Month: January 2013

Mizrahim are missing from Meretz

 Zahava Gal-On, leader of Ashkenazi-dominated Meretz

 The leftist party Meretz has doubled its seats in the new Israeli Knesset – to six. But while one will be occupied by an Arab, the rest will be reserved for Ashkenazim, explains Tsafi Saar in Haaretz. In case you’ re wondering why Mizrahim are missing from Meretz – the answer is simply that the far left has never shown much understanding of their abused human rights and painful history in the Arab world.

The Meretz representatives are all good people. Their heart is in the
right place. Good souls. Which brings us to their election campaign, an
effort rife with mistakes. It started with the patronizing slogan “Your
heart is on the left, neshama” – that final word, “my soul,” is a term of endearment characteristic of non-Ashkenazi speakers of Hebrew.

Then there was that video that mocked people taking part in the Revivo
Project, a revival of old songs from Middle Eastern Jewish traditions,
one of the best music projects in recent years. It sometimes seemed as
if the campaign were trying to persuade people not to vote for Meretz.

The thing is, the Meretz people really are good people. And smart –
they have an explanation for everything. When asked about their lack of
Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern origin), they noted that their three
top spots were filled by a woman, a disabled person and a gay man. About
the mocking video, they said it was made not by the party but by its
supporters. Even if in some cases such answers are acceptable, the
questions leave no room for doubt: The party has a problem. A big

In fact, Meretz is continuing the Israeli left’s long and inglorious
tradition of (in the best case) ignoring Mizrahim, including the Mizrahi
left. In the past this was clear racism. What is it today? Why the
insularity and foregoing of activities with people committed to similar
values? How can it be that a party that waves the banners of human
rights, equality and pluralism is sending to the Knesset only people
from a hegemonic class? How come its leaders don’t understand that this
produces a lack of trust, which the high-flown words, the willingness
and even the worthy actions won’t dispel?

If Meretz wants to establish a real and broad left, it has to start
now. Yesterday it should have begun a thorough inspection, not to say
revolution. First, its men and women must acknowledge the problem. There
is no escaping it, and no intellectual explanation will sweep it under
the rug.

As every female politician in Meretz no doubt knows, men, no matter how
progressive and enlightened, cannot faithfully represent women’s
interests. In this way, Ashkenazim cannot represent Mizrahim, and the
same applies to Jews and Palestinians.

Throughout the country groups of activists are busy at work, and if
Meretz has the sense to realize that they are its only hope (not the
other way around) and to cooperate with them – not as a senior partner
and patron – hope could spring here. And it wouldn’t just be for the
party, but for all Israel.

Read article in full (subscription required)

Jews fear that Islamists will squeeze them out

With thanks: JIMENA

 While the Tunisian goverment is busy making propaganda videos to show that Jews and Muslims live in perfect harmony, the reality is more complex. This radio report by NaomiScherbel-Ball of DW captures the sense of foreboding that many people in Tunisia feel, now that an Islamist party is in power. Here is an extract from a transcript:

Jamel Bettaieb comes from Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the Tunisian
revolution. The young language teacher and activist was at the heart of
the protests that led to the downfall of the Tunisian president and
triggered the Arab Spring. Bettaieb is now concerned that freedom of
speech is providing a platform for extremists to voice hate campaigns
against Tunisia’s Jews.

“In the last few months an imam went on television and spent an hour
speaking negatively about the Jews. Where was the reaction of the
government? There was nothing. I criticize society. Civil society should
say this is unacceptable. People should care,” said Bettaieb.

Rise of Islamist politics: Under President Ben Ali, Islamists were arrested and political parties
banned. Now, however, the country is experiencing a religious revival.
Tunisians chose the moderate Islamist party, Ennahda, to lead their
first democratically elected government after the revolution.

Ennahda’s leadership has promised to protect Tunisia’s Jewish community
but many grassroots supporters are hostile to the Jews. The country’s
growing ultra-conservative Salafist movement are thought to number
10,000. Eyewitnesses say the group has been chanting anti-Jewish slogans
at protests in Tunis, the Tunisian capital.

The Great Synagogue of Tunis, Avenue de la Liberté. The Great Synagogue of Tunis situated on Avenue de la Liberté. Built in 1938.Name of the photographer/or source: Naomi Scherbel-BallWhen was the pic taken? (December 2012)Where was the pic taken (Tunisia)zugeliefert von: Anke Rasper (mit beigefügter Rechteinräumung durch die Fotografin)
The Great Synagogue of Tunis, built in 1938, now stands basically empty

Salafists have a strict interpretation of the Koran and believe in
creating an Islamic state governed by sharia law. Thousands of Salafists
who had been imprisoned by Ben Ali were released after the revolution.
Many in the Jewish community quietly admit that they felt safer under
Ben Ali. “Now we live in fear of the Salafists,” one woman told DW.

For the moment, much of the anti-Semitism has remained rhetoric. But the
potential for violence remains very real. Tunis’ central synagogue on
Liberty Avenue is surrounded by barbed wire and protected by armed
soldiers. Built in the 1930s, the synagogue stands as a symbol of the
community’s confidence. Today, only a shadow of that thriving community
lives on.

A tiny community remains: In a hall backing onto the synagogue, a gathering of Jews celebrate a
rare occasion: a bar mitzvah. The celebration marks the coming of age of
a Jewish boy. Tunisian Jews have travelled from France and the Tunisian
island of Djerba, home to the country’s largest Jewish community, to
take part in what has now become a rare celebration in the capital.
There are only a small number of young Jews among the guests. Even their
parents’ generation is scarce. The Jewish community is ageing.

Roland Sa’adon is the cantor, or singer of prayers, at a synagogue in La
Goulette, a seaside suburb of Tunis. He has spent all his life in
Tunisia and wants to remain in the country of his birth. Like many Jews
here, his children live abroad, and soon he will be forced to leave
Tunisia to be with his family.

Since the revolution, Sa’adon has come to believe that the future of the
Jewish community is at risk.

 “The Islamists have taken over the
revolution, a revolution that was led by young people,” he told DW. “If
the Salafists win support then it will be difficult – not just for us,
but for many Muslims as well. I don’t think most Tunisians are
extremists, but if they are and that’s what they choose, then there will
be no place for us in Tunisia.”

Celebrating a Barmitzvah in central Tunis / Bar Mitzvah Feier in Tunis, Tunesien. A party to celebrate the barmitzvah of a member of Tunis' young Jewish community.Name of the photographer/or source: Naomi Scherbel-BallWhen was the pic taken? (December 2012)Where was the pic taken (Tunisia)zugeliefert von: Anke Rasper (mit beigefügter Rechteinräumung durch die Fotografin)
A small group of Jews celebrate a bar mitzvah in central Tunis

One of the few younger guests at the bar mitzvah, Isaac Hayoun, says
that while he feels safe in Tunisia, he too will leave. “I am
practically the only young practising Jewish teenager in the capital,”
he told DW. “After high school I will move to France.”

He adds, that if he wants to marry a Jewish woman, he is very unlikely
to find one in Tunisia. “It’s a shame because it’s a beautiful country,
but ours is a community that lives in the past.”

Jews have been gradually leaving the country since its independence in
1956. Many moved to France and Israel. Some left for financial reasons;
there were more opportunities abroad. Others left after the rise in
anti-Semitism that followed Israel’s conflicts with the Arab world.

Remembering Jewish history: Habib Kazdaghli is a professor of contemporary history at the University
of Tunis who specializes in Jewish history. It is important that all
Tunisians learn about the country’s Jewish community, he says.

“Our country lost part of itself. We must now teach students about our
past. I now have many students who are not Jews,” he explains. “It is
not a Jewish past, it is a Tunisian past.”

Seeking to preserve that past, a new museum and website called Dar El
Dhekra (meaning “House of Memory”) has been founded. It’s dedicated
solely to Jewish history and culture in Tunisia. For the moment at
least, this tiny community appears to be hanging on to see what
post-revolution Tunisia has in store for them.


Read article in full

British cartoonists turn history on its head

 Ariel Sharon drinking the blood of Palestinian children (Al-Watan, Qatar, 2002)

 What is it with British cartoonists?  Steve Bell of the Guardian, Gerald Scarfe of the Sunday Times and Dave Brown of the Independent all seem to have lost their moral compass when it comes to the Middle East, producing work indistinguishable from the blood libels of the Arab press. Steve Bell believes the very opposite of the truth: that Israel was founded on the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. Has he never heard of the 800, 000 Jews who really were ethnically cleansed from Arab countries? As the Scarfe cartoon scandalrages on, read Melanie Philips’ masterful blogpost, Britain’s infernal cocktail of hate.

Update:  Harry’s Place is having an interesting discussion on what Steve Bell does or doesn’t understand by ethnic cleansing.

“For Bell, Israel is itself a tyrannical
entity which perpetrated the greatest possible atrocity upon the supposedly
rightful inhabitants of the land, the Palestinians, by driving them out. For
Bell, it is now clear, the outrage is not the behaviour of Netanyahu but the
fact that Israel exists at all.

“But of course, Bell’s belief is the very opposite of
the truth. It was not the Arabs who were ethnically cleansed from Palestine; it
was the Arabs who tried to ethnically cleanse the Jews from there, by
mounting a war of extermination against the re-established Jewish homeland. It
was the Jews, not the Arabs, who were the ethnic group with the overwhelming historical,
moral and legal claim to the land, as the international community had
recognised. And it was Jews – some 800,000 of them — who really were then
ethnically cleansed from Arab countries and who found refuge in Israel.

“But then Bell does not appear to understand the moral
difference between tyrants and their victims. For he also observed that no-one
had objected to Scarfe’s cartoon the previous week which portrayed Syria’s
President Assad slicing the head off a baby. It is certainly true that Scarfe has
often drawn such images of Assad, such as this
, or this
, and regularly depicts tyrants steeped in blood.

“But the crucial point is that Netanyahu is not a
tyrant who murders innocents; Assad is. Netanyahu is defending his
people against mass murder; Assad has been deliberately killing thousands of
his own citizens in order to suppress revolution. Bell’s comparison is morally
obtuse to a quite staggering degree. He appears not to understand the difference
between a crime against humanity and the protection against a crime
against humanity.”

Read article in full

Sousse Jewish cemetery vandalised

More than 68 gravestones were found ransacked and graves
were looted at a Jewish cemetery in the coastal Tunisian town of Sousse, according to JTA (with thanks: JIMENA):

The Tunisian Shems FM radio station cited a Tunisian security
official who said the graves were damaged over the last month. Claims
on Facebook had said the graves were vandalized on Jan. 23.

According to the Shems FM report, Tunisian youths believing rumors
that the Jews bury their dead with gold were responsible for the grave

Only a few Jewish families now live in Sousse, which had a Jewish
community of nearly 6,000 at the time of Tunisia’s independence in 1956.
One Jewish-owned fruit juice shop, Pascal, is located in the city.

According to TAP, the Tunisian state news agency, the office of Prime
Minister Hammadi Jebali of the Islamist Ennahda party released a
statement last Friday expressing “deep indignation at any criminal act
undermining Tunisia’s cultural and historical heritage,” and said that
efforts were under way to work with security forces and the judiciary to
ensure that attacks on cemeteries and mausoleums stopped.

The Tunisian Ministry of Culture recently announced that 34 shrines
of venerated Sufi Muslim saints have been attacked by religious
extremists since the country’s January 2011 revolution ousted former
dictator Zine El Abddine Ben Ali.

Read article in full

According tothis article, (French) the most recent vandalism came to light when a young Jew, David, was buried on 24 January. Efforts to keep vandals out of the cemetery since 2007 by building a high fence and reinforcing the entrance locks have been ineffectual. Jews from Sousse have demanded an official inquiry.

Save the Borgel cemetery in Tunis

Holocaust furore ignores legacy of Nazi past

Two events shook Jews the world over, on or around Holocaust Memorial Day:  One, the pronouncements of a British MP, David Ward, accusing the Israelis of failing to learn the lesson of the Holocaust by ‘committing atrocities against the Palestinians’. The other was anantisemitic cartoon (above) in the Sunday Times by the controversial Gerald Scarfe showing Benjamin Netanyahu building a wall with the blood of crushed Palestinians. But for all the furore and the condemnations,  critics have been guilty of moral inversion, failing to see in Palestinian and Arab exterminationist intentions the legacy of a pro-Nazi past.


*Take Matt Hill, who rightly condemned David Ward in his Telegraph Blog. But he also had harsh words for ‘paranoid’ Israelis: ” (to use Amos Oz’s words) half-hysterical refugees and survivors, haunted by dreadful
nightmares”, “who see in the Arabs a reflection of their former

the Arabs are their former oppressors, not a reflection thereof, Matt! 
The Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem was an active collaborator in Hitler’s Holocaust, and was responsible for causing the deaths of tens
of thousands of Jews in Europe. In the Middle East too, he incited riots
in Palestine and Iraq which cost hundreds of Jewish lives. He had a
plan to deport Iraqi Jews to camps in the desert and planned death camps
for the Jews of Palestine near Nablus. After the war, the Arab states colluded in Nuremberg-style laws to engineer the  ethnic cleansing of their Jews.

Many of today’s Palestinians nurse
the same genocidal intentions as the Mufti, try as they might to cloak
their aims in language acceptable to western ears. Just read the Hamas charter. The difference between then and now, is that today’s Jews have the means to defend themselves.

*In response to a commenter to this Times article who thought there was ‘peaceful coexistence’
in Palestine before the establishment of Israel, L. Amior pointed out
that the Mufti of Jerusalem broke the peace with riot after riot:
“after inciting one riot too many against the British Mandatory forces,
he escaped in 1937 to evade an arrest warrant. He went to Iraq, where
he incited a pogrom against Jews in 1941, in which 180 were slaughtered. He then went to Berlin, where he actively collaborated with the Nazis,
and helped create an SS division of Bosnian Muslims to fight for Hitler.

“Here they are, having a fine time together.

“As far as the West is concerned, Nazi blood-libel cartoons came to an end in 1945. As far as Jews are concerned, the cartoons never stopped: Arab blood-libel cartoons have filled that space since, daily. Hence the shock of seeing it in a British paper now. Thanks to the role of Hajj Amin al-Husseini as the bridge between the Arabs and Nazis, there is nothing to distinguish Nazi blood-libel imagery from its Arab cousin.”

*Such Jew-hatred is deep and all-pervasive in the Arab and Muslim world, suggests Hirsan Ayaan Ali in the Christian Science Monitor.“Millions
of Muslims have been conditioned to regard Jews not only as the enemies
of Palestine but as the enemies of all Muslims, of God, and of all
humanity”, she writes. “In
the wake of the Arab Spring, as the people take a chance on democracy,
they and their new leadership want to see their ideals turned into

 She quotes a
2011 Pew survey:  in Turkey, just 4 percent of those
surveyed held a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” view of Jews;
in Indonesia, 10 percent; in Pakistan, 2 percent. In addition, 95
percent of Jordanians, 94 percent of Egyptians, and 95 percent of
Lebanese hold a “very unfavorable” view of Jews.

That’s why the West needs to take seriously Arab and Muslim anti-Jewish hatred and incitement, such as that of President (‘Jews-are-apes-and-pigs’) Morsi, and condemn it in the strongest terms.

 *In her blog post on the David Ward scandal, Melanie Philips hits the nail on the head:

“… the really terrible thing here is not the grotesque
misuse of the Holocaust, nor the vicious suggestion that ‘the Jews’ are guilty
of behaviour that is somehow analogous to the Nazi genocide inflicted upon
them, nor even the sickening insult that they have to ‘learn the lessons’ of their
own suffering.

“No, the true venom of these remarks is the way they reverse
the position of today’s Jewish victims – the Israeli survivors of the Holocaust
and their children and grandchildren — and their current would-be exterminators
– the descendants of Hitler’s Nazi collaborators in Palestine during the Holocaust.

“For the fact is that Israel is not trying to exterminate
the Palestinians – indeed how could this possibly be the case, since the
Palestinian population has more than quadrupled since the rebirth of Israel in
1948. Nor are the Israelis oppressing the Palestinians, who have benefited from
some of the highest rises in GDP and lowest child mortality ratios in the Middle


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