Month: March 2011

How to win friends at SOAS Israel Apartheid Week

As the propaganda tsunami known as Israel Apartheid Week crashes over university campuses across the world, Michelle Huberman (pictured) demonstrates how a showing of the Forgotten Refugees film can have the power to change hostile minds. Read her guest blog on the Jerusalem Post:

At the School of African and Asian Studies (SOAS) last week, it was Israel Apartheid Week on campus and the place was abuzz with Palestinian flags and posters to Free Gaza. The atmosphere was threatening. How does one begin to fight back against the lies and intimidation?

My answer was to persuade this august institution to show a film – The David Project’s The Forgotten Refugees., directed by Michael Grynszpan. This film explores the history, culture, and forced exodus of nearly one million Jews from Middle Eastern and North African Jewish communities in the second half of the 20th century. These Jews now comprise half of Israel’s Jewish population. The film raises awareness of an issue which has been tragically ignored in the media, world politics, and educational programmes.

I believe that everybody should see The Forgotten Refugees. It deals with genuine apartheid: Jews (and Christians) were literally inferior beings, subjugated to Islam. They were often segregated in ghettos. In Iran, Morocco and Yemen, they were under intermittent pressure to convert to Islam. They could not ride horses or build houses higher than Muslims, they could not testify against a Muslim, and had to pay protection money for their survival.

I had shown the film to students at SOAS a few months ago and managed to secure a second screening during this high-profile week. I wondered whether the audience I wanted would come in and see it? I decided the best way was to go along to the Israel Apartheid event and let people know. I’d made a leaflet advertising the film with the strap line “What Happened to the Jews from Arab Countries?”

It was the Sunday before our screening and it was a sunny afternoon. I happily strolled onto the campus with my friendly dog. I could see in the distance the Israeli counter-demonstration. It looked peaceful, they had their banners and seemed to be engaging well with the pro-Palestinians.

I went over to their side, mingling in with the crowd. The people were thronging amongst the stalls described as Celebrate Palestine. All were draped with keffiyahs and many were wearing anti-Israel slogans. These were the people I wanted in the audience to see the film. I love Middle Eastern culture and happily chatted along with them, asking them if they were interested in the Israel/Palestine conflict. I explained about the film, that it was non-political and gave a new perspective on the region. If they felt it was propaganda, they’d be able to make their views known during the Q&A at the end.

All the young people of Arab origin took the leaflets and told me they’d try to come along. They were genuinely interested. They were curious about me, and I was happy to share my background of being Jewish, a fashion designer with a passion for Islamic architecture.

In contrast, the middle-aged, pale, scruffy English people I spoke to – who I later found out were human rights lawyers – were very hostile. They said: “it’s Zionist propaganda – look, the text is in blue!” As a designer I had painstakingly put together a collage of sepia photos showing Jews leaving Arab countries with only a suitcase and their arrival in the ma’abarot camps in Israel. I had experimented with lots of colors and decided that blue text stood out best against the sepia – so much for Zionist colors! Another looked at my Jewish surname on the leaflet and said viciously: “look at her name – she’s a Zionist”. I told them to come along to the event and judge for themselves.

I was conversing with one Middle Eastern man who wanted to come to the film. He was genuinely interested and we spoke for a few minutes. He left and not long afterwards I was chatting with his two little children who liked my dog. They were nice kids. It was then that I heard a scuffle behind. The little girl’s eyes widened in horror. I turned around and saw that their father was involved in the commotion. His friendly eyes were now full of hatred and he was in the throes of a fight. My maternal instinct kicked in and I quickly hurried away with his children to shield them from seeing their father in battle. I had absolutely no idea what this fight was all about. I just knelt down with the children behind the building and wrapped my arms around them.

Ten minutes later when it died down and I’d let the kids go, I saw the father was being handcuffed by the police. I learnt then that this man was the one who had actually attacked and bitten one of the four Israel supporters who were there peacefully holding a counter-demonstration. What a turn of events that I was protecting the attacker’s children!

My film showing was scheduled for last Wednesday. I became increasingly nervous beforehand, wondering who might attend. Would the man in the fight show up? What would the reaction be in this hotbed of anti-Israel feeling?

When I’d shown the film previously at SOAS, I’d walked into a room full of 50 hostile students dressed in keffiyahs and hijabs, who were studying the Israel/Palestine conflict. I’d brought with me an elderly man whose family had fled Persia and was forced to convert to Islam. His story was very moving and by the time the film had ended the audience was showing sympathy. They needed no prompting to suggest: “why don’t the Arabs and Israelis do swaps like the Greeks and Turks in Cyprus?” Many requested a copy of the film to share with their friends.

This time would be different as the viewing would be out of lecture hours. The room was full and the crowd seemed pretty tame. I was pleased to see that a few of the young hijab-ed girls I’d chatted to were sitting in the audience and also one of the human rights lawyers from the previous Sunday. The film lasted 50 minutes and is shocking in parts, with graphic clips of murderous riots against communities that most of us know nothing of.

The audience were very stunned by the film. Afterwards they had a chance to ask me questions.The Muslim girls wanted to talk about the West Bank settlements, but I told them this was a non-political event and the topic was the Jews from Arab countries. They complied and listened attentively. The audience’s questions were intelligent, the discussion civilised and informed. The evening went off peacefully and everybody left – hopefully – with a new perspective on Israelis.

To obtain a copy of The Forgotten Refugees (UK DVD) contact [email protected]

Read post in full

Countering violence and lies during Israel Apartheid Week (Jewish News – p 13)

The David Project

Canadian MP raises Jewish refugee issue

Winnipeg MP Anita Neville

Kudos to Canadian MP Anita Neville for raising the issue of Jewish refugees in Parliament – a response to the disproportionate attention given to Palestinian refugees, especially on university campuses during Israel Apartheid Week. She only discovered the issue of Jewish refugees two years ago, she tells Canadian Jewish News. Dare other parliamentarians follow suit?

Neville, who is running for re-election in Winnipeg South Centre, told The CJN this is “an issue that has not been discussed much in this House or by the current government.” She only learned of it two years ago. However, Canada could play a role in furthering awareness of the plight of Jewish refugees, either through discussions in committee or by calling on the government to raise it in forums in which the issue of Palestinian refugees comes up.

“This is a story that must be acknowledged and must be repeated,” she said.

Stanley Urman, executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, said U.S. Congress passed a resolution during the Bush administration calling on the executive to raise the issue in international diplomatic forums whenever Palestinian refugees are discussed. “To what extent the Americans are now pushing this issue, I’m not really aware of,” he said.

“But, Israel is making it part of their platform,” he continued. “We haven’t seen any recent Israeli government adopt this negotiation stance the way this government has.”

A little more than a year ago, Israel’s Knesset passed a bill aimed at securing compensation for Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran. The bill instructs the government to include the compensation issue in future peace negotiations.

“For the first time, there is seriousness among Israeli officials” about the issue. “The foreign ministry sent memos to ambassadors to make sure the issue is raised in any bilateral discussions,” Urman stated.

Neville said the timing of her statement “related to what is going on on university campuses.” (It came shortly after the conclusion of Israeli Apartheid Week.)

“No one is asking ‘what about Jewish refugees,’” she said. “No one is asking ‘what about the one-sided approach of the United Nations’.

“There’s a lot of attention on Palestinian refugees and no acknowledgement there was a significant number of Jewish refugees who were displaced. There were no reparations for these people,” she said.

“I think there has to be greater awareness of the issue, greater dialogue about it at universities, greater dialogue about it internationally, when there’s disproportionate talk about Palestinian refugees.”

Read article in full

Rare mention of refugees at Westminster

Rebel Libyan ‘Shabbat goy’ recalls Benghazi Jews

Jewish classroom in Benghazi before World War ll

Buried in the news reports of the fighting in Libya, I came across this nugget by Mitch Potter in The Star (Canada). Potter stumbled upon an anti-Gaddafi doctor with fond memories of Benghazi’s Jewish community. Unfortunately, Dr Mabroka Legnain is an exception in the antisemitic swamp that judenrein Libya is now:

But away from the front lines, a fuller representation of society rallied to the cause. In Benghazi, for example, the run-up to the fateful UN decision on a no-fly zone was preceded by three days of thousands of women rallying en masse, all pleading for the world’s help. It was unprecedented — never before had Libyans seen more than a handful of women gathered together in public, let alone thousands.

Among them was Dr. Mabroka Legnain, 62, a Libyan pioneer for equal rights. She once held one of the highest medical offices in the country as overseer of Benghazi’s 600-bed Jamahiriya Hospital. But a few years ago, Gadhafi’s secret police imprisoned one of her sons-in-law — his only offence was that he wore a beard, and was therefore deemed suspicious. As part of a subsequent witch hunt, Legnain was forced to resign her position.

“Even if you swallowed all of Gadhafi’s injustices, they could see it in your face,” Legnain told the Star.

“Now that this volcano that has erupted, we can never go back. We have no faith in this regime, but we have faith in God, and in ourselves. We will create a new Libya for our children from the ashes of these 42 years.”

Throughout Benghazi, anti-Gadhafi graffiti abounds. And in some instances, one see Stars of David entwined in the spray-paint tags, suggesting anti-Israeli or perhaps anti-Semitic impulses within the war on Gadhafi.

Legnain told a different story, however. She is old enough to remember when Benghazi had a sizeable Jewish community, with which her own family was closely entwined. On the Jewish Sabbath, she and her sisters would light hearths and switch lights on and off for their Jewish neighbours. Moreover, said Legnain, she and her siblings were reared by a Jewish wet-nurse — “which to us means we weren’t just friends, but family.

“I don’t have hate. We who are making the revolution don’t have hate. We want Gadhafi to leave, but we do not want blood. When we prevail, the world will see the true face of Libya is one of peace.”

Read article in full

Iran secretly executes Jewish-Armenian couple

News has finally filtered out of Iran’s secret execution of an Iranian-Jewish woman and her Armenian (Orthodox Christian) husband. According to the Christian news agency Mohaba, it is not known what they were charged with. Relatives asking for the bodies to be returned for burial were threatened with arrest (with thanks: Janet):

At dawn on Monday March 14, 2011 a Jewish-Armenian couple along with one women and two other men were secretly executed.

According to the Iranian Christian News Agency “Mohabat News” and based on reports from the human rights activists in Iran, the 28th divisional court of the Revolutionary Court, located inside the Evin prison, in confirming this execution refused to provide any further details about the release of the bodies of the executed prisoners.

Mrs. Adiva Mirza Soleiman Kalimi, a Jewish Iranian, and her husband, Varoujan Petrosian, an Armenian Iranian, along with one other woman and two men, whose identities remain unknown, were secretly executed in Evin Prison.

It is still not known what those prisoners were charged with.

It is noteworthy that the families of the victims, who had asked the authorities to return the bodies of their loved ones in order to be buried according to their cultural and religious customs ,have received threats of arrest from the agents of the Ministry of Intelligence.

Read article in full

The pitfalls of Jewish-Muslim dialogue

Rabbi Marc Shneier

How useful is Jewish-Muslim dialogue to conflict resolution?

Two days ago Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger suspended all interfaith dialogue with the Muslim religious leadership until they unreservedly condemned terrorist and rocket attacks on Israel.

On the other hand, Rabbi Marc Schneier, founder of the New-York based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, proclaimed in the pages of the Jerusalem Post recently that interfaith dialogue works. He was rebutting acolumn by Isi Leiblerwho argued that too many of those Muslims taking part in dialogue were not genuine moderates.

Isi Leibler

It is well known that Islamist radicals and extremists have often sidelined moderates. Hiding behind front organisations, it can be argued that they have commandeered the leadership of the Muslim community. In the UK, for instance, the Muslim Association of Britain is the UK branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, just as Hamas is its Palestinian branch. Several organisations advocate the establishment of sharia law and the Caliphate, riding roughshod over the rights of women and minorities. (In Britain, however, there are hopeful signs, in the wake of the Prime Minister’s Munich speech on ‘multiculturalism’, that the Cameron government has finally woken up to acknowledging that the PREVENT policy of funding Muslim sectarian groups is equivalent to paying the foxes to guard the chicken coop.)

Moderates in the West often find themselves without a voice. In the Middle East, they are bullied into silence or killed. As Elliot Jager explains in his article, the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict is littered with the bodies of leaders assassinated for making peace, and moderates murdered by extremists.

In the West, much interfaith dialogue builds a false equivalence between antisemitism and Islamophobia. But statistics show that antisemitism is far more serious a problem*. Shouting ‘islamophobia’ only serves to obfuscate and distract. Such dialogue cements an alliance against traditional fascist, or right-wing antisemitism, while doing nothing to combat the more prevalent antisemitism being disseminated by the leftwing ‘Red-Green’ alliance.

Shunning difficult issues, and waxing lyrical about our common humanity and fate, obviously achieves nothing. Such dialogue is bland and ineffectual.

Where there is frank and fearless discussion, another problem emerges: much dialogue espouses the Arab narrative. There is Jewish guilt for so-called wrongs done to Palestinians. The fact that Arabs instigated the 1948 war against Israel is forgotten. What often happens is that Muslims advocate intransigently for their rights, while Jews debase theirs. When was the last time your dialogue group grappled with Arab and Muslim antisemitism? It’s all very well to deplore Holocaust denial, but when did you hear Arab and Muslims admit to their widespread complicity in the Holocaust – let alone condemn it? When was the last time your dialogue group discussed the 850,000 Jewish refugees forced out of Arab countries through no fault of their own, and now largely resettled in Israel ? The Jewish land and assets stolen by Arab states?

Conflict resolution is all about reconciliation – and in order to achieve reconciliation one needs all the facts on the table. One needs a clear distinction between victim and aggressor. It means coming to terms and apologising for wrongs committed, not falsifying or brushing them under the carpet.

* eight times as many attacks on Jews as on Muslims, according to this latest study

Beware neighbours who turn into monsters

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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.