaffolds where the bodies of the hanged Jews swung; the mob rhythmically chanted “Death to Israel” and “Death to all traitors.” This display brought a world-wide public outcry that Radio Baghdad dismissed by declaring: “We hanged spies, but the Jews crucified Christ.”
Following are extracts of a statement to the Maariv newspaper in Tel-Aviv in March 1991 made by Mrs. Selima Gubbay, widow of Fuad Gubbay, one of the martyrs:
“Fuad and I were so happy when suddenly our lives were torn apart. One day four Iraqi officers in a blue Volkswagen drove into our home in Basra. They went straight to the air conditioners and pulled out the transformers. “These are transmitters,” they shouted, “you are spying for Israel.” Fuad was roughed up when he protested. Our younger son, David, was picked up and thrown against the railings when he tried to kiss his father. He cut himself, and his face was full of blood. The blood was an evil omen of the future.
It was 1968 and I was four months pregnant. Fuad was taken away to a jail in Baghdad. Eventually, he was put on trial with other Jews, all accused of spying for Israel. The trial was broadcast live on radio and television. Fuad pleaded not guilty. I traveled from Basra to Baghdad to see him in prison. When I got there they pushed me into a room beat me up and kicked me out. In the next room, separated only by a thin wall, the warders were telling Fuad, “your wife is on the other side of the wall. She’s pregnant. If you don’t admit your guilt, we’re going to rape her, and afterwards open her stomach and cut up the child.”
The next day during the broadcast of the trial, I heard Fuad pleading guilty, admitting that on such and such days, he was here and there, sending secrets to Israel. When I checked the dates, I realized that Fuad had been with me and the children all of those times. He had made up the story in order to save us. On the morning of January 27, 1969, the streets of Baghdad were even more noisy and crowded than usual. It was the day of the hangings. A day of national celebration. I could hear the neighbours shouting enthusiastically, “Hang the Israeli spies.”
Dancers were brought from far and wide to dance under the gallows. There were free rides on the buses and trams so that people could come and celebrate under the corpses. And what was all the celebration about? The Iraqi nation was taking its collective revenge for defeat of a division on the Jordan front in the Six Day War, and that is how Iraqi television was broadcasting pictures of nine hanging Jewish corpses, among them my husband Fuad, all innocent people. The loudspeakers announced that from 4 o’clock that afternoon, the bodies would be brought down so that the mob could deal with them in the streets. I returned to Basra and people, including Jews, avoided me for fear of being linked with my husband’s so-called activities.”
Mrs Gubbay then described how she fled to Israel with her children in July 1971. Over 50 more Jews were, after 1969, executed or died through torture in jail.
With its 17 different religious communities, Iraq is like a fragile ecosystem whose rare and precious plants are threatened with extinction. The editors of Memories of Eden, Mira and Tony Rocca received this moving letter from a Mandaean reader, who recalls the variegated social fabric which the book’s author, Violette Shamash, describes. But now he doubts if his community will survive.
“Thank you a lot for showing the real Iraq and how we lived in harmony. I am born in 1960 in Baghdad, my doctor was a Jew, his name Daoud Kubaya, and the nurse that used to give me injections and I ran away from her (Rahma) also she was a Jew. I remember her.
I am a Mandaean (followers of John the Baptist),we lived like you a good life, I spent all my school years in (Rahebat Altakdema),this was a Catholic school on the Tigris river very famous.
My mother had many Jewish friends.
We always think about you.
Although I cried a lot but for the first time I felt really as if I was there, all her description was right.
Now I am living in Australia and nothing left for us, just the memories.
We are scattered everywhere.I have 5 sisters, 2 in England senior doctor consultants, another doctor in Canada, another in Sweden, and another in Holland.
Historically it is said that we are Jews originally and we came from Israel 2,000 years ago.We are Gnostic. I am not a religious person but I love my people…the Mandaeans.Almost 90% left Iraq, we were about 60,000, now left only 5,000.
As a community we will not survive.
Mandaeans are stranded in Syria and Jordan as refugees.
And all of them are very well educated and they have nowhere to go.
At least you have Israel, but we don’t have that backbone to keep us safe, our country Iraq has been taken from us, hijacked by those extremists.
The religion and the culture is going to disappear.
I heard a lot about the Iraqi Jews and how nice they were.
I heard stories from my father and the house where we lived in the late Fifties was owned by a Jewish man in Bataween (Bustan Al Kass).
And the Jewish man before leaving asked my father to take all the gold he had which was a fortune and just give him 100 Dinars, but my father refused, he said How can I receive that money? First because it was against his will to sell, and secondly it is not equal.
There were many honest people during that time and till now.
And the Jewish man said Oh my God, you are an honest man and I am not lucky.
I am still afraid to speak out loudly because I have cousins still living in Baghdad. Forgive me, I don’t want you to write my name, just write what I said about our memories.
Mira and Tony Rocca will be taking part in a discussion, Paradise Lost, together with Lucette Lagnado, on 22 February at 5 pm at Jewish Book Week in London.
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.