The Syrian Jewish community in the US has been rocked by a far-reaching scandal incriminating three of its rabbis. Elicia Brown of The Jewish Chronicle looks at the insular Halebi community, which began leaving Aleppo in the 19th century.
Three of its rabbis have been arrested for money laundering in a wide-ranging sweep which netted 44 people, including three New Jersey mayors, several local politicians and two other rabbis of Ashkenazi background. The alleged fraudulent activity was exposed by a fourth Syrian Jew, Solomon Dwek, who was accused of being a traitor by his community.
The property developer had been charged in 2006 with bank fraud and became an informant for the FBI.
“There’s a lot of anger against Solomon Dwek,” said one Syrian Jewish woman on holiday in Deal, NJ, where the allegedly corrupt rabbis were based.
Her friends, she added, have expressed mixed feelings about the rabbis involved. These include the chief rabbi of this notoriously close-knit community, 87-year-old Saul Kassin, and Levi-Yitzhak Rosenbaum, who is accused of conspiring to broker the sale of a human kidney for transplant, paying the donor $10,000 and selling it for $160,000.
“You have some people defending the rabbis, saying what the rabbis did wasn’t so bad. You have other people saying, what kind of examples are they setting? Some people feel they should step down,” said the woman.
The probe shed a rare light on this insular Jewish community, which began leaving Aleppo, Syria, in the late 19th century, moving on to Cairo, and later to the US, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina and Israel.
Despite the geographical distances, the Halebis, as they are known, remain very insular, with many marrying within their community. In 1935, the chief rabbi of the community in America forbade followers to marry a convert, an edict which is still widely followed.
Famous Halebi families include the Safra banking dynasty and the Nakash brothers, of Jordache Jeans fame, but the community numbers hundreds of lesser known millionaires.
Keeping to themselves, the Halebim even holiday together and many of the arrests were carried out in the seaside town of Deal, where many of them have their second homes.
The king of Morocco’s acknowledgment of the Holocaust has been hailed by Jewish leaders as a bold step. But although the Moroccan king’s declaration is a useful counterweight to president Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial, the prevailing impression in the Arab world – and indeed much of the West – is that the Arabs were innocent bystanders while the Nazis slaughtered millions in Europe. (In fact thousands of Jews died on ‘Arab’ soil as a direct or indirect result of Nazism). More egregious, the myth, ostensibly believed by president Obama, no less, has developed that the Palestinians paid the price for Nazi and European antisemitism when Israel was established on ‘their’ land.
Nowadays, it is politically incorrect to refer to the Arab association with the Nazis. The Palestinian leader, the Mufti, was the driving force behind the campaign to rid Palestine of its Jews. But Arab propaganda has tried to turn history on its head, accusing Israelis of being the new Nazis – a phenomenon analysed in this report.
The recent debacle over the Shepherd hotel in Jerusalem has a special irony: the property was once owned by the pro-Nazi Grand Mufti of Jerusalem himself. The US administration has backed Palestinian objections to the redevelopment of the Shepherd Hotel, although it has been legally owned by a Jew since 1985, because it is situated in a predominantly ‘Arab’ district of Jerusalem. This position sends the worrying signal that Arabs can live among Jews, but Jews cannot live among Arabs.
In truth the Arabs were sympathisers, and even actively complicit with Nazism. After the war the Mufti of Jerusalem was wanted for war crimes in Yugoslavia, but the Allies failed to prosecute him as a Nazi war criminal for fear of offending Arab sensibilities.
Below is evidence of the Arab-Nazi connection:
1. Arab discourse against the Jews and the Jewish state has been genocidal in nature since the 1930s.
2. Arab nationalist parties, eg the Baath party, were influenced by a Nazi model.
3. The founders of the Moslem Brotherhood in the 1930s – which eventually spawned groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah – were heavily inspired by Nazism.
4. Arab countries gave shelter to prominent German Nazis after World War 11.
5. The Palestinian leader, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, was Hitler’s ally.Haj Amin Al Husseini became a loyal ally of Hitler and spent the war years in Berlin. He incited anti-Jewish violence in Palestine 1920, 1929 and 1936. Banished (or escaping) to Iraq in 1939 by the British for his role in the Arab revolt, he plotted the pro-Nazi Rashid Ali al-Geylani coup in May 1941. He incited antisemitism and prepared the groundwork for the June 1941 Farhoud progrom which killed some 179 Jews.
6. The Mufti was personally responsible for the deaths of 20,000 Jews murdered in the Nazi Holocaust. He organized the killing of 12,600 Bosnian Jews by Muslims, whom he recruited to the Waffen-SS Nazi-Bosnian division. He personally stopped 4,000 children, accompanied by 500 adults, from leaving Europe and had them sent to Auschwitz and gassed; he prevented another 2,000 Jews from leaving Romania and 1000 from leaving Hungary for Palestine, who were subsequently sent to death camps.
7. The Arabs have fulfilled the Nazi objective of rendering the ‘Arab’ Middle East judenrein. Nine-nine percent of the Jewish population has been ‘ethnically cleansed’ from Arab countries. No Jews are allowed to live in Jordan. No Jews can even visit Saudi Arabia. The Jewish community is extinct in Libya. The call to freeze and abandon Jewish settlements in the West Bank has an unpleasant whiff of anti-Jewish racism about it.
Further reading: see articles on this site under the label ‘Holocaust in Arab and Muslim countries.’
Arabs and Nazis – can it be true?
Nazi Influence on the Middle East During WWII
Amin al-Husaini and the Holocaust. What Did the Mufti know?
Islamism, Hamas and Al Queda’s Nazi Roots
Hamas’s historical ties to Nazism
Nazi Roots of Palestinian Nationalism
Hitler wins Fatah primary
The fall of Nazi language – a response
Review of Paul Berman’s book, The flight of the intellectuals
The US Conference of Presidents has welcomed the king of Morocco’s acknowledgement of the Holocaust as “one of the most tragic chapters of modern history.”
“This courageous act by His Majesty King Mohammed VI to recognize the historical truth and universal significance of the Holocaust and the need to educate the Arab and Moslem world about its impact on mankind is especially remarkable,” said conference chairman Alan Solow and executive vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein. “We hope that the King’s endorsement of this important initiative will encourage others to do the same.”
The Conference of Presidents issued a press release:
“New York, July 27, 2009…”The recognition by His Majesty King Mohammed VI of Morocco of the Holocaust as “one of the most tragic chapters of modern history” and his endorsement of the Paris-based Aladdin Project, which aims to spread awareness of the genocide among Muslims, was lauded by Alan Solow, Chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman, of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“King Mohammed VI’s acknowledgment of the Holocaust was read in a speech in his name at the opening ceremony of the Aladdin Project, an initiative of the Paris-based Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah. According to Anne-Marie Revcolevschi, director of the Shoah foundation, this is the first time an Arab head of state has taken “such a clear stand on the Shoah.”
The State Department has stealthily been overstating the numbers of ‘Palestinian refugees’ on its website, while ignoring Jewish refugees. Web snapshots indicate that the State Department has increased the supposed numbers of 1948 “Palestinian refugees” from the 2002-2004 versions of its website. All available versions of the website grossly overstate the real number of Palestinian refugees, while continuing to ignore the Jewish refugees who had to flee for their lives from Arab lands. Elisabeth Berney reports in The Jewish Star (with thanks: Desi):
“Alarmingly, from day one, the Obama administration has adopted what is essentially Arab Palestinian revisionist history: Islam and Islamic nations are glorified; Jewish history has been thrown down a “memory hole,” and Jews are viewed as “invaders” of “Palestinian” Arab land. In Cairo, Obama ignored the historic connection of the Jewish people to Israel, instead claiming that the aspiration of Jews to have a home in Israel was “rooted” in the European Holocaust, and blamed the establishment of the State of Israel for the “dislocation,” “suffering,” and “humiliation” of Palestinians.
“Obama’s Cairo speech was part of an extremely disturbing pattern. When Obama took office, apparently a modern-day version of Orwell’s history re-writers and expungers quietly revised the U.S. State Department’s official descriptions of the countries of the world on the department’s public website. The website now glorifies Muslim nations’ thousands-of years long histories, language, archeology, and contributions to science, culture and poetry — and has completely eliminated millennia of Israel’s history, language and contributions to culture, science and the world. (..)
The official U.S. State Department description of Israel’s history starts just a little over 100 years ago, with efforts “initiated” by Theodore Herzl for a sovereign homeland for Jews “in Palestine.” The State Department gives absolutely no indication that a single Jew ever lived in Israel prior to recent decades, or that Jews remained in Israel throughout the millennia. None of the numerous archeological sites left by Israel’s ancient Jewish inhabitants are mentioned.
Instead, the State Department leaves the false impression that the region was a Palestinian entity and then suddenly Herzl came up with the idea of inserting a Jewish state. Simply put, the State Department blackout of Israel’s history assists the fraudulent Palestinian narrative.
In addition, in contrast with glowing descriptions of Muslim countries’ cultures and languages, the State Department’s official description of Israel never mentions the ancient Hebrew language or Israel’s historical (or recent) cultural, religious, poetic, artistic and scientific contributions to the world. Unlike their rare Arab counterparts, Israel’s prominent Nobel laureates are never mentioned.
The State Department description of the “people of Israel” also promotes the false claim that Jews are usurpers of the land who all originate from outside of Israel:
“The three broad Jewish groupings [in Israel] are the Ashkenazim, or Jews who trace their ancestry to western, central, and eastern Europe; the Sephardim, who trace their origin to Spain, Portugal, southern Europe, and North Africa; and Eastern or Oriental Jews, who descend from ancient communities in Islamic lands.”
The real “origin” and “ancestry” of Sephardim, Ashkenazim and Eastern Jews –– namely, dispersed Jews who had lived in Israel in past eras –– is not mentioned. The State Department also neglects to mention that today’s “people of Israel” includes Jews whose ancestors lived in Israel through thousands of years of turmoil and persecution.
Moreover, the State Department’s mention that Israel’s people includes Jews who “originated” in Arab lands does not explain that 870,000 Jews came to Israel as refugees from Arab lands; having fled for their lives in the face of Arab persecution, including Iraqi laws which made “Zionism” punishable by death; burnings of synagogues and hundreds of Jewish homes in Syria; pogroms in Baghdad, Morocco and Yemen; and expulsions of Jews from Egypt, Yemen and Libya. (My emphasis – ed)
By contrast, the State Department frequently describes people in Muslim lands as “Palestinian refugees” and greatly exaggerates the number of individuals who might conceivably qualify for Palestinian refuge status. Jordan’s people are claimed to include “approximately 1.7 million registered Palestinian refugees;” Syria’s people “some 500,000 Palestinian… refugees;” and Lebanon “about 400,000 Palestinian refugees, some in Lebanon since 1948.”
This poem was written by Lisette Eskinazi Norton Stalbow and dedicated to her mother Benvenuta Taragano who died in March 2002.
Lisette was expelled as a child with her family from Egypt in 1956. She went back in August 20008 to show her son her birthplace. He took this photo of her in a garden in Luxor.
Lisette is still trying to grasp her uprooting and the different strands of her identity. “I loved my country you see. I loved my home. It was my security. But I never knew it till I had gone that I belonged nowhere officially but to a British Passport. A Foreigner I will always be and a foreigner to parts of myself that no one will ever see. What if? Could be the one question of my reality. So imagination became the land which no one could take from me. Things can always come and go but what’s inside no one can take is the most important thing that my daddy taught me.”
Once upon a time
There was a little girl
Whose whole world was shaken when she was 9?
Or was it 6?
Like a caterpillar in a cocoon,
She just got moved too soon
To become a natural butterfly.
To survive she would need to adapt,
To learn, to stay vigilant at all times,
Lest it should happen again
And it could you know.
So there she was
Knowing only who she was
By relation to another.
At first it was her mother
Then it was her father…but he stayed behind.
So then it was her brother and her sister.
Her family was her territory.
Her family was who she was.
Because everything else had been taken from her.
This little girl was a refugee you see
– This little girl was me –
Thrown out, expelled, kicked out, some said, for being British
What is British? What was she?
A comedy or a tragedy?
What mistake of nature she must be,
A hybrid for eternity?
Best be good, Best be nice
Best be quick. Best be wise.
Spoke French you see
Looked olive, not quite white you see.
Looked foreign and exotic
but not British as she should be.
So little by little she tried to reform her identity.
For obviously England was where she was meant to be
And anyway they wouldn’t take her back you see.
Because she was British in 1956 in Egypt when Nasser said
“Out Out You foreigners from my land. This is Egyptian Territory!”
“This is where I was born” said she. Is this a comedy or a tragedy?
My mother and father were born in Turkey you see
So they too were foreigners to me in terms of language and territory
My children were born here so an Egyptian became a Mummy
But not in the British Museum you see, only in her identity.
Confused yet?.. Wait and see. You’ll never be as confused as me.
You’re so very lucky…. lucky, lucky, lucky….. you’re so very lucky to leave.
I left my best friend.
You’re so very lucky….. lucky, lucky, lucky….. you’re so very lucky to leave
I left my dog Whisky.
You’re so very lucky……. lucky, lucky, lucky….. you’re so very lucky to leave.
I left my home.
You’re so very lucky……..lucky, lucky, lucky……. you’re so very lucky to leave.
I left all that I have known.
You’re so very lucky…….. lucky, lucky, lucky…… you’re so very lucky to leave.
I left my daddy or did he leave me?
I had new clothes for Britain.
I had a new language to learn.
I had a new culture to learn.
I had new foods to try
I had to grow iinto me.
Was this a comedy or a tragedy?
And where in all this was any reality?
Re-invent yourself was one philosophy
We were different you know. We were special…….not like the other refugees.
We were from Harrods and they were from Woolworths
Was how it was explained to me.
And now an Egyptian owns Harrods and I live a stone’s throw away.
But I am British and I hope he will never be!
The world is but a stage and what goes round comes round!
In Birmingham, in 1956, Enoch Powell times,
Go home Pakie. Go home Wog.
Go back to your dirty land and live in a tent with a camel for company
You Gypo Arab you
I am not a Gypo. I am not an Arab. I am a Jew
But I am in England because I am British too.
How can an identity be a passport, a piece of paper?
How is an identity formed?
For me it was my family since it could never be my territory
Which shifted like the sands
In the land in which I was born.
Nothing is black and white you see.
How could I become ‘me’ on such shifting sands of reality?
To form into the butterfly you see
You must not shake the chrysalis too soon
Or move it from its cocoon.
And so it was in the years that passed that
when I could not longer ‘be’ in my false identity
I fell ill with ‘ME’which forced me to go into the cocoon once more
And emerge as Me from ‘ME’,
Now is that a tragedy or a comedy? You tell me.
My body is my territory you see.
The map of my reality.
The vessel of all that is inside of me
And which you see like a kaleidoscope.
When you shake me, you again will see
the fragments that fall in different patterns
like the shifting sands of my soul.
The colours that make me who I am –
My past, my present
who I am becoming each moment
as I see the world anew
and not through
the blinkers of my past.
I am my family
But it is no longer
To also be
I am of them
Is my personality..
But my soul is whole
My soul dances
amongst the embers of my identity
All the rest is history!
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.