Month: June 2015

‘Seeds of conflict’ could sow confusion

 Kibbutz pioneers ‘did not understand’ Arabs

 A documentary to be broadcast tonight on PBS blames the conduct of Jewish pioneers in a particular incident in 1913 for the start of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Lyn Julius offers an alternative perspective in the Times of Israel, claiming the programme obscures a history of persecution of Jews by Arabs in Palestine.

One day in 1913, a group of Arabs stole some
grapes from the vineyards of Jewish pioneers in Rehovot. An altercation
followed, leaving one Arab camel driver and one Jewish guard dead. The
incident marked an irrevocable break between Jews and Arabs in
Palestine, and planted the seeds of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Far-fetched as it may sound, this is the theory advanced by a one-hour PBS documentary, ‘Seeds of Conflict,’
shown in the US on 30 June. Grievances between different communities,
once happy to mingle in coffee houses, were allowed to fester, the
programme argues, and the conflict soon took on the proportions we know

Those most to blame for ruining the hitherto
idyllic relationship between Jews, Muslim and Christians, it claims, are
the young Ashkenazi Jews of the Second Aliyah, who came to the land of Israel fleeing Czarist pogroms.

Seeds of Conflict, (preview here)which the
film-makers say was made in consultation with a number of experts,
insists that, according to the Arabic press and complaints of the time,
these Jews showed ‘no understanding of the ways of the Arab inhabitants’
— unlike the earlier Jewish inhabitants in Palestine, who were Sephardi
and spoke Arabic.

The so-called Old Yishuv was indeed composed of Arabic-speaking Jews who
had settled in Tiberias, Jerusalem, Hebron and Safed, boosted by 15th
century refugees from the Spanish Inquisition.

But life for these Jews was neither secure nor
prosperous, and they subsisted on charitable handouts from abroad.
Crucially, they had to ‘know their place’ under Muslim rule. From time
to time, the Arab inhabitants made the Jews ‘understand their ways’ —
which could consist of bloody pogroms. For instance, in 1834, the
Palestinian Arabs of eastern Galilee took advantage of a regional war
between Egypt and Turkey to attack their Jewish neighbours in Safed and
strip them of everything they had — clothes, property, homes. Jews were
beaten to death, sometimes by their own neighbours, synagogues destroyed
and holy books desecrated.

The 1929 Hebron massacre targeted mainly members of the Old Yishuv, not the new Zionists from Russia.

The small Sephardi community of Palestine was
so abased under Muslim rule that a contingent of Ashkenazi followers of
the ‘false Messiah’ Shabbetai Zvi, seeking refuge in Jerusalem in 1700,
refused to put up with the humiliations suffered by the Sephardim. “The
Arabs behave as proper thugs towards the Jews…” one wrote. Jews could be
slapped by passing Muslims, have stones thrown at them by small
children, be banned from riding a horse — a noble animal — and suffer
all manner of degradation as second-class ‘dhimmis’.

Jews were not allowed to worship freely at
their holy places. The Mamluks forbade them from treading beyond the
seventh step on the staircase to the burial place of the Patriarchs in
Hebron. “Nothing equals the misery and suffering of the Jews of
Jerusalem”, wrote Karl Marx. “Turks, Arabs and Moors are the masters in
every respect.” To be a dhimmi was to be continually reminded of Islam’s supremacy over Judaism and Christianity.

In truth, it could be argued that the breakdown of the traditional dhimmi
relationship was one of the root causes of the Israel-Palestine
conflict. Perhaps the decisive incident took place, not in 1913, but in
1908, when the Hashomer Hatza’ir pioneers of Sejera dismissed their
Circassian guards — who protected their settlement against Bedouin raids
— ­ and replaced them with Jewish guards. For the Jews, this was an
ideological statement of self-sufficiency. But for the neighbouring Arab
fellaheen, they had crossed a red line. They had reneged on their part of the bargain: the dhimmi, who was not allowed to bear arms, should always look to the Muslim for protection.

The arrival of the young Zionist pioneers,
with their socialist vision of a brave new world, threatened to overturn
the existing pecking order. Yet many Arabs benefited from the influx of
European Jews. As the Jews toiled to drain the swamps and make the
desert bloom, waves of Arab immigrants flooded in from neighbouring
countries, eager to take advantage of the jobs and prosperity created.

The program’s creators say that 1913: Seeds of Conflict
dispels a number of myths and is ‘an admittedly arbitrary glimpse that
captures the Palestine of a hundred years ago’. But to substitute a tale
of ‘European colonialists’ invading Palestine in order to trouble a
multiculturalism of mythical equality would be to indulge in dangerous

Read article in full

Egypt-Israel talks signal warm-up

One week after Egypt said it
would return its ambassador to Israel after a three-year hiatus, top
diplomatic envoys from the two states met Sunday for talks in Cairo to
discuss the deadlock on the Palestinian front and security issues facing
the region. Relations between the two countries are warming up, for the first time in four years. The Times of Israel reports:

specific details from the confab were under wraps, the Israeli Foreign
Ministry said it was “pleased” with the outcome of the talks and that
the two countries see “eye to eye” on a number of issues, the NRG news
site reported. The session was believed to be the first between senior
Israeli and Egyptian figures in Cairo since 2011. 

Israeli diplomats were said to be satisfied
with Cairo’s plans to maintain its tough stance toward the Hamas group,
which rules the Gaza Strip, despite recent media reports signalling an
easing of restrictions on the Palestinian enclave.

Foreign Ministry director Dore Gold and
Egyptian diplomats hashed over topics such as Iran’s nuclear program,
growing Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, Cairo’s foreign
policy toward Hamas and a possible re-launch of peace talks with the
Palestinians — in the first powwow of its kind between the two nations
in four years.

Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister Osama
al-Majdoub made it abundantly clear to Gold that Cairo views the
Palestinian deadlock as “the heart of the conflict in the region,” and
stressed the importance of restarting high-level negotiations between
Jerusalem and Ramallah, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said, according to
Reuters .

“It is the Arabs’ central problem, and its solution is a basic condition to reaching stability in the region,” al-Majdoub said.

Egypt’s position regarding the Palestinian
issue remains “unchanged” and solutions to promote the peace process
were “at the top of the agenda” during the consultations, he added.

Israeli officials noted that recent reports
regarding the removal of Hamas from Egypt’s list of terror groups
reflected a “tactic” rather than a change in overall strategy, and that
Cairo’s outlook on regional developments is closer to Israel’s than

“In Israel [we] speak Hebrew, in Egypt [you]
speak Arabic, but when discussing regional challenges, both countries
speak the same language,” Gold told his Egyptian hosts, according to

Hazem Khairat (YouTube screenshot)

Hazem Khairat (YouTube screenshot)

Official relations between Jerusalem and Cairo
have been relatively warm since President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi rose to
power. Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “deeply welcomed”
Egypt’s appointment of its new ambassador to Israel, Hazem Khairat.

Cairo’s last ambassador to Israel, Atef Salem, arrived in the Jewish state in October 2012. He was recalled soon after, in the wake of Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza.

In the unrest that followed the ouster of
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi in July 2013, Israel
reduced the number of its diplomatic staff posted to Cairo, but it has
begun building up its presence in the city more recently in light of the
relative calm.

Read article in full

A potted history of the Jews of Sousse

 The bloody massacre of 39 people, mostly tourists, in the Tunisian resort of Sousse has prompted this piece of research into the Jews of Sousse. At its height, in 1951, the community numbered 6, 400 souls. Very few Jews, if any, remain – having migrated to Israel or France. Tunisia’s Jews once numbered 100, 000. Via Harissa.

 Sousse Casino

Sousse is a port and fishing center, near the city of Kairouan (in the center of Tunisia).

 The Jews appear to have settled in Sousse in the 7th century, before the Arab conquest. Until
the capture of the city by the Almohades in 1158 (extremely devout
Muslims whose influence extended far beyond
North Africa to Spain), the community flourished economically and
. Many Jews were then engaged in commerce and trade.

 Tunisia’s main export – clothing- was largely under the control of Jews in the city. The
Almohades, who ruled the city from 1159, offered the Jews a choice between
conversion to Islam or death, which caused the  cultural,
economic and spiritual collapse of the community.
Accordingly, many Jews converted while others fled the country or were martyred.

Sousse centre and shoreline

Under the Hafsids (1228-1524), Jews were allowed to return to live in the town. Many converts returned to Judaism. The majority of them settled in a separate area  known as the “Jewish
quarter” where they took up their economic activities once more.

In the 15th century, the Jews of the city were spiritually led by Rabbi Isaac B. Sheshet (nicknamed the Ribesh) and Rabbi Simon B. Benati

In the 17th century, the Jews of Livorno (Italy) arrived in Sousse where
they were known under the name “Grana”, from the Arab name of Leghorn-Gorna.
Despite the tension between the wealthy, new  Grana community and the
local native community (Tounsa), there was no separation between the
two until 1771,  when the Grana established their own community
with its own institutions.

From 1899, there was a single chief rabbi for all of Tunisia;the first was Rabbi Nathan Abergil.

At that time, the community was composed of about 100 families, among them famous Dayanim (religious judges) and many Torah scholars, such as Rabbi Shlomo

 The French protectorate was established  in
1881 and brought to Tunisia a degree of modernization and French cultural integration: the Jewish community was a beneficiary. 

 The Alliance Israelite ( “Kol Israel Haverim”) opened  schools for
boys and girls in the city:  they learned French and other
subjects in addition to religious studies.

In 1916, the  “Terakhem Zion” association was founded by influential men of the community. They included David Tubiana and Sober Baraness.

Early history (French)

Modern history of  Sousse after 1916 (French)

Why did it take 74 years to mark Farhud Day?

Writing in a number of news media, Edwin Black asks why it took so long to establish International Farhud Day, marked for the first time this year on the anniversary of the bloody pogrom in Iraq. The crushing weight of the Holocaust, the minimisation or ignorance of the role of the Mufti of Jerusalem, and the scepticism of the politicising media all contributed to the marginalisation of the Iraqi-Jewish Kristallnacht :

 From left, Shahar Azani of StandWithUs, Israeli Ambassador David Roet,
Malcolm Hoenlein of the President’s Conference holding the proclamation,
historian author Edwin Black, Avi Posnick of StandWithUs, Rabbi Elie
Abadie of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries and Alyza Lewin of the
American Association of Jewish lawyers and Jurists, at the United
Nations on International Farhud Day.

First, persecution of Jewish victims in
Arab countries did not conform to the established line of study that
followed the classic Holocaust definition, as archetypically expressed
by the USHMM’s mission statement: “The Holocaust was the
state-sponsored, systematic persecution and annihilation of European
Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945.” Note
the pivotal word “European.” This geographic qualifier left out the
Jews of Iraq as well as their persecuted coreligionists in North Africa,
where some 17 concentration camps were established by Vichy-allied and
Nazi influenced Arab regimes.

Second, because the persecution of Jews
in Arab lands during WWII and their forced exodus was considered beyond
the thematic horizon, the type of well-financed and skilled scholarship
that has riveted world attention on the Holocaust in Europe, generally
by-passed the Sephardic experience. Certainly, the overwhelming blood
and eternal sorrow of the Holocaust genocide was experienced by European
Jewry. But their deeply tragic suffering, including that endured by my
Polish parents, who survived, does not exclude the examination of other
groups. Years of focus on the plight of Gypsies, Jews in Japan, and
other persecuted groups proves that. Undeniably, a solid nexus clasps
the events of the Middle East, roiling in oil, colonialism, and League
of Nations Mandates, to a European theatre brimming with war crimes and
military campaigns.

After the 1941 Farhud and during the
subsequent years Husseini was on Hitler’s payroll, the Mufti of
Jerusalem toured European concentration camps and intervened at the
highest levels to send European children to death camps in occupied
Poland rather than see them rescued them into Mandate Palestine. In his
diary, Husseini called Adolf Eichmann “a rare diamond.” What’s more, the
tens of thousands of Nazified Arabs who fought in three Waffen SS
Divisions in the Balkans and across all of Europe, were fighting for a
Palestine and a greater Middle East Arab cause that hinged on Jewish
extermination and colonial upheaval. When I wrote The Farhud in 2010,
the focus was on excavating the details of a forgotten pogrom and a
forgotten Nazi alliance. Only in recent years has a renewed trickle of
excellent scholarship yielded gripping new research into the Arab role
in the Holocaust. For example, there is Islam and Nazi Germany’s War,
which The Wall Street Journal reviewed as “impeccably researched.” A
second book, Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East,
by (Barry Rubin and… – ed) meticulous Arab and Turkish culture researcher Wolfgang Schwanitz,
was published by Yale University Press. There are several excellent

Third, critics say, that many of the
leading Jewish newspapers and wire services, now vastly more politicized
than they were in the prior decade, did not devote sufficient space and
informed knowledge to the topic. Moreover, some these critics suggest
that in recent years, the Jewish press seemed to have marginalized the
atrocity and its aftermath as a political discussion. “When former
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon was doing his 2012 campaign for
Jewish refugees from Arab lands,” asserts Lyn Julius of the British
organization HARIF – Association of Jews from North Africa and the
Middle East, “hardly a day went by when certain Jewish or Israeli
newspapers did not politicize the matter, or suggest Israel was
exploiting the issue for political gain.”

In that vein, the day before the June 1,
2015 UN event, one prominent Jewish newspaper published an article on
the Farhud, which included this observation: “Now, Jewish organizations
and the Israeli government deploy it [memory of the Farhud] frequently
to support their claims for refugee recognition on behalf of Middle
Eastern Jews.” Before the UN ceremony, three different irate members of
the audience showed me this article on their tablets, and the consensus
of disdain was expressed by one Sephardic gentleman who objected, first
quoting the newspaper with derision: “‘Deploy it frequently to support
their claims for refugee recognition on behalf of Middle Eastern Jews?'”
and then adding, “They would never say such a thing about the European
Kristallnacht!” The complainers were equally astonished that this
prominent article made no mention of the Mufti of Jerusalem. They felt
the complete omission of Husseini’s involvement and the marginalization
of their nightmare was typical of the roadblocks they had encountered
during their decades-long struggle for recognition of their anguish.

But on June 1, 2015, yes, 74 inexcusably
years late and, yes, not an hour too soon, after waiting for thirty
minutes beneath a gaggle of umbrellas in the torrential rain at a narrow
admittance gate on First Ave, and then into a packed hall at the UN,
attended by diplomats from several countries, human rights activists of
various causes and key Jewish leaders from a communal spectrum, in an
event broadcast worldwide live by the UN itself, the stalwarts of Farhud
memory gathered to finally make the proclamation of International
Farhud Day — and made it loud and clear. In doing so, they made history
by simply recognizing history.

Read article in full

Egyptian TV series slammed as anti-Israel

 Episode 4 of Haret al-Yahud. You can view other episodes here

The Israeli embassy in Cairo initially welcomed Egyptian Ramadan TV soap opera Haret al-Yahud as projecting a more positive image of the Jew (although the series misrepresents all Jews as rich, for example). Later, it criticised the series for its attacks on the state of Israel. Egyptian Jews have also been critical. Report by AFP:

 The series initially won praise from Israel whose embassy in Cairo
said it was pleased to see “for the first time, Jews represented
according to their true nature, as human beings”.

The show is openly anti-Zionist, however, and the Israeli embassy
later criticised what it described as a “negative turning point” in the
series and “attacks against the state of Israel”.

The soap is being aired during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, considered television peak season in Egypt.

More than 80,000 Jews lived in Egypt before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 marked the start of an exodus.

Today only a few dozen, mostly elderly women, remain in Cairo and Alexandria.

With the many wars waged between Egypt and the Jewish state and the
anti-Semitism they generated, Jews were either expelled or pressured to
leave the Arab world’s most populous country.

The plot revolves around the love story of Aly, a Muslim officer in
the Egyptian army fighting in the 1948 war, and his Jewish neighbour
Leila, an elegant francophone saleswoman working in one of Cairo’s
upscale department stores, which were owned by influential Jewish

It stars Jordanian actor Eyad Nassar and Egyptian actress Menna Shalabi.

“We discover Egypt at a different time,” said Rana Khalil, 23, an
enthusiastic viewer of the series, sitting in a posh Cairo cafe.

“The characters are elegant and well-dressed. I am also learning a lot about Judaism,” she added.

The show highlights the political upheavals that shook the
flourishing Jewish community, particularly bombings targeting Jewish
businesses which it blames on the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Islamist movement has been the target of a sweeping crackdown
since Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief who has since become
president, ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

One scene shows Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna encouraging
supporters to stage attacks, saying: “The war is not only in Palestine.
Jihad here is no less important than it is there”.

Sisi has pursued closer ties with Israel than Morsi, who had promised
a tougher stance towards its neighbour without calling into question
peace agreements.

The television series has however faced criticism from Egyptian Jews.

Magda Haroun, the chief of Egypt’s tiny remaining Jewish community,
pointed out historical errors including religious practices presented in
the series.

She also denied that Egyptian communists supported Zionism as the show suggested.

Albert Arie, 85, was also disappointed.

The Jewish former communist activist, who converted to Islam to marry
his Muslim wife, had taken part in a campaign against cholera in the
Jewish quarter back in 1947.

He explained that unlike the characters in the series, residents of the district “were among the poorest Jews in the world”.

“I asked myself: ‘What is this crap?'” Arie said, speaking in French,
and suggested that the show would have been more credible if it had
been shot in one of the Cairo neighbourhoods inhabited by middle class

“The set makes no sense. It shows rich houses while Haret al-Yahud
was a jumble of alleys, with old houses and houses that collapsed,”
recalled Arie, who was jailed for 11 years for his activism.

Despite the inaccuracies, however, he acknowledged the fact that the
series showed “a positive image of the Jew, who is no longer a bastard”.

Read article in full 

New York Times article(with thanks: Lily)

Muslim-Jewish love story sends sparks flying (NPR)

 Egyptian series does not call for normalisation 


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