Month: November 2011

Tunisian constitution to condemn Zionism

The two largest Tunisian parties support a new Tunisian constitution condemning normalization with Israel, Israel Hayom reports. Will this move sound the death knell for the 1,500 Jewish community of Djerba, already rattled by the fall of the Ben Ali regime? It looks like it.

Rached Ghannouchi, head of the Ennahda party in Tunisia, which won a majority of the votes in recent parliamentary elections.

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Photo credit: Reuters

The new Tunisian government is gearing up to ratify a new constitution, and its language includes a section condemning Zionism and ruling out any friendly ties with Israel.

Tunisia was the first country to experience a popular uprising in what would later be known as the Arab Spring, sending former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fleeing to Saudi Arabia in January. Tunisians held their first open elections on Oct. 23 in which the moderate Islamist Ennahda (Renaissance) party, lead by Rachid Ghannouchi, won 30 percent of the 217-seat assembly. The second largest percentage of votes went to the secular and liberal Democratic Progressive Party.

Both leading parties are believed to support constitutional clauses that oppose the normalization of ties with Israel.

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All credit to the BBC’s Yentob for a job well done

Iraqi Jews in 1905

I have to admit – I was expecting to be disappointed by the BBC’s Radio 4 programme by Alan Yentob, ‘The Last Jews of Baghdad’, but I was pleasantly surprised. Although the trailers seemed to suggest otherwise, the programme did not fall too far into the usual trap of BBC distortion and political-correctness.

Yentob brought his childhood memories into this programme – listening to music by Naim Basri, his father playing the tabla at parties, visiting parents’ friends in their flats in Berkeley Court with their Persian rugs and family photos.

Having established the scene – Jews established for 2,600 years by the Rivers of Babylon, dominant under the British mandate in the civil service, finance and trade to the extent that the Baghdad bazaar closed on Saturdays – Yentob pulled no punches describing the rising influence of Nazism, the horrors of the 1941 Farhud pogrom, the graphic hangings of nine innocent Jews in Baghdad’s main square in 1969. (The only clanger was Yentob saying that on the eve of the pogrom the pro-Jewish Mayor of Baghdad banished the pro-Nazi coup leader Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, when it was Gaylani’s sidekick Yunis al-Sabawi.)

Now there were only seven forlorn Jews left of a 1947 community of 118,000. ‘Vicar of Baghdad’and self-appointed protector of the Jews Canon Andrew White said that Jewish lives, now seen as the epitomy of evil, were at risk. The community would soon be no more.

In conclusion, I could not believe my ears when Yentob said there must be something we can learn from the flight of 850,000 Jews from Arab countries – surely a first on the BBC.

But instead of calling on the Arab world to recognised the wrongs it had committed against the Jews with a view to achieving reconciliation, the programme ended by harking back to a lost age of cooperation and harmony between Jews and Arabs.

Surely a missed opportunity. All in all, though, all credit to Alan Yentob for a job well done.

You can hear the ‘Last Jews of Iraq’ here for the next seven days. It is repeated on Sunday 4 December at 5pm GMT.

Register your comments on the BBC blog here.

Review in the Jewish Chronicle

Review in the Daily Telegraph

British press discovers that there were Jews in Iraq

Devotees of Point of No Return will have learned two months ago that the seven (actually six) remaining Jews of Iraq are in danger, after their names and addresses were leaked in a Wikileaks cable. But the news is only just becoming mainstream, as this piece in the Daily Mail (and a piece in yesterday’s Times) shows. The reason Iraqi Jews have suddenly become news is a BBC radio programme (tonight, 8pm, Radio 4)made by its creative director of Iraqi-Jewish descent, Alan Yentob. While it is wonderful that the British masses may at last learn that Jews lived in Arab countries, it is a shame that the programme is treated as Alan Yentob’s personal story, shorn of its wider political implications for the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Two elderly Jewish men in Baghdad pictured in 2003

The seven remaining Jews in Baghdad have been named by WikiLeaks, leaving them in danger of persecution, according to the city’s Anglican vicar.Their lives are now in immediate danger, according to Canon Andrew White, and they’ve been advised to hide their religion.

Canon White said Baghdad’s Anglican Church is trying to protect them, as they fear extremists might try to kill them if they’re identified.WikiLeaks published diplomatic cables from Baghdad which named the individuals of the small Jewish community.

And now the American Embassy is trying to locate any Jewish diplomats who could help the exposed individuals take part in religious ceremonies safely, to make up the number they’re required to take part in under Jewish Law. A documentary on the dangers they face and the exodus of Jews from Iraq is to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 tomorrow.

The programme, by the BBC’s creative director Alan Yentob, said that for 2,600 years, a thriving Jewish community lived in Mesopotamia. A third of Baghdad’s population was Jewish by the end of the First World War but they were forced to flee during the Second World War, which saw 180 killed in one day.

Jews living in Iraq were then branded Zionists and traitors after the creation of Israel in 1948 and when Iraq sent an army to fight in Palestine, Yentob says in the programme.

Only 6,000 Jews were living in Iraq by the 1960s and today only seven remain in the capital.The Anglican church in Baghdad is also trying to keep safe abandoned Jewish shrines in Iraq.

The Last Jews of Iraq will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 8pm on Tuesday (29th November).

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Lest we forget: 64 years ago tomorrow

Muhammad Husayn Heykal: warned Jews would be at risk

The Arab rejection of UN Resolution 181 on the Partition of Palestine on 29 November 1947 unleashed a wave of violence not only in Palestine but across the Arab world. It claimed the lives of hundreds before developing into full-scale war.

From November 30, 1947 to February 1, 1948 427 Arabs, 381 Jews and 46 British were killed and 1,035 Arabs, 725 Jews and 135 British were wounded. In March alone, 271 Jews and 257 Arabs died in Arab attacks and Jewish counter-­attacks. These were not military, but terrorist attacks against civilian targets intended to achieve political aims for the Arabs who were dissatisfied with the United Nations Partition Plan.

Arab anger was not limited to Palestine : Dr Muhmmad Heykal, chairman of the Egyptian delegation, warned the Palestine Committee of the General Assembly that the lives of a million Jews in Muslim countries would be jeopardised by partition.

Jamil al-Husayni, representing the Arab Higher Committee was even blunter:

“It must be remembered by the way that there are as many Jews in the Arab world as there are in Palestine whose positions, under such conditions, will become very precarious, even though the Arab states may do their best save their skins. Governments in general have always been unable to prevent mob excitement and violence.”

Evidence – if evidence were needed – that the Arabs of Palestine did not see themselves as separate from the wider Arab world, and that all Jews living amongst Arabs were considered fair game for attack.

November is the cruellest month

Forget Spring, prepare for the Islamist Winter

‘All the people we love to hate’ in Cairo (Photo: AFP)

As Egypt goes to the polls this morning, another victory for Islamism is on the cards: Moroccanand Tunisian Islamists already form the largest groupings in their respective parliaments; Islamists played a significant part in the ousting of Col. Gaddafi in Libya. Mark Silverberg, writing for the International Analyst Network, gives a good account of what the imposition of Shari’a law will mean. Meanwhile, the US administration, with its fixation with ‘moderate’ Muslims, remains dangerously clueless.

With all the talk of revolutions, the Middle East continues to slip backwards. We see mobs burning buildings, and President Obama quoting Martin Luther King – “There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom” – while the leaders of this “democratic transformation” read Mein Kampf and are well on their way to establishing Islamic theocracies across the region.

While the Administration has sought “clarifications” from the Muslim Brotherhood concerning future relations with Israel, and minority and women’s rights, it has not received any formal response. What it did receive was news that Muslim Brotherhood leader Dr. Ahmed al-Tayeb had just told thousands of his followers in a major Cairo mosque: “In order to build Egypt, we must be one. Politics is insufficient. Faith in Allah is the basis for everything.”

Time and again, a Koran quote vowing that “one day we shall kill all the Jews” was uttered at the site. Change is indeed coming, but it is not the sort of change this Administration has in mind. For anyone who has the slightest understanding of the socio-political crises gripping the Arab Middle East today, it is clear that the “Arab Spring” is morphing into an “Arab Winter” leaving in its wake political instability, Sunni-Shiite rivalries, bloody clashes, assassinations, bombings, massacres of civilians, sectarian violence, Islamic theocracies, and massive refugee problems – most notably from Syria – everything except liberal democracy as we know it.

If anything, it’s an “Islamic awakening”, and the only winners will be the Muslim Brotherhood (whose political aims are akin to those of the revolutionary Khomeinists in Iran), its ideological ally Hamas, and the Salafists (who are even more extreme in their Islamic views).

We never learn from history. In 1979, as the Ayatollah Khomeini was seizing power in Iran and turning a largely peaceful secular revolution into a brutal Islamic theocracy, the New York Times ran an op-ed column entitled “Trusting Khomenei.” The column argued that Khomeini was being depicted unfairly as an anti-Semitic theocratic reactionary when instead, “Iran may yet provide us with a desperately-needed model of humane governance for a third-world country.” We all know how that turned out, but that didn’t stop the Times from running another front page “news analysis” in February 2011 extolling the virtues of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. What happened in Iran, it assured us, could never happen in Egypt as the Brotherhood “is a mainstream group that stands as the most venerable of the Arab world’s Islamic movements.”

And then there is the senior member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Kamal al-Halbavi, who said he hoped Egypt would have “a good government, like the Iranian government, and a good president like Mr. Ahmadinejad, who is very brave.

”Even now, the Administration does not yet fully understand the implications of probable Muslim Brotherhood victories in Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Yemen, Syria, Tunisia and the West Bank. To do so, it need only consult the most recent Gallup poll in Egypt (and Egypt is typical of other Arab countries in this regard) where 64% of Egyptians say that Shari’a must be the only source of legislation in their country, and in a December 2010 poll, 82% of Egyptians said they favored stoning adulterers, while 77% supported cutting off the hands of thieves.

When these attitudes translate into an electoral victory, the Brotherhood can be expected to prevent parliament from passing any law that contradicts the explicit commands of Allah as conveyed through the Koran, the Hadith, and the example set by the prophet. Uriya Shavit of Tel Aviv University explains the implications of this in the autumn issue of AzureOnline (Shalem Center): “As Islamist scholars have explained repeatedly, human beings cannot permit what Allah has forbidden, nor can they ban what Allah permits.” She continues: “The inevitable result of (the Muslim Brotherhood’s) electoral victory will be the formation of a theocracy. It will not permit the scientific and technological revolution of which Arab societies are in such dire need.”

If Sharia is to become the supreme adjudicator of future legislation across the Arab world, non-Muslims will be excluded from full participation in Arab societies, official second-class status (dhimmitude) will be conferred on them, and their lives and property will be protected only so long as they pay the Jizya – a discriminatory tax that must be paid by non-Muslims under Islamic law. It can also be assumed that Islamic law will prohibit women and Christians from running for President, validate polygamy, the amputation of limbs, gender apartheid, the ethnic cleansing of Jews, mandatory donning of the veil for women, honor killings, the execution of homosexuals, prostitutes and apostates (those who convert away from Islam), female genital mutilation, bans on music, dancing, men and women mixing in public, the blowing up of liquor stores, restrictions on scientific and technological inquiry (the effect of which will suffocate philosophy, art and research), suppression of freedom of expression for artists, journalists and writers, the punishment of those in the media who disagree with their government, and the practicing of any religion other than Islam (witness the recent attacks on Copts and Christian Coptic churches in Egypt).

In his blog, analyst Daniel Greenfield also notes…“If the Brotherhood achieves its aims, the military will be taken apart and replaced by an Iranian-style Revolutionary Guard. That process is already underway in Turkey where there are more generals in prison than on the front lines. But if the military waits out all its rivals and then picks up Western support for stabilizing Egypt, then a new Mubarak will be in power.”

All this should lead the Western powers to reflect on the true meaning of democracy. It is much more than the process of voting in free elections.

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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.