Month: August 2011

Is Nazism resurgent in Egypt?

With thanks: Levana

Is Nazism resurgent in Egypt? The spectacle of Egyptian demonstratorsopenly displaying swastikas and shouting ‘the gas chambers are ready’ in front of the Israeli embassy in Cairo last week, as one tore down the Israeli flag, certainly sends shivers down one’s spine.

Of course similar spine-chilling cries are uttered at soccer stadia in Holland. (The equivalent in Egyptian soccer is the Cairo team Ahly. Their supporters, who call themselves the Ahlawi Nazis, unfurl a long swastika bearing-banner.)

So what makes Nazism in Egypt more threatening?

Egypt sheltered thousands of Nazi war criminals and collaborators after the Second World War, including the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. King Farouk employed the Germans to re-organise his army. Nasser used their expertise in anti-Jewish propaganda. Many converted to Islam, married local girls and melted into the general population. Some of them were big fish, like the so-called Butcher of Mauthhausen, Aribert Heim. The Algerian author Boualem Sansal bumped into one such Nazi, who became a sheikh and the headman of his village. The man was the inspiration for Sansal’s novel An unfinished business. Earlier this year, in the full flush of the Arab Spring, Egyptian activists announced the formation of a new Nazi party.

The Cairo-based Liberation correspondent Claude Guibar tells how a Frenchman he met was shocked to visit a Cairo publisher two years ago whose walls were festooned with a portrait of Hitler, Nazi daggers and memorabilia. The name Hitler – as in General Hitler Tantawi – was very popular in the Arab world in the 1930s.

The almost complete absence of the Holocaust from school books, together with Holocaust denial and anti-Jewish literature and incitement on TV and in the mosques renders antisemitism mainstream. Egypt has not been the same since it evicted its Jews, Greeks and Armenians, and anti-Jewish feeling has increased a hundred-fold since Egypt signed the peace treaty with Israel.

A character in Boualem Sansal’sUnfinished business writes about Egypt:

You quickly realise that the old Egypt, the cheerful, cosmopolitan, raucous, romantic Egypt of Naguib Mahfouz does not exist anymore. Modern Egypt – Misr -is dominated by twin giants as formidable as the great pyramids – religion and the police – leaving not one square inch where a free man may set foot. If he’s not taken to task by the police – the chorti – he will by the fanatic – the Irhabi. In Egypt, the police force of the Rais and the religion of Allah conspire to make life a living hell for every single person here on earth.”

Many Western observers concur that the Islamists are those most likely to gain from the so-called Arab Spring.Seth Franzman, for instance, sees the Spring not as a prelude to democracy, but merely as the twitching death throes of rotting Arab nationalism. If Islamists do take power, Nazism will again be in the ascendant, for it provided the main ideological inspiration and funding for the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1930s.

There is a scene in Boualem Sansal’s novel where a character locked up by the police in an airport hangar in Algiers imagines that he is standing in a gas chamber. Sansal, who lives under the Islamist regime in Algeria, certainly sees a continuum between Nazism and Islamic fundamentalism.

Looking on the bright side of things, however, only a few hundred – and not the million the organisers anticipated, attended that demonstration in front of the Israeli embassy in Cairo. And the Israeli flag is now fluttering above the embassy once more.

Perhaps Egypt is not such easy prey after all – yet.

Iraqi Jews embrace activism to tell their story


In this 70th anniversary year of the Farhud pogrom, Iraqi Jews in the USA are planning to demonstrate outside the UN headquarters in New York in order to draw attention to the unknown history of human rights abuse suffered by Jews from Arab countries, now largely resettled in Israel.

The demonstration will take place at 11 am on 21 September and will coincide with Durban lll, The UN World Conference against Racism, expected to become another thinly-disguised attempt to condemn Israel as an Apartheid regime.

The head of the AA Association, the Iraqi-Jewish community in the US – lawyer and film-maker Carole Basri (pictured) – is circulating a letter to her community asking for support. Here are some extracts:

“As Iraqi Jews living in the US, the time has come when it is imperative for us to bring to the attention of the world the factual history of the Jews from Arab countries.

“This subject has received very little attention. In fact, this history of ours is not even known to most Jews, and it is time this untold truth be told:

“The FARHUD in 1941 was an uprising against the Iraqi Jews which killed almost 200 Jews in Baghdad. This tragedy occurred at the same time as the Holocaust, and well before the state of Israel came into existence.(June 1 & 2, 2011 was the 70th anniversary of the FARHUD.)

“900,000 Jews lived in Arab countries in 1948: They were forced to leave the countries they had lived in for over two thousand years due to Human Rights violations!

“These 900,000 Jews and their descendants make up over half the Jews in Israel today.

“These three simple facts are critical to understanding the current history of the Jews in the Middle East. It becomes crystal clear that the State of Israel is not just the result of the Holocaust but also the refuge and home of the dispersed Jews from Arab countries who left their homes and country due to the extreme Human Rights violations.

“The UNTOLD important Jewish history: This must be expressed by all means possible to educate those who know little or nothing about it. It is absolutely our moral responsibility, as Iraqi Jews in the United States, to make these facts known to our fellow Americans, as well as the World Community at large.”

The executive committee of the World Organisation of Jews from Iraq (WOJI) is holding elections on 4 September. Any Jew over 18 born in Iraq or of Iraqi ancestry is eligible to vote. More details from [email protected]

Turkey ordered to return communal property

“Secular” Turkey has had a rocky relationship with its dhimmis (Photo: S Alfassa)

Although Turkey has always been an ‘ally’ of Israel (in spite of recent ups and downs with the ruling AKP ) the Turkish state, albeit secular, has had a rocky relationship with its ‘dhimmi’ minorities. Now, however, in an AP report carried by Israel Hayom, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favour of the restitution of confiscated communal property to Jews and Christians. If Turkey still wants to be admitted to the EU, it had better comply (with thanks: Michelle):

In a goodwill gesture to religious groups, Turkey is set to return property confiscated over the past 75 years from the nation’s small but vocal Christian and Jewish minorities, AP reported Monday.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday announced a governmental decree that will reinstate the assets of Greek, Armenian and Jewish trusts, as well as compensate the owners of any confiscated property that has now been sold. According to the AP report, Ankara’s move comes in response to a series of court cases filed against the primarily Muslim country at the European Court of Human Rights, including one case in which Turkey was ordered to reinstate an orphanage to the Greek Orthodox church. The AP report describes the confiscated properties as former hospitals, orphanages, cemeteries and schools.

In 1974, a Turkish ruling made it impossible for non-Muslim trusts to acquire new property, prompting the confiscation of several properties. Others were requisitioned after being abandoned. Turkey has a long history of conflict with Greece and Armenia, as well as a tumultuous relationship with Israel, and the nation’s Christian and Jewish minorities often complain of discrimination.

According to the AP report, Turkey’s population of 74 million is overwhelmingly Muslim, but also contains 65,000 Armenian Orthodox Christians, 23,000 Jews and fewer than 2,500 Greek Orthodox Christians.

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Jewish Chronicle article

‘Voices of the Farhud’ now accessible online

Now available on Youtube is a powerful short documentary in two parts by David Kahtan, a young man of Iraqi-Jewish origin. The film was shown for the first time at a Harif event in London commemorating the 70th anniversary of the massacre, rape and dispossession of at least 145 Jews, although the exact figure will never be known.

David’s father Moshe tells how his parents threw him, a small child, across their rooftop to safety on to the house next door. Eileen and Maurice Khalastchi contribute their memories. Professor Shmuel Moreh explains that the massacre was pre-planned – the milkman opposite the family home warned Shmuel’s father not to got to work on the day the Farhud began. The looting was so extreme that ‘Waka mazal’em! ( may their luck run out, a typically Jewish curse) the mob even stole brooms from Jewish homes’.

Editor of Memories of Eden Tony Rocca explains that the British failed to stop what they considered an ‘internal matter’ even though the Jewish victims had faithfully served the British colonial administration; after the pogrom, the British ambassador Cornwallis was said to have callously remarked to British army officers over a candlelit dinner – “to think that just two days ago 2,000 Jews were killed in Baghdad!” Author ofFarewell Babylon Naim Kattan describes how pro-Nazi ideology was rampant in Iraq at the time.

When it was all over, trust could never be re-established between Jews and Muslims: 10 years later, over 90 percent of the community fled to Israel.

My grandfather’s Libyan story, by Robert Halfon MP

Recent events in Libya and the imminent demise of colonel Gaddafi’s regime have awakened a sense of his Libyan roots in the British MP Robert Halfon. He writes in the Daily Mail:

I wish my grandfather, Renato Halfon, was alive now to see the demise of Muammar Gaddafi. In 1968, after some anti-Jewish pogroms, he had been forced to leave Libya and, as an Italian Jew, went to Rome.

He had planned to return to Tripoli once the pogroms had subsided, but Gaddafi took power in 1969 and all Jewish businesses were seized by the new regime. He didn’t have a house or business to return to. On top of oil money, Gaddafi had bought loyalty by giving his supporters all the property taken from the Jews and Italians.

I don’t think Renato ever could have imagined that he would have a son, Clement, who would marry an English woman or a British grandson who would become an MP.

Liberty... dropped from the sky: A rebel fighter climbs on top of a statue inside Muammar Gaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli earlier this week

Liberty… dropped from the sky: A rebel fighter climbs on top of a statue inside Muammar Gaddafi’s Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli earlier this week.

I love Britain, was born here and would never live anywhere else. But I feel that I am also a deep concoction of Jewish and Italian from Libya. I have always wanted to visit Tripoli, but very few Jews were allowed to go when Gaddafi ruled and those who had spent any time in Israel were banned. It is strange, but recent events have awakened a sense of my Libyan roots within me. It has been good to have conversations with my father and his friends from Libya, to try to understand what it was like to live there in those difficult times.

My grandfather, who had a clothing business, had seen Gaddafi coming. Because pogroms were becoming a regular occurrence, he sent my father to England in the late Fifties when he was just 15. Grandfather loved Great Britain. During the end of the Second World War, as the British arrived in Tripoli, he had sold clothes to the British Army. He would say: ‘They were the only ones who paid on time.’

It is worth remembering that King Idris was installed as monarch of Libya in 1951 by the British in the aftermath of the war when it gained independence from Italy and the old colonial name of Tripolitani disappeared. After a short stint in Rome, Renato joined my father in England, where he was to spend the rest of his life, in North London.

Charismatic: Colonel Muammar Gaddafi as a young man, shortly after seizing control of Libya in a military coup

Charismatic: Colonel Muammar Gaddafi as a young man, shortly after seizing control of Libya in a military coup

But, although my grandfather had contempt for Gaddafi, the Colonel hadn’t always been a monster. My father remembers him rapidly becoming a popular figure.

Before the military coup, Gaddafi used to walk down the famous Italian street in Tripoli, Corso Vittorio Emanuele (now known as Jadat Istiklal), shaking hands with passers-by (including my dad), wearing a broad, serene smile and speaking loudly.

Gaddafi was articulate. He nurtured dreams of Pan-Arabism. Because of the weakness, albeit benign, of King Idris, Gaddafi became known as ‘the Liberator’. It was even thought he might be sympathetic to Western interests. So much so, that the Americans who controlled the large Wheelus air base, just outside Tripoli, did nothing to stop the coup d’etat against the King.

No one imagined that Gaddafi would impose a totalitarian regime and hold power for 42 years. But now he has gone and everyone is asking: ‘What next . . . will it be a repeat of Iraq in the aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein?’

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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.

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Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

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