Month: May 2019

Remember the Farhud, 78 years on

On  the 78th anniversary of the Farhud on 1 and 2 June 1941,  we recall the most traumatic event in the collective memory
of Iraqi Jewry. It  took place  on the Jewish holiday of Shavuoth: 180 people were
brutally murdered, thousands were wounded and raped, and shops and
synagogues were plundered and destroyed. Here is an account prepared by the Museum of the Jewish People (Bet Hatfutsot) and reproduced in Haaretz:

attack on the city’s flourishing, peaceful Jewish community is usually
referred to as the trigger for the Iraqi aliyah to Israel. But seldom is
the question asked: How could such a pogrom have occurred in the first
place in Iraq – a place where Jews had lived in peace for centuries, a
country that did not seem to suffer anti-Semitic norms? 

An examination of the historical
background reveals the Farhud’s causes: the opposing interests of the
Iraqi government and the British Empire, Nazi Germany’s influence,
internal Arab movements, and a struggle between groups of Iraqi
intellectuals. The unfortunate Jews were caught in the middle. 

Nissim Kazzaz has researched Iraqi Jewry and managed to put the Farhud
in its historical context. Until the 1920s there was no significant
evidence of anti-Semitism in Iraq. Old restrictions from the Ottoman era
were abolished during the 20th century and the establishment of the
British Mandate after World War I soon changed the Jews situation for
the better. 

Yet World War I had other outcomes as well. The Iraqi elite were introduced to “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,
a forged text that was partly translated from the original Russian into
Arabic. New movements were rising in that period in Iraq, some of which
argued that as long as the Jews did not hold national inspirations,
they were part of the Iraqi nation without obstacles.

Jews at a synagogue waiting to waive their Iraqi citizenship in order to emigrate to Israel, Baghdad, March 1950.

(Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy David Petel)

But other movements, such as Al Istiklal,
had a different opinion. Perceiving the Iraqi nationality as Arabic and
Muslim, they would not include religious minorities such as the Jews.
Formally, after Iraq received independence from Britain in 1932, the
Jews were considered Iraqi citizens, but some voices always argued
against their integration.

At the same time, the world was going
through profound changes. Fascist leaders rising in Europe such as
Hitler and Mussolini had supporters among the Iraqi elite who resented
the British. Even after independence, the British still expected certain
privileges, especially in the transfer of goods through Iraq, which the
Iraqi nationalists would not yield. They insisted that Iraq should
establish a close relationship with Germany instead of being exploited
by Britain. 

Meanwhile, Hitler’s Mein Kampf and
speeches were translated into Arabic, and German educators came to Iraq
to spread radical anti-Semitic propaganda. Iraqi newspapers went all the
more pro-German, especially after 1939. They asserted, for example,
that Iraqi Jews and the Zionists were one and the same, that world Jewry
was scheming to ruin the glorious nation of Iraq, and that Jews must be
banished from public life. 

help from the Germans, the Al-Fatwa religious movement was founded; it
espoused the keeping to strict Islamic rules and practices by all
citizens, and it was inspired by the Hitler Youth. At a certain point,
all students and teachers were forced to join the movement – including
the Jews. In 1939 the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini,
settled in Iraq, lobbied for the Germans and spread hatred against the

The tension boiled over on April 1, 1941.
Until that day Iraq did not assist the British, but it also did not
assist Germany directly. Eventually, Prime Minister Rashid Ali decided
it was time to switch allies. He launched a coup against the pro-British
officials; he then announced that Iraq would no longer assist Britain
with airplane fuel, and even sent military forces to British bases in
Iraq. By the end of April, the British had attacked the Iraqi army,
which was now backed up by Luftwaffe pilots. 

In May, the British fought the
German-Iraqi force and had help from groups like the the Irgun Jewish
militia based in British Mandatory Palestine. In one operation in Iraq,
Irgun chief David Raziel was killed by the Germans and his body was kept
by the Iraqis until the early 1960s. Finally, with support from Indian
forces, the British forced the Iraqis to surrender, and on May 30 the
pro-German Iraqi officials escaped to Iran. Their successors signed the
surrender documents.

From that point the Jews were in
immediate danger. The surrender agreement stated that the British would
enter Baghdad within two days. The Al-Fatwa religious movement saw a
window of opportunity to incite the masses and blame the Jews for the
military failure against the British. They marked the houses of the Jews
in red and the next day, June 1, the mobs started rioting against the
Jews – the first such riots ever in Iraq.The rioters destroyed synagogues and
murdered, raped and wounded people – the elderly and infants were not
spared. The mob used all manner of weapons and also ran people over with
vehicles. But some Jews were hid by their Muslim neighbors, who put
themselves at great risk.

A platoon of soldiers in compulsory military service that was imposed on high school students by the Iraqi Army, Baghdad, 1940. A quarter of these conscripts were Jewish.

(Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy the Sehayek family)

The massacre only ended when the British
entered the city. The British actually knew about the pogrom a day
earlier but did not try to prevent it; just like the local authorities,
they preferred to let the masses vent their rage. 

After the Farhud, the Iraqi authorities
held an investigation, blamed nationalists, and even executed a few army
officers involved in the incitement. Husseini, the mufti, was also
mentioned in the investigation, and the German involvement was
recognized over the years. 

A monument in memory of the victims was
put up in Baghdad, but even so, the Farhud triggered the mass emigration
of Iraq’s Jews. Between 1950 and 1952, Israels Operation Ezra and
Nehemiah (1950-1952) brought some 120,000 people – 90 percent of Iraqs
Jews – to the young state. 


For Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People website go to:

Read article in full 

More about the Farhud 

Israeli performers build musical bridges

With thanks: Hen and Joseph

The Israeli musical offspring of Jews from Arab countries are drawing inspiration from their Arabic roots, modernising classic songs and building cultural bridges to Arab audiences via social media.

Dudu Tassa is the grandson of Daoud al-Kuwaity, one of the famed Al-Kuwaity brothers, who made  a lasting mark on popular music in Iraq and Kuwait in the 1940s, 50s and even into the 60s. Dudu has been resurrecting some of the old favourite songs and giving them a modern twist with his electric guitar. Dudu’s dream is to be able to perform to audiences in Iraq and Kuwait, as he explains in Arabic in this video clip made byJIMENA. 

Dudu Tassa: his dream is to perform in Arab countries

It is just four years since the Israeli -Yemenite girl group A-awa took the musical world by storm with their hit song Habib Galbi. This videoand song (‘This is not Yemen’ )  from their new album has already garnered almost a quarter of a million views on Youtube. Sung in Arabic, the lyrics evoke the hardships suffered by  their grandparents in the Yemenite aliya (1949 -50) . Consigned to tents, the new arrivals, fleeing Yemen as refugees, were branded ‘primitive’, given a tent to live in with four other families, and ended up in cleaning jobs or working the land. But the bountiful land of Israel is home. With time, they feel they will belong….

“Land of wheat and barley, grape and olive

Fig and pomegranate, date and home

Where will I stake a home?

(You have a tent for now)
Or at least a small shack
(Along with four other families)
And here I will raise a family
(Don’t let them take your daughter)
I’ll find myself a job with an income
(Either in cleaning or working the earth)
And I will learn the language
(Lose the accent)
With time I’ll feel like I belong
(Here is not Yemen)
Where will I stake a home?
(You have a tent for now)
Or at least a small shack
(Along with four other families)

I came to you a stranger

You saw me as primitive

I came to you fleeing

I saw you as a last resort…”

Drugs-fuelled Halimi murderer will not stand trial

The decision of the French courts to blame the murder of Sarah Halimi on drugs and not on Jew-hatred has caused consternation among Jewish groups: the murderer has been declared unfit to stand trial. This sets a dangerous precedent: a driver who kills under the influence of alcohol could have his sentence commuted. Jerusalem Post report:

The Simon Wiesenthal Center Europe expressed concern to French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet about the findings of French magistrates in the case of the murder of Sarah Halimi, and said he was “sickened” by the ruling that Halimi’s murderer will not stand trial.

Sarah Halimi: tortured and thrown out of the window


Halimi, a Jewish citizen of Paris, was brutally killed on the night of April 3, 2017 when Kobili Traore, a Malian native, broke into her apartment in the Belleville district of Paris and beat her before throwing her from a third-floor window. Reports by neighbors who heard the attack stated that Traore was heard quoting verses from the Koran, shouting “Allahu Akhbar” and calling Halimi “Satan.”

Traore, despite having no psychiatric history, was subjected to three separate psychiatric assessments over the two years since the attack, and has been finally declared mentally unfit to stand trial due to marijuana intoxication at the time of the attack.

The Center’s director for international relations, Dr. Shimon Samuels, stated, “It is just over a week since our congratulatory letter, regarding the [May 16] police ‘reconstruction’ of the murder of 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, Mireille Knoll. We had viewed this as a major step forward in the case.”

Knoll was murdered in her Paris apartment in March 2018, and the case was immediately declared an antisemitic hate crime. The case of Sarah Halimi took until September 2017 before French courts acknowledged it was an antisemitic attack.

Read article in full

Ben Cohen in the Algemeiner

More on the Halimi case

‘Non-white’ US Jews are still an embattled minority

 Reading about the making of the film Aladdin, Dani Ishai Behan was astonished to discover that the actors playing the main Arab characters in the 1992 version were Ashkenazi Jews, yet they have been described as ‘white’. Read Behan’s excellent blog in the Times of Israel:

fact, it is part of a wider pattern of refusing to acknowledge the Levantine
origins/ethnic identity of Ashkenazi Jews — something no one had ever denied
before 1948. The reasons why this is bullshit – not to mention antisemitic — have been discussed at length in
previous articles. But just to recap…

If we are “white,” then we are not indigenous to the Middle East

21st century parlance, essentially anyone of non-European descent (bar one
obvious exception) is considered a person of color, even when their skin is the
same shade as talcum powder (see: Linda Sarsour). And because the Middle East
spans Western Asia and Northern Africa, Middle Easterners are by and large
excluded from the ambit of whiteness. The Jewish people are indigenous to Eretz
Yisra’el, which sits in the Asian part of the Middle East, so it’s natural that
they be considered non-white as well, right?
But our enemies on the left side of the spectrum aren’t having any of it, at
least not anymore. The reason being that if Jews in particular are white but
Middle Easterners writ large are not, then it logically follows that Jews are
not “really” Middle Eastern, therefore we cannot be considered indigenous to
land of Israel and ultimately have no moral claim to it.

such, calling us white airbrushes us out of the Middle East, out of our land,
out of our identity, and out of our rights. This is cultural erasure of the
most insidious order.
like to justify this by claiming that we’ve been in Europe for “too long”, but
this is nonsense. There is no sober intellectual or scholar who would argue
that prolonged displacement and colonization is just cause for depriving a
dispossessed indigenous people of their identity and rights.

2. If we are non-white, the anti-racist left can no longer justify ignoring us 

progressives pride themselves on how closely attuned they are to the
experiences of disadvantaged groups, especially ethnic minorities. In fact, so
attentive they are to how the white majority wields and exercises its privilege
to keep the rest of us at the bottom, that they should be natural allies for
the Jews. But that is not the world we live in.
they have grouped us with the white majority, with the privileged folks perched
at the top of the pecking order (more on that below). In their worldview, we
are not an embattled minority — despite reams of insurmountable evidence
proving that we are — but rather “white people crying about their privilege”.
By situating us inside the white majority, we are denied the critical
protections and solidarity accorded to all other vulnerable groups. And as
anti-Semitism on both sides of the political spectrum grows, Jews are placed in
an increasingly untenable position.
instead of standing with us in our hour of need, the anti-racist left have
abdicated their commitments and responsibilities to the Jews, and become part
of the problem itself.

3. It is an assertion of Jewish distinctiveness and vitality

we are (arguably) the world’s oldest extant victims of colonialism, having
continuously suffered from it for over 2000+ years, anti-Semitism has always
had a built-in totalizing nature. In other words, anti-Semitism’s main function
is to dilute Jewish identity, deny our peoplehood, and incorporate us (either
by coercion or force) into the identity of our oppressors – or, if that doesn’t
work, genocide us. That is how anti-Semitism has worked ever since its
inception, in every place it has ever existed.

ancient Israel, Greek (and later Roman) colonists sought to impose
Western/Hellenistic identity on us. Through their efforts to root out Jewish
religion, language, and culture, they hoped that we would abandon our
“barbaric” ways and become “civilized”. These efforts culminated in a series of
Jewish revolts. And although we successfully managed to repel the Greeks (see:
Hanukkah), the Romans defeated us and carried a large numbers of Jews off to
Europe as slaves, subsequently renaming our country Syria-Palaestina
(Syria-Palestine, after the Assyrians and Philistines respectively). But
despite all of that, their efforts to destroy the Jewish people were ultimately

yet, the Jewish exiles in Europe would soon face a new threat in the form of
Christianity — a Jewish religion appropriated by Europeans and infused with
European paganism. Over the next 15 centuries, Europe would try again and again
to wipe us out via conversion and assimilation to Western culture, with each
failure ending in yet another expulsion or massacre (usually both). But once
again, the Jewish people emerged intact.

the same time, Arabs began colonizing and occupying large swathes of Asia
(Israel included), all of North Africa, and various parts of Europe. Although
their treatment of the Jews was markedly less violent than that of their
European counterparts (at least insofar as we “knew our place”), they were no
less determined to see us disappear. Initially, they believed that we would
either mass convert to Islam, or languish in dhimmitude (second class status)
until we died off. The success of Zionism shattered this view, and from that
point forward their brand of antisemitism took on a decisively “European”
(read: genocidal) slant. But thus far, their (still ongoing) efforts to
annihilate us have ended in failure.

Enlightenment Europe, Jews living in the Western hemisphere continued to be
regarded as savages, as well as an uncultured Oriental (this was before
Zionism, so the revisionist theory that Jews are “European converts/not really
Semites” hadn’t been invented yet) menace who, by all rights, should be mass
deported back to the Middle East. Enter Napoleon, whose unprecedented offer of
full legal equality and citizenship to the Jews came at a cost that almost no
self-respecting minority today would accept: abandon their ethnic identity and
become “good Frenchmen”. As noble as this offer might have seemed at the time,
it didn’t change the fact that Jews were once again being called upon to erase
themselves. Moreover, as the Jews were the most conspicuous non-European
diaspora living in Europe at the time, racial differences often got in the way,
as the Dreyfus Affair (and later the Holocaust) would soon show.

This Ashkenazi actor playing in Aladdin is classified as ‘white’

brings us to North America. Although our experiences on this continent
initially bore many similarities to what we experienced in Europe, North
American anti-Semites (hardcore white nationalists notwithstanding) soon took
notice of the fact that overt expressions of racism – including antisemitism –
were going out of style, and embraced what appears to be an amended version of
the Napoleon strategy. In other words, their new hope is that North American
Jews (i.e. the largest Jewish population outside of Israel) will continue
divorcing themselves of their ethnic identity, assimilate, and fade away into
“whiteness”. Assimilation will inevitably bring about a decline in religious
observance as well, and once the Jewish state (that *infuriating* guarantor of
Jewish safety, vitality, and permanence) is abolished, the Jewish people will
(finally!) take their rightful place in the dustbin of history, as we should
have done centuries ago.

Jews collectively identifying as non-white, thereby re-asserting their
distinctiveness and demanding *real* solutions to anti-Semitism, throws a
wrench into this process. It reads as a declaration of Jewish defiance: “NO! We
will not abandon our Jewishness. We will not disappear. We will survive and we
will force you to account for your anti-Semitism, by any means necessary.”
Obviously, it’s just more torture for people whose fondest wish is that we
would just go away.

 4. It is a crippling blow against the hyperpower myth 

Notions of Jewish “whiteness” often interlock with classic anti-Semitic beliefs in very intriguing ways. For example, they dovetail rather nicely with the age-old Orientalist myth of Jewish hyperpower. The leap from “Jews are white” to “Jews are privileged” (which is itself packed with anti-Semitic connotations) is pretty damned small, and it’s not a far step from there to “Jews are powerful” to “Jews control the banks” to “Jews control the US government” to “Jews are conspiring against us all” to “Jews are malicious tentacle monsters bent on world domination” to “Jews already control the entire world and are a threat to mankind”. But this Jenga tower of anti-Semitism falls apart pretty quickly once you pull out the “Jews are white” block, unless you’re a neo-Nazi.

Read article in full 

More about ‘white’ Jews and ‘Jews of color’

The Jewish poets who harked back to Egypt’s past

 Egypt is less well known for its interwar Jewish writers than Iraq, for instance. Nevertheless, according to HaSepharadi, poets did exist, writing primarily in French. They extolled the ‘tolerant’ Pharaonic past and their sense of belonging to Egypt. (With thanks: Boruch)

notable case, however, is the Cairo Jewish writer Ya’qub Sannu’, who is
predominantly remembered for his significant role in late
nineteenth-century Arabic journalism and theater.
Respectively, virtually all the texts written in Egypt in Hebrew, during colonial and monarchic times, were rabbinical studies. The
choice of writing in French thus depended on one’s education and family
background, but was also due to the fascination that France, and
especially Paris – as a global capital of culture – held for the
Egyptian middle class.

up, Pentaour, and sing a novel song! A song of grace, of euphoria, a
song of joy!”: these words open Georges Cattaui’s 1921 poem
Lève-toi, Pentaour!Cattaui
was born in Paris in 1896, a son of one of the most prominent families
of the Cairo Jewish elite. He was educated in both France and Egypt, and
in the 1920s after acting as secretary to King Fuʾād, began work as a
diplomat in Prague, Bucharest, and London. In the 1930s, he embarked on a
full-time literary career. He converted to Catholicism in the 1920s and
subsequently left Egypt for France and Switzerland, where he died in

In Lève-toi, Pentaour!,
Cattaui goes back to the Pharaonic era, using it as a lens to discuss
early twentieth-century Egypt. The protagonist is Pentaour, priest,
poet, and scribe of Ramses II, who wrote a poem about the Battle of
Kadesh (1274 BC), where the forces of Ramses II battled the Hittite
empire. From the distance of a millennia, Cattaui celebrates the
upcoming Egyptian independence from the British, which would lead to the
birth of the monarchy in 1922:

Frontispiece of Georges Cattaui, Lève-toi, Pentaour!…, 1921 (National Library of Israel, Jerusalem, photo by Dario Miccoli)

Egypt, among perishable people,

you kept your essential character for four thousand years,

you are here again without a yoke, without a chain under your sky,

you are here free again ruling over your sand!

On the tomb of Amrou, may, oh Muslim,

this holy day be blessed among your propitious days!


Blessed be this day, oh Jew, next to the Nile whose waters

took the fragile cradle of Moses;

and you, oh Copt, in your mysterious church,

where the Virgin and the Child rested!6

evokes a nation where Muslims, Jews, and Copts live together peacefully
and stresses how Egypt maintained its unique characteristics against
all odds for four thousand years. His words echo ideas of Egyptian
exceptionalism, which in the 1920s expressed itself through Pharaonism,
vis-à-vis the other Middle Eastern countries. According to Cattaui,
Egypt had a separate identity, rooted in the country’s ancient past,
which went beyond its Islamic heritage and made it different from the
rest of the Arab world

was not alone in attempting to inscribe the Jews within the Egyptian
national narrative. A second notable author is Emile Mosseri, born in
1911 into another upper-class Jewish family in Cairo. A lawyer by
training, Mosseri wrote several plays and collaborated with magazines
L’Egyptienne. Mosseri’s most important achievement was the publication of the collection of poems La ballade de la rue in 1930.

The poem J’ai marché quelque soir describes a visit of the poet to Luxor:

I marched one night when the moon was round,

in the temple of the gods of Thebes and Luxor


I passed under your shadow at this hour when everything sleeps,

and I thought that just like the priest of Hathor

a people followed me, enlivening the blonde night.8

travels back to ancient Egypt in search of his lost past and identity,
wandering around the ruins of the city. The evocation of ancient Egypt
and its archaeological vestiges had a clear national connotation and
to Egyptian sovereignty. Let us also recall the Arab Egyptian poet
Ahmed Shawqi, who talked about Pharaonic ruins as markers of the
country’s national past. In the case of the Jews, ancient Egypt related
to one of the most important episodes of the Tora, the Yeṣiʾath-Miṣrayim
(“Exodus from Egypt”). This ancestral connection to the land was of
utmost importance in the 1930s, when notions of citizenship and the
status of minorities were being discussed and the Egyptian liberal party
system entered into a crisis.

Jewry, around the 1930s, exhibited strong sentiments towards Egypt,
celebrating its modernity and their ability to maintain their religious
and national feelings of belonging. This received particular importance,
as Europe was becoming an inhospitable environment for Jews.
Subsequently,  some found solace in the promises of the past, among
Muslim countries: 

Frontispiece of Emile Mosseri, La ballade de la rue, 1933 (National Library of Israel, Jerusalem, photo by Dario Miccoli).

…the green banner [of Islam],on a tent or on a city,

declares to the man who follows a desert road:

‘Come, brother, the door of hospitality

is wide open!’.


It says: ‘Oh brothers of race,

let us ask together, kneeling,

that God keep us under his grace,

that he protect us and encourage us,

and that peace may be upon us!’


The author of these lines is Lucien Sciuto, a journalist of Jewish origin born in Thessalonika, Greece, in 1868 who later moved to Cairo in 1924 and died in Alexandria in 1947. The poem Islam is taken from his 1938 volume Le peuple du messie. The book, written “under the Egyptian sky, on the borders of the desert, in a serene and peaceful setting,”was dedicated to Faruq, the second and last King of Egypt, who reigned from 1936 to Nasser’s Revolution in 1952.
Sciuto, in his poem, wrestles with the fact that at the time he was
writing, Europe had become an inhospitable place for Jews; yet in the
Islamic world, they had found and could still find refuge from

Read article in full


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