For the first time, a Hanukiah was lit at the tomb of the Prophet Nahum at al-Kosh in Kurdistan, as reported by i24 News. The lighting took place on the last day of the festival. Yet there are no practising Jews in Kurdistan and no community to speak of, other than the descendants of 400 families with Jewish roots, all of whom are now Muslim. One assumes that the ceremony took place as a symbol of defiance towards Da’esh (IS), which had reached within 11 miles of the tomb before being defeated, and enables Kurdistan to show off its pluralism. The decision to hold the ceremony could also be linked to the renovation of the tomb of Nahum.
Some had traveled from Israel, but the majority came from the three provinces of Iraqi Kurdistan to come together to light the Hanukkah candles, which celebrate the miracle of the cruse of oil that lasted for eight days.
“It’s the first time we are celebrating Hanukkah in Iraqi Kurdistan,” one of the organizers Ranj Cohen said.
Cohen, an Iraqi Kurd, registered his association with the authorities and plans to complete the renovation of the prophet Nahum’s tomb so as to hold services there on Saturdays.
He hopes to have all readied early next year.
For the time being, the small congregation distributes sweets and chocolate-iced cakes as they hope for better days in Iraq, and especially in Kurdistan.
In 2015, when IS still occupied a third of Iraq and the territory of the self-proclaimed “caliphate” bordered the majority-Muslim autonomous region, the local authorities appointed a representative of the Jewish community to the Ministry of Religious Affairs.
The restoration of the Nebi Daniel synagogue in Alexandria has been greeted with rejoicing and gratitude. But this is the price Jews are paying for the preservation of their heritage: according to this article in Egypt Independent, the Egyptian government has declared ‘protected’ 13 artefacts. This means that it is starting to nationalise moveable communal property that might
have been restored to its Jewish owners. (With thanks: JIMENA)
A Torah scroll in the Nebi Daniel synagogue (Photo: Nebi Daniel Association)
The Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt has approved registering 13 artifacts, including Torah scrolls, candlesticks and lanterns, belonging to synagogues in Alexandria and across Egypt’s governorates, in preparation for listing them under the Antiquities Protection Law.
Mohamed Mahran, head of the Central Department of Jewish Antiquities at the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, said that the move to approve registering the pieces as antiquities represents the first of its kind.
In a conversation with Al-Masry Al-Youm, Mahran said that specialized scientific and technical committees had submitted a list of 500 pieces from 13 different Egyptian synagogues, including the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue in Alexandria.
The Permanent Committee for Antiquities then approved the selection of 13 artifacts from the list.
The Supreme Council of Antiquities approved the selected artifacts in accordance with established regulations, Mahran noted, adding that the pieces handpicked for antiquity status under the Antiquities Protection Law are over 100 years old and have a specific history.
The Council recommended that the remaining 487 pieces be preserved in preparation for further study and scientific research. The pieces came from a group of around 6,000 total artifacts examined by scientific and technical committees, which included academic professors specializing in archaeology and experts from the Ministry of Antiquities.
In the fourth of a series*, CAMERA Arabic takes Sky News Arabic to task for spreading unsubstantiated allegations that Israel caused the exodus of Jews from Arab countries. Many of these are stapes of Arab propaganda, but in refuting them the original piece does refer back to some useful links and sources.
Regarding the series of attacks against Iraqi Jewish targets, all carried out in Baghdad between April 1950 and June 1951, their perpetrators and their influence on the Jews’ exodus, all are a matter of a heated historical debate to this day. Apart of the usual “Israel did it” allegation, always a classic of Arab mainstream propaganda that has recently been promoted by “critical theorists” and “new historians”, other more probable suspects have been floated, either by interested parties or scholars.
Among the suspects are Iraqi nationalists (based on the only recorded admission of two perceived culprits ever made), Muslim Brotherhood Islamists, as well as local Jews who – albeit members of the Zionist underground – were operating outside Israeli directives.
Allegedly, the Iraqi Zionists initiated several attacks after the only fatal attack, the Messouda Shemtob synagogue bombing of January 1951, was already carried out (they were certain that the synagogue attack was the work of the Muslim Brotherhood).
This was done to prove the innocence of their fellow underground members, arrested by the Iraqi authorities shortly after the synagogue bombing. At that point most Iraqi Jews were already registered for emigration, so Israel didn’t even have an interest in rushing them out of Iraq.
Moreover, two independent commissions found no connection between Israeli intelligence and the events: the first secretly assembled in 1960 by David Ben Gurion’s instructions; the second as a part of a libel lawsuit filed in 1977 by a former intelligence agent against an Israeli journalist. Eventually, the trial concluded in 1981 with the journalist apologising and retracting his accusations as a part of a settlement.
Currently, the theory about Israeli involvement in the bombings relies heavily on quite oblique pieces of evidence, none of which can be considered substantial:
• The Iraqi official “investigation”, which brought about the arrest, torture and trial of two Zionist underground members, Yosef Ibrahim Basri and Shalom Saleh Shalom. Both were convicted of the synagogue bombing** and were eventually executed; however, despite having found large amounts of hidden weapons as a result of the two’s arrest, the Iraqi authorities were never able to draw a plausible connection between them and any of the attacks, or between them and the Israeli authorities.
A common belief among the Iraqi Jewish community that such involvement existed. Notably, it only became widespread and subsequently faced unrelated hardships.
Unfounded estimates of UK and US diplomats and intelligence agents, accusing Israel of responsibility for the events. A single British report explicitly refrained from questioning Basri and Saleh’s trial, stating there was “no reason to suppose that the trials were conducted in anything but a normal manner”, notwithstanding it being a trial of Zionists conducted by an Arab regime in the early 1950s.
Alleged similarities between the 1950-1951 Baghdad attacks and the 1954 Cairo and Alexandria ones which lay at the heart of the Lavon affair (see more under Egypt below), despite the fact that the latter never targeted Jews.
• An analysis of the Israeli interest in speeding up the Jewish exodus from Iraq. Israeli historian Moshe Gat has pointed out that the main advocates of this analysis base it on distorted dates and statistics.
In conclusion, to unconditionally assign responsibility for the attacks to the Israeli government, as Sky News Arabia did, reflects absolutely no fact checking on the reporter’s behalf.
The first intelligence-related Israeli operations in Yemen date back to the mid-1960s, when Israel sought to interrupt the Egyptian intervention in the Yemenite civil war by providing weapons and funding to the side who fought the Egyptians. This happened more than a decade after Operation On Wings of Eagles (“Magic Carpet”), which was completed in 1950 – notably, before the Mossad even existed as an intelligence agency that was permitted to operate independently outside Israel.
Admittedly, some researches suggest that Israel, not oblivious to the humanitarian crisis some Yemenite Jews were facing, secretly colluded with Yemen’s monarch, influencing his decision in favor of allowing Jews wishing to depart his kingdom to do so. However, this can’t possibly be considered a conspiracy of Israeli intelligence agents to “sow strife and unrest” in Yemen. All the more absurd is the suggestion that the political turmoil, economic difficulties and antisemitic hostilities of the late 1940s – generally perceived as the immediate factors which drove the Jews of the Kingdom of Yemen and the Aden British Protectorate to leave for Israel – are a part of such a conspiracy. This has no historical basis whatsoever.
The identities of most of the 1950-1951 Iraq bombing perpetrators are still unknown. In contrast, an examination of the Egyptian case leaves little doubt that those who orchestrated what the Sky report referred to as “bombing attacks targeting Jewish businesses” – a series of deadly attacks which targeted Jews in Cairo in 1948 – belonged to ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, agitated by Egypt’s losing war effort against Israel. Not a single English or Hebrew source seriously debates the possibility that Israel, still waging its War of Independence at the time of attacks, would divert its limited resources to engage in such an operation, killing dozens of Egyptian Jews in the process. Additionally, it is unclear why the Sky report mentioned the attacks in the context of Gamal ‘Abd an-Nasser’s rule, since he led the military coup against King Farouq only in 1952.
As for Nasser, his direct responsibility for the many thousands of Jews forced out of Egypt during the 1950s and 1960s is undeniable.
Furthermore, while Nasser himself publicly rejected the “anti-Semite” label and insisted that he opposed Zionism alone, in practice his official policies and propaganda did next to nothing to distinguish the two. In other words, even if Nasser himself wasn’t openly anti-Semitic, his regime definitely was.
Marcelle Ninio, who was involved in the Lavon Affair.
What was the contribution of Israeli policy to the Egyptian decision-making process that produced the mass persecution of local Jews? Indeed, the 1954 espionage affair and 1956 Suez crisis, to which Israel was responsible, has considerably worsened the relations between the Jews of Egypt on the one hand and the Egyptian government and Muslim majority on the other.
However, these Israeli moves never intended to encourage Jewish immigration: the Lavon affair attacks were conceived as false flag, and Operation Musketeer/Sinai Campaign of 1956 had strategic objectives that went far beyond the concerns of Egypt’s small Jewish minority.
It is also debatable to what extent local Jews would be persecuted had Egypt not been in a conflict with Israel. Judging by the fate of Egypt’s Greeks, Copts, Armenians, Italians and Levantine Christians under Nasser’s nationalist regime, all ethnic and religious minorities who lived in the country for generations and were never involved politically with a foreign power hostile to Egypt, it seems very likely that Jews would have been targeted nonetheless, in one way or another.
Once again we’re amazed at how most Arabic-speaking media outlets, purporting to present themselves as “Western” via their brand names, engage in the same kind of baseless, hateful propaganda that (non-Western) Middle Eastern media channels have perfected, often at the order of their local governments.
The name’s Mordechai. Mordechai Ben-Porat. Profile in the Jerusalem Report of the 96-year-old ‘James Bond’ of Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, the mass airlift of 120,000 Iraqi Jews between 1950 – 52. Despite Ben-Porat’s exploits in the Zionist underground, the article should also have credited the equally aged Shlomo Hillel, a Mossad agent posing as an Englishman, who negotiated the airlift with members of the Iraqi government. It cost 12 dinars to airlift each Jew out of the country. The money was raised mainly by the Joint American Distribution Committee. (With thanks: Lily, Imre and Sami)
It was a hot night in June 1951. Summer’s daytime roasting heat had somewhat abated, but it was still hot. Running for one’s life, hoping to escape a country that sought his life, did not help. Heart pounding, the man’s sweat quickly evaporated into the dry desert air.
As instructed by Israel’s precursor to today’s intelligence agency, Mossad, the undercover shaliah of Mossad LeAliya Bet crouched behind a berm at the end of the runway. It was almost 1:30 in the morning. Head shaved by a gaoler and with two broken teeth, his body ached from recent blows; his battered face was swollen.
Mordechai Ben-Porat: tortured in jail
Making his way through a swamp to the hiding place, he was covered in mud. After more than two years of work posing under numerous false identities – including Habib, Zaki, Nissim, Salman, Nouri, Noa, Dror – his cover was blown.
A commercial plane full of passengers taxied to its place for takeoff. Pausing to flash its lights, the signal was given.
Dashing out, exposed and in the open, Mordechai Ben-Porat raced to the aircraft’s tail where, he was told, a rope would be dangling.
He would have to climb to freedom – if it was there, that is – and if the secret police did not appear, if the pilot and crew did not panic, if he had the strength to shimmy up the thin and prickly cord.
Arrested three weeks prior, he had been chained and brutally tortured for information. Subjected to beatings, nakedness, sleeplessness, innuendo and threats, his cell mates – murderers and thieves – were sympathetic. His tormentors were compelled to relent only when a Muslim attorney, Yousif Fattal, convinced a judge to grant him bail, including a little extra for the magistrate.
Press reports that an official evaluation of property and assets lost by Jews fleeing Arab countries amounts to $150 billion have prompted this piece by David A Dangoor in the Jerusalem Post. This staggering amount counters the myth that Jews in Arab countries were backward, poor and uncivilised. But Dangoor believes that Jews not only have claims to private property, they have a moral claim over the national assets subsequently squandered by Arab states on terrorism and corruption.
David A Dangoor: moral claim
The news that the Israeli government is finally tackling this issue, not as a talking point but as an issue with practical ramifications, is extremely welcome and overdue.
While the considered research, facts and figures are in cold black and white, they bring color to our story and history, one largely unknown or overlooked in Israel and the wider Jewish world for too long.
They also provide much needed push back against the regrettable canard that the Jews from Arab lands were backward, uncivilized, uncultured and poor, and that they had little of substance in the lands from whence they fled.
The Jews of the Arab world, like any other Diaspora, constituted a mixed population in terms of economic status, but when they were given the opportunity, they contributed massively to all walks of life in their nations of origin until this all came crashing down due to a series of unprecedented discriminatory, legal, economic and social measures taken against them in the middle of the last century.
In fact, the issue of redress should not just be limited to private and communal assets lost. A cursory reading of history would have demonstrated that had the Jews been allowed to stay, they would have had the benefit of their share of the national assets of the countries they were forced to leave.
As elsewhere, Jews contributed far beyond their numbers and would dictate and assist the economies and societies of which they were a part.
When they were forced out, many of these countries descended into chaos and subsequently failed economies.
If they had remained, Jews would have contributed to making those assets work for the welfare of their countries of origin and their peoples. Instead, these national assets were largely wasted on corruption and terrorism.
Thus, the exiled Jews also have a moral claim to a share of that wasted wealth.
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.