Month: February 2013

Don’t let Yachad take you for a ride

 Hannah Weisfeld

Reluctant as this blog is to wade into UK Jewish politics, the uproar following the refusal by majority vote of the Zionist Federation to admit Yachad – the so-called British J-Street – as an affiliated member, calls for some comment.

Yachad, a one-woman band led by the 30-something Hannah Weisfeld, claims to be a pro-Israel, pro-Zionist organisation. Its stance may be summed up as follows: for Israel’s good – both to maintain Israel as a democratic state, and for the sake of peace, Israel should withdraw from the West Bank and stop ‘judaising’ East Jerusalem.

I happened to share a taxi with Hannah Weisfeld a few weeks ago. There I raised the question:   Yachad is supporting Arab property rights: why can it not also support Jewish property rights?Weisfeld has conducted quite a campaign on behalf of ‘Arab occupants ‘unjustly’ evicted from their homes in Silwan, although the Israeli courts have on many occasions ruled in their favour. Yet Yachad has not raised a peep on behalf of  the Yemenite Jews who lost their rights to their homes in 1936, when they were advised the British to leave Silwan – as their security could not be guaranteed following Arab attacks. While it is keen to defend the interests of (in the main) Arab squatters,  it has utterly ignored the rights of Jews driven out in 1948.

Hannah did not seem to know about the Yemenites of Silwan. Yachad is not prepared to defend the rights of Jews who wish to recover the properties they abandoned in ‘Arab’ East Jerusalem. Here her view concords with the Arab narrative: Jews trying to move into Arab East Jerusalem are part of a deplorable, politically-motivated plan to Judaise the area, while petrodollar-funded, uncontrolled Arab building is unworthy of attention. Broadly speaking, Yachad thinks an equitable exchange of property ownership has already taken place – with Jews moving into Arab homes in West Jerusalem and Arabs into East. Just as Yachad was not going open the West Jerusalem can-of-worms, so did it seek to maintain the status of the East Jerusalem can-of-worms, viewing the division of Jerusalem between Jewish and Arab zones as pretty much set in stone.

But that view ignores the distortions in the wider picture: Arabs who wish to sell their property to Jews are condemned to death, while Jews can make a free choice. The Israeli government has compensated some Arabs for their lost property, while not a single dispossessed Jew now living in Israel can get his claim recognised by an Arab state, let alone obtain compensation.    

When I asked Hannah why Yachad does not defend the rights of Jews evicted from Baghdad, Cairo and Damascus, the stock answer came back: what does that have to do with the Palestinians? Everything, I answered. Documents of the time indicate that the Arab states considered the Jews in Arab countries members of the JEWISH MINORITY OF THE STATE OF PALESTINE. If Arab states could make the link, so should Yachad – among others.

Before I could elaborate, our shared taxi ride was over.

I would have liked to have added that it is not for Yachad to prejudge a solution for Jerusalem. It is not for Yachad to de-contextualise the conflict so as to ignore Jewish property rights. It is not for Yachad to presume that only pressure to make concessions need be applied on the Israeli side. The impression is unavoidable, despite its pleas to be pro-Zionist, that Yachad is not acting in the best interests of Israel. And for all those reasons, the Zionist Federation was right not to admit Yachad to its ranks.    


What I miss most about Libyan jail is the food

 Chraime: fish poached in a spicy tomato sauce – a typical Libyan-Jewish dish (Photo: Daniella Cheslow)

Fantasising about  food and collecting his prison guards’ recipes helped Israeli-Tunisian artist and chef Rafram Chaddad keep his sanity during his five months in a Libyan jail.  He has now published a book in Hebrew about his 2010 ordeal, Rafram’s guide to Libyan jail. Extraordinary article in the Tablet:

In 2010, Chaddad got a request from Pedazur
Benattia, who runs the Or Shalom center for Libyan heritage in Bat Yam, a
suburb of Tel Aviv. Benattia asked Chaddad to fly to Libya on his
Tunisian passport—Israel and Libya have no diplomatic relations, and
travel between the two is forbidden—and take pictures of the Jewish
synagogues and cemeteries.

Libya was once home to as many as 37,000 Jews
whose community dated to ancient Roman times; they fled from
anti-Semitic laws and anti-Jewish violence starting in the 1940s, and
today there are no Jews
left in Libya. Chaddad packed a bag full of cameras and traveled to
Tunisia, leaving his Israeli passport with relatives. From there he flew
into Tripoli with a list of Jewish destinations around the country.

In his first two days in the Libyan capital, Chaddad walked the
streets and munched on the local offerings. Not all of it was memorable:
For instance, he saw a vendor selling mafroum—known in Israel as a potato sliced in two, stuffed with meat, and then fried. “I get excited and ask for one mafroum, and he takes out a roll, splits it, spreads a red harissa,
opens a sort of heated metal container and takes out ground meat cooked
in a reddish sauce. He sticks it in a roll and serves it to me. Not
tasty,” Chaddad writes in his book. “Disappointed, I ask for a roll with
chicken liver. He throws a few livers and chopped onion onto the grill,
fries them, and puts it all in a bun. This is better already. I take a
little container of water out of the fridge, like those they hand out on
a plane, pay two dinars and I’m not hungry anymore.”

He passed banners of Muammar Qaddafi cascading down the sides of
buildings in downtown Tripoli and mused that he could take better
pictures of him. He asked young Libyans where to find women and liquor
and was invariably disappointed on both counts. And in each
city—Tripoli, Benghazi, Yefren—Chaddad started his search for Jewish
sites by seeking old Libyan men who remembered their neighborhoods 60
years prior, when Jews were a healthy part of every major Libyan city.
In Tripoli, one shopkeeper guided him down a twisting alley to a
courtyard where Chaddad saw, amid ruins, a stone pair of Ten
Commandments and an arching dome. The gates to the synagogue were
closed, and Chaddad walked to the back of the building, climbed up a
crumbling staircase, and clambered through a hole in the wall to reach
the second floor. “I photograph every corner in the synagogue and in its
cracked dome,” he writes. “The walls are cold and smell of an evocative
mildew. A smell of cleanliness untouched by man for a long time. I want
to touch them and to feel the last people who leaned on them.”

In his book, which was published last month in Israel, Chaddad writes
as if he was a curious food-tourist, looking for the hole-in-the wall
eateries: When he finally stumbled upon a fish restaurant dishing
delicious chraime, he rushed into the kitchen to thank the
chef. In Tripoli, the hotel concierge asked him for English lessons, and
Chaddad agreed in exchange for

a trip to the man’s mother’s house for a
taste of shakshuka—eggs poached over tomato sauce.

But soon after Chaddad completed his mission and visited every
destination Benattia gave him, Libyan police rapped on his hotel room
door, confiscated his Tunisian passport, and took him to be
interrogated. “I was tied up and beaten with wood, iron and electricity,
and I was asked lots questions,” he told me. “They asked me if I was a
spy for Israel … I said yes, but I didn’t know anything, I didn’t even
know who is in charge of army in Israel.”

Once Chaddad revealed he was an Israeli, the beatings got worse.
After a month, though, the torture stopped and he was moved to solitary
confinement, where he waited for his release. He had given his sister’s
email address to another prisoner who’d been released, and he hoped that
his family had gotten the message and was working on getting him out.

Chaddad kept his sanity by walking around his cell for exercise,
playing chess with a board and pieces he made, taking fantasy walks
through cities he loved, and thinking about women. To break his
isolation, Chaddad tore the cardboard tops of his foil food trays into
Hebrew letters, and he arranged the letters into words on the prison
floor, imagining his parents could receive his messages. For
conversation, he approached the guards through what he figured was the
most innocent topic. “I asked them about shakshuka, chraime,
all sorts of food that is connected to Jewish tradition,” he said. “And
I asked them about the food in their mothers’ houses, their favorite
food, how to cook it, and what ingredients. If you talk about their
food, it opens them.”


Read article in full

170 Days in Gaddafi’s Dungeon: Harif event with Rafram Chaddad on 13 March in London. Details here

In the Apartheid Oscars, Arab states win

  Jewish girls in Ghardaia, a Sahara town 600 kms south of Algiers.

As Israel Apartheid Week comes to a campus near you, Lyn Julius in the Times of Israel reflects on the irony at the campaign’s heart: much of society under Muslim domination was built on the exploitation of women, Jews and Christians and blacks. The Jews have since found freedom in Israel.


 Roll up, roll up for Israel Apartheid Week – a
global, multimedia extravaganza devoted to cementing the comparison
between the new international pariah, Israel, and the old racist regime
in South Africa. And it’s coming to a campus near you.

Anyone who knows anything about Israel will
tell you that the comparison is invidious and malicious. Israeli law
does not discriminate against Arab citizens. Of course there is – there
must be – plenty of room for improvement, but show me one liberal
democracy where minorities do not claim to experience discrimination and

Not only is the Israel Apartheid campaign a monumental lie of gobsmacking chutzpah, but the boot is on the Arab foot. You only have to witness the way that Arab host countries treat their Palestinians, who are denied citizenship. And not only Palestinians – Kuwait has 300,000 Bedoun residents
denied citizenship and the right to vote. Thousands of children born in
Arab countries are deprived of citizenship merely because their parents
were not citizens. Immigrants from South Asia with no rights whatsoever
help keep countries like Dubai, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates running.

Those who berate the West for its orientalism towards the Third World, quoting the late Edward Said‘s
eponymous book, ignore the fact that much of society under Muslim
domination was built on the exploitation of women, Jews (and Christians)
and blacks. Not only are all Arab countries strong contenders in the
Apartheid Oscars, but Saudi Arabia would win hands down. At the bottom
of its obscene pecking order are women, non-Muslims and slaves.

Every year, an unknown number of Filipinos in
Saudi Arabia are victims of sexual abuses, maltreatment, unpaid
salaries, and other malpractices. Wretched Filipina domestics are
virtual prisoners with no rights, their passports confiscated.

Across Muslim Africa, blacks are routinely
mistreated and abused. Some 20 percent of Mauritanians, about 600, 000
people, are still slaves. Mauritania uses Sharia law to justify a racist
system where Arabs exploit the country’s black African population. Last
week, one slave told the Geneva summit for Human Rights and Democracy,
an alternative to what is laughingly called the UN Human Rights Council,
that – according to religious madrassahs – ’slaves are the masters’
properties, who are passed along as inheritance and where the condition
of slavery is transmitted from parent to child, where women slaves must
submit their bodies to their masters.’

Before western colonial rule tempered their status, Jews were dhimmis,
treated as inferiors and denied basic human rights – the ‘dogs’ of the
Arabs. Each religious community ran its own affairs in an atmosphere of
mutual suspicion – a de facto Apartheid. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach recalls his father telling him
how humiliating it was to grow up in (Shi’a) Iran and have Islamic
shop-keepers refuse to take money directly from his hand because as a
Jew, he was impure. Other abuses in Muslim lands : the 19th century
Moroccan Jew beaten to death for taking in a destitute Muslim woman as
his housemaid (that would have been to overturn the natural order); 40
percent of Jews born in Egypt were not granted Egyptian nationality in
the 1920s; Jews were denied justice, because Arabs were never called to
account for abusing them.

Historian Georges Bensoussan has completed the most comprehensive study
to-date of conditions for Jews in Yemen, Iraq and Morocco since 1850
until their mass exodus. He calls the Jews of the Arab and Muslim world
the ‘colonised of the colonised’ – tolerated as long as they were useful
to their Muslim masters.

Read article in full

Shoah memorial visit by imams raises questions

The Jewish author and philosopher Professor Shmuel Trigano was perturbed by the visit by Muslim imams to the Shoah memorial at Drancy last month,  whence thousands of French Jews were deported to their deaths. The visit, he argues, misses the main bone of contention between Jews and Muslims : the legitimacy of the state of Israel, called into question by 14 centuries of Muslim antisemitism. Trigano might have added that the visit also fails to address Arab and Muslim complicity with the Shoah. Article in JForum:

Superficially, the tour violated a taboo boldly ideological and
political widespread in the Muslim world: the denial of the Holocaust is
part of the worldwide Jewish conspiracy doctrine in favor of Zionism.

the second level, a fundamental question arises: how would to “recognize” the
Holocaust or sympathize with its memory be an act of
reconciliation, “recognition” promoting Jewish-Arab brotherhood in
France, an act against the antisemitism
of the Muslim world? Is  the Holocaust  the central issue of  hostility of the Arab-Muslim world towards the Jews?

This question has a “double bottom”. The
imams’  gesture, after all, is determined with respect to a given
reality, ie to what they hear Jews saying – their representatives, public
opinion, the French State (represented by minister Valls
) who have suggested that this was the crux of the problem. But
the pain in Muslim-Jewish relationships is not the
Holocaust but the legitimacy of the State of Israel,  the recognition of
historical truth and the right of the Jewish people and Judaism to freedom.
It is also the bone of contention resulting from the anti-Semitism that Jews have suffered for centuries under the rule of Islam. A million Jews were expelled from the Arab world in the twentieth century. The
fact that 600,000 of them have found refuge in Israel has to be understood in
the context of the permanent war of extermination being waged by the Arab world
against Israel.
(My emphasis – ed)

 But this subject is generally obfuscated. To place recognition of that fear in the same basket as the Holocaust deepens the hatred of the (Muslim) “suburbs”: it turns the
Jews into absolute victims, while the Arab world, the post-colonial world,
in competitive victimhood with them, even to the point of making Israel
the epitome of the Nazi executioner or to the extreme left, to see in the
sacred Holocaust a “colonial crime.”

The Imams have not crossed that threshold. They
kept to the script at the Memorial: they prayed, they exalted Islam as a “religion of
peace”, and the ceremony ended with an official dinner in honor of the
birthday of the Prophet of Islam –
at the cost of heavy blurring of its meaning on a symbolic level.The presence of Jews testified ipso facto that the bone of contention is the Arab-Jewish Holocaust.

The State’s policy over the last 20 years, exploits religion for security and civil peace (..).In
this symbolic management of the Holocaust, moreover, the
victim is “human” and “universal”. He anonymous, so that real Jews can fade out and re-appear
as Nazi executioners.

we have one of the mainsprings of the new anti-Semitism and the reasons
why it is not recognized for what it is, a political fact, but narrowly
addressed as  right-wing racism or “ethno-religious
” tension “, to be soothed by compassion for victims or community peacemaking ceremonies.

Read article in full (French)

‘Jews of Egypt’ film to be released in Egypt

Amir Ramses, director of the film ‘Jews of Egypt’

The film ‘Jews of Egypt’ is about to be released – in Egypt. I would guess that the Muslim Brotherhood will be there outside the cinemas, demonstrating against ‘normalisation’ with Israel – or in the worse case scenario, attempting to lynch its director, Amir Ramses. For as Sarah Alcamel wrily remarks in this interview in Ahram Online with Ramses,  it is hard to believe that Muslims lived in peace with fellow Muslims in Egypt’s recent history, let alone with Christians and Jews.

On a quest to discover how Egyptian Jews went from partners to enemies
within the span of a few decades, Egyptian filmmaker Amir Ramses spent
three years researching and shooting a documentary that presents a
valuable insight into the nostalgia that haunts the exiled Jewish
community. In an interview with Ahram Online, Ramses shares his
motivations for tackling this controversial part of history in his
latest film.

The filmmaker explains that it all began with an overbearing question –
a reflection – over the ingredients that comprise the Egyptian
identity. “Like any Egyptian living here within the past ten years, I
have been consumed with the quest for defining Egyptian identity,” says

In light of the current deluge of socio-political conflict and
intolerance, it is hard to believe that Muslims lived in peace with
fellow Muslims in Egypt’s recent history, let alone with Christians and
Jews. Ramses was compelled to make his film to understand the
transforming fabric of Egyptian society, and was driven by the question:
‘In the eyes of Egyptians, how did the Jews of Egypt go from
compatriots to enemies?’

Scheduled to be screened in movie theatres across Cairo in the first
week of March, the documentary zooms in on the lives of the Egyptian
Jewish community in the first half of the twentieth century, and the key
events that shaped their lives: the birth of the state of Israel in
1948; Egypt’s 1952 Revolution, which ended the British occupation; and
the tripartite attack of 1956, which forced them into exile.

The multi-layered documentary reminds audiences of the influence of
Egyptian Jews in various sectors during the first half of the twentieth
century, including the art scene – in which Jews such as Laila Mourad,
Mounir Mourad and Togo Mizrahi thrived – and the business industry, in
which Joseph Cicurel owned a series of major department stores.

Both a historical and personal account, the film weaves testimonials by
figures such as Mohamed Abu El-Ghar, author of ‘Jews of Egypt: From
Prosperity to Diaspora’; sociologist Essam Fawzi; and a Muslim
Brotherhood member who participated in the 1947 attack on Jewish shops;
together with nostalgic accounts by exiled men and women, mostly
residing in Paris.

Along with presenting an account of the lives of politically engaged
communists who participated in founding liberal, anti-imperialist
movements in Egypt – including a snapshot of famed left-wing political
activist and co-founder of the Democratic Movement for National
Liberation Henry Curiel (a character who deeply intrigues Ramses) – the
film also poignantly presents the candid, heartrending stories of Elie,
Andre, Gerard and Isabelle, who were yanked out of their beloved Egypt.

Read article in full 

Update: Khaiber, a Qatari film is being made about Jews defeated by Muhammed (Jerusalem Post)

Jews of Egypt film causes uproar


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