Month: July 2019

How can antisemitism thrive where there are no Jews?

How can antisemitism be so rampant in Afghanistan when only one Jew still lives there? Scholars have been puzzling this question in this Times of Israel piece. Iranian money has fuelled anti-Israel gimmicks such as Al-Quds Day, but there could also be residual anti-Jewish feeling from the Nazi era. (Contrary to the impression given that Afghan Jews have suffered no prior persecution, this was a time when Jews were expelled from northern cities and in 1935, a pogrom erupted).

Quds Day is held on the last Friday of the Muslim month of Ramadan, which this year fell out on May 31.

“Every year, Sayed Hussain Mazari pays street boys in Kabul to hold a rally celebrating Quds Day,” said Yousufi.

Few religious centers in Afghanistan are self-financed or locally funded. Similar to other Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Bahrain and Pakistan, many of the Shiite scholars in Afghanistan are bankrolled by Iran.

Yousufi claims that Mazari is among them, though he believes the latter will not publicly acknowledge this.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, whose government is outspokenly anti-Israel, also maintains an intelligence presence in Afghanistan and supports groups here that serve its national interests.

Some experts believe Iran might be behind the spread of anti-Semitism within its neighbor to the east as part of an effort to build a united front against the Jewish state.
Can it be anti-Semitic if there are no Jews?

 “[The phrase] ‘Death to Israel’ is decidedly anti-Semitic,” said Prof.Shana Sippy, who teaches religious studies at Centre College, a private liberal arts school in Danville, Kentucky. “But there is also a lot of criticism of the Israeli government which isn’t anti-Semitic, and that is part of the challenge.”

 Scholars have long researched sources of anti-Semitism, and have reached a degree of consensus on where it stems from in European countries such as Germany. But in Afghanistan, which is dominated by Islamists and bereft of a Jewish community, understanding anti-Semitism has become something of a challenge. There is currently only one known Jew living in the country.

 Zebulun Simantov, the last Jew in Afghanistan

 “It is puzzling, and scholars have been debating sources of Jew-hatred in countries such as Afghanistan, where it is very unlikely that this [hatred] comes from any experience with Jewish people,” said Dr. Gunther Jikeli, a visiting Jewish studies professor at Indiana University whose research focuses on anti-Semitism.

 “[Moshe Dayan Center senior research fellow] Esther Webman says that Pan-Arab Nationalism and radical Islamist teachings have nurtured not only a hate against Israel, but also against Jews,” Jikeli said.

Jikeli says Jew-hatred in Afghanistan may also be a residual effect of propaganda efforts by Nazi Germany during World War II, which included radio programs the regime broadcast to Arabic-speaking countries demonizing Jews.

Nearly 80 years after the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler still enjoys widespread popularity in Afghanistan, and his image is sometimes used in advertisements — including for a public speaking course which touts him as a model orator.

 A common Afghan expression says that Hitler left some Jews alive to remind the world just how noxious they are.
“There is also a debate on anti-Jewish elements in Islamic traditions,” Jikeli said.

“For example, [Canadian-Pakistani journalist] Tarek Fatah or [political scientist and professor] Bassam Tibi argue that Islamists misinterpret Islam and endorse anti-Semitic rhetoric.”

In private conversation, Afghan religious hardliners compare terrorists with Jews, saying that “even” Jewish people are better than terrorists. And in political spheres, non-Pashtun ethnic groups hypothesize that the Pashtun, Afghanistan’s largest demographic, were originally Jews.

 Dr. Davood Moradian, director of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies, rejects the hypothesis that the Pashtun were once Jews, saying that the theory was developed with a political agenda.

While the Pashtun may not descend from Jews, there indeed once flourished a large Jewish community in the central Asian country.

In 2013, researchers discovered rare medieval Jewish documents dating from the 11th to 13th centuries in the caves of Afghanistan’s central Bamyan province.

At its peak, the country’s Jewish community is estimated to have been as many as 40,000 strong, though they gradually emigrated over the years. Israel’s creation in 1948 drew most of the Jews that remained. In the 1960s, Afghan Jews left the country en masse, resettling in New York and Tel Aviv after living for centuries in peace and harmony with their Muslim neighbors.

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Matti Friedman: Israel is a Middle Eastern country

Insightful Times of Israel interview with Matti Friedman, the Canadian-born journalist and writer of Spies of No Country and the Aleppo Codex. Outsiders are baffled by Israelis and their politics because they apply outmoded ‘European’ categories to a Middle Eastern people, the continuum of Judaism in the Muslim world.

“I came from the West, with the European stories of Israel — the kibbutz, the Holocaust… The longer you’re here, the more you realize those stories don’t fully represent Israel. Half the country came from the Muslim world, and that informs everything about Israel — cuisine, behavior, music, religion, politics.

Many Israelis think the basis of the country is the European Jewish world — Herzl and Ben-Gurion — and that the Jews of the Middle East then came and joined that story. I think it’s the opposite: Israel is part of the continuum of Judaism in the Muslim world, together with the remnants of European Jewry.

The Netanyahus at a Mimouna celebration

 ‘The original tenets of Zionist faith… included the communal idea of the kibbutz, the desire for a “new Jew” free of Judaism, and the belief that eventually the Arab world would make peace with the Jewish state as the world moved toward greater amity.

These were ideas from Europe, and they’re dead… In the ensuing ideological vacuum, Israel’s Middle Eastern soul has come out of the basement.

 And the Jews of European origin are becoming more Mizrahi here — in their behavior, their attitude to religion. Your Israeli kids are more Middle Eastern than you if you are a Western immigrant. It’s hard to wrap our heads around that.

Many people try to gauge the country through these outmoded categories: religious or secular, for instance, when most Israelis are neither; right and left — again, when most Israelis are neither.

On Judaism, we’re generally traditional. The pollsters ask: Are you religious or secular. So people try to answer. But do most Israelis light Shabbat eve candles? Yes. Believe in God? Yes. Believe in the power of prayer. Yes.

That’s all very Middle Eastern. In the Middle East, people aren’t “religious” or “secular.”

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More about Matti Friedman

UK Labour party ignores suffering of Middle Eastern Jews

Condemned for antisemitism, the British Labour Party has tried to show that it is resolving the problem. But it has failed to acknowledge the history of antisemitism in the Mediterranean and the Middle East and tries to project Zionism as a purely European reaction.     Its attempt to encompass both Zionists and anti-Zionists in the party’s ‘ big tent’ will also fail,  as the Zionists are viewed as a ‘foreign’ group  disloyal to Jeremy Corbyn. Scathing piece by Andrew Apostolou in Jewish News: (with thanks: Lily)

British Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn

The Labour Party’s most recent attempt to resolve its antisemitism problem has been a failure.

 On 21 July, the party released “No Place For Antisemitism” and a microsite to “provide Labour members and supporters with some basic tools to understand antisemitism so that we can defeat it.” The leaflet accepts the seriousness of Labour antisemitism. Unfortunately, it also promotes a flawed history that will allow antisemites to claim that Zionism and the creation of Israel are illegitimate western European guilt trips.

This will validate, rather than refute, the anti-Zionism that antisemities use to harass Jews in the Labour party. The leaflet gives the false impression that antisemitism is largely a western European phenomenon and Zionism is the Jewish reaction. Readers are told, for example, that the Holocaust was the murder of “six million Jews, two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe.” This is a common mistake. Far from being limited to Europe, the Nazis’ German Death squads sought moutain Jews in the North Caucasus. German’s Vichy allies imposed discrimination against Jews in North Africa. In 1942 the Germans had a special unit ready to start the slaughter  of Jews in the Middle East were Rommel to prevail in the Western Desert.   

 The West European focus of “No Place For Antisemitism” means that it excludes the important history of antisemitism in the Mediterranean and Middle East. The leaflet’s potted history includes the expulsions and massacres of Jews during the Crusades from “Germany, England, France and Austria.”

What that misses is important events such as the forced conversion of Jews in Iran (17th century), the blood libels in Damascus (1840), Corfu (1891), Shiraz (1910), the pogroms in Greece (1931), Turkey (1934), Iraq (1941), Egypt (1945) and Libya (1945 and 1948).

The closest this pamphlet comes to acknowledging the experience of Middle Eastern Jews is a passing reference to “discrimination after the founding of the State of Israel.”

 These errors allow the Labour leaflet to describe Zionism as a “response to 19th Century European antisemitism.” This is also faulty. The first wave of modern Zionist thought began with Rabbi Yehuda Alkalai in the Ottoman Empire. It was the Damascus blood libel that convinced Alkalai that the Jews needed to control their own fate.

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The Mufti’s war against the Jews

This month marks the 45th anniversary of the death of Amin al-Husseini, the one-time Grand Mufti of Jerusalem — and a Nazi collaborator. Hailed as a “pioneer” by current Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, during World War II al-Husseini raised SS regiments in the Balkans, promoted the Reich’s propaganda in the Arab world, toured death camps, and plotted the genocide of Middle Eastern Jewry. Sean Durns writes in JNS News:

After he escaped justice, conventional wisdom has it that the Mufti ceased to be a political force in the post-war years. But conventional wisdom is wrong.

 Declassified CIA documents — many revealed for the first time — and a recent book tell a different story, one in which al-Husseini continued to be influential more than a quarter-century after the war’s end.

Although he would never regain the power that he once wielded, the Mufti remained a force to be reckoned with. Intelligence agencies closely monitored him, and Arab regimes variously sought his support or his assassination.

Through it all, he remained not only an unapologetic antisemite, but also an inveterate schemer.

The Mufti’s rise to power was itself owed to intrigues. The British, who ruled Mandatory Palestine after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, appointed al-Husseini the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in 1921, making him both the country’s highest Muslim cleric and leading Arab political figure.

 As Wolfgang Schwanitz and the late Barry Rubin revealed in their 2014 book Nazis, Islamists and the Making of the Modern Middle East, the 24-year-old with no religious training was likely chosen in recognition of his service as a spy for the British in the final years of World War I. The decision, the historians conclude, “was one of the most remarkable errors of judgment ever made in a region rife with them.”

 Indeed, al-Husseini would spend the next two decades inciting anti-Jewish violence and refusing numerous British-led attempts to broker peace. By the 1930s, the Mufti was actively seeking — and receiving — support from fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. US intelligence would later conclude that the 1936-39 Arab Revolt, in which Palestinians led by al-Husseini murdered rivals, Jews, and British officials, “was able to continue only because of Nazi funding.”

 In October 1937, the now ex-Mufti fled to Lebanon, but not before he released an “Appeal to All Muslims of the World,” in which he “urged them to cleanse their lands of the Jews … and laid the foundation for the antisemitic arguments used by radical Arab nationalists and Islamists down to this day,” note Schwanitz and Rubin. He would eventually make his way to Berlin, where he would aid the Axis powers, befriend high-ranking Nazi officials like Heinrich Himmler, Adolf Eichmann and, in a November 28, 1941, Adolf Hitler, ask for “a free hand to eradicate every last Jew from Palestine and the Arab world.”

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The tragic demise of Iraqi Jewry

In an important and wide-ranging piece, Alyssa Dwek traces the tragic demise of Iraqi Jewry through the 20th century. (Via Honestreporting) 

Zionism rose to prominence following the First World War. However, few Iraqi Jews were initially interested in making Aliyah, believing that Zionism too closely resembled socialism. In addition, Iraqi Jews were generally not interested in the agricultural work required of those moving to Mandatory Palestine. Therefore, despite their sympathies with the Zionist vision, many disregarded moving to Israel as a viable option.

 Two years after the Great War, in 1920, the “Jam’iyya Adabiyya Isra’iliyya” (Jewish Literary Society) Zionist group was founded in Baghdad. The society was initially permitted by the Iraqi government, but after two years a new law passed by the Iraqi government required societies and associations to register with the Ministry of the Interior.

 Despite existing for two years by then, the Minister delayed the Jewish Literary Society’s permit until 1924, and even then the society was allowed to operate in a limited area, thanks to much pressure from the Zionist Organisation in London.

Over the next five years, a number of Zionist societies and groups were established; some clandestinely, some openly.

Just as Zionism began to gather steam as a force among Iraqi Jews, things changed for the worse when the 1929 Palestine Riots broke out in Mandatory Palestine. Angered by rumors of a Jewish attempt to convert the Western Wall into a synagogue, Muslims launched numerous unprovoked attacks on Jews, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives and Jewish property being looted.

Distorted reports of the clashes spread across the Arab world, claiming that thousands of Arabs were killed due to Jewish aggression, and soon reached the ears of Arabs in Iraq. Hearing this, the Arabs regarded the Jews as responsible for the alleged massacres of Muslims, and turned their anger on the local Jewish community, including against those Jews uninvolved in the Zionist movement. As a result of these events, Jews were met with hostility and Zionist movements in Iraq were banned later that year.

Iraqi Jews being airlifted to Israel in 1950

According to many historians, this point marked the beginning of the end for Iraqi Jewry.

Throughout the 1930s, as the status of Mandate Palestine continued to be debated, the position of the Jews in Iraq became increasingly uncomfortable, with Zionists in particular targeted. The head of the Zionist Movement was exiled and had to leave Iraq. Discrimination towards the Jews worsened throughout this period. The Iraqi authorities routinely turned a blind eye to Muslims harassing their Jewish neighbors, with antisemitism viewed as natural by many in society. Jews were the victims of various cruel acts, with one Jew, Yitzhak Bezalel, remembering a particularly nasty incident in Baghdad when a group of hooligans, aware that Jews refrain from wearing leather footwear on Yom Kippur and therefore walk barefoot, spread broken glass on the ground, resulting in many Jews cutting their feet.

 In 1934, Jews were excluded from jobs in the public sector and the number of Jews accepted into institutions for higher education was limited through the use of quotas. Anti-Jewish sentiment was once again worsened by the arrival of a number of pro-Nazi activists. These activists from both Mandate Palestine and Syria incited hatred against the Jews.

Although they were spared the hell of the German death camps in Europe, Jews in Arab countries faced their own difficulties which have been largely overlooked. The eruption of the Second World War in the late thirties affected great swathes of the globe, and Iraq was no different. With the growing British presence in the country enraging Arab nationalists, support for the Germans rose.

 Iraqi government officials publicly spoke out in favor of the Germans, and pro-German messages were spread in Iraqi newspapers and radio. A nationalist movement, called the Al-Fatwa movement, was created. Inspired by the Hitler Youth movement, Al-Fatwa membership eventually became compulsory for all children and teachers. With the Nazis finding support among Arabs resentful of British rule, Baghdad was the early base for Nazi Middle East intelligence operations during World War II.

 Rashid Ali al-Gaylani attempted to carry out a coup against the British authorities, and announced that Iraq would no longer provide Britain with natural resources as required. The move infuriated the British, who were also concerned by the possibility of the Nazis gaining influence in the Middle East. By the end of the month, British forces struck back against the Iraqi army and regained control. The frustrations generated by these events led to a potent mixture of hatred and resentment stewing in an atmosphere of lawlessness, with disastrous consequences for the Jewish community of Baghdad.

The resulting massacre of Jews, known as the Farhud, is regarded by many as the death knell heralding the demise of Iraqi Jewry.

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