Month: July 2011

Jews of Tunisia are catapulted into the limelight

Mohamed Ghannem, cardiologist and aspiring Tunisian minister

The Jasmine revolution has catapulted Jews into the limelight, and will herald a better era for Tunisia’s 1,500-strong community, argues Mohamed Ghannem in ‘Ou en sont les juifs tunisiens?’ (Information Juive July/August 2011 – article not yet online). Ghannem is an expatriate cardiologist working in France who has visited Israel. His name has been put forward as a possible minister in the new Tunisia.

Ghannem believes, somewhat controversially, that until the Six Day War broke out in 1967, Arabs and Jews lived in ‘perfect harmony’. The Jews came under president Bourguiba’s protection. Today there are some 1,400 Jews living peacefully in Tunisia, 1,200 of them in Djerba.

As a result of the revolution of 14 January, the Jews have acquired a higher profile, according to Ghannem. Before the revolution, the Jews almost never featured in the media, except as model loyal citizens – (‘more Tunisian than the Tunisians’ ). Currently there have been a dozen TV programmes about them. The cancellation of the Ghriba pilgrimage this year was announced on National TV. Even Al-Jazeera did a filmed report.

“During the January revolution – and in spite of the power vacuum and reigning sense of insecurity – not a single Jew was molested or worried. No Jewish building was touched. In truth only a small mausoleum at the heart of a Jewish cemetery in Gabes was damaged. No grave was desecrated,” Ghannem writes.

“If in the past, Jews have been marginalised in Tunisian politics, they are being sought out by Tunisian political parties and some (Jews ) have become politically active.

“The Jews, like other Tunisian citizens, have thrown themselves into the rebuilding of their country. They feel freeer and more secure in their commitment to investment and enterprise.

” For Tunisian Jews this revolution is, I think, proof that it promises democracy and freedom for all without distinction and is based on universal values.”

My comment: Perhaps Dr Ghannem is being over-optimistic when he says that not a single Jew has been worried by the revolution. There is evidenceto the contrary. What about Islamist demonstrations outside the Great synagogue? What about the attack on a Djerba wedding? What about the moves afoot to make normalisation with Israel against the law?

Tel Aviv homeless upset at leftist hypocrisy

Kfar Shalem – the common man’s struggle against encroaching redevelopment

With Israelis camping out in the streets in protest against a chronic shortage of affordable housing, who should jump on the bandwagon but Mya Guarnieri, al-Jazeera‘s woman in Tel Aviv. Guarnieri wonders why the media have been ignoring the good citizens of Kfar Shalem, an area of south Tel Aviv threatened with demolition which she wrote about in February.

Kfar Shalem may not be familiar to most Israelis but it is certainly known to readers of this blog, when Point of No Return covered the mostly-Mizrahi residents’ struggle to fight eviction in 2007.

Young anti-Zionist radicals like Guarnieri can’t resist politicising what is essentially nothing more sinister than the common man’s universal fight against encroaching urban gentrification and redevelopment.

In her article for +972 blog, Israel has manipulated the poor Mizrahim for political ends, exploiting them to keep Palestinians from reclaiming their homes:

Once an economically depressed neighborhood of South Tel Aviv, Kfar Shalem, “was once a Palestinian village, Salame. Jewish forces ran the Arab residents out in early 1948, months before Israel was established and (what some refer to as) the War of Independence began.

The young state gave the empty Palestinian homes to impoverished Mizrachi Jews. The idea, some residents of Kfar Shalem admit today, was to discourage dispossessed Palestinians from returning. The Jewish occupants were to “guard” the houses.

These new residents also created facts on the ground and, after the 1948 War, the municipality of Tel Aviv annexed Jaffa and Salame—both of which were destined for a Palestinian state under the partition plan approved by the UN in November of 1947.

Not a word of course, about the Arab aggression that caused the ‘War of Independence’. Nor is Guarnieri remotely troubled by the thought that the impoverished Mizrahi Jews could have themselves been dispossessed of their homes in their Arab countries of birth. For Guarnieri, Arabs can only ever be victims.

This blog has already drawn attention to the double standard among far-leftists for whom Arab property rights invariably trump Jewish rights, for example in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah. These leftists are only ever exercised by injustice against Jews when the Ashkenazi-dominated ruling elite can be blamed.

Curiously enough, however, this form of leftist hypocrisy has not escaped some of the residents of Kfar Shalem themselves: they obviously find the attentions of anti-Zionists like Guarnieri rather irksome. She herself admits, but was too cowardly to include in her report for Al-Jazeera:

.. many of the Jewish Israelis I interviewed were upset with their fellow citizens for not doing more to help them in their battle against homelessness. Some also expressed frustration with the Israeli left because they felt that such activists reserve their sympathies only for Palestinians and foreigners.

Good for you, residents of Kfar Shalem, for making a stand against the leftist manipulation of your grievances to advance their own political agenda.

Crossposted at Cif Watch

Iraqi-Jewish philanthropist gets Chinese award

Nanjing university consultant professor Naim Dangoor

If more Chinese are able to learn about Jews and Judaism it will be thanks to an Iraqi-Jewish philanthropist whose late wife Renee was born in the Sephardi community in Shanghai. This week, Nanjing university demonstrated its gratitude by making Naim Dangoor, 97, a consultant professor – the Jewish Chronicle reports:

A delegation of professors from a leading foreign university flew to London last Friday to honour a British supporter of their country’s burgeoning programme of Jewish studies.

Philanthropist Naim Dangoor, who is 97, was made a consultant professor of China’s Nanjing University in an award ceremony held in his Kensington apartment.

“We are very proud that you are now one of us,” Nanjing vice-president Xue Hai Lin told Professor Dangoor, newly decorated in his black and red academic robes and sporting a black mortar board with red tassel.

Nanjing’s Institute of Jewish Studies opened in May 1992, just a few months after Israel and China established diplomatic relations. According to Professor Xu Xin, director of the Nanjing Institute and president of the China Judaic Studies Association, there are now around 10 Jewish studies centres in the country.

Nanjing’s 800-page Chinese translation of the Encyclopaedia Judaica is the standard reference work on Judaism in the country and its other works include a how-and-why of antisemitism as well as a translation of Martin Gilbert’s Atlas of Jewish History. Iraqi-born Prof Dangoor said that he was “greatly honoured” by his award, which he received along with a gold thread embroidered tapestry of a kirin, a mythical beast which signifies good luck, prosperity and a long life.

Read article in full

Iraqi exile gives £3 million for education of poor

Grandson of Baba Sali is murdered

Tomb of Baba Sali at Netivot, Israel

The scion of a great Moroccan rabbinical family has died in mysterious circumstances. The Jerusalem Post reports:

Rabbi Elazar Abuchatzeira, stabbed to death shortly after midnight on Friday morning, was scheduled be laid to rest at the Mount of Olives Cemetery in Jerusalem on Friday afternoon.

Killed at a Beersheba yeshiva, Rabbi Elazar Abuchatzeira was a well known religious figure and the grandson of Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira, known as the Baba Sali, whom his followers believed was able to work miracles.

The funeral procession was expected to set out from the Porat Yosef yeshiva in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood around noon.

Several hundred police officers were deployed along the route of the funeral procession to direct traffic and maintain order.

Stunned followers told police Abuchatzeira was stabbed in the upper body by a man he had received as a visitor.

Read article in full

Full report at Israel Hayom (with thanks: Michelle)
Egyptians to challenge Abuhatzeira pilgrimage

Sorry Gideon Levy, Sephardim have their Zionism

Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy

The Sephardi victims of discrimination in Israel are being driven into the arms of ultra-orthodox Zionists and the religious nationalists in a coalition of zealots, claimed the far-leftist Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy lately. Aryeh Tepper’s dissection in Jewish Ideas Daily of Levy’s simplistic and contradictory piece gives a useful account of the history of authentic Sephardi Zionism:

In a recent Haaretz column, Gideon Levy, the radical leftist polemicist, sounded the warning that Israel’s religious Zionists—”the knitted skullcaps”—have joined hands with the ultra-Orthodox and the Sephardim to form “a united tribe of zealots.” Why have the ultra-Orthodox and the Sephardim formed this coalition? In Levy’s telling, both groups are responding to the history of discrimination they’ve suffered at the hands of the Zionist Left.

Like every piece of demagoguery, Levy’s is built on a kernel of truth: Sephardi and ultra-Orthodox Jews have, at various times and for various reasons, been discriminated against, both by the state and by what is conventionally called in Israel “the left-wing, Ashkenazi, secular elite.” This generalization is itself a little silly, but it’s a sufficient basis for Levy’s attack. The moral of Levy’s fanciful story is that as the Israeli Right is becoming “a united tribe of zealots” thanks to the discrimination of the Israeli Left, then across the board, from right to left, Israel has become—hold on to your hats—a racist, bigoted society!

Alas, collectively smearing Israeli society isn’t Levy’s only game. By reducing the nationalism of Israeli Sephardim to a kind of “false consciousness” attributable to leftist discrimination, Levy (a German Jew) high-handedly dismisses the authentic, historically-rooted Jewish nationalism of the Sephardim—thus embodying the paternalistic racism he claims to deplore. He also misses the tensions that, at present, characterize relations between the Sephardi and ultra-Orthodox sectors of Israeli society. Ultimately, reality is far richer and more interesting than Levy’s simplistic anti-Zionist polemic.

The roots of that reality go back to the Sephardi Jews who helped pioneer the Zionist idea, such as poet Emma Lazarus, Rabbi Henry Mendes, and Sarajevo-born Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai (1798–1878), a proto-Zionist whose book, Minhat Yehuda (The Offering of Judah) interpreted the traditional vision of redemption in earthly terms. Decidedly ahead of his time, Alkalai called for reviving Hebrew as a spoken language and for the election of a Jewish constituent assembly in the land of Israel, where he himself moved at the end of his life.

While there’s no denying that European and Russian Jews constituted the early engine of the modern Zionist movement, equally undeniable is the tremendous appeal that Zionism held to masses of Jews in North Africa and the Middle East.

Consider the case of Yemenite Jewry. We know from documents in the Cairo Genizah that Yemenite Jews had ties with the Jews in the land of Israel during the medieval period, while Rabbi Ovadia Bartinoro, a leading 15th-century jurist, also mentioned the aliyah of Yemenite Jewry. These waves of immigration to Israel continued up through the 20th century. Between the two world wars, approximately 15,000 Yemenite Jews arrived in Israel—a remarkable figure, as the Zionist movement was only beginning to set up shop in Yemen at that time.

The independent character of Yemenite Zionism was vigorously articulated by the Yemenite scholar, jurist, and translator, Rabbi Joseph Kapach, in a 1982 speech he gave before the Knesset. The occasion was a Knesset-sponsored celebration of 100 years of Yemenite immigration to Israel, but Kapach began by making it clear that Yemenite aliyah was much more than a century old. He even noted that the term “Zionism” was unknown in Yemen, because “the Zionist movement was created as a remedy against the hostility [among European Jews] to aliyah, but without a sickness there’s no need for a remedy.”

As Kapach’s autarchic spirit makes clear, no left-wing discrimination was or is necessary to fuel the Zionist desires of Yemenite Jews.

Kapach’s forceful reclamation of this deeply-rooted Zionist identity has recently been echoed in the attack launched by rebel Shas MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem against the ultra-Orthodox leadership of the Shas party. According to Amsalem, Shas, by aping Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox norms, is turning Israeli Sephardim, natural nationalists, into anti-Zionists. So much for Levy’s “united tribe of zealots.”

Read article in full


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