Month: January 2011

Last chance to save region’s beleaguered minorities

Fires rage in central Cairo following clashes between protesters and police (Photo: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters)

This post is dedicated to Point of No Return reader Andrew. At this very moment Andrew may be out there on the street demonstrating against Egypt’s tyrannical regime. We wish you well, Andrew, and all the brave souls who want Egypt to become a better place for all its people.

The following article for the Hudson Institute by Frank Salameh clearly expresses what is at stake for the Middle East’s vanishing and oppressed minorities unless democracy and the respect of civil and human rights are allowed to take root in the ‘Arab’ world.

The Copts — and other Near Eastern Christians facing extinction — in their ancestral homelands no less—should be spared the condescending wringing of hands and other worthless histrionics of collective sorrow. Something else, of an entirely different nature, needs to take place: politicians, academics, prelates, lay leaderships, Middle East experts, and decent Muslims all over the world could resolve to take a firm and decisive stand against Muslim supremacists. Nothing short of summoning brutally honest Arab and Muslim introspection — by Arabs and Muslims—should be deemed acceptable any longer.

The culture and theology that produce these sorts of genocidal impulses—of which the Copts are only the most recent victims—should be put on trial; not the “terrorists,” and not “al-Qaeda.”

The ongoing destruction of Eastern Christians is not a modern phenomenon, nor is it a reaction to Western colonialism, American meddling, the existence of Israel, the war in Iraq, or economic hardships in the Middle East—the standard pretexts flaunted by a biased Middle East scholarship and media.

The deliberate, methodical erasure of the histories, languages, cultures, and memories of indigenous non-Muslim Middle Easterners is a phenomenon fourteen centuries in the making. An honest recognition of this horrid legacy is imperative to a sound understanding of the Middle East.

Yet, the LA-Timesgave the Copts’ plight brief mention in this past Saturday’s edition, concluding with the mind-numbing claim that the shrinking numbers of Middle Eastern Christians were the outcome of economic hardship. This is arguably the saddest chapter in the Near Eastern Christians’ exodus saga of the past fourteen centuries; the distortion and dismissal of their plight, and the simplistic reduction of its causes to mere “economic” impulses.

This is the profoundly flawed “right way of thinking” mindset about the Middle East today validated by an LA-Times claiming that:

authorities worry that Christian communities in relatively safe countries, such as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iran, also are shrinking, though driven more by a search for economic opportunities than by fear of violence. [… Middle Eastern Christians] tend to be better educated and more Western-oriented than their Muslim compatriots and often utilize family or religious ties abroad to emigrate.

The LA-Times is in good company with such misleading clichés: As recently as June, 2009, the apolitical, tax-exempt, and eco-friendly National Geographic magazine deemed it gauche-caviar-stylish to attribute the disappearance of Near Eastern Christians to the establishment of the State of Israel and the 11th century Crusades. Gone from this shoddy history were the 7th century Arab-Muslim conquests, and the subjugations, expulsions, massacres, and mass conversions of indigenous non-Arabs. Should our “newspapers of record” and our “scientific and educational journals” tell the Copts’ stories of dispossession, marginalization, persecutions, and impending extinction in light of the savagery that was the 7th century? Should anyone venture to attribute the plight of non-Muslim Middle Easterners to Islamic triumphalism?

There are, however, those who still challenge this re-writing of history. Early 20th century Armenian-American novelist William Saroyan was one such iconoclast; his poignant short story, Seventy Thousand Assyrians, is an example of a decent man’s refusal to commit the aggrieved Near Eastern Christians to oblivion.It can be read like a news item from yesterday’s newspaper; even though it was written 75 years ago, on the heels of the Assyrian Genocide, long before the invention of Political Correctness, at a time when murderers could still be taken to task, and when one could still name names and level a forthright “J’accuse!” without being branded an “Islamophobe.”

Here is how things ended for the Assyrians close to a century ago; and how things might still end for the Copts and other remaining Near Eastern Minorities in our Orwellian universe of newspeak and Political Correctness:

“Seventy thousand,'” wrote Saroyan; “That is all. Seventy thousand Assyrians in the world, and the Arabs are still killing us. They killed seventy of us in a little uprising last month. There was a small paragraph in the paper…..We’ll be wiped out before long. ”

What is at stake in the Middle East today are Copts, Maronites, Assyrians, Jews, and other non-Muslim minorities from the most ancient civilizations — besieged, endangered, in need of our immediate help.

Read article in full

Farewell to Faruk, king of Israeli cinema

Yosef Shiloah in 2005 (Photo: Moti Kadosh)

Kurdistan-born Yosef Shiloah, who died earlier this month aged 69 after a long struggle with cancer, was one of Israel’s best known and most beloved comic actors. Shiloah played the hypochondriac Faruk in Alex in love. Obituary in the Jerusalem Post:

“For the dozens of unforgettable roles he brought to life, Yosef Shiloah today is synonymous with the words, ‘Israeli Cinema,’” wrote the organizers of the Jerusalem Film Festival in the citation for Shiloah’s Life Achievement Award at the 2009 film festival.

Shiloah, an unusually versatile and charming actor, moved with ease among every film genre, from low comedy to crime thriller to serious drama. Invariably sporting his trademark moustache, he was the kind of actor who made it look easy.

Although he won many awards throughout his career, including the Ophir Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Desperado Square (2001), critics at times attacked him for playing caricatures. While many of his most memorable roles involved broad comedy and ethnic stereotypes, that was more a reflection of the Israeli movie industry in an earlier era than a sign that Shiloah was anything other than a firstrate actor.

He dismissed these criticisms, saying repeatedly that he was an actor who sought to bring to life the humanity in every role he played, and that his acting worked to counteract ethnic prejudice.

Born in 1941 in Kurdistan, the actor, whose original name was Sirus Yousefian, immigrated to Israel in 1950. After studying acting in the first class at the Beit Zvi School in the early Sixties, he became a film star in the early Seventies in the ethnic comedies and melodramas known as “bourekas movies.” He often played criminals (of Persian or other Mizrahi descent), in films such as The Policeman, aka Ha Shoter Azoulai (1970) and Snooker, aka Hagiga B’Snooker (1975). He also starred in many of the more artistic films of that era. He collaborated with two directors in particular.

One was Moshe Mizrahi, with whom he starred in the films I Love You, Rosa (1972) and The House on Chelouche Street (1973), both of which were nominated for Oscars. He also had a fruitful partnership with Boaz Davidson, for whom he starred in a number of films, including Snooker, Private Popsicle (1983) and most notably the hypochondriac Faruk in Alex in Love (Alex Holeh Ahava) in 1986.

Read article in full

Syria still refusing to return Eli Cohen’s remains

Eli Cohen was one of Israel’s most effective spies, but paid for it with his life 56 years ago. Repeatedly attempts to persuade Syria to return Cohen’s remains have failed. Article in the Jerusalem Post:

On January 24, 1965, Syrian secret police raided an upscale apartment in Damascus and arrested businessman Kamel Amin Tha’abet. Accused of being an Israeli spy who had revealed some of Syria’s most closely guarded secrets, Tha’abet was tortured, quickly tried and publicly hanged several months later.

Eliahu Cohen was born in Egypt in 1924 to a Syrian father and Egyptian mother. Being a Jew in Egypt at the time, Cohen was denied many opportunities and faced discrimination. As he entered adulthood, Cohen became involved in Zionist organizations and was recruited by the Hagana, helping provide forged papers to Egyptian Jews to enable their escape to the newly-founded Jewish state of Israel. These first years of involvement with the Israeli security services would eventually serve as a forewarning to his final days in Syria.

According to an interview with Cohen’s brother, Maurice, Eli was involved in dangerous covert operations from his early days in Egypt. In the mid-1950s, the arrest of a dozen Jews in Egypt uncovered what would become known as the Lavon Affair. Among those swept up by the Egyptian secret police was Eli Cohen. The Egyptians, citing a lack of evidence, eventually released him. Maurice, nonetheless, claims he was involved in the sabotage operation aimed at disrupting Egypt’s relations with the US and European countries. Israeli sources familiar with the affair have, however, denied his involvement, saying that he was merely familiar with some of the operatives.

Eventually expelled by Egypt, Cohen made aliya at the end of 1956. Having been denied a translator position with the state’s early intelligence services because of his lack of proficiency in Hebrew, Eli began work as an accountant for an Israeli retail chain, according to interviews with his brother. During what may have been the most normal years of his life, Eli met his wife-to-be Nadia. The two were wed in 1959. However, the normalcy would not last.

By then fluent in Modern Hebrew, Cohen was recruited by Military Intelligence a few years after marrying. Realizing his obvious potential, considering Eli’s fluent Arabic and Syrian heritage, the IDF transferred him to the newly-formed Mossad where he underwent training and was quickly dispatched to Argentina, according to his brother Maurice.

Overnight, Eli Cohen became Kamel Amin Tha’abet, a wealthy Syrian businessman in Argentina who longed to return to his homeland. Emersing himself into the sizable Syrian expatriate community in Argentina, Tha’abet threw extravagant parties and built a reputation as a man who wanted nothing more than to move back to Syria and contribute to the country’s success, including the destruction of its new neighbor, Israel. With a cover story built, it was not long before he moved to Damascus.

Quickly gaining the trust and intrigue of senior Syrian officials, Tha’abet gained entry into influential circles in Damascus. He attended exclusive meetings of the ruling Ba’ath party and befriended senior governmental and military personalities. According to his brother, then a cryptographer for the Mossad, Tha’abet became a member of the Syrian National Council of Revolutionary Command. In his regular radio transmissions to Israel, he relayed vital information about Syrian operations that would save Israeli lives and provided warning of military moves and installations.

One of the most famous anecdotes of Tha’abet’s (Cohen) successful moves as a mole in the Syrian elite was an off-handed suggestion which led to the location and bombing of military bases in later wars. Tha’abet suggested to Syrian military officials that they line their army and air force bases with Euculyptus trees in order to provide their soldiers with relief from the harsh Middle Eastern sun. While the trees likely did prevent heat stroke among a handful of soldiers, they also proved an easy way for Israeli Air Force pilots to locate army bases from the air.

Read article in full

Yad Vashem takes aim at Iran’s Holocaust denial

As we mark International Holocaust Memorial Day, Yad Vashem announces a new Youtube channel in Farsi to counteract official Holocaust denial. The new channel will acquaint Iran’s young and internet-savvy population with the testimonials of Holocaust survivors. The Jerusalem Post reports:

In 2006, Teheran sponsored what it called the International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust, which then Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said was called to provide “an appropriate scientific atmosphere for scholars to offer their opinions.” In fact, the 67 attendees included an array of people denying that six million Jews were systematically killed by the Nazis during World War II.

Eldad Pardo, an Iran specialist at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, said Holocaust denial in Iran ran deeper than presidential statements. Iranian anti-Semitism stemmed both from the traditional Shi’ite outlook on Jews as “impure” and a more modern, Fascist version of anti-Semitism imported from Europe.

“There‘s certainly a need for this new YouTube channel,” Pardo told The Media Line. “Since 2005, when Ahmadinejad came to power there has been a noticeable intensification in anti-Semitic rhetoric. No Iranian President has spoken like this before.”

During World War II, Iran was officially neutral, but in effect it was a “pro-Nazi, quasi-fascist regime,” Pardo said. “The Iranians, who viewed themselves as a superior Aryan race, assumed that Germany would win the war.”

Avner Shalev, chairman of Yad Vashem, spoke of what he called YouTube’s ability to bring survivors’ personal accounts to the attention of web users in Iran.

“The connection between one person and another is extraordinarily powerful,” he said. “We know this site won’t radically change people’s positions, but it is a good start for achieving change over time.”

Approximately one half of Iran’s population of 74 million was born after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and with 33 million web surfers, Iran enjoys one of the highest proportions of Internet users in the Middle East.

“The young population in Iran will now be able to get true information about what happened in the war,” Rena Shashua-Hasson, a Bulgarian Holocaust survivor, told The Media Line. “This new generation, which is half of Iran’s population, is misinformed by its government.”

Iran has tried to block access to internet sites in the past, especially around the time of the 2009 presidential elections, in which the incumbent Ahmadinejad claimed 62% of the vote amid widespread allegations of election fraud. But David Yerushalmi, professor of Iranian studies at Tel Aviv University, said Iran’s failure to completely restrict sites will give Yad Vashem a chance to bring its message.

Read article in full

Netanyahu: World not doing enough to fight Iranian antisemitism

Ranting at The Guardian over the Palestine Papers

I’m aghast. Incensed. Furious.

Yesterday, The Guardian (international edition) devoted 80 percent of its front page and five inside pages to the Palestine Papers. No less than 14 pieces on the Palestine Papers appeared on The Guardian website, Comment is Free. The editorial spin is that the Palestinian Authority’s purported ‘concessions’ ceding parts of Jerusalem to Israel and the ‘right of return’ for all but 100,000 Palestinian refugees would have been an outrageous betrayal of the Palestinian people’s aspirations.

The Palestinians are said to be making generous concessions on Jerusalem: yet the old city and East Jerusalem, whole districts of Baghdad (where Jews were 40 percent of the population), Tripoli, Alexandria, Cairo, Fez, Meknes, Tunis, Sana’a, Damascus, and dozens of other cities were brutally emptied of their Jews in the last 50 years. These Jews do not deserve justice in the eyes of The Guardian.

The Jews have more than paid any price – they have lost land equivalent to four times the entire surface area of Israel, they have had assets seized and stolen by Arab governments (worth twiceas much as Palestinians have lost). On top of all that they have suffered ethnic cleansing.

Yet the Palestinians, who lost a war they started (to eradicate Israel), have the temerity to demand a ‘right of return’ to their homes after 60 years, whereas an exchange of population with a roughly equal number of Jews (who couldn’t go back to their homes in Arab lands, even if they wanted to) is what occurred. What The Guardian does, by encouraging the Palestinians to adhere to their maximalist demands, is to make a humanitarian solution for Palestinian refugees in their host countries more remote than ever, and give extremists every incentive to keep the conflict going.

Where is your sense of justice, Guardian? Where is your sense of perspective, CiF? Why are the Jews of the Middle East always absent from the debate on your pages? Why do Arab rights always trump Jewish rights in your warped and simplistic view?

Rant over.

Crossposted at CiFwatch


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.

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