Civil rights campaigner and author Nissim Rejwan dies

An authority on Arab culture and history and
fervent critic of Israeli internal politics, Nissim Rejwan, who has died
aged 93, was part of Baghdad’s political and cultural élite. He went to
Israel in 1951 under forced Jewish immigration, where he held notable
academic and political research positions. Emile Cohen wrote this obituary in the Jewish Chronicle.



Rejwan was born in
Baghdad, the seventh child of Baruch, a carpenter, and Lulu Rejwan, who
had six children, two boys and four girls. From the age of three Rejwan
learned to take his father, who had lost his eyesight before he was
born, to the synagogue, the barber and elsewhere, and his father taught
him Hebrew and arithmetic. The family struggled to make a living.

After
primary education Rejwan, aged 15, attended night school, working as a
bank clerk during the day and also developing a passion for English and
French literature. On completing his secondary education in 1946, he
became the art critic for the English language Iraq Times. Baghdad in
the 1940s was a small city and few could read the foreign books sold in
the three or four bookshops specialising in English and French
literature where Rejwan, as a young man spent his time. In 1946 he was
appointed manager of a newly opened political and cultural society .
There he came to know many of the country’s intellectuals with whom he
formed close relationships, becoming part of the prominent literary
intelligentsia in Iraq. It appears from his memoirs that there was
genuine conviviality within this multi-ethnic group.

 Nissim Rejwan

In Jerusalem
he attended the Hebrew University, studying Islamic Civilisation,
Medieval History and International Relations until 1956. He became a
staff writer and book reviewer on the Jerusalem Post until
1996. He also became news editor at the Israel Broadcasting Service in
Arabic. In 1966 he joined Tel Aviv University and and was appointed
Research Fellow, Political Analyst researching Middle Eastern Studies.
He also  worked as a researcher in an American university.

Between
1971-73 he was founding member and one-time chairman of the Association
for Civil Rights. From 1996-2014 he was a Research Fellow at the Harry S
Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew
University.

In 1956 he met and married Rachel Nathan in Jerusalem.
She remained his close friend and soul mate, and the couple had three
sons, Elan, Ronnie and Amir. Elan lives in the US and Ronnie and Amir
live nearby in Jerusalem.

As a political analyst Rejwan wrote
several books and articles acclaimed for their historical and cultural
contributions to Iraqi Jewry. His autobiography The Last Jews in Baghdad was
considered his most successful, describing  his life in Baghdad in an
age of mixed enlightenment and tribulations, when a very strong bond
existed between the members of his literary group. Last year the book
was translated into Arabic and published in Iraq. He was very proud of
his spiritual affinity to Iraq and of being an Arab Jew, stating in his
preface that the Iraqi people may have lost the memory of Jews in
Baghdad, but the Jews never forgot their mother country.

The Jews of Iraq: 3000 Years of History and Culture is considered the most authoritative history of Iraqi Jews and an important research source. His 2015 memoir To Live in Two Worlds is a moving account of the nostalgia he felt for his birth-place. Rejwan wrote several books on Arab society, including Arabs Face the Modern World, Arabs in the Mirror, Nasserist Ideology, Jews and Arabs, and Arabs Aims and Israeli Attitudes. However, he reserved most of his criticisms for Israel in such books as Israel’s Place in the Middle East, which won the National Jewish Book Award, Israel in Search of Identity, Outsider in the Promised Land, and Israel’s Years of Bogus Grandeur.

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One Comment

  • If mr. Rejwan was "proud of…being an Arab jew", that means he was just as racist as the ashkenazi elite in israel. The arabs are occupiers and colonizers in Iraq (as with much of the rest of the middle east) and have brutally ruled over the indigenous assyrians, kurds/yazidis, and "marsh arabs". Did he really identify with the arab occupiers?

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