Month: June 2018

70 years ago, Morocco pogroms caused 10% of Jews to flee

This month, seventy years ago, a murderous riot broke out in the cities of Oujda and Djerada in which 44 Jews died. As a result, 10 percent of the Jews of Morocco fled. Point of No Return is republishing a blog we first posted seven years ago:

 Sunset in Oujda

On the morning of 7 June 1948, a riot broke out against the Jews in
Oujda (Morocco), a city in the north-east of the country close to the
border with Algeria. Five Jews were killed and many wounded.

The
following day, 8 June, the rioting spread to the small mining village
of Djerada, 60 km south west of Oujda. There, the Jewish community
numbered some 100 souls: 38 were slaughtered, sometimes entire
families. Among the dead was the community’s rabbi, Moshe Cohen, and
his wife, his mother, 13-year-old son, daughter aged six and a baby of
one year. The badly wounded were left for dead. Material damage was
great, especially in Oujda.

The Pasha of Oujda expressed his
regrets and went to meet each individual victim’s family. Subsequently
he was violently attacked in the mosque of Oujda. Prosper Marciano,
commenting on the weblog Dafina, reveals that one of the victims was his maternal grandfather Messaoud Bendayan, lynched and hurled from a balcony.

According to the historians Haim Saadoun and Yaron Tsour and others, quoted by Jeff Malka in his blog SephGen, several factors led to the outbreak of rioting:

1. The feeling of brotherhood towards the Palestinian people;

2. The huge progress made by the local nationalist movement of independence;

3.
The fact that hundreds of young Jews were illegally leaving Morocco and
crossing the border between Morocco and Algeria, close to Oujda en
route towards France and Israel;

4. The speech given by the Moroccan
Sultan, Mohammed V, in which he expressed concern about Morocco’s
Palestinian Arab brothers, although emphasizing Moroccan Jews’ loyalty
to Morocco. He ended by calling for countrywide calm. Unfortunately,
many listeners only heard the first part of his speech.

Some
claim that the massacres were deliberately instigated by the French
authorities following a failed attempt to incite trouble in Fez on the
last day of the Maimouna festival, but Michel Abitbol, in his book Le passe d’une discorde,
says there is no evidence for this. What is clear is that in both
places, the police arrived too late to prevent the disturbances and were
only able to take note of material damages.

The result was that
10 percent of the Jewish population of Morocco left in the first wave
of emigration to Israel, according to the historian Andre Chouraqui.
The leaders of the Miners’ Federation were accused of being behind the
massacres and brought to trial. The verdict was delivered on 25
February 1949: none was condemned to death, but four were given life
sentences for hard labour, and others sent to prison.

A partial paean to coexistence in Morocco

This is another article, based on an Australian ABC TV report,  regretting the end of Muslim-Jewish coexistence in Morocco. Joseph Sebag, the last Jew of Essaouira,  is its poster boy. Israel is portrayed as the cause of the exodus and the Jews of Morocco persuaded to leave against their better judgement by Zionist agents. The threats of forced conversion, abduction and daily incidents of violence and intimidation are omitted, or minimised, and the six-year emigration ban to Palestine not mentioned.  What is new, is that French colonialism is also blamed (and the teaching of Hebrew instead of Arabic!)  for tearing the two communities apart before Israel’s creation. Yet the French can be credited for liberating the Jews from their subjugated dhimmi status under Islam.

Joseph Sebag, last Jew of Essaouira

In an antique shop in the seaside Moroccan town of Essaouira sits Joseph Sebag, a charming old man with a shy smile.

He is all that remains of the city’s once thriving Jewish community. But he remembers what it was like before the exodus.

“There was no Jew that didn’t have a Muslim friend, and there was no Muslim that didn’t have a Jewish friend,” Mr Sebag says.

Jewish merchants first arrived in Africa around 500 BC.
In the centuries that followed, thousands of Jews fleeing persecution
in Europe established new lives in Morocco.

For most of Morocco’s history, Jewish people lived in relative harmony with Muslims.

But when Israel was established in 1948 the friendship was severed beyond repair.

Tensions between Arabs and Jews, which had been stroked under French colonial rule, exploded into a terminal confrontation.

Arab nationalists expressed their solidarity with displaced Palestinians by turning on their Jewish neighbours.

In Morocco, as with much of the Arab world, many Jewish communities faced looting, arson, and riots.

“It was very sad, people that had lived there for hundreds of years all packed up and went,” Mr Sebag says.


Photo:
Jewish men praying the “Birkat Hahamma” (blessing of the sun) at the entrance of the Jewish Cemetery, Fez, Morocco 1953. (Beit Hatfutsot)

 

The country was once home to more than
300,000 Jews, the largest Jewish population of any country in the Arab
world. It now hosts only 5,000.

“Before the exodus the Jews in
Morocco were everywhere, in the cities, in the small villages,” says
Mechthild Gilzmer, a professor in Jewish studies at Saarland University.

“It was a large and vibrant community.”

Unlike
the biblical exodus of ancient Jews from Egypt, the migration of Arab
Jews in the 20th century was more like a slow divorce than an instant
separation.

For more than 30 years before the creation of Israel,
French colonists had been working to drive a wedge between Muslims and
Jews in Morocco.

Education programs were rolled out encouraging
Jews to embrace French culture and language. Classical Arabic was left
off the curriculum in favour of Hebrew.

A symptom of disintegrating relations, looting and rioting broke out in Jewish Quarter of Fez in 1912.

Jews
fled large cities to smaller towns and villages on the urban outskirts,
creating Jewish ghettos reminiscent of 19th century Europe. (This makes no sense – surely the opposite was true ?-ed)

In Morocco some Jews left to seek the
long-promised land, but many chose to stay despite the growing tide of
anti-Semitism in some cities.

“Unlike elsewhere in the Arab world,
the creation of Israel did not immediately spark widespread animosity
or attacks on Jews [in Morocco],” Professor Gilzmer says. (A statement contradicted by what follows – ed)

Carrying
the flag of the newly-established Arab League, the Moroccan nationalist
press began fostering hostility against Jewish Moroccans. Many shops
and homes were looted.

In the early weeks of June 1948 an
anti-Jewish riot broke out in the north-eastern Moroccan towns of Oujda
and Jerada. At least 44 people were killed.

After a long history of coexistence, “many Jews were made to feel like they were no longer welcome”, Professor Gilzmer says.

After the violence in Oujda and Jereda, the
stream of Jews making the journey across the Mediterranean became a
flood. By 1950, 18,000 of Morocco’s Jews left for Israel.

Marc Cohen left Morocco 50 years ago, when he was 18. He now lives in Melbourne.

“I remember buses full of Jewish people not knowing where they were going,” he says.

 “They started closing one synagogue after the other, most of my school friends left, and then everybody left.

“For many it was the end of the exile”.

Against
a backdrop of rising Arab nationalism, European Zionists began arriving
at Moroccan synagogues telling stories of the new Jewish homeland. They
encouraged the local Jewish community to migrate.

Israel had sent dozens of Mossad officers to North Africa who acted as missionaries for the Zionist cause.

According
to Professor Gilzmer, even when threats were minimal, “many Jews left
after being told by Zionist agents they were in danger”.

Read article in full

L’ Aurore archives now accessible online

 Donations from the UK, Israel and France among others have enabled JPress (part of the National Library of Jerusalem) to digitise issues of the Egyptian-Jewish newspaper L’Aurore. What is remarkable about this newspaper  – a treasure trove of data about the interwar Jewish community in Egypt, edited until its demise in 1941 by Jacques Maleh – is that it continued to publish articles sympathetic to Zionism and to refugees from, and victims of, Nazi antisemitism. Here is a synopsis of the history of L’Aurore by Ovadia Yerushalmi. (With thanks: Maurice)

Issue of 10 January 1941: until its demise the newspaper continued to publish articles about Zionism and the victims of Nazism.

The weekly newspaper L’AURORE was
founded in 1909 by Lucien Sciutto in Istanbul, Turkey. In 1919 it was
shut down either by government pressure or, as rumors had it, due to
economic difficulties that followed Sciutto’s clashes with the local
Jewish community. In 1921 Sciutto moved to Cairo. Three years later, in
1924, under pressure from his devoted readers who considered L’AURORE to
be a means of expressing their liberal views in French, Sciutto started
publishing the magazine again, in Cairo,  in its original name and
format.

The reborn Weekly had a
great success among Jewish readers of Greek and Turkish descent in
Egypt. It became a significant competitor to the weekly ISRAEL.

At
that time L’AURORE housed the Cairo agency of the United Palestine
Appeal (UPA) in its offices. Consequently, from October 1924 onwards the
UPA headquarters in London supported the magazine by paying 10 Pounds
Sterling per month – a sum that was equal to an apartment’s  monthly
rental charge. This support lasted till June 1931. Ensuing this date the
Weekly started encountering economic difficulties and on two occasions
its publication was halted. In July 1931 Jacques Maleh, Sciutto’s
partner, took over and for a few months tried to publish the magazine at
his own expense. However, as Maleh’s debts piled he had to ask for
help. He found it in the B’nai B’rith organization whose members teamed
up to save the magazine. They founded a committee, headed by Simon Mani,
with the goal of revitalizing the magazine. With the guarantees that
were provided by Léon Bassane and M. Markovitz,  who were members of the
committee, Maleh managed to improve the magazine’s image and status
within the community. L’AURORE became independent and successful. It was
only in 1941, as a result of the economic consequences of World War II,
that the magazine was closed for ever.

Like
the magazine ISRAEL, L’AURORE defined itself as a Jewish National
publication and presented succinct pro Zionist inclinations. Sciutto was
outraged at the indifference of most of the Jewish community, including
its religious and institutions’ leaders, who shunned from taking part
in the Zionist effort to establish the National Home. In 1925, when
Baron Jacques de Menasce was elected the head of the Zionist board in
Alexandria, Sciutto urged the wealthy in Cairo to follow the Alexandrian
example.

L’AURORE was the
first Jewish magazine to struggle against the Nazi regime. Already in
1933 it alerted its readers of the Nazi movement that had just risen to
power. L’AURORE published an open letter to Egypt’s Acting Prime
Minister demanding to outlaw the Nazi party in Cairo and to expel its
leaders. The magazine warned the world from the consequences of the Nazi
ascend  to power. In fact L’AURORE became the voice of the “Contra
Anti-Semitism League” in Cairo.  

Lucien
Sciutto was a Zionist activist, a journalist, an author and educator.
After his departure from the magazine he devoted himself to teaching
French in high-schools and in 1941he became a principal of a Jewish
school in Alexandria.

Click here to access L’Aurore archive

‘Jewish life in Turkey is slowly being suffocated’

Turkey feels like a dictatorship hiding in plain sight, writes Annika Rothstein  in this insightful piece in Rebel. Yet few Jews would have voted for anyone in the recent elections other than Prime Minister Erdogan, believing he alone would ensure stability. No Jew has ever been arrested, but fewer identify publically as Jews. ‘It is a slow suffocation of Jewish
existence, as opposed to an outright shot to the heart’. (With thanks: Michelle)

Nisim’s grandfather suffered under the Turkish “wealth tax” that as
instituted in the early 1940s, aimed at Armenians, Jews, Greeks and
Levantines. The official reason for the tax was to amass funds for a
possible entry into WW2, but in reality it was a way of throwing
Turkey’s non-Muslims into financial ruin and despair.

Because of his inability to pay the massive dhimmi-tax,
Nissim’s grandfather was thrown into a prison camp and his grandmother
borrowed money from Muslim bankers in order to get him out.
Once freed, he was forced to work several jobs for the rest of his life,
just to manage the payments, and all the untold stories of this
hardship is reflected it Nisim’s eyes as he stands at the foot of his
grave.

I take a picture of Nisim but he asks me not to post it on social media.

“The government is already monitoring me, and I don’t want to give
them an excuse to say that I am some sort of terrorist, speaking ill of
Turkey or complaining about our history.”

I try really hard not to show the anger I feel at his words; anger at
how little has changed since the dhimmi-laws and the outright
persecution, and at how the Jews of this land are still locked in a
prison of fear and silence. Feeling that my reaction would somehow be
disrespectful or patronizing I walk next to him in silence, reading each
name out loud to myself; making sense of the words as the outside world
befuddles me.

During Ramadan when I was there, the pace of the city is sluggish in
the unrelenting heat. Nisim and I go to a nearby kosher restaurant, the
only one around, and Nisim shows his ID-card at the unmarked door, revealing the word “Musevi” (Jew) in bold black letters.
The owners of the otherwise empty eatery treat us like royalty, and
while they speak no Hebrew they chatter in fluent Ladino, one of the few
remnants of a time that was.

There is a warm familiarity between the two of us, despite the fact
that we didn’t know each other’s names just a few days ago. Regardless
of geography, age or our levels of observance, we are just two Jews
sharing a meal, cooked according to the rules of our ancient faith.
Right below the restaurant lays a small but ornate synagogue, and as we
walk through it we are approached by the curious keepers of the keys,
asking for our names and ID. This is the case in every Jewish
institution in this city; the doors are unmarked but heavily guarded and
usually, getting in takes more than one form of verification.

That feeling is everywhere – the low-level fear and hostility.
Turkey is a deeply conservative country, shrouded in modern attire.
While there may be plenty of scantily clad European tourists on the
streets of Istanbul, I am told not to walk alone at night and definitely
not wear my Magen David necklace or tell anyone that I am a Jew. Having
already spent time in Iran I am surprised at how this place feel more
menacing, somehow, perhaps because the world is in agreement on what
Iran is, whereas Turkey still is able to play the role of country among
countries while its leadership does away with basic rights and freedoms.
It feels like a dictatorship hiding in plain sight, jailing and killing
minorities and journalists while millions of tourists take selfies on
the beaches of Antalya.

Erdogan has achieved stability, says Turkish Jewish author Rifat Bali
when I meet up with him in his downtown office. He agreed to meet with
me after a great deal of coaxing, and as soon as I walk in I can sense a
tension coming off of him, in action as well as in words:

“Erdogan is the best option for the Jews in this election. I mean,
what options are there? Anything but Erdogan would mean chaos, and chaos
has never ever favored the Jews.”

Rifat Bali: ‘Turkish Jews live a dual life’

Nissim is sitting next to me and he boldly interjects in
disagreement, receiving little but a scoff for his trouble. Mr. Bali
assures me that the Jews will not be persecuted under Erdogan and that,
as far as he knows, no Jew has even been arrested. When I ask him about
the President’s constant and virulent anti-Israel rhetoric, Bali shrugs
and says that this is a language that means very little in actual terms
in this part of the world:

“Turkish Jews live a dual life, where we know not to put Israel on
the forefront, but keep that private. The Turkish Jews that remain here
are well off, they live good lives, and they know how to survive in this
environment where very few Turks carry the baggage of rational
thought.”

And he is not wrong, at least not about the last part. The
remaining Turkish Jews have developed excellent survival skills, and
very few still carry their Jewish family names but have adapted and
changed to accommodate their surroundings. There is still more
of a Jewish framework here than in my native Sweden – such as several
kosher butcheries, three kosher mikvaot and at least three daily
minyanim – but the power of self-censorship has set in long ago and
fewer and fewer keep kosher, use the Mikve or partake in any other form
of observant Jewish life. It is a slow suffocation of the Jewish
existence, as opposed to an outright shot to the heart.

As Turkey approaches their general elections, Jews are keeping well
out of the way of the public debate and focusing on staying off the
radar. Recent events, such as the embassy moving to Jerusalem and
violent riots in and around Gaza, has raised the threat level and caused
discord within the community, as many now feel that they are being
targeted based on Israeli and American policy, despite doing their best
to slip into the shadows.

Nisim and his family listen to me as I sing the “Birkat Hamazon,” and
afterwards we retire to the living room with the traditional glass of
chai and delicate plates, overflowing with fruit. We are in a Jewish
bubble now, a place of comfort for all of us, and very little reminds us
of the troubling status quo that looms outside those doors. By
nightfall the next day, I will be leaving, and the family will stay in a
country that for decades has done its best to force them out. I am as
impressed by their dignity and tenacity as I am heartsick for their
peril, and as a fellow diaspora Jew with centuries of roots in a land
that treats me like a stranger I fully understand why they feel they
have to stay and see this through.

Perhaps Rifat Bali was right; maybe the leadership of Turkey doesn’t
matter to the Jews, as there are no leaders left who would protect them.
To seek the status quo, though, is a fallacy, because Erdogan will
likely not rest on his laurels if he lives to fight another day. Mr.
Bali laughed at me when I asked him if Turkish Jews faced a possible
expulsion under an even more totalitarian Erdogan rule, saying that this
was typical hyperbole, emanating from an ignorant foreign media. But after a week in Istanbul I see that there are many ways to expel a people, or to simply make them disappear.
Nisim’s grandfather is proof of that, having been taxed out of house
and home and penalized to near assimilation. Today’s Turkish Jews are
fading into the woodwork, despite thousands of years of glorious
history, and while the Turkish government may claim it is done by choice
it is clear to me that this is done out of heartbreaking necessity.

Read article in full

Stop Algeria claiming Jewish heritage as its own!

 On 31 July 2018, The Cultural Property Advisory Committee
in the US will meet to review Algeria’s request for US
import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material. On the surface, a country cannot be faulted for wanting to safeguard its archaeological and cultural heritage. But every Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the US and Arab countries legitimises the appropriation of moveable Jewish heritage – scrolls, documents, artefacts – seized by Arab governments from their expelled and dispossessed Jewish communities. The best example of this is the Iraqi-Jewish archive: a campaign has been underway to stop the archive from returning to Iraq. But this case is just a symptom of a much larger picture of abuse, argues JIMENA.

 Torah scrolls in the ark at the Bone (now Annaba) synagogue 

Unfortunately, the Iraqi Jewish Archive case is only one of several
instances where our American Government has signed agreements
recognizing Arab governments’ seizures of Jewish property. Our
government has been signing Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) –
agreements between the US and foreign governments that blockade the
entry of art and cultural property to the USA and deny Jews from Arab
countries the rights to their historic heritage.  The signing of MOUs
with Middle Eastern countries validates those countries’ confiscation of
Jewish property and heritage and simultaneously denies the rights of
Jews and other religious minorities to their cultural patrimony.

The signing of the MOUs is done under the auspices of The Cultural
Property Implementation Act (CPIA). This law provides for the US to
enter into agreements with foreign nations to temporarily restrict the
import of “significant” cultural items as part of a multi-nation effort
to deter looting of ancient archeological sites. Over time the State
Department has broadened the scope of the law to provide for “near
permanent” bans on the import of ALL cultural items to the present time.
The MOUs recognize those nation’s claims and seizures of all cultural
property, including the personal property of individuals and the
communal property of religious and ethnic groups.

The MOUs are based on a flawed premise – that Jewish cultural
property constitutes the national heritage of Arab governments. In fact,
Jewish cultural property in Arab countries was expropriated from
private homes, schools, and synagogues. It is the heritage and patrimony
of 850,000 indigenous Jewish refugees who were ethnically cleansed and
fled their homes and property under duress. Jewish patrimony was never
the property or national heritage of Arab governments – in fact most
Arab governments have done little to preserve the remnants or memory of
Jewish history in the countries. Today Jewish communities from Arab
countries and their descendants live outside of the Arab world and most
are restricted from entering their countries of origin.

Examples of these MOUs include:

Algeria: ACTION REQUIRED NOW!
– Following the lead of Yemen, the Algerian government has recently
requested an MOU from the State Department.  The open session of the
Cultural Property Advisory Committee will be held on July 31, 2018, at
10:30 a.m. (EDT). It will last approximately an hour and a half.
 Members of the public and press will participate electronically. If you
wish to make comments you must do so no later than July 15, 2018. More
information on how to participate and submit comments can be found by clicking here

Egypt: The U.S. MOU with Egypt, signed in November, 2016, covers virtually all objects of cultural heritage dating from the Predynastic period (5,200 B.C.) through 1517 A.D, including Hebrew scrolls, books, manuscripts, and documents, including religious, ceremonial, literary, and administrative texts.”

Libya: On
February 23, 2018, the US Department of State signed an MOU with Libya
to restrict importation of objects of ‘Libyan cultural heritage’
including items owned by the ethnically-cleansed Libyan Jewish
community.

Syria: The
2016  designated list of import restrictions from Syria includes
“[t]orahs and portions thereof” and “Jewish paintings [which] may
include iconography such as menorahs,” and “religious, ceremonial,
literary, and administrative material,” including but not limited to 
maps, archival materials, photographs, and other rare or important
documentary or historical evidence.”

Yemen:  On January 31, the International Committee of Museums announced the release of a Red List for Yemen,
which targets Hebrew manuscripts and Torahs, while reaffirming the
Yemeni government claims to Jewish property.  Frequently, issuing a
State Department funded Red List is the first step in a campaign to
smooth the way for an MOU.

The aforementioned nations either ethnically cleansed, expelled or
terrorized their ancient Jewish communities into flight and seized their
property.  Under UN Resolution 242,  Jews fleeing Arab countries were
bona fide refugees yet today, these nations claim private and communal
Jewish property as their own heritage through cultural patrimony laws.
Unfortunately, US government agreements effectively endorse these
seizures of Jewish property.

No further agreement should be made with a state where Jews were
subjected to state-sanctioned Anti-Semitism, Nuremberg like laws and
ethnic-cleansing. No persecuting nation can lay claim to the legacy of a
proud and ancient Jewish community. Moreover, the annual State
Department Human Rights Report annually reports violations of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and that Report must include
violations of the Declaration’s Article 17.  Article 17 states that no
individual or community should be arbitrarily deprived of their
property. Therefore, the United States should not enter into any
agreement, and should withdraw from any existing agreement, with a with a
foreign state that either condones, supports or promotes any Article 17
violation by that state.

These MOUs claim to be about looting, but their broad scope and
limited evidence of success suggests their real impact is providing a
legal vehicle to legitimize foreign confiscations and wrongful ownership
claims. Legitimate efforts to curb looting are essential, but they must
be targeted to preserve archaeological resources, and not to disguise
the brazen property confiscations of tyrants.

The US must stop returning stolen property to Arab states 

 Cultural property agreements and the rights of ethnic minorities in the Middle East


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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.

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Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

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