Month: April 2018

Ethan Katz muddies the waters of Muslim antisemitism

Ethan Katz is to give the Maurice Freeman Trust lecture at the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck College in London on 1 May. He is a history professor at the University of Cincinnati and the author of Burdens of Brotherhood,
a study of 100 years of interaction between Jews and Muslims in North
Africa and contemporary France. In italics I am reproducing  the blurb advertising Katz’s lecture. I
have interspersed my comments.

Headlines from France suggest that Muslims and Jews have renewed an
age-old struggle. But the past tells a different story.

Academics like Katz have come under fire for ‘whitewashing’Muslim antisemitism. They are accused of muddying the waters and confusing the reader/student  with ‘complexity’ where
actually, matters might be quite simple. The 100-years war in Palestine it is
not a struggle between Muslims and Jews, but a Muslim/Arab struggle against
Jews. Prior to the colonial era in the Maghreb, Muslims had power. Jews were a defenceless minority  in an
Arab/ Muslim majority country.  All Jews were eventually forced out.There is no equivalence between the two groups.

The past Katz work refers to is the comparatively recent past. It fails to delve
into the dhimmi status of Jews in the Maghreb before French rule – a
history of subjugation and even forced conversion. Then Jews were
confined to ghettoes – for their own protection against a hostile population.
Jews and Muslims were never brothers – Muslims always assumed they were
superior and entitled to wield power over non-Muslims. Both Jews and Muslims in
Algeria were offered French citizenship by the 1865 Senatus-Consulte, but the
Muslims refused, because it would have meant compromising their personal
status.  The constitution of independent Algeria discriminates against
Jews, for only a person with a Muslim father or grandfather is entitled to Algerian
citizenship. Non-Muslims would never be accepted as part of the Algerian
nation, even those who had supported the FLN nationalists.

In this talk, Ethan Katz discusses the findings from his prize-winning
The Burdens of Brotherhood. He traces the simultaneous development
of coexistence and conflict among Jews and Muslims in France across the
twentieth century and up to our own time. Katz takes us inside little known
relationships between individual Jews and Muslims around common culture and
shared interests cafes, concert halls, neighbourhoods, and athletic clubs.

The prominence  given by post-modern academics like Katz to
cultural and socio-economic factors over people, historical events and politics
has served to falsify the history of Jews from Arab countries. No matter how
many cups of coffee they shared with their neighbours, even the most ‘arabised’
of Jews, such as the Jews of Iraq, were eventually driven out. Friendships between Jews and Muslims did not remain immutable – they could turn to enmity at the drop of a hat. 

At the same time, he shows how the defining events of the past hundred
years – from the rise of fascism and the Holocaust, to the French-Algerian War
and decolonization, to the Israeli-Arab conflict and the rise of global jihad –
have become increasingly difficult to escape and have had a far-reaching impact
on the interactions and mutual perceptions of Jews and Muslims in France.

The underlying assumption is that Jews and Muslims lack any kind of
agency, and are buffeted about by external forces beyond their control. However,  the driving force behind the Israel-Arab conflict, for instance,  has always
been Arab rejectionism. The  global jihad is the product of an ideological, 
anti-modern and antisemitic movement in the Arab and Muslim world. Some ten Jews have been murdered by Muslims in France in the last decade. No Arabs have been murdered by Jews. These murders did not
just happen in a vacuum, and cannot be blamed on French colonialism, or economic, civil or social grievances.

To book for Ethan Katz’s lecture Jews, Muslims, Frenchmen: The Promises and Perils of Fraternity click here.


From the Nile to Lake Geneva, the ‘dhimmi’ to Eurabia

Gisele Littman had always wanted to write a
novel. For years, the potential characters danced around inside her
head. Instead, turbulent events in her life threw her in quite a
different direction.  Lyn Julius reviews her autobiography in the Times of Israel:

Born in Cairo, she was forced to flee Egypt with
her family after Nasser’s mass expulsion of Jews in 1956. As a result,
she immersed herself in politics and dedicated her writing talents to
the study of the volatile relationship between Jews and Muslims. Her
best-known work is ‘The Dhimmi’: an account of the subjugated status of defeated non-Muslims as a by-product of jihad. She
has also championed the cause of Middle Eastern Christians. More
recently, she coined the term Eurabia for the anti-Zionist strategic
‘alliance’ between the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the
European Community. 

Gisele and David met in London as students and
fell in love. They were an unlikely couple – she the francophone, shy,
diminutive and destitute Jewish refugee from Egypt, he the tall,
confident, patrician product of a British public school and scion of a
wealthy family.

Gisele and David Littman settled near Lake Geneva and forged a remarkable partnership during his lifetime, which ended in 2012.

Wading through the mountains of documents and
letters which David kept scattered in the office of their Swiss home,
Gisele Littman has now written her political autobiography (in French).

David meticulously checked her work and
translated her books into English. He had a prodigious memory for facts,
answered the ‘phone for her and made all her arrangements. No
manuscript could go to a publisher until he had been through it with a
fine toothcomb. David shielded her from hostile critics. Sparks did fly
between these two strong characters, but her book is in many ways, an
elegant, and absorbing, tribute to David: ‘L’amour est plus fort que la mort.’

and Gisele Littman with their baby daughter Diana. 

The family spent
three months in Morocco working 

on ‘Operation Mural’ in 1961.

It is a measure of her courage, so soon after
she had fled another Arab country, that Bat Ye’or ( a pseudonym meaning
‘Daughter of the Nile’, adopted by Gisele for security reasons)
consented to accompany her husband to Morocco in 1961. In a covert
Mossad operation posing as an Anglican gentleman, David risked his life
to help smuggle out over 500 Jewish children to Israel via Switzerland
in ‘Operation Mural’. (He bitterly refused to visit Israel until his
work had been officially recognised). In the 1970s, the couple were
among the founders of the World Organisation of Jews from Arab
Countries. David was a lifelong human rights activist, a lobbyist at the
United Nations and a historian.

They had a circle of academic admirers and
like-minded friends – Paul Fenton, Robert Wistrich, Leon Poliakov. But
Bat Yeor’s work set on her on a collision course with the doyens of the
politically-correct, the interfaith mavens and the revisionists, who
accused her of everything from insanity to feeding the Islamophobia of
the far-right. In one memorable vignette, she found herself seated at a
Geneva dinner party next to Professor George Steiner, a man with
fashionable pro-Palestinian views. She told him that Jews in the Maghreb
could not leave their quarters with their shoes on. ” I don’t believe a
word you say,” he shot back. Between the cheese and the dessert, a
fierce argument erupted between George Steiner and David Littman, always
fearlessly outspoken in defence of his wife. It ended with Steiner
storming out of the dinner party.

Personal tragedy cast a shadow over David and
Gisele’s life – their daughter Diana was born mentally handicapped and
their son Daniel committed suicide. Nevertheless, Bat Ye’or soldiered on
in her mission. She will go down in history as one of the major
contributors to the understanding of political Islam and its treatment
of religious minorities. She may never get to write her novel. Fiction’s
loss is scholarship’s gain.

‘Autobiographie Politique: De la découverte du dhimmi à Eurabia’ by Bat Ye’or: ( 24 Euros, Les Provinciales, 2017)

Read article in full

BBC mentions Jewish refugees, but mainstream is silent

Seventy years since the exodus from Arab countries began to Israel, we can report that Jewish refugees are being mentioned with greater frequency. Even that bastion of bias, the BBC in its ‘In pictures – Seven major moments’ in Israel’s history, saw fit to state:

“Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs fled or were driven from
their homes in the war that followed Israel’s creation, marking the
beginning of the Palestinian refugee problem that continues to this day.
About 600,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries, as well as some
250,000 Holocaust survivors in Europe, settled in Israel in the first
few years of the state’s existence, more than doubling its Jewish

However, the issue is still absent from the international mainstream press and media. Gaza’s Great March of Return campaign should have invited comparisons between Palestinian refugees who want to return to their homes in Israel, and the greater number of Jewish refugees of the same era, who do NOT want to return to Arab countries. But no journalist has yet ventured into this territory, and attempts to get the message into op-eds in the New York Times and Haaretz have so far met with failure.

Curiously, Haaretz did publish an article by Moshe Arens declaring the Palestinian refugee issue a weapon of waragainst Israel. Although Arens mentioned refugee exchanges resulting from the Greek/ Turkish and India/Pakistan conflicts, not once did he mention Jewish refugees from Arab countries.

This is a cause for concern. It shows that campaigners for Jewish refugees still have some way to go before their issue becomes central to the conscience of Israel’s Eurocentric ‘liberal’ elite. Haaretz Commenters either ignore the issue or blame the Zionists for creating the Jewish refugee problem.

We must redouble our efforts to change this disappointing state of affairs.

Click on this oriental version by Daniel Saadon of the state’s national anthem Hatikva. It was released on Israel’s 70th anniversary

Jewish uprooting: the counter to Palestinian propaganda


If more people knew about the banishment of Jews from Arab countries, it would serve as a counter-weight to Palestinian propaganda. It would also make those Jews themselves more conciliatory, argues Ada Aharoni in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Lily) :

 Yemenites landing in Israel

One of the major recognized causes of the current wave of
antisemitism in Europe and other places is Palestinian propaganda. This
sweeping brainwashing effort has succeeded in producing an anti-Jewish
climate in many parts of the world. One of the ways to combat this
basic source of lies is to reveal the truth about the banishment of the
Jews from Arab countries. The world has mainly heard about the
injustice experienced by Palestinian refugees, and almost nothing about
the plight of the Jews from Arab countries, mainly Iraq, Egypt, Syria,
Lebanon and Yemen. Let us compare the uprooting of the Palestinians
with the uprooting of the Jews.

Whereas the Palestinians
refugees numbered 650,000 in 1948, the Jewish refugees from Arab
countries numbered 850,000 (UNRWA statistics). The Jewish property,
both private and communal, sequestered by Arab governments when the
Jews were forced to leave was much vaster than that left behind by the
Palestinians in Israel (documented by the International Court at The

There was practically an ethnic cleansing of Jews in Arab
countries. Very few Jews are left in these countries today. Egyptian
Jewry, for instance, numbered 100,000 in 1948, but there are only 28
Jews in the whole of Egypt today, and only 22 Jews remain in the whole
of Iraq of the 1948 population of 160,000. In Syria and Lebanon there
are no Jews left.

On the other hand, there was no ethnic
cleansing of Palestinians in Israel; there are a million
Arab/Palestinian citizens living in Israel today, constituting 20% of
Israel’s citizens.

It is important to spread these crucial
historical facts as widely as possible, as they contradict the evil and
distorted image presented by anti-Israel propaganda. In addition to
the possible turning of public opinion in Europe and other places,
telling the story of the banishment and uprooting of the Jews from Arab
countries has additional potential advantages.

The realization
that they are not the only ones who have suffered, and that the Jews
from Arab countries have suffered just as much as the Palestinians when
they were thrown out of the lands of their birth with only their
shirts on their backs and were made so miserably destitute at the hands
of Arabs, may cause Palestinians to become more conciliatory and less
intransigent regarding peace with Israel.

Read article in full

Israel must do more to integrate the Mizrahi narrative

Rena Nasar’s grandfather or jidoh escaped violence and state-sanctioned persecution in Syria, walking for 20 hours until he reached Israel. Why is his story not told, and isn’t it time that Mizrahim were given a seat at the table, Rena asks in the Jerusalem Post:

I grew up knowing that my jidoh’s story, like that of so many Mizrahi Jews, was inseparable from Israel’s story.

YET, in most presentations and programs about Israel, my community is
not represented, my jidoh is not represented, I am not represented.

encounter this problem in my own work as an Israel educator. Sometimes,
well-meaning programs inadvertently center the Ashkenazi experience and
tokenize us as an exotic “other.” Other times, we are exploited to
promote anti-Israel agendas that hardly any of us would ever support.
More often, our story isn’t mentioned at all.

My most recent trip
to Israel was illustrative of this problem. At Mount Bental, as my
group overlooked Syria, our guide talked about Syrians and Israelis but
never mentioned Syrian Jews. I stood in the back, debating if I should
speak up about what Syria – now caught in a vicious civil war – meant to
my community and how its expulsion and escape, along with the expulsion
of Jews from other neighboring countries, shaped the Middle East.

Chief rabbi Jacob Shaul Dwek, Aleppo, 1907


written out of or misrepresented in the story of Israel and the Jewish
people is crippling. It can even trigger an identity crisis that leads
members of my community to disengage from Israel and their heritage. Yet
this is what happens in far too many programs that are aimed at
fostering connections to Israel and Jewish identity.

How many
American Jews know that the Holocaust extended deep into the Middle
East? Can we meaningfully talk about the abuse Egyptian Jews faced or
the veritable house arrest Syrian Jews lived under until 1992? I’d argue
that education about the Middle East is woefully incomplete if we
disregard the still-recent history of families like mine.

my organization, StandWithUs, has developed materials centered on the
plight of Middle Eastern Jews and given Mizrahi employees like myself a
platform to share our stories, more must be done by us and others. This
is why I want to challenge Jewish institutions and communities to do
better at integrating Mizrahi Jews into our communal narrative. Here are
just a few possible steps toward that goal: • Examine Israel curricula
and programs, and incorporate our story systematically.

This should be done together with Mizrahi scholars, as well as organizations like Jimena and 30 Years After.

• Mentor young Mizrahi leaders for senior roles within Jewish community and Israel education organizations.

• Put Mizrahi stories in the spotlight at high-profile Jewish community events.

• Include Mizrahi and Sephardic religious traditions in our communal spaces.

is not a one-way street. Mizrahi communities must also make a bigger
effort to participate as an unwavering voice. But we must be welcomed
and embraced as we do so. So many important causes today deserve our
time and attention that it can be easy to overlook our internal
struggles. Nevertheless, if we want to reach our potential as a Jewish
community, we must start to fully include members of our family who have
far too often been forgotten.

Read article in full


This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.