Month: January 2011

Appeal to UNESCO: save Esther’s tomb

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which fights antisemitism worldwide, has added its voice to condemnation of the Iranian authorities for sponsoring the rewriting of the story of Purim and threatening the Hamadan shrines of Esther and Mordechai by stirring up anti-Jewish incitement. It calls for UNESCO to establish instruments for the universal protection of holy sites: (with thanks Dan; Eliyahu)

In a letter to UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s Director for International Relations, Dr.Shimon Samuels, noted, “The Iranian student Basij militia, of Bu-Ali Sina/Avicenna University in Hamadan province, have removed the mausoleum sign to the entrance of the Esther and Mordechai tomb in Shush, during a demonstration replete with antisemitic racist calumny”.

The letter continued, “The annual feast of Purim is a Jewish celebration of delivery from genocide.The Bible recounts how the Persian monarch, Ahasuerus was warned by his Queen, Esther, and her uncle Mordechai of his Minister Haman’s treachery. Thus was averted Haman’s planned massacre of Persian Jewry. Like the Passover story, Purim is a children’s festival iconizing liberation and justice. The tomb of its heroes, Esther and Mordechai, has for centuries been a revered Jewish pilgrimage site, long acknowledged as such by the Iranian authorities as a protected national heritage landmark.”

Samuels pointed to Iranian government-sponsored Fars News Agency reports here andhere:-

“The student Basij campaign, which began last September, has now turned menacing in words and actions, declaring, inter alia, that:

the removal of the mausoleum sign denotes the effacement of the site’s Jewish character -an accompanying revisionist narrative holds Esther and Mordechai responsible for the murder of 75,000 Iranian [sic] martyrs, murdered in the course of one day i.e. 10% of the then Iranian population

-this was ‘a Holocaust’ that displaces the myth of the Nazi Holocaust -the shrine is an arm of Israeli imperialism that impugns Iranian sovereignty -its name must be obliterated to teach the younger generation to beware of the crimes of the Jews and to return the shrine to the Iranian people

-the site must become ‘a Holocaust memorial’ to the Iranian victims of Esther and Mordechai, and must be placed under the supervision of the religious endowments authority

-speakers listed, declared that ‘unfortunately, large numbers of Iranian citizens, unaware of the facts, have travelled to this tomb of the damned, which honours the murderers of thousands of Iranians’. They then presented a litany of supposed ‘Jewish atrocities’ in Ethiopia and Yemen, and claimed that ‘the Jewish festival of Purim sweetens the blood of Jewish children’ with the misfortunes of Iran.”The Centre argued that “this matter should be of concern to UNESCO on two counts:-the abuse of Bu-Ali Sina /Avicenna University – founded by the French Ministry of Education in 1973 – now become a vector for the dissemination of, and incitement to, hatred in direct violation of UNESCO’s educational provisions

2-the physical and moral damage to the site contravenes UNESCO’s World Heritage principles”

The letter urged UNESCO “to condemn these abuses and to call upon the Iranian authorities to take appropriate measures to terminate this campaign of racism and desecration.”

“It is perhaps time for UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee to establish instruments for the universal protection of holy sites,” concluded Samuels.

The Centre also shared this information with the French authorities, urging the suspension of all cooperation with Bu-Ali Sina/Avicenna University, pending its condemnation of its students’ racist behaviour. The University was established by France in 1973.

Read article in full

Wikileak restitution cable is water under bridge

Leaked documents are all the rage at the moment, aren’t they?

Prolific blogger Elder of Ziyon is all excited to have unearthed a Wikileaks cable from 2005. Discussing German reparations to Israel for the Holocaust, the cable ends intriguingly (as EoZ puts it) as follows:

Finally, xxxxxxxxxxxx noted that Poland would likely be the next area of focus of the GOI restitution efforts, and that the GOI would work in close coordination with the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) and the other main survivor and restitution bodies in Israel and abroad. All of the above are in addition to the GOI Ministerial Committees continuing research into expanding pursuit of restitution claims for Jewish property and assets from Arab lands.

In fact the Israeli government’s decision to expand the pursuit of restitution claims in Arab countries is not as intriguing as all that. The Israeli Cabinet, in March 2002 and December 2003, called for efforts “to gather information, data, claims and documents… (and) record details of Jewish private and communal property in Arab countries and the denial of their rights.”

The task of gathering claims was assigned to the Ministry of Pensioners’ Affairs in 2009. In February 2010, the Knesset passed a law stating that no peace agreement could be signed with Arab states unless compensation for Jewish refugees was on the agenda.

So actively pursuing restitution for Jews from Arab countries has been Israeli government policy for at least the last seven years. Not that anyone would have noticed, so coy had the Kadima-led government been about it. The intriguing thing that it is only when a document is Wikileaked do people sit up and take note of what was always there!

Read post in full

Keep the Iraqi Jewish archives in a free country

‘By what right should a society that barely tolerated and expelled its Jews, and that loathes and forbids the presence of Jews now, be given 27 cases of Jewish documents and books’? asks Alex Joffe in Jewish Ideas Daily. He wonders whether the principle of non-refoulement ( refugees must not be returned to a situation where they are at risk) can be applied to the Iraqi Jewish archives. (With thanks: Eliyahu)

The Iraqi Jewish Archive, as it became known, is both proud and pitiful. The earliest item dates to 1568, but most of the other materials are from the late-19th and early-20th centuries: Judeo-Arabic manuscripts, Torah scrolls and mantles, children’s primers, family photographs, letters, all seized from Iraq’s long-banished Jews. Through a confluence of initiatives involving the U.S. military, the Iraqi opposition, the Coalition Provisional Authority, and the Iraqi State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, the trove was transported to the U.S. where it was freeze-dried, conserved, and photographed. It remains in the charge of the National Archives and Records Administration and the Center for Jewish History. Although basic cataloging has been done, more extensive preservation and digitization await funding and a resolution of the archive’s fate.

Representatives of the Iraqi Jewish community in Israel have staked a claim to the trove. But so, for its part, has Iraq itself, whose new Minister of Tourism and Antiquities has named the return of the archive as a top priority. After all, countless items looted from Iraq’s museums and archaeological sites, from ancient tablets to Saddam’s gold plated AK-47, have already been restored. Why not the Iraqi Jewish Archive?

Indeed, Western democracies have lately become accustomed to such demands. The Elgin Marbles, their fate still undecided, are the most famous example, but countless objects have already been repatriated to countries ranging from Peru to China, sometimes before requests were entered. Even outright gifts, like Cleopatra’s Needle in New York’s Central Park, are on the list of Zahi Hawass, the Egyptian pharaoh of archaeology who travels the world demanding that every object ever created in Egypt be returned or otherwise made subject to his personal decision.

Scholars and intellectuals have largely acceded to these demands out of post-colonial guilt and fear of losing access to excavation permits. “Retentionists,” who wish to keep antiquities in the West, have been accused of greed; having stolen other peoples’ legacies, they now defy international law and public sentiment. To this one might respond that the demands themselves often seem more about exercising political power in the present than about preserving the past—and in any case they are of dubious relevance to the Iraqi Jewish Archive.

What is true is that the Jewish community in what is now Iraq is of ancient and distinguished lineage—more ancient than any other outside the Holy Land. For more than 2,500 years, from the Assyrian conquest of Israel and then the Babylonian conquest of Judah, Jews resided along the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates as an integral minority, and by the 20th century had long learned to accommodate themselves to new rulers and new empires washing back and forth. But in the race unleashed by the British after their conquest of the territory, Jews along with Christians, Kurds, and other minorities were soon crushed by Muslim supremacism, now cloaked in the name of Iraqi nationalism.

The process of dispossessing Jews from the new state of Iraq began almost immediately with the dismissal of Jewish officials in 1934 and 1936, unofficially complemented by bombings of Jewish establishments in 1936 and 1938 and culminating in the Farhud massacre of June 1941. The official process intensified with the criminalization of Zionism in 1948. A year later, Prime Minister Nuri as-Said was describing to foreign diplomats a plan to expel Iraq’s Jews. The climax occurred with a 1950 bill on de-naturalization, confiscating the property of Jews who emigrated, and the bombing of Baghdad’s Masuda Shemtob synagogue in January 1951.

By March 1951, 120,000 Jews had left Iraq, being permitted to take with them no more than 50 pounds sterling per adult and 20 per child. In 1952, the gates were closed. In 1963, Jews were forbidden to sell property. After the Six-Day war of 1967, Jews were dismissed from jobs, their property seized, bank accounts frozen, and telephones disconnected. Jews were hanged as alleged spies in 1968 and 1969. By the 1970s, the few remaining Jews were permitted to leave after being pressured to turn over title to property. When the Americans arrived in 2003, perhaps two or three dozen remained.

By what right should a society that barely tolerated and then expelled its Jews, and that loathes and forbids the presence of Jews now, be given 27 cases of Jewish documents and books? Saad Eskander, the director of the Iraq National Library and Archives, has stated one rationale: “Iraqis must know that we are a diverse people, with different traditions, different religions, and we need to accept this diversity . . . [and] that Baghdad was always multiethnic.” A glance at the headlines from Iraq suggests that such noble aspirations are increasingly belied by reality.

Besides, should the materials be returned to Iraq, what assurances are there that anyone, much less Jews, will have access to them? What assurances that the materials will be preserved at all? Countless artifacts from Israeli excavations in Sinai were returned to Egypt as part of the 1979 peace agreement. No one knows their fate, but rumors have long circulated that they were simply dumped alongside the road. Similar proposals have been made regarding artifacts, even demonstrably Jewish ones, excavated in the West Bank, which Israel is being urged to turn over to the Palestinian Authority as a confidence-building measure. Intellectuals, who in other settings deplore “politicization” of the past, are usually at the forefront of such seemingly therapeutic schemes.

Free societies, with their competing interests and concerns, do a mixed but on the whole creditable job of maintaining their pasts. Unfree societies, thanks to corruption and racism, typically do a very poor job, and when they do make an effort, as in Iraq under Saddam, it is in furtherance of the regime’s dictatorial and repressive aims.

International refugee law provides for “non-refoulement”: that is, refugees must not be returned to a situation where they would be put in jeopardy. Might a similar principle be considered for antiquities? Could it be asserted that unfree states forfeit their claims to antiquities, particularly those originating with minorities they have expunged or exterminated, and against whom they discriminate in the present? The legal dimensions remain to be explored; in the meantime, like many of the Jews who created it, the Iraqi Jewish Archive lingers in exile—so far, thankfully, in a free country.

Read article in full

Wartime ‘Jewish-Muslim ties in Maghreb were good’


Not much wartime Jewish suffering in North Africa can, it seems, be blamed on anyone other than the Nazis (Tunisia), the Italian fascists (Libya) and the Vichy authorities (Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco): Haim Saadon (pictured) of the Hebrew University tells us in The Jerusalem Post that ‘relations between Jews and Muslims in the Maghreb were good, despite the Nazis.’ However, Jews paying Arabs to shelter Jews (such as Saadon’s own family) from the Nazis, is no different from Jews paying European Gentiles to do the same. When he claims there was no violence, Saadon seems to have forgotten the mob attacks against Moroccan Jews as soon as General Patton landed in 1943; his explanation of the Libyan pogrom of 1945 is weak. And how does he explain the fact that anti-Jewish Vichy rules were still maintained in Algeria after the liberation ‘so as not to arouse the Arab population’*?

When Nazi Germany’s Afrika Korps invaded Tunisia in 1942, panic quickly spread among members of the local Jewish community, many of whom packed their belongings and fled to the countryside, fearing persecution.

Dr. Haim Saadon of the Hebrew University recalled, in an interview with the The Jerusalem Post last week, how his parents had to live in hiding until the French colony was liberated by the allies.

“They remember exactly how they left their houses and lived in a little village with Muslims in the country,” Saadon said.

“They had to pay for their accommodation but they were well treated there.”

Relatively good ties between Jews and Muslims in North Africa during World War II stand in stark contrast to the treatment of their coreligionists by gentiles in Europe at the same time and is the central theme of the English-language lecture Saadon is scheduled to deliver at the Ben-Zvi Institute in Jerusalem on Tuesday, on the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Whereas in Europe Jews were hunted down by locals – in Lithuania the Jewish community was almost annihilated by nationalist militias without the Nazis lifting a finger – the Jews of North Africa were for the most part left unharmed by Muslims.

“There was no violence towards Jews during the war from Muslims,” he said.

“Even between 1911 when Libya was occupied by the Italians, until 1943, there was a lot of tension between the Italians and the Jews, but the Jews were relatively on good terms with the Muslims.

“The question is how to explain this difference: Muslims gave shelter to Jews during the war during the bombardment of Libya. For instance, Jews lived in Arab villages. They paid money, but their lives were saved.”

At the same time there was no particular sense of camaraderie between members of the different faiths, Saadon said. In fact, in other parts of the Muslim world some Muslims sided with the Nazis.

Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini famously spent the war in Berlin, where he helped organize a Muslim unit to fight on the Axis side. In Baghdad, an Axis-supported junta briefly seized power from the pro- British government.

“North Africa is not the case of the Middle East,” he said. “Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine had a different process.”

On one occasion, a Muslim man in the Maghreb even helped save Jewish lives.

Read article in full

* Jews of Arab lands in modern times by Norman Stillman, p.135.

Massacres of Jews by Muslims before 1948


“Jews lived happily together with Muslims and in harmony before Israel was established.”
How many times have you heard this said?

We are indebted to Torbjorn Karfunkel, who has blown the myth of peaceful coexistence sky-high with his pre-1948 ‘massacre map’ of Jews by Muslims (click on the map to enlarge). The map should not be considered exhaustive, but it does go back to the 7th century, when Mohammed’s followers massacred Jewish tribes in Arabia. It reminds us that Jews were murdered in Spain in 1066, in spite of the ‘Andalusian Golden Age’. The cluster of explosive dots over Morocco recalls that relationships between Jews and Muslims during the 19th century were not always plain sailing.

 To this ‘massacre map’ one might add the blood libels which spread like wildfire across the Ottoman empire, often resulting not in massacres, but in individuals arrested, tortured and unfairly accused.

As the great Tunisian-Jewish writer Albert Memmi has written: “coexistence with the Arabs was not just uncomfortable, it was marked by threats periodically carried out.”  

 Here is a list compiled by Peter Baum:

622 – 627: ethnic cleansing of Jews from Mecca and Medina, (Jewish boys publicly inspected for pubic hair. if they had any, they were executed)

629: 1st Alexandria Massacres, Egypt

622 – 634: extermination of the 14 Arabian Jewish tribes

822 – 861: Islamic empire passes law that Jews must wear yellow stars, (a lot like Nazi Germany), Caliph al-Mutawakkil

1106: Ali Ibn Yousef Ibn Tashifin of Marrakesh decrees death penalty for any local Jew, including his Jewish Physician, and Military general.

1033: 1st Fez Pogrom, Morocco

1148: Almohadin of Morocco gives Jews the choice of converting to Islam, or expulsion

1066: Granada Massacre, Muslim-occupied Spain

1165 – 1178: Jews nation wide were given the choice (under new constitution) convert to Islam or die, Yemen

1165: chief Rabbi of the Maghreb burnt alive. The Rambam flees for Egypt.

1220: tens of thousands of Jews killed by Muslims after being blamed for Mongol invasion, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Egypt

1270: Sultan Baibars of Egypt resolved to burn all the Jews, a ditch having been dug for that purpose; but at the last moment he repented, and instead exacted a heavy tribute, during the collection of which many perished.

1276: 2nd Fez Pogrom, Morocco

1385: Khorasan Massacres, Iran

1438: 1st Mellah Ghetto massacres, North Africa

1465: 3rd Fez Pogrom, Morocco (11 Jews left alive)

1517: 1st Safed Pogrom, Ottoman Palestine

1517: 1st Hebron Pogrom, Ottoman Palestine

Marsa ibn Ghazi Massacre, Ottoman Libya

1577: Passover Massacre, Ottoman empire

1588 – 1629: Mahalay Pogroms, Iran

1630 – 1700: Yemenite Jews under strict Shi’ite ‘dhimmi’ rules

1660: 2nd Safed Pogrom, Ottoman Palestine

1670: Mawza expulsion, Yemen

1679 – 1680: Sanaa Massacres, Yemen

1747: Mashhad Masacres, Iran

1785: Tripoli Pogrom, Ottoman Libya

1790 – 92: Tetuan Pogrom. Morocco (Jews of Tetuuan stripped naked, and lined up for Muslim perverts)

1800: new decree passed in Yemen, that Jews are forbidden to wear new clothing, or good clothing. Jews are forbidden to ride mules or donkeys, and were occasionally rounded up for long marches naked through the Roob al Khali dessert.

1805: 1st Algiers Pogrom, Ottoman Algeria

1808 2nd 1438: 1st Mellah Ghetto Massacres, North Africa

1815: 2nd Algiers Pogrom, Ottoman Algeria

1820: Sahalu Lobiant Massacres, Ottoman Syria

1828: Baghdad Pogrom, Ottoman Iraq

1830: 3rd Algiers Pogrom, Ottoman Algeria

1830: ethnic cleansing of Jews in Tabriz, Iran

1834: 2nd Hebron Pogrom, Ottoman Palestine

1834: Safed Pogrom, Ottoman Palestne

1839: Massacre of the Mashadi Jews, Iran

1840: Damascus Affair following first of many blood libels, Ottoman Syria

1844: 1st Cairo Massacres, Ottoman Egypt

1847: Dayr al-Qamar Pogrom, Ottoman Lebanon

1847: ethnic cleansing of the Jews in Jerusalem, Ottoman Palestine

1848: 1st Damascus Pogrom, Syria

1850: 1st Aleppo Pogrom, Ottoman Syria

1860: 2nd Damascus Pogrom, Ottoman Syria

1862: 1st Beirut Pogrom, Ottoman Lebanon

1866: Kuzguncuk Pogrom, Ottoman Turkey

1867: Barfurush Massacre, Ottoman Turkey

1868: Eyub Pogrom, Ottoman Turkey

1869: Tunis Massacre, Ottoman Tunisia

1869: Sfax Massacre, Ottoman Tunisia

1864 – 1880: Marrakesh Massacre, Morocco

1870: 2nd Alexandria Massacres, Ottoman Egypt

1870: 1st Istanbul Pogrom, Ottoman Turkey

1871: 1st Damanhur Massacres,Ottoman Egypt

1872: Edirne Massacres, Ottoman Turkey

1872: 1st Izmir Pogrom, Ottoman Turkey

1873: 2nd Damanhur Massacres, Ottoman Egypt

1874: 2nd Izmir Pogrom, Ottoman Turkey

1874: 2nd Istanbul Pogrom, Ottoman Turkey

1874: 2nd Beirut Pogrom,Ottoman Lebanon

1875: 2nd Aleppo Pogrom, Ottoman Syria

1875: Djerba Island Massacre, Ottoman Tunisia

1877: 3rd Damanhur Massacres,Ottoman Egypt

1877: Mansura Pogrom, Ottoman Egypt

1882: Homs Massacre, Ottoman Syria

1882: 3rd Alexandria Massacres, Ottoman Egypt

1890: 2nd Cairo Massacres, Ottoman Egypt

1890, 3rd Damascus Pogrom, Ottoman Syria

1891: 4th Damanahur Massacres, Ottoman Egypt

1897: Tripolitania killings, Ottoman Libya

1903&1907: Taza & Settat, pogroms, Morocco

1890: Tunis Massacres, Ottoman Tunisia

1901 – 1902: 3rd Cairo Massacres, Ottoman Egypt

1901 – 1907: 4th Alexandria Massacres,Ottoman Egypt

1903: 1st Port Sa’id Massacres, Ottoman Egypt

1903 – 1940: Pogroms of Taza and Settat, Morocco

1907: Casablanca, pogrom, Morocco

1908: 2nd Port Said Massacres,Ottoman Egypt

1910: Shiraz blood libel

1911: Shiraz Pogrom

1912: 4th Fez Pogrom, Morocco

1917: Baghdadi Jews murdered by Ottomans

1918 – 1948: law passed making it illegal to raise an orphan Jewish, Yemen

1920: Irbid Massacres: British mandate Palestine

1920 – 1930: Arab riots, British mandate Palestine

1921: 1st Jaffa riots, British mandate Palestine

1922: Djerba Massacres, Tunisia

1928: Jewish orphans sold into slavery, and forced to convert t Islam by Muslim Brotherhood, Yemen

1929: 3rd Hebron Pogrom British mandate Palestine.

1929 3rd Safed Pogrom, British mandate Palestine.

1933: 2nd Jaffa riots, British mandate Palestine.

1934: Thrace Pogroms, Turkey

1936: 3rd Jaffa riots, British mandate Palestine

1941: Farhud Massacrs, Iraq

1942: Mufti collaboration with the Nazis. plays a part in the final solution

1938 – 1945: Arab collaboration with the Nazis

1945: 4th Cairo Massacre, Egypt

1945: Tripolitania Pogrom, Libya

1947: Aden Pogrom

1947: 3rd Aleppo Pogrom, Syria

1948: “emptying” of the Jewish quarter of Damascus, Syria

1948: 1st Arab Israeli war (1 out of every 100 Jew was killed)

1948: Oujda & Jerada Pogroms, Morocco

1948: Libyan massacre of Jews

1955: 3rd Istanbul Pogrom, Turkey

1956: 1st Egyptian Inquisition of Jews

1965: 5th Fez Pogrom, Morocco

1967: 2nd Egyptian jailing of Jews as Israeli PoWs

1967: Tunis riots, Tunisia

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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.