How to win over a hijab-wearing student ….

Matti Harouncut off at the conference

We Jews are always complaining, aren’t we, about how hard it is to get our side of the story across – especially in the media and the universities. But sometimes all it takes is someone to seize the initiative, and in the most unlikely of places.

Michelle Huberman did just that – and soon had a virulently hostile audience of SOAS students of the Israel/Palestine conflict almost eating out of her hand.

At the Jews from Arab lands conference in November, Michelle approached professor Tudor Parfitt, one of the conveners, and mentioned the David Project’s film,Forgotten refugees. Prof Parfitt asked Michelle if she had an hour to spare the next day to show the film. Michelle did not hesitate for a moment.

The presentation at SOAS was to BA students of the Israel/Palestine conflict. Michelle took with her Michal Meyer and her father Matti Haroun. “They’d both been to the conference during the week. The proceedings became heated when it was clear that the conference was not going to tackle Arab antisemitism”, Michelle says. “Matti was cut off when he tried to protest during one of the lectures.”

Before Michelle screened the Forgotten Refugees, Tudor Parfitt told his students – “I know many of you had been to the conference during the week, and I found it rather rude of the speaker to cut off this gentleman, therefore before Michelle presents the film I’d like him to speak for a few minutes.”

Michelle Huberman

Says Michelle: ” Matti was marvellous, telling us about his Mashadi grandfather who had to convert to Islam and travelled to Mecca on Haj. On his return he passed through Jerusalem and couldn’t believe that Jews lived freely there, so he emigrated to Jerusalem with his family where he (Matti) was born. His family emigrated to Cairo after the Jerusalem riots and later they were chucked out of Egypt. The audience were completely captivated as he spoke with such passion.
After the film he butted in to tell us that not all the Arabs were bad, plenty were good to them and it was more about the leaders.”

The audience appeared quite hostile at the beginning, but Michelle could see they had changed after watching the film. “I could see they were shocked, stunned and genuinely affectionate towards Matti,” says Michelle.

The questions that followed were interesting. Tudor Parfitt answered them, according to Michelle, “in a clever way. He actually bounced the questions back to the specific students to answer themselves”. He explained that most Mizrahi/Sephardi Jews voted for the rightwing parties in Israel; after the film, the students understood why.

A Pakistani girl in full hijab was the one most interested in the film. In the end she and a few of the students asked for more information and a copy. Michelle gave away half-a-dozen copies, plus some fact sheets.

Students were directed to Point of No Return (where else?) for more information!

Copies of Forgotten Refugees (full-length version) DVD in Pal format available from: [email protected]

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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.