Month: May 2017

Recalling the Farhud, 76 years ago

 Today is the first day of Shavuot. For Iraqi Jews who survived the Farhud pogrom, this festival will be associated in their minds with a horrific pogrom which occurred 76 years ago. I am re-posting an article written by Sarah Erlich for the Jewish Chronicle on the Farhud ‘s 70th anniversary.

June 1 and 2 this year mark the 70th anniversary of what became known as the Farhud ( “violent dispossession” in Arabic). As significant as Kristallnacht,
the pogrom sounded the death-knell for the oldest community in the
diaspora and was a clear demonstration of the hatred exported to the
Middle East by Hitler. The Farhud
brought to an end 2,600 years of Jewish settlement, yet little has
been written about it, very little is taught in Holocaust studies about
it, and the British role has never been fully investigated, although
many survivors still bear a lifelong distrust of Britain.

Jews of Iraq had been living peacefully for millennia in Baghdad since
the time of Babylon and by 1941 numbered around 150,000, over a third
of the population. Professor Heskel Haddad, now an ophthalmologist in
Manhattan, was 11-years- old at the time and recalls a happy and secure
early childhood. “We had many Jewish and Arab Muslim neighbours and we
were very friendly with them. I was Jewish in religion but I felt very
much Iraqi. I loved Iraq and I loved the people, whether Muslim or

One month before the Farhud a
violent coup brought a rabidly pro-Nazi lawyer, Rashid Ali al-Gaylani,
to power, forcing the country’s regent, a friend of the Jews, to seek
British protection. Rashid Ali brought to his side the Grand Mufti of
Jerusalem, a man with strong ties to the Third Reich who had fled from
Palestine. Together, they indoctrinated the country with Nazi
propaganda; children in Iraqi schools were taught to praise Hitler and
that Jews were the internal enemy; Radio Berlin began regular
broadcasts in Arabic. Their aim was to rid Iraq of the British presence
and turn the country’s oil reserves over to the Germans.

Rashid Ali ordered Iraq’s military to destroy the British RAF base in
Habbaniya, west of Baghdad –– a non-operational flight training centre
equipped with antique planes, manned by cadets. Despite the odds, the
Iraqi campaign failed drastically. With his forces humiliatingly
defeated and British ground troops advancing on the city, on May 30
Rashid Ali fled the country leaving the capital in a vacuum.

regent’s return was announced two days later, to the relief of the
Jews celebrating Shavuot. Their joy turned to horror however when the
Muslims mistook their celebrations to be the result of the country’s
downfall at the hands of the British. A huge mob gathered, armed with
knives, swords and guns, chanting “Ketaal al yehud
(“Slaughter the Jews”). Eleven-year-old Haddad was with his family
having a festive meal. “Suddenly we heard screams, ‘Allah Allah’, and
shots were fired,” he recalls. “We went out to the roof to see what was
happening – we saw fires, we saw people on the roofs screaming,
begging God to help them. There was a guy across the street from our
house screaming: ‘Help me! Give me water!’ and my father didn’t let me
give him water because he was afraid that I might be killed by the
gangs. The voice of this man ended an hour or two later when I guess he

Salim Fattal was also 11, living with his family in the
Jewish quarter of Tatran. Like everyone, they were completely
unprepared for the violence that hit the city. “We were hiding with all
the children and women in the cellar listening to the whistling of
bullets around our house,” he says. “We had no weapons and there were
four men trying to defend 21 women and children with just some sticks
and knives. We knew we couldn’t defend the house against these armed
invaders. It was terrifying.”

Taken by surprise and with no
protection, Jews either defended themselves with whatever they could
find or else bribed Iraqi policemen to protect them. Fattal’s mother
found one near their alley and approached him with a parcel of money.
The policeman agreed to stay with them until midnight.

violence worsened during the night and the mob was soon in its tens of
thousands, targeting every Jewish home in the city. The task was easy
as a red hamsa – a traditional hand symbol – had been painted on the

“We could hear screams from our neighbours which was a
horrifying sound,” continues Fattal, even now crying at the memory.
“All of them all started to shout and scream and it would last for two
minutes or so, and then the sound died. Then the same sound would renew
from other directions. These voices have never left me. They were so
strong, so close and so clear.”

By the second day, Fattal could
see from his balcony that the mob was attacking his neighbour’s house.
“We could see them right under our noses and if they had decided to
attack us then, no one could have stopped them as it was very easy for
the rioters to move from roof to roof. So we called our armed policeman
from outside and begged him to fire a few bullets in the air to scare
them away. Our policeman insisted on more payment and my Uncle Naim
argued that we had already paid him generously. But our policeman kept
repeating: ‘How much will you pay?’ while our situation was getting
more and more threatening by the minute. Finally they agreed upon half a
dinar per bullet. Had he refused, we would have taken his gun. The
policeman fired two shots and paused and then two more shots, until he
saw the rioters move away.”

There were also accounts of Muslims
acting heroically to save their Jewish neighbours. Steve Acre was nine
at the time, living with his widowed mother and eight siblings in their
landlord’s house. “Our landlord was a devout Muslim called Hajji who
wore a green turban, and when the mob came, he sat in front of them and
told them that there were orphans in his house and that if they wanted
to kill us, they would have to kill him first. So they moved on across
the street.”

Acre, who has been living in Montreal for over 50
years, sees Iraqi Nazism as the direct cause of the Farhud, but also
blames the British for not having stopped it when it was within their
power. (…)

Tony Rocca, who researched and co-wrote Memories of Eden
with a survivor of the Farhud, Violette Shamash, agrees. “To Britain’s
shame, the army was stood down while hundreds of Jews were killed in
rioting that raged over two days with damage estimated at £13 million
by today’s values. Archive material points to one man who deliberately
kept the troops out. Sir Kinahan Cornwallis, Britain’s ambassador in
Baghdad, for reasons of his own, held our forces at bay in direct
contradiction to express orders from Prime Minister Winston Churchill
that they should take the city and secure its safety.”

violence was stopped only when it appeared the rioters were getting
carried away and entering Muslim areas. A curfew was called, and Iraqi
troops began shooting looters. But the death toll of around 800 and
thousands more injured is a memory Acre can never forget. “When you
hear yelling and screaming of women and children, it stays with you

Read article in full 

More about theFarhud

France declares Islamist killers ‘mental cases’

The murder of Sarah Halimi in France (her family would have fled antisemitism in an Arab country a generation ago) raises disturbing questions which the authorities, the police and the media have yet to answer. Lyn Julius writes in The Huffington Post:

4 April a 65-year-old medical doctor living in a shabby suburb of Paris
was woken at 4 am, beaten up for an hour and sustained 20 or more
fractures to her body and face. At the end of her ordeal, she was thrown
out of the window to her death.

The murder of Sarah Halimi, an orthodox Jew,  raises several unanswered questions.

first is  – why was the killer, a 27-year old African convert to Islam
named Kada Traoré, labelled a madman with a history of drug abuse and
other offences, when all the evidence points to the fact he had
committed an act of Islamist terrorism?

know this because every sound coming from Sarah Halimi’s apartment was
recorded by a neighbour who is today ‘traumatised’ and under psychiatric
care. The murderer was heard to recite Surahs from the Koran and call his victim Satan; on several occasions, he shouted ‘Allah Hu-Akbar’. When the police came to arrest him they found him praying.

second question concerns the role of the police who were in the
building. Neighbours had called them as soon as they heard the
commotion. The police might have been able to save Sarah Halimi, but
decided not to intervene until they had summoned ‘reinforcements’.
These took their time to arrive! The police stand accused of a grave
dereliction of duty.

third question is the reluctance of the media and the authorities to
call out the antisemitic nature of the crime. There has been little
media publicity and allegations of a cover-up are rife within the Jewish
community. Human rights organisations, which rushed to indict the
historian Georges Bensoussan
for Islamophobia, have been silent. The murderer was dispatched to a
mental hospital – as had been, incidentally, the perpetrator of the Nice
massacre in 2016 (he had been diagnosed as psychotic when he lived in Tunisia).  Yet the victim had long complained of antisemitic
harassment by Traoré. That night, the murderer may have blundered into
the building in a drug-fuelled haze, but the defenestration of Mme
Halimi was antisemitic in effect, if not in intent.

Sarah Halimi: she sustained 20 fractures before being thrown out of the window

week, after the police announced the results of their inquiry, the
Jewish community seemed to have taken up the Sarah Halimi case with
renewed vigour. Mme Halimi’s brother, William Attal, has been deploring
the unbearable silence surrounding his sister’s murder.  A Jewish
parliamentarian, Meyer Habib,
has made representations to the government; two lawyers, one civil and
one criminal, have been appointed to represent the Halimi family in
Traoré’s trial. One, William Goldnadel, remarked:  “if the murderer had
been blond-haired and blue-eyed, all of France would have marched in the
streets: he is an islamist, so all of France hides in the woodwork.”

On 25 May the public intellectual Alexandra Laignel-Lavastine wrote an impassioned open letter, posted inAtlantico,
to Gerard Collomb, the minister of the interior in the new Macron
government. She pleaded with him to join the dots between the murder of
Ilan Halimi in 2006 and Sarah Halimi 11 years later (despite having the
same name they were not blood relations). Ilan Halimi
was the young man abducted by a gang called the Barbarians, tortured
for three weeks and found dying by the roadside – because he was a Jew.
Both acts were antisemitic, both were proof of a moral failure of French
society, a catastrophic failure to call a spade an ideological spade.

Halimi cases recall another antisemitic murder, earlier still: that of
Sebastien Selam, by a neighbour. “I have killed my Jew,” the murderer
shouted triumphantly. A recent convert to Islam, he believed his act
assured him of a place in heaven.

The killer of Sebastien Selam,
too, was declared a mental case, and was allowed out of hospital at
weekends to visit his parents in the same block where the murder was
committed, and Selam’s mother Juliette still lived. His parents were
rehoused; Juliette was not.

Will the Macron government break with the past and begin to take Islamist anti-Jewish hate crimes seriously? We shall see.

Read article in full 

Crossposted at Harry’s Place

Manny Dahari: How I rescued my family from Yemen

Long feature in which Manny Dahari tells how he escaped Yemen for the US, and then engineered the flight of the rest of his family last year. Rhona Lewis reports in the Jewish Press (with thanks: Malca):

When I speak to Dhahari, who visited Israel in January this year as a
participant in Yeshiva University’s Israel Winter Mission, he takes me
into a world where anti-Semitism is the stuff that life is made of.

Old Sana’a as it used to be. It is not known how much of the city has survived the civil war

“As a Jew in Yemen, you live in your own little bubble and don’t
associate with the world around you. You’re always seen as a stranger –
even though you’ve been there for thousands of years,” he says. “Every
morning, on our way to school, we faced an attack from the kids who were
waiting for us with a pile of stones,” he recalls. When Manny was hit
by a stone launched into their backyard, his father confronted the
father of the attacker. “Maybe you should consider converting to Islam,”
said the father. “Then nothing would have happened.”

Although there were a few friendly neighbors, you could never be too
sure. “When I was about ten years old, my Arab neighbor, who was also my
friend, tried to set me on fire on Shabbat morning as I was walking to shul
and chatting with him. He stuffed a lit firecracker in the pocket of my
jacket,” recalls Manny. Shortly afterwards, Manny was the first to run
to his best friend, who had been shot. Years later, the pain of the
horrific loss of a young life still resounds in Manny’s voice.


In 2006, after two years of negotiations and red tape, and thanks to a
frequent traveler to Yemen who was involved in the Jewish school,
Manny’s older brother, Tzemach, left Yemen for the US. “I was devastated
when I realized that my father lacked the financial means to allow me
to follow my brother,” says Manny. Barely thirteen years old, Manny
understood that any future lay only in America. But now the door had
slammed shut.

Read article in full 

More about Manny Dahari

Dairy Sephardi recipes for Shavuot

The festival of Shavuot, which marks the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, begins this Tuesday night. It is customary to eat dairy foods. There are several reasons why: As the revelation at Sinai occurred on Shabbat, when slaughter and cooking are prohibited, the Jews used milk which they already had available before Shabbat. Here are two recipes from Egyptian-born cookery writer Claudia Roden at Jewish Heritage onlinewhich are a welcome change from the usual cheesecake or blintzes.

Fila au Fromage

Small Cheese Triangles or Cigars

(makes about 60)

Shopping basket

These ever-so-light little pies, also known as
filikas, ojaldres, and feuilletes, were always among the most
popular items on the buffet and tea tables of Oriental Jews. Today people
mix all kinds of cheeses for the filling — most often feta with Gruyere
or cottage cheese and Parmesan. ( I made 240 of these cheese triangles for
my daughter Anna’s 30th birthday party while watching four programs over 2
weeks. I put them in the freezer — uncooked and without brushing them with
egg glaze — and baked them on the day straight from the freezer.)

½ lb (250 g) Edam, grated

½ lb (250 g) Gouda, grated

½ lb (250 g) Cheddar, grated

½ lb (250 g) cottage cheese

4 eggs, lightly beaten

1 lb (500 g) filo

6 oz (175 g) butter, melted

4 tablespoons sunflower oil

2 egg yolks, to brush the tops

Mix the cheese with the eggs. Cut the filo dough,
brushing the pastry strips with a mixture of melted butter and oil and the
tops with egg yolk mixed with 1-2 teaspoons water.


• Add 3 tablespoons finely chopped dill
or mint to the filling and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg.

• Sprinkle with 1/2 cup sesame seeds before baking.

• For an alternative filling, mix 1 lb (500 g) cottage cheese with 1
lb (500 g) feta cheese (both drained of their liquid) and 4 eggs.

• In Turkey, where the pastries are called filikas and ojaldres de keso,
they mix feta cheese with Gruyere and fry the pies in oil.


Fragrant Milk Pudding (basic recipe with variations)

(serves 6)

flowing milk

Milk puddings with ground rice are ubiquitous
in the Middle East. For the Jews they are the all-purpose dessert of the dairy
table and the traditional sweet of Shavuot and Purim. In Turkey and the Balkans
such a dish was called “sutlage;” in Syria and Egypt, as in the
rest of the Arab world, it was “muhallabeya.” Every community has
its own traditional flavorings and presentation. Use the basic recipe, and
add the flavorings from one of the variations that follow. Each one transforms
the pudding into something special.

3/4 cup (150 g) rice flour

5 1/2 cups (1 1/4 liters) cold milk

1/2 cup (100 g) sugar

For the flavorings and garnishes, see the variations

In a little bowl, mix the rice flour with a cup
of the cold milk, adding it gradually and mixing thoroughly to avoid lumps.
Bring the rest of the milk to the boil in a pan. Pour the rice flour-and-milk
mixture in, stirring vigorously, then cook on very low heat, stirring continuously
until the mixture thickens. If you don’t stir every so often, the milk will
thicken unevenly and form lumps.

Let the cream cook gently for a few minutes more
(in all, 15-20 minutes). Stir in the sugar and cook until dissolved. Stir
with a wooden spoon, being careful not to scrape the bottom of the pan, because
the cream always sticks and burns at the bottom, and you want to leave that
part behind, untouched. The cream might seem too light, but it does thicken
when it cools. Pour into a large bowl or into small individual ones and serve

From The
Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York
(with more
than 800 Ashkenazi and Sephardi recipes) by Claudia Roden (New York: Alfred
A. Knopf, 1997).

Iraqi lawyer Hamadani demands justice for Jews

Every so often a voice may be heard in the Arab world arguing that their state cannot be democratic unless the rights of all minorities are respected. The latest such voice belongs to Ammar al-Hamadani, an Iraq lawyer. He is calling for justice for  Iraqi Jews, who were stripped of their citizenship and denied compensation for their property.  In spite of receiving death threats, Hamadani is determined to speak out. Rachel Avraham reports  in Israel Hayom (with thanks: Michelle, Lily):

When people think of Iraq,
they think of a country plagued by war, on the verge of ‎collapsing.
They think of a failed state that ethnically cleanses minorities and
blows up holy sites as well ‎as ancient archaeological treasures. Most
Iraqi Jews see nothing but a bleak picture when they look ‎at Iraq
today. However, within this war-torn country, there is a Muslim voice of
hope, calling out ‎for his country to become a true democratic state
and to give Iraqi Jews the justice that they ‎deserve. He does this
under the threat of death but remains determined to speak out for all of
the ‎minorities in his country, including the Jews.


Ammar al-Hamadani, a Muslim Iraqi lawyer, is
working to ensure that Iraqi Jews ‎receive the compensation they deserve
in a new democratic Iraq after they were expelled from ‎the country
following Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Referring to the expulsion
of Iraq’s Jews and ‎the seizure of their property as “unconstitutional
and inhumane,” he stated with sadness that the ‎laws that prompted the
Iraqi Jewish community into exile remain in force today “despite the
‎political change that took place in Iraq in 2003 and the enactment of a
new Iraqi constitution in ‎‎2005 in which we had some hope for change
for Iraqi Jews in a democratic, federal and multi‎cultural Iraq.”‎

Al-Hamadani emphasized that it is unlawful to
strip any Iraqi of their citizenship for any reason and ‎it is the right
of “any Iraqi who has lost his citizenship for either political, racist
or sectarian reasons ‎to request the restoration of citizenship.”
However, al-Hamadani noted that while the Iraqi ‎Constitution permitted
the restoration of Iraqi citizenship for those who lost it for the above
‎reasons, Iraqi Jews were excluded: “Iraqi Jews remain deprived of
justice under the new Iraq in ‎such a crude violation of the
constitution.” ‎

 Iraqi Jews escaping to Israel on Operation Michaelberg in 1947

“What is most puzzling is the very
constitution that speaks of the freedom of belief and religious
‎practice of Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and Sabian Mandaeans does not
address the Jews of Iraq ‎as a basic religion,” al-Hamadani proclaimed.
He noted that in theory, the Iraqi Jewish community ‎has the right to
bring their case for restoring their rights before the Administrative
Court in Iraq, ‎which is linked to the Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council —
technically independent of the ‎executive authority and the government.
However, he asserted that in reality, the Administrative ‎Court is
politicized, works to defend the actions of the Iraqi government and
thus won’t give them ‎the justice that they deserve.

“Any lawyer who tries to defend the Jews of
Iraq before these two ‎government-controlled courts is being threatened
with blackmail and intimidation because your ‎opponent is the judge
himself, so that the lawyer cannot take the liberty to defend his
clients and ‎therefore, issues remain floating in the court because
lawyers fear to follow up,”‎ he explained.

‎”Based on all the above, I am hereby
demanding that the case of Iraqi Jews’ rights become a ‎universal matter
that is adopted by international courts and organizations,” al-Hamadani
stressed. ‎‎”This should secure an international stance in the face of
the Iraqi government, which could force it ‎into providing justice to
the honorable Iraqi Jewish sect and to restore all their rights just
like all ‎sects of the Iraqi people. Also, I would like to confirm my
willingness to provide all kinds of ‎support in defense of the rights of
my Jewish brothers. And allow me to note here, I am doing all ‎this
pro-bono and out of commitment to my national duties towards my

In response to al-Hamadani’s call for Iraqi
Jews to receive the compensation that they deserve, ‎Aryeh Shemesh, the
leader of the Babylonian Jewish community in Israel, praised him: “We
have ‎to praise this person who dared to talk clearly and to tell the
truth. This is a major ‎thing. I just hope that more people will get the
same idea to help us fight to get compensated.”‎

Levana Zamir, the head of the Central
Organization of Jews from Arab and Islamic countries, ‎added: “Sometimes
very important things begin with just normal people, simple people, a
lawyer ‎like him. Then another can do the same and then the others. It
can lead to all of the Arab countries ‎recognizing their mistakes. But
he is not the first. In Egypt 10 years ago, Amin al-Mahdi, an ‎Egyptian
journalist, wrote a book titled ‘The Other Opinion.’ He said exactly the
same thing. The ‎book was translated into Hebrew.

Read article in full 

Profile of Rachel Avraham


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