Month: August 2018

Iraqi online poll favours return of Jews

 Most respondents to an online poll conducted on an Iraqi Facebook page were in favour of Jews coming back to Iraq. Of course, the poll asked the wrong question, seeking to turn the clock back 70 years to when Iraq had a thriving Jewish community. The question should have been: would you be willing to build bridges with Iraqi Jews in Israel? Nonetheless, the results do show that Jews have a positive image among most young, middle class Iraqi Facebook users. Meron Rapoport reports in +972 Magazine :

 Iraqi and Kurdish Jews arriving in Israel (Photo: Teddy Brauner/ GPO)

“Iraq’s Jews: 70 years after their expulsion, they seek to return to
Iraq and become citizens again. Are you in favor or against their
return, and granting them citizenship?”

This was the question posed
last Friday by Al-Khuwwa al-Nathifa (“The Clean Brotherhood”), one of
the most popular Facebook pages in Iraq, which has more than 1.7 million
followers. More than 62,000 people participated in the poll, which
received over 5,000 likes and 2,800 comments. The bottom line is, a
significant majority favors the return of Jewish Iraqis: around 77
percent voted for, 23 percent were against, and the voting ends on
Thursday, which makes the overall results unlikely to change.

I cannot attest to reading all 2,800 messages, but I did skim over
several hundred of them. Some of the comments are amusing: “Why would
they come back? To drink the waters of Basra, and live without
electricity? They might as well stay wherever they are,” one person
wrote. But the general sense is that, even among those who are less
enthusiastic about Jewish Iraqis returning, or want to limit their
return, “Iraq is for everyone.”

Many respondents recalled the place Jews occupy in Iraqi history.
“Iraq’s Jews helped develop Iraqi history in several fields: political,
economic, cultural, religious and social,” wrote Samir al-Sirafi. “We
hope that they will be granted the rights that were taken away from
them, because they are sons of this land, and are partners to its
well-being,” he added. Another wrote, “the Jews are the original
inhabitants.” Jews had lived for centuries as a minority in Iraq, until
the late 20th century, when hundreds of thousands of Iraqis either fled or were forcibly displaced from the country.

Others explicitly link the return of the Jews to the treatment of
other minorities: Christians, Kurds, Yazidis, and others. “We are all
humans, the Jews and the Christians are our brothers,” wrote Mustafa
al-Mihdawi. “There is no difference, and this is their country. We must
cooperate, following Prophet Muhammad’s moral tradition in collaborating
with all the monotheistic religions with pure intentions. Jews and
Christians, I love you.” This reaction earned 28 likes, more than any
other comment.

Some view Judaism as the remedy to the problems Iraq is facing today.
“We tried Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni,” wrote Amir al-Araji, “they are
all thieves. We will hand the government over to a Jew or a Christian,
maybe they will let us live in dignity.” Another person wrote: “I am
willing to give up my citizenship and hand it over to a Jew.” Qassem
Sima even finds a political opportunity in Jews: “The return of the Jews
to Iraq and their participation in the Communist Party are the only
solution to this country.” It seems the memory of the large membership
of Jews in the Iraqi Community Party pre-1948 is still alive.

A significant number of people who commented distinguished between
being Jewish and being Zionist. “The Jews are not our enemy,” wrote Aziz
Falah a-Shujiri, “our enemies are the Zionists who occupied Palestine.”
Despite that, he still supports the return of the Jews to Iraq.
Generally, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was present in the comments,
but not very definitively. Some suggested that, for Jews to receive
Iraqi citizenship, they should give up their other citizenships
– especially their Israeli one. Several said they support the return of
Jews to Iraq but only if Palestinian refugees would also be allowed to
return to their homes. One commenter, Ahmad al-Khudeir, said that Iraq
“needs to reach a peace agreement with Israel,” to guarantee peace and
security.

Of course, this is not a representative sample. The Facebook page –
administered by young Iraqis in their 30s – offers real-life assistance
to its members, and takes a strong stand against sectarianism in Iraq,
which they believe is the source of all problems afflicting their
nation. After Saddam Hussein’s persecution of Shiites and Kurds, and
after civil war, triggered by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, one
can understand why such an anti-sectarian position is gaining traction.

Read article in full

Return will not solve the refugee problem

 A recent call by the US ambassador the the UN, Nikki Haley, for an ‘examination’ of the Palestinian ‘right of return’ bodes an historic cut-off of US funding to UNWRA, the agency sustaining the Palestinian ‘refugees’. This is a timely opportunity to re-post an extract from this article by Lyn Julius in Jewish News. She argues for recognition of an exchange of refugee populations, not a Right of Return.

Nikki Haley (Photo: Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

According to Adi Schwartz, author of a new book with Einat Wilf called The War for Return(Hebrew)
, the problem at the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is that
‘Gaza’s inhabitants do not view that piece of land as their home, but
rather as a transit camp they will inhabit until the day they can return
to what they believe is their home. Because of this, they will far
prefer to invest their efforts and resources in returning to their
“true” home – by force if necessary – than in cultivating the temporary
one where they currently reside.’

The idea that the refugees should return to Israel, and not to
Palestine, runs counter to the two-state solution. What is the point of
establishing a Palestinian state if the Palestinian refugees still cling
to their ultimate objective of returning to Israel?

Apart from the fact that it would soon turn Israel into a
majority-Arab state, little thought is given to the mayhem that such a
return would produce. Refugee questions after such a long lapse of time
have not been solved by return. The great majority of Palestinian
refugees today never lived in the homes that they are programmed to
‘return’ to. Most might no longer exist. In 2010 the European Court of
Human Rights ruled against Greek Cypriots who demanded to return to
their properties in the northern part of the island now under
Turkish-Cypriot control. As so much time had elapsed since 1974 when the
Turks invaded the island, the Court ruled, in the words of Tel Aviv
professor Asher Susser, that ‘it was necessary to ensure that the
redress offered for these old injuries did not create disproportionate
new wrongs’. If this was true for Cyprus since 1974 it is all the more
true for Palestine since 1948. But the issue of the Palestinian refugees
needs to be seen alongside the parallel plight of the Jewish refugees,
who fled Arab countries for Israel in roughly equal numbers at about the
same time. A permanent exchange of refugee populations occurred. The
last thing the Jews want is a ‘right of return’ to countries which
remain as hostile and antisemitic as the day the refugees fled.

As long as the Right of Return is the cornerstone of the
Palestinians’ strategy, the 650,000 Jewish refugees who fled from Arab
lands to Israel remain its antidote. Yet the issue of the Jewish
refugees is either denied or ignored. When Jewish and Palestinian
‘narratives’ are juxtaposed, the Jewish refugees remain invisible. When
Fisk goes hunting for original Palestinian homes and the locks which fit
the Palestinian keys, invariably he finds a Jew from Poland or Romania
now occupying the Arab home, never a Jew from Yemen or Iraq. In other
words, Jews did not come to Israel because they were fleeing Arab and
Muslim antisemitism.The innocent Palestinian is ‘paying the price of the
Nazi Holocaust’ – a European crime.

Do the Palestinians really believe that they will return, 70 years
after the fact? Even Robert Fisk is doubtful. But the two-state solution
is now dead, he claims without a hint of irony, because of Israeli
‘violence’.

It seems that the Palestinian strategy is, with the help of
anti-Zionist Jews, to radicalise Arab Israeli youth (sorry – the
Palestinian citizens of Israel). Their greatest hope is to raise an
insurgency of enraged Arabs within the Green Line. The far-left website
972 features Udna (The Return):
this is is a subversive organisation, advocating certain war and
turmoil, not peace, based on nostalgia for places that no longer exist
and are only a few kilometers from where these young Arab Israelis live
now. The young are not told any context: their villages were destroyed
in a war which their side started and lost. (The Druze and several
Bedouin clans in the Galil did not have their villages destroyed,
because they did not take up arms in the 1948 war). And as usual for
972, the stories of Jews expelled from Arab lands
– half the Jews of Israel – their former homes, their glorious synagogues, their seized land and property – is totally ignored. Another far-left anti-Zionist organisation called Zochrot,
supported by EU bodies and churches, holds conferences actively
preparing for the day when the Palestinian refugees will return. Zochrot
considers the Jews from Arab countries only relevant in their role as
victims of the ‘European, colonial’ state of Israel. There is never any
discussion of compensation or even recognition of the injustice done to
Jewish refugees and their descendants – now half the Jews of Israel.

Other internationally-funded Israeli organisations working for the
Palestinian Right of Return include the Coalition of Women for Peace,
Gush Shalom, the Alternative Information centre, Adalah, Mossava and
Mada-al-Carmel.

Thus these organisations work against peace and reconciliation, not to further it.

Lyn Julius is the author of ‘Uprooted: How 3,000 years of Jewish civilisation in the Arab world vanished overnight’ (Vallentine Mitchell)

Read post in full 

Is a historic decision on UNWRA imminent? 

Why are Palestinian refugees different from all other refugees?




Tunisian play grapples with persecution of Jews

A Mediterranean Theatre festival taking place in the once-overwhelmingly Jewish resort of La Goulette in Tunisia is featuring
what appears to be a thoughtful play on Jewish identity in the Arab
world, blogger Elder of Ziyon reveals. Although it is predictably anti-Zionist, Elder thinks ‘Joyev’ is rather remarkable since it deals with a subject which he believes has never been addressed in Arab arts: Jews persecuted in Arab countries. But the 2015 Egyptian TV series The Jewish Quarter broke new ground with its sympathetic Jewish characters.  

The Jewish characters from ‘Joyev’

The piece seems to be titled “Joyev” and it deals with Jews in a
fictional Jewish village during the Tunisian revolution. Parts of the
plot include a Jewish law student who was expelled from university
because of her religion, Jewish families who are too frightened to go
out into the streets for fear of the Arab mobs, and a Jew who wants to
smuggle out an ancient Torah to preserve it (presumably in Israel) while
others want it to go to a Tunisian museum because Jewish heritage is an
integral part of Tunisian history.

The piece is also predictably anti-Zionist, saying that Israel tries to
sow and exploit divisions among Jews in Tunisia to prompt them to make
aliyah.

But it asks basic questions of how to be a Jew in a country that has
treated Jews badly even though they have lived there for years; how Jews
grappled with the idea of emigrating to Europe when they were in
danger, the Jewish struggle to defend their country of birth when they
were marginalized. These are some serious topics and I have never seen
them addressed in Arabic arts.

Read blog in full

Museum could be memorial to extinct mountain Jews

Relations between Azerbaijan and Israel could not be better, but  they cannot stop the decline of the local Jewish community. A new Jewish museum may be no more than a memorial to a dying community, reports Cnaan Liphshiz in Israel National News:

For one day each summer, the hills overlooking the centuries-old
Jewish town of Krasnaiya Sloboda in Azerbaijan echo with the sound of
wailing women.

The women ascend up a narrow path from this town of several hundred
residents in northern Azerbaijan to its vast cemetery. It’s an annual
procession on Tisha b’Av, the Jewish day of mourning for the destruction
of the Temple in Jerusalem.

At the cemetery, each woman sits next to a loved one’s grave –
usually a husband or child, but sometimes a parent or sibling. She sings
mournfully for hours in Juhuri, a dying Jewish language made up of
Farsi and Hebrew with Aramaic and Turkic influences that is spoken only
by the Mountain Jews of the Caucasus.

Hundreds perform the ritual each year; some travel halfway across the
world to attend. It is a testament to how Krasnaiya Sloboda’s Mountain
Jews have endured for about a millennium since Persian Jews established
the town with the blessing of a local Muslim ruler.

Next year, the community hopes to strengthen its sense of identity
even further with the opening in town of a multimillion-dollar Mountain
Jews museum. Spearheaded by a wealthy expatriate living in Moscow, the
museum will feature artifacts collected from throughout the Caucasus,
including ritual objects, documents and other evidence of the Jewish
life that thrived here for centuries on the border between Europe and
Asia.

But amid growing emigration by Jews from the rural and impoverished
area, some locals and experts on the community fear for its long-term
viability and that of its language — and that the museum will be less a
living tribute than a memorial.

“The demographic trajectory isn’t promising,” said Chen Bram, an
anthropologist from Hebrew University and Hadassah Academic College who
has researched Mountain Jews for decades. “I hope this new museum
doesn’t eventually become a monument for an extinct community” in
Krasnaiya Sloboda.

Read article in full

Musings on hearing a Persian wedding song

 Jews and non-Jews from the Persian city of Shiraz recite a wedding song unknown to other Iranians. It set Tabby Refael thinking about how age-old cultural traditions still survive in contemporary America. But for how much longer? Article in the Jewish Journal of LA:

I am intermarried. 

That is to say, I am a Jew from Tehran who married a Jew from Shiraz, Iran. 

In the United States, that’s usually about as far as intermarriage goes for Persian Jews. For now, anyway. 

Some are beginning to marry non-Persian Jews, and their Ashkenazi
spouses appear ecstatic to finally be able to eat rice during Passover —
and only slightly less important, finally to have found love.

At a recent ketubah-signing for my sister-in-law (a Shirazi) and her
fiance (a Tehrani), the sound of the non-Persian rabbi’s voice as he
spoke about the obligations of marriage was drowned out by the melodic
unity of Shirazi mothers pouring their hearts out singing “Vasoonak
Shirazi,” the wedding song whose melody all Iranians in Iran know,
regardless of faith. I knew that song before I could walk, talk or grill
my own meat by the age of 3.

Beyond its soulful poets, famous gardens and, before the revolution,
its winemaking legacy, the southern city of Shiraz also has produced one
of the greatest Persian songs of all time, whose words, sadly, few in
my generation of 30-somethings know (much less 20-somethings and younger
folks). At least the original song has been commercialized — some will
recognize it as “Mobarak Baad,” which has a few of the original
couplets.

Read article in full

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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.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

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