Month: April 2013

If Gideon Levy wills it, ’tis a nightmare

Lyn Julius argues in the Times of Israel that Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy’s ‘one-state dream’ is an insult to the suffering of Jews in Arab countries. They did not flee to Israel to find themselves once more under Arab-Muslim dominion:

Gideon Levy may be the most hated man in Israel, or the most heroic, but the controversial Haaretz columnist has a dream. Recently, he expressed his enthusiasmfor turning Israel into ‘one just state for two peoples.’

One state for two peoples? It
has already existed for a while now. More than two peoples live in it –
Jews and Arabs; ultra-Orthodox Jews; religious Zionist and secular Jews;
Jews of Middle-Eastern descent and Jews of European descent; settlers
and Palestinians. (…) This, though, is how an imaginary, just state
would appear: It would grant everyone the right to vote, and have a
democratic constitution that would protect the rights of all communities
and minorities – including an immigration policy like that of all other

Such a state would have a legislature that would reflect the mosaic of
the country, and an elected government formed by a coalition of the
communities and the two peoples’ representatives. Yes, a Jewish prime
minister with an Arab deputy, or vice versa.

Levy’s Utopian ‘state of all its citizens’
will replace Zionism with ‘something infinitely more just and
sustainable.’ In his dream, the lion will lie down with the lamb and all
threats will dissipate. Foreign aid will flood into this
cross-confessional nirvana.

One can assume that ‘an immigration policy
like all other nations’ will not privilege Jews over Arabs. Very
quickly, Arabs would become a majority, Hatikva would cease to be the
national anthem, and the Jews will be forced to give up their national

Levy’s solution has already been tried. It has
failed. Lebanon was a mosaic state, but following a bloody civil war,
it is little more than a precarious collection of quarreling sects on
the edge of another precipice. The Maronite Christians have become a
beleaguered minority, prefiguring what will happen to the Jews of
Israel. Who said the definition of insanity is proposing the same
solution but expecting different results every time?

Gideon Levy’s dream is the triumph of hope
over experience. The 650,000 Jews who sought a haven in Israel and now
form a 52 percent Jewish majority – some 300,000 others went to the West
– did not escape violence and repression in Arab states in order to
find themselves once more under Arab-Muslim dominion.

Been there for 14 centuries, done that, got the blood-stained T-shirt.

Read article in full

Gideon Levy in Morocco: ‘surprising coexistence’

Al-Ghriba pilgrimage passes off without a hitch

Hundreds of Jewish worshippers on Sunday completed an incident-free annual pilgrimage to Ghriba, Africa‘s oldest synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba, where security was high to prevent any violence, AFP reports. Perez Trabelsi, who has major tourist interests on the island, said that it was a Jewish ‘duty’ to invest in Tunisia:

Organisers expressed satisfaction at the number of pilgrims, including Israelis who flew in from Europe,
who took part in the ritual which had been scrapped in 2011, when a
massive uprising toppled the regime of strongman Zine El Abidine Ben

This year the pilgrimage, which started Friday when worshippers began
arriving in Djerba, took place in a festival-like atmosphere with a
final procession on Sunday attended by Tourism Minister Jamel Ghamra and
Tunisia’s Grand Rabbi Haim Bitan.

“Everything went well. I am looking forward to (seeing) thousands
next year,” said Perez Trabelsi, who represents the Jewish community in
Djerba, as he embraced pilgrims preparing to leave Ghriba.

Rabbi Bitan praised the army and security forces for ensuring that
the pilgrimage took place without any incident and said Djerba “is the
pride of Tunisia and all its children, regardless of their religious

He also urged Tunisian Jews across the world to invest in their
native country. “It is your duty towards this country that welcomed and
protected your ancestors and continues to protect your heritage.”

The Tunisian tourist minister welcomed the pilgrims in the name of
the Islamist-led government and said: “Post-revolution Tunisia will
ensure the coexistence of all religions.”

Read article in full

Iranian-Jewish death toll is around 40

At least 40 Jews have been executed, murdered or have otherwise disappeared without trace in the 34 years since Iran was declared an Islamic Republic, writes Karmel Melamed (pictured) in the Times of Israel:

In May 1979, Habib Elghanian, the leader of
the Jewish community in Iran was tried in a one-hour sham trial and then
promptly executed by the Iranian regime for being a supposed “American
and Zionist spy”.

Elghanian’s execution and the random killings
of other innocent Jews in Iran, as well as the dire situation the
Iranian regime had created for Jews resulted in more than 80,000 Jews
fleeing Iran since 1979 for Europe, the U.S. and Israel.  While
somewhere between 10,000 to 20,000 Jews still live in Iran, many are
risking their lives on a daily basis by remaining there and some have
even lost their lives. For example, just this past November, Toobah
Nehdaran, an impoverished, 57-year-old married Jewish woman was
strangled, then repeatedly stabbed to death and had her body mutilated
in a ritual manner by Muslim thugs who had broken into her home located
in the Iranian city of Isfahan. Iranian authorities have still not
investigated the case and no suspects have yet been arrested. 

this past December, a 24-year-old Iranian Jewish young man was randomly
shot to death in his home by unknown assailants. Various rumors have
circulated regarding the circumstances surrounding his death, but again
the regime’s leadership has not investigated the case.

Yet these killings of Jews are not uncommon
for the current Iranian regime. According to a 2004 report prepared by
Frank Nikbakht, an Iranian Jewish activist and head of the Los
Angeles-based “Committee for Minority Rights in Iran,” since 1979, at
least 14 Jews were murdered or assassinated by the regime’s agents.
Likewise, 11 Jews have disappeared after being arrested, at least two
Jews died while in custody and another 11 Jews have been officially
executed by the regime. In 1999, Feizollah Mekhoubad, a 78-year-old
cantor of the popular Youssefabad synagogue in Tehran was the last Jew
to be officially executed by the regime, stated the report.

In 2000, the Iranian Jewish community in the
U.S. was at the forefront of an international human rights campaign to
save the lives of 13 Jews in the Iranian city of Shiraz that were facing
imminent execution after being arrested on trumped up charges of spying
for Israel and the U.S. Ultimately, the Shiraz Jews were not executed
but sentenced to prison terms and have since been released. The Shiraz
Jews were lucky. 

Between 1994 and 1997, 12 Iranian Jews were arrested by
the Iranian secret police while attempting to flee from southwestern
Iran into Pakistan. They have not been heard from since and their
families now living in the U.S. and elsewhere have been enduring endless
pain not knowing the status of their loved ones. In September 2007,
seven Iranian Jewish families in Los Angeles and Israel filed a lawsuit
in New York Federal Court against former Iranian President Mohammad
Khatami holding him responsible for the arrests and disappearance of
their loved ones.

Read article in full

BBC asks: will ‘Arab Jews’ return?

 Over the next few days, the BBC Arabic Service (trailer below) is broadcasting a programme by Omar Abdul-Razek called ‘Arab Jews in Israel’. On the plus side : the programme humanises Jews in Israel, and interviews some who voice mainstream views – notably, Eli Avidar and Levana Zamir, who deftly quash the idea of a return to Arab lands while these are being poisoned with antisemitism. On the minus side, the programme adopts a far-left discourse, assuming ‘Arab Jews’ were exploited by Ashkenazim as a labour reservoir and  stripped of their culture. It gives a voice to marginal figures like Professor Yehouda Shenhavand Almog Behar, who traffic the 1950s allegation that Israel suppressed the ‘Arab ‘ heritageof Jews from Arab countries. The mere fact that the programme calls them ‘Arab Jews’ diminishes their separate Jewish identity. (Thanks to Levana for her translation from Arabic.)

Israeli Sociologist Yehuda Shenhav is standing before a plate hanging on one
of the walls of his  library crowded with hundreds of books: an old letter in Arabic
handwriting,  next to the
envelope, is kept under glass.

Professor Shenhav says: “This is one of the letters exchanged between my
father and my mother during my father’s long absences from the house.”

The text is filled with details and greetings to family members, asking about their
financial and living conditions, but the envelope is covered with Israeli military censorship stamps.

Shenhav’s father was working in Israeli intelligence, a sector in which Israel
hired at its inception, a large number of Arab Jews, for the benefit
of their language and in order to penetrate the “surrounding
enemies”. The problem in Shenhav’s view is the contradiction that treated
Israel’s Jews from Arab Countries: “it erased their Arab culture and was
increasingly in favor of the idea of ​​integration, and at the same time used
their arabism  to legitimise the security organs of the State. ”

The question of identity was the most pressing of for generations of Arab Jews. Says
Shenhav: “It was the most important issue in the neighbourhood and outside the
home. As a child in the tenth grade, for example, your family came originally from
Iraq and spoke Arabic,  you were ashamed of the Arabic language before school
friends and teachers, because the dominant culture was Ashkenazi culture.”

Perhaps  the picture changed a bit with the improvement of political and social
situation of the Arab Jews, and the emergence of a culture of indigenous music
and food without stigma, though official statistics suggests that they come in third in the education sector, for example, after the Ashkenazi and Russian immigrants who came
to Israel in the nineties.

History records that Arab  Jews in Israel live between
marginalization and integration, but that most of them did not embrace the idea of
​​Zionism before the establishment of Israel.

Yemenite Jews were the first arrivals to historic Palestine in the nineteenth
century as an alternative to Arab workers in the plantations of European Jews. In
Arahiv, a village near Kfar Saba generations the Dialy family lived. Eli has a
large family at the moment. He speaks like a Palestinian Arab about his
relationship with intimate neighbors in the Arab villages inside the Green
Line, but his cousin Carvana complains of ” Arab thieves” who are
attacking the village and says she will not be upset if they are sent away. Arahiv
itself was until Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in 1967, a military zone in
the front line with the Jordanian army. Eli recalls,
“we lived among the lice, the place was full of snakes and
coming from Yemen, they did not know any better – we worked and planted and raised
cows until the situation improved.”

Eli’s family came to Israel in 1949. Eli is taping his
mother’s recollections. She is approaching 100, her family from Yemen spoke the
original dialect: “Yemen Melih Melih, Imam Yahya Melih.”

As for the reasons for migration of Arab
Jews from their countries to Israel, 
history will tell that  many Jews believe Israel was the biggest beneficiary of the
migration and even  displaced  Arab Jews so they would be a reservoir of
labour. There are those who believe that they were forced to migrate
after the escalation of the Palestinian Arab conflict.

It says that poor Arab Jews came to Israel through the Jewish Agency, and they
had to live in development towns on the borders with the Arab
countries, or in the homes vacated by Arab population, while the displaced middle
class and the rich of them immigrated to Europe, America, Australia, South
Africa. (Not true, especially in the case of Egypt, where only 6 percent of Jews were poor in 1948, according to historian Gudrun Kraemer – ed)

Former Israeli ambassador Eli Avidar, head of manufacture of diamonds in Tel
Aviv,  worked in the Mossad and as
Israeli Ambassador to Qatar and the European Union. His family emigrated from
Egypt in 1967 in the wake of the Six Day War. They had Greek citizenship from Egypt in 1967.
I asked him how his family stayed in Egypt until that date, despite 
rumors that Abdel Nasser persecuted the Jews?

He speaks in Egyptian slang which has
not changed, “My father was a director of Cicurel, we were living well in Egypt without a problem,
but after the 1967 war, there were
demonstrations demanding the slaughter of the Jews,” But what about the
displacement in Egypt of its Jews? Avidar:
“No one said it targeted the Jews, you will not find a history book to say it,
but there was hatred of the Jews after the war, in 1948, and again with the
1967 war. We came to Israel only because our and relatives were here, but most
of the Egyptian Jews who came to Israel emigrated after 1948.”

On to the Egyptian Center in Tel Aviv, headed by Levana Zamir. She told me
at length about the persecution suffered by the Jews in Egypt until they were
forced to leave. “I was ten years old in May 1948, when David Ben-Gurion declared
the establishment of the State of Israel. In the middle of the night a dozen
Egyptian Officers came to our Villa in Helwan and arrested my uncle Habib
Vidal. He was not Zionist, he had a printing-business. But King Farouk arrested
600 Jews when war broke out, to exchange them later with Egyptian prisoners of war.

Levana tells how the Egyptian Government confiscated their family business, when a
special law passed to confiscate all Zionists properties. And her uncle was released from prison after a year and a half, on condition he left Egypt for
ever, without return.

Levana’s family had to leave Egypt to France, where her father preferred to stay; but her mother insisted on going to Israel, to prevent her children from
suffering racist abuse. The family were put up in a tent in the Tiberias Ma’abara (transit camp):
“My mother was crying every night, because we could not get used to this
kind of suffering, and I was ashamed to speak Arabic and I said I come from
France, because Israel was then an Ashkenazi country”.

 At the Iraqi Café, at Mahane Yehuda market, I met with the Israeli poet Almog Behar, backgammon players with Arak on the
table and challenging each other in Iraqi-Arabic, and shamelessly eating Iraqi foods and drinking Arak. But
Behar is telling me about the demise of the Arab Jewish heritage , which is the most
dangerous thing in his opinion.

Behar’s grandmother came from Iraq and forgot the Hebrew language in the last days of her life
and began to talk only in Arabic only. He loved his grandmother and loved to
communicate with her. He tells me: of course there was an attempt over the past
decades to erase the Arab culture fully of the Jews of the Arab world, but this
attempt did not succeed completely: my grandfather and my grandmother spoke Arabic but not my mum. The schools sent teachers home and
called for Arab Jews to stop talking Arabic.

 According to Behar, what is becoming extinct is not only the Arab Jewish communities but the Arab heritage of Judaism, that heritage which was recited in prayer books and poems in synagogues over the
centuries, but  does not exist now, because “the Zionist discourse that
the Jews cannot be Arabs and Arabs can not to be Jews, has been accepted by both the
Israeli and Arab sides, with the exception of countries such as Morocco.

 “In September of last year, sponsored by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, an international conference was organised at theUnited Nations entitled Justice for Jewish refugees from Arab countries, accusing the Arab League of responsibility for driving out the Jews
from Arab countries, and demanded compensation for them no less than that demanded
by the Palestinian refugees. Months afterwards, a controversy erupted in Egypt
following the invitation launched by the Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam
el-Erian calling for Arab Jews to return to their home countries and the
restoration of their property.

On the beach in the city of Bat Yam, where a large Egyptian community lives
till today, I met Egyptians again, most
of whom came from Alexandria. I asked them, why do not you return? They said: Israel
is our country and we don’t know another one.

I asked Eli Avidar, he said: “The Jews from Egypt have still a positive
memory of Egypt, but the problem is that when the Jews from Egypt listen
to the radio and watch  television what is being said about the Jews, and even
Jews of Egypt, one wants to forget that he was born in Egypt.”

As for Levana Zamir, who participated at the UN conference, her opinion is that
Egypt is not yet ready for this idea of Return: “Egypt where we were born,
which we have built, and where we lived in prosperity, where the Jews of Egypt
built the first banks and businesses, Bank Mosseri, Bank Qattawi … This Egypt of
ours, disappeared, does not exist. ”

The position expressed by Professor Shenhav, is nostalgic, but
stresses that political realism will not allow this dream. Extremism comes from
extremist Jewish nationalism and a sense of nationalism in the Arab countries
as well.

The picture may seem complex, and complexity is an extension of the region’s
political scene, a scene that establishes Israel as a country of Middle Eastern or Mizrahi Jews and Arabs, the largest demographic group.

‘Arab Jews in Israel’ will be shown on the BBC TV Arabic Servlce at the following times (GMT):

27/04/2013      02:06:00        02:30:00                becomes “Assignment – Arab Jews  (first placing)

 27/04/2013      12:06:00        12:30:00              becomes “Assignment – Arab Jews  (repeat)

28/04/2013      12:06:00        12:30:00               becomes “Assignment – Arab Jews  (repeat)

29/04/2013      02:06:00        02:30:00               becomes “Assignment – Arab Jews  (repeat)
29/04/2013      10:06:00        10:30:00               becomes “Assignment – Arab Jews  (repeat)

BBC Watch

Desperately seeking mum and dad

 Refugee children in the Beit Lid camp, 1951

 In the chaotic first years of Israel’s existence, many hundreds of
children went missing — at least 800, perhaps more than a thousand, reports Israel’s State Archivist, Yaacov Lozowick. Was it conspiracy, or callousness –  he asks:

These children were younger than three, and their families were new
immigrants living in tent camps (ma’abarot) where they were temporarily
parked upon arrival. The children were sent to hospitals and never came
back. When their bewildered and frantic parents went looking for them,
they were told their children had died and been buried.

In some cases,
letters from the military arrived in the late 1960s, requiring the
teenagers be screened for service. By then the parents were no longer
bewildered and disoriented refugees, and when they realized there were
others like them, they demanded an investigation. Since then, there have
been four separate public investigations. Since most (but by no means
all) of the children were from Yemenite families, the issue is know in
Israel as The Case of the Yemenite Children.

The various investigations have shown that indeed, most of the missing
children really did die at the time – but not all of them have ever been
accounted for. Some people continue to believe that there was a
conspiracy to remove children from large immigrant families and to hand
them over to wealthy childless Ashkenazi families. Also, keep in mind this earlier post, which told how many Yemenite Jews had never encountered a physician, which partially explains some of the context.

One of the documents we published as part of our Declaration of Independence collection deals with one of these cases. (ג-3013/12)

On November 3, 1950, Yehezkel Sahar, the Chief of Police, wrote to
Minister of Health Moshe Shapira. A few months earlier, there had been a
report in the media about an infant who had gone missing in one of the
camps. Sahar assured Shapira that he put his best investigator on the
case, and here’s the result: a three-page detailed report written by S.

We think the report undermines the conspiracy theory, but it does demonstrate a frightening degree of callousness in the chaos:

February 29, 1950: The story appeared in Davar.

March 17, 1950: A social worker from the Beit Lid camp confirmed that
the 7-month-old child was transferred from there to the hospital on Dec
21, 1949. Having been cured, he was sent mistakenly to a different camp,
Ein Shemer. At Ein Shemer they have his discharge paper from January 8,
1950 — but they don’t have him. Nor can they explain how they have his
discharge form.

A doctor at the hospital confirms that the child was brought from Beit
Lid on December 21. He was sent back on January 8 — to Ein Shemer. She
doesn’t know who the ambulance driver was.

The parents reported that their baby son was sent to the hospital but
not returned, and when they asked they were told he was sent to Ein
Shemer. (Oddly, the dates in their recounting are a bit later, in

A doctor at Ein Shemer fond no record of a child by this name, but
confirmed that on January 8, an unnamed child was brought from the

A registrar at the hospital recorded all patients. But when they’re sent back, it’s with an ambulance service from Ramat Gan.

A doctor at the hospital remembers discharging the child and sending him to Ein Shemer.

The ambulance driver has a record for children transferred to Ein Shemer
on January 8, one with this name. There is a procedure for handing over
children, and he acted accordingly.

A doctor at Ein Shemer said that they refuse to accept children whom
they didn’t send. Sometimes, he says, drivers leave children and quickly
depart so as not to be stuck with them.

A police sergeant found no records at Ein Shemer. He brought the mother
to the children’s home but she didn’t identify her son. On April 7, he
returned to Ein Shemer and heard from an administrator that there’s lots
of confusion in their records.

Officer Sofer completed his report with the comment that it might be
possible to investigate further but he didn’t see how this would help
find the child. He recommended that someone look into the matter and
determine who is responsible for the lax procedures. He complimented the
original social worker who had invested time and her own money in
traveling back and forth in her efforts to investigate.

At the ISA, we asked ourselves if we have any documentation about the
child at a later stage of life. Since his name was common, however
(we’ve withheld it in the publication), that wasn’t possible — and
anyway, if we assume that he didn’t starve in the Ein Shemer camp but
was probably picked up by some other family, there’s no way to know what
his name was. If he’s still alive he must be 64 years old.

The lost child of Beit Lid


With thanks: Ralph

Soly Anidjar in Maroc-Amitie has a similar tale, or tales, to tell about Jewish babies abandoned in Morocco, lost (or taken) in transit in France or on arrival in Israel. These babies are now in their 60s or 70s and may be desperately seeking their mothers and fathers.

There are two categories:

First, babies born out of wedlock to Jewish girls in their teens. The girls would have been made to abandon their babies at birth so as not to bring shame on their families. They were the result of a liaison with a boss, an American GI from the Nouaceur base, a married man, a non-Jew or a rape.

Then there were Moroccan-Jewish  babies stolen between 1946 and 1950 in the transit camp in Marseille or on arrival in Israel.

In 1946 in Marseille, a pregnant woman from Sefrou had twins. One was stolen a few days later. It was a large family, but unlike most of the other families in the camp d’Arenas in Marseille, the Benarroch family were given separate accommodation by Jewish Agency staff.

The children of new immigrants were stolen in Israeli hospitals. The doctor sent the supposedly ailing baby to hospital. When the parents arrived the next day, they were told that the baby had died in the night. The parents not speaking Hebrew and being naive, they were helpless when the doctor told them he could not show them the child’s body, as it had already been buried that morning.

Says Anidjar, children were given to Ashkenazi families, to Holocaust survivors who had lost their children or were unable to have any. They were Moroccan or Yemenite children.

If you have a story to tell on this topic Soly Anidjar would like to hear from you

[email protected]


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