Month: August 2020

Street named after Umm Kalthum causes controversy

With thanks:Veronique

In the summer of 2020, the city of Haifa caused a furore when it announced that it would rename a street after the famous Egyptian diva Umm Kalthum.

The journalist Eldad Beck fulminated that  the renaming would be to ‘commemorate one of the greatest enemies of Israel, who wanted to wipe out the state.’

In 2011,  an Umm Kalthum street was named in east Jerusalem; there is also one in Ramla. The Haifa municipality thought that naming a street in the city where Umm Kalthum performed in the 1930s would go down well with the israeli-Arab community, 10 percent of the residents. It  would also reflect the city’s ethos of Arab-Jewish coexistence.

Umm Kalthum had such an influence on the Arab world that her friend, the journalist Mustapha Amin, said that only the Koran was more important than her. “No singer could match her, no voice could epitomise the soul of a people”, he declared.” She was virtually canonised, not just in Egypt, but in the entire Arab world.”

Egyptian stamp commemorating Umm Kalthum

When Umm Kalthum was buried in 1975, three million Egyptians turned out for her funeral, almost as many as attended the funeral of President Nasser five years earlier. 

So popular was Umm Kalthum with the Jews of the Arab world that they invited her to sing at their parties. Her concerts and films were screened in Jewish-owned cinemas. The Jewish liturgy was recited in Sephardi synagogues to tunes which she made popular.

Even today, her repertoire is played by Israeli musicians,  such as Tom Cohen, conductor of the Jerusalem East-West Orchestra, and singers such as Zahava Ben, Nisreen, and even Sarit Haddad, who has performed one of Umm Kalthum’s greatest hits, Enta omri.

However, there was a dark side to Um Kalthum, one sometimes omitted in documentaries about her life. During the Six Day War she was co-opted by Nasser’s regime to boost Egyptian morale with these blood-curdling lyrics, broadcast over the radio in Cairo and Damascus :’Cut, cut, cut their throats, hurl their heads into the desert, cut, cut, cut their throats as much as you please, cut the throats of all the Jews and you will be victorious.”

Two years later, she expressed her wish to join fighters for Palestine with these lyrics, written by the Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani and set to the music of Abdel al Wahab: ” now I have a rifle, take me to Palestine with you…I want to live and die with the men, I have been with the revolutionaries from the day I carried my rifle, Palestine is only a few metres away…”

But plenty of Jews are ready to  excuse as patriotism the bloodlust of the ‘fourth pyramid of Egypt’. Sephardi Jews grew up with Umm Kalthum. They are prepared to forgive her inciteful words.  Since her death, Egypt has signed a peace treaty with Israel, and in 2005 Egyptians and Israelis gathered together to perform her music.

One wonders if she would she have approved.

School culture wars rage in California

Western universities already ignore, or distort, Mizrahi-lived experience, unless Mizrahi Jews can be weaponized against Zionist Ashkenazim. Now they are in danger of being erased from school curricula, warns Lyn Julius in her JNS News column: 

Ethnic studies curriculum in California schools iddentifies Jews as ‘white’

A battle has been raging over the hearts and minds of Californian schoolchildren. A draft curriculumintroduced in 2019 met with vigorous opposition from Jewish and other minority groups when the section on Middle Eastern peoples only referred to Arab Americans. Yet 60 percent of the state’s schoolchildren with roots in the Middle East hail from non-Arab minorities – Coptic Christians, Assyrians, Armenians, Berbers – and Jews.

 Indeed, the non-profit representing Mizrahi Jews – JIMENA– has been vocal in its criticism, claiming that that the draft not does adequately represent California’s Jewish community, including Middle Eastern Jews.

These mostly came to the USA as refugees from Arab and Muslim antisemitism. To draw attention to any form of antisemitism against Mizrahi Jews in the Arab world is branded ‘Mizrahi washing’ – a distraction from Israel’s supposed crimes against the Palestinians.

 In this topsy-turvy world, the mere mention of Arab and Muslim antisemitism invites accusations of racialization or ‘Islamophobia.’

The battle over the Californian schools curriculum is a microcosm of the culture wars being waged in the West, where postmodernism now dictates that only ‘people of colour’ can be victims.

 But not only are non-Arab and non-Muslim Middle Eastern minorities pointedly not deemed worthy of consideration, but the latest iteration of the curriculum aims to include a module on the history of the assimilation of Jews and Irish people into ‘whiteness’ in the US.

Jews are therefore being considered as white Europeans, despite their origins in the Levant and their bitter history of antisemitism in Europe.
Clearly, the curriculum drafters have absorbed current absurd categorisations based on purported power structures, race and gender.

 Most Jewish immigrants came to the US  as huddled masses fleeing European oppression. Past generations fought long and hard for acceptance and opportunity in US society, while relatives who remained in the Old Country were brutally murdered in the Holocaust.

Such is the current vogue for identity politics, however, that Ashkenazi Jews in the US are being gaslighted into identifying as ‘white’ if they personally have not experienced marginalization and discrimination.

 The majority Ashkenazim have been made to feel guilty for ‘Ashkenormativity’ and unconscious bias towards ‘black’ Jews and ‘Jews of colour’.
But infighting between sections of the Jewish community, real or imagined, pales before the experience of Mizrahi Jews, driven from the Arab and Muslim Middle East. Their oppression is the key to understanding the main drivers of the conflict with Israel – an Arab and Muslim inability to tolerate difference, to co-exist with minorities, and an abhorrence for any exercise of Jewish power. Yet teaching about Arab and Muslim anti-minority bigotry is taboo.

 In the Western progressive mind, bound into the postmodern conceptual straitjacket, only Palestinians can be victims. The Mizrahi Jews are airbrushed out of public discourse.The lived experience of Mizrahi Jews has already been erased from universities, unless they can be weaponsied against Zionist Ashkenazim. Now they are in danger of being erased from school curricula.

The war over the Californian curriculum is not over. Let’s hope truth and common sense will prevail.

Read article in full

What happened on 20 August 1955 in Morocco?

With thanks: Ariel and Jean-Pierre

The 20th August 1955 marked two years since the sultan of Morocco, the future Mohamed V, was deposed. The period leading up to Moroccan independence in 1956 was one of great turmoil and hostility to the French, the colonial power.  According to the historian Robert Assaraf, the entire French population of 50 in Boujade was massacred; 14 French technicians working at the mines of Aït Ammar were also murdered.

The unrest spilled over against the Jews. At Oued Zem, five Jews died and six were injured, five homes were set on fire and two shops looted. In Ouezzane, demonstrations for the return of the sultan took an anti-Jewish turn and four Jews were injured, and 20 homes and shops burnt and looted. At Kenitra the Alliance school was demolished and at Boujad, an old man was killed in the street. There were even disturbances in Agadir. In Mazagan, a Jewish woman was knifed to death by an Arab rioter, the Alliance school was attacked  and 20 houses in the mellah were set on fire and looted. The entire panic-stricken population of 1,500 Jews was evacuated from the mellah the following day, and rehoused in a sports hall.

At Safi, which did not have a mellah, 12 homes were attacked and looted. Soly Azran remembers those fateful days well. His father Raphael had already gathered planks of wood and steel bars, and other material for self-defence. He and his two eldest sons had begun fortifying the house, fearing a massacre. They hammered in nails and steel joists into the front door and pushed up heavy furniture to block the entrance to the inner patio.

View of Safi

They also barricaded the windows. “My father explained to Jacky, my 11-year-old brother and myself, all of nine years old, how we should protect the girls and the baby in the house. He armed us with an iron rod and a leather belt to use on its reverse side.

As shabbat fell, our defences had been completed and we felt quite secure. Raphael was very calm but the situation was tense, precarious,  and we really feared for our lives. But my father, with his Israeli past, knew how to fight back and not necessarily panic. Child that I was, I understood he meant business against  anyone who dared approach our house.”

The family observed the Sabbath at home, as it was too risky to go out to the synagogue. Outside there were screams and curses against the  French protectorate. More noise on Saturday morning as people ran this way and that. Stones were hurled at the house.Two neighbours decided to stand guard outside, until the trouble was over.

Raphael refused to open the door to the French police, who came to inform him that his shops and workshop had been burnt down. He would not go down with them to salvage what was left – it was Shabbat.

When Shabbat was out, Jacky and Soly were left proudly in charge at home while Raphael went to investigate the damage. Soly soaked his shirt with tears of relief when he heard his father returning home.

Out of the wreckage of his businesses Raphael produced from his pocket his war booty, a pair of tailor’s scissors.”I found my scissors,” he announced.” I have my hands, I’m alive,  my family is with me -and I didn’t break Shabbat! We will rebuild it all!”

Soly still has the scissors.

From the ‘Généalogie des juifs marocains’ Facebook page.

More about Safi

My James Bond-style escape from Iraq: Part 3

Desperate to leave Iraq under the oppressive rule of Saddam Hussein,  in November 1970 Lisette Shashoua Ades was finally given the opportunity to escape the country with the help of Kurdish smugglers, and out to freedom in Iran. Here is the third, and final part of her story. Click herefor Part I andhere for Part II.

I owe my freedom to the family of Haim and Amal Rejwan who accepted to take me with them as they fled.
I owe even more to my dear Aunty Marcelle Shamash ( Bekhor) who persuaded my Dad that she would protect and take me under her wing.
That helped appease my Father who saw how more desperate I was becoming everyday by lingering on.

Aunty Marcelle and I went to al Naher Street to buy ourselves the black abbaya to blend with the locals …I had to shorten mine.

Our escape luckily was an easy one with a little snag.

Haim Rejwan left on the 5th of November 1970, the reason being, if he got caught; We the women and the kids would not be hurt.

That day, Aunty Marcelle and I went with my father to the Khalastchi house (Amal ‘s parents) where Amal, Salman, Yasmeen and baby Frank were waiting for us to leave together.
At the Khalastchis, someone mentioned that there was an abortive coup d’état in the north of Iraq (whether that was true or not). It was enough for my dad to halt the whole operation and we all went back to our homes.

Upon my return home that day, a letter had arrived from Canada informing us about the birth of baby Tamara to my sister Hilda and her husband Freddy Rejwan; a new niece to both myself and to Haim Rejwan, since Freddy was Haim’s brother.

Tamara was born on  23 October  but since we had stopped using telegrams to avoid any misinterpretation by the censors, we only got the news two weeks later by mail.

 I did not expect my dad to allow me to leave the following day.  I still see it asyet another miracle that he did. It  must be because he saw Amal and Aunty Marcelle’s determination.

 The following day was a different setup.
I again said goodbye to my parents and grandmother, really not knowing when and if I would ever see them again.
My mum’s last words of advice which she stoically gave me with a brave smile, was:
“Always wear Lipstick” “and “Always stand straight”.
I managed to follow her first recommendation, but I must admit that I am still trying to master the second !

 I left with my driver s license, my University ID, a small suitcase and my abbaya.
I only had 60 dinars with me because my dad was afraid that if we got caught and they found too much money on us they would know that we were escaping.

 Our wonderful, albeit temperamental, driver Samuel took me to a Nafarat taxi station.
We had to arrive at the exact time that a particular taxi driver was scheduled to leave the station to drive to Erbil because he was one of the people helping us escape.

 When I got out of our car I must have been wearing Aunty Marcelle’ s abbaya since it was too long and I was tripping all over it.
I could barely see what was around me – then someone from behind touched my shoulder and told me, “go to the right, the black car”.

I still do not know who it was.
I felt like I was in a James Bond movie! Luckily,  I saw Amal talking to someone by a big black car and proceeded to join her. In the meantime, an army officer was about to join us in that taxi, had it not been for sweet baby Frank crying loudly. The army officer, upon hearing the cries, ran off  to take a quieter car, to the relief of all of us, including the taxi driver.

This time,  our taxi driver took matters into his own hands: he recruited a big Kurdish man to ride along with us. Thus the unsuspecting Kurd appeared to be the head of our family, sitting up front, and we women and kids sat in the back.

 We knew we had to cross eight checkpoints before we arrived in the safety of Kurdistan.When we reached  the first checkpoint, bristling with army militia, baby Frank was still crying. They had one peek at the car, heard the hollering and let us go.  Amal, Aunty Marcelle and I thanked God and prayed. At the second checkpoint, our lucky charm baby Frank was asleep angelically across our laps this time. Again they waved us through.  We prayed gratefully again.  At the  third checkpoint they only asked the men for their ID papers: the taxi driver and the unsuspecting Kurdish papa.

Each time we passed a checkpoint, all us ladies in the back would pray in gratitude!

 We finally arrived in Erbil four hours later. The nervous taxi driver told us that we were safe now, and that he was taking us to his house until we were picked up.  Trembling, he told us how he was wishing he could fly the car during the whole four-hour drive! In his shack,  he introduced us to his timid wife and children.

 His wife prepared chicken swimming in some greasy oily broth for us.
I was always a fussy eater at home, yet this time, I was so grateful for their help that I closed my eyes and nose, and ate to show my gratitude and appreciation.
Amal and Aunty Marcelle could not eat!

 I later sang a few lullabies to the driver’s children while rocking his son. I finally earned some smiles from his scared wife.

Since no one had ‘phones in the north, the driver had no idea if and when Kader was ever coming to pick us up. He told us that it might be a few hours or maybe days.
He kept pacing back and forth. I realize now that it must have been this driver ‘s first time working with Kader, who was a more experienced and confident smuggler.

Kader arrived around 9 pm, five long hours after we got to Erbil.

We were relieved to see him. He told us that he was taking us to Haim Rejwan, Amal’s husband.  Haim had been worried sick because we had not arrived the day before as we were scheduled to,  and there was no way to communicate that to him.
Once we got in the car, Kader gave us Muslim names in case we were questioned: “you are Fatima”,  “you are Khadija “, ” you are Ahmad.“ He gave the kids Muslim names too and kept quizzing all of us with the new names.

 We drove a while and arrived in Kurdistan where Haim was. I believe he was staying with Massoud El Barazani Junior (future president of Kurdistan) at the time.
Haim was really distraught because of our delay and the Kurds were trying to appease him by saying, “we told you they were coming “we told you not to worry.” “Here they are, see, they are safe and sound! “

 Azoury Attar was with Haim waiting for us too.
We all got into a jeep along with Kader while a Pesh Merga fighter was driving.
There was no road and no lights, it was dark wilderness, and since there was no satellite navigation, at some point Kader and his partner lost the way in the wilderness.
Lo and behold an Iraqi army car appeared.  They seemed to know Kader.
They asked him what he was doing so late at night.  He told them that he was taking the family for a spin!

Phew  – another narrow escape …prayers again.

Eventually they took us to a hotel with no tiles on the floor; they gave us clean blankets.

We all slept fully dressed on cushions on the floor and were woken up around 2 am.  We were taken to Darband and to the khashba, a log of wood we had heard about in Baghdad marking the border between Kurdistan and Iran. To us, this log represented our freedom.

We got to the border, and the huge log I had imagined was nothing but a thin tree branch that a man pushed over with one hand. Freedom was beckoning just beyond that branch.

But they soon sent us back, telling us hat the proper authorities and the sochnut (Jewish Agencyin Iran should first be informed about our arrival before we could cross.
Luckily it only took a few hours and we were back before dawn. This time,  the tree branch (khashba)  had been moved aside. wow, what a thrill! FREEDOM just a few feet away.

It was time to send the code back to Baghdad to say we arrived safely.
The code was  a note worth a quarter of a dinar torn in two halves. My dad kept one half and once we arrived, Amal was supposed to send the other half with Kader to take back to my Dad. But it was dark and windy, so the quarter dinar note flew away. Amal wrote a message saying that the quarter note  had flown away and that a baby boy was delivered easily (meaning it was an easy crossing). If she had written” a girl was born”, it would have meant that it had been  a difficult crossing!

We finally crossed to Iran and arrived at  Khana. At once we saw pictures of the Shah of Iran and the beautiful Farah Diba. In spite of that, Haim needed reassurance that we were actually in Iran He broke down in tears when we were told,” yes, you are now in Iran.”

 I left Iran for Israel on 2 January 1971.

On the flight to Israel, who do I find myself sitting next to on the ‘plane?
None other than the founder of our Baghdad school, Mr Frank Iny himself and his lovely wife Mouzly.  What a coincidence! We attended Frank Iny school without ever knowing what he looked like (unless you were detained at the Principle’s office and maybe caught a glimpse of  what we thought was his picture).

 Frank Iny left Iraq soon after he opened the school in 1951. His children and grandchildren grew up in Europe and the United States : they never attended the school their father had built.
Ironically, neither Frank Iny’s immediate family, nor the tightly-onded family of at least 1, 000 students and alumni of Frank Iny School got to know each other !

On the short one hour flight, I found Frank Iny to be a giant of a man, yet kind and gentle. Tomy delight, he even knew my parents well! I learned my first Hebrew word from him when we touched down in Israel: bahnou  – meaning, we arrived! We had arrived in Israel.

Lisette resettled in Montreal and became a flight attendant with Air Canada.

Epilogue:  It was ironic how I could fly anywhere in the world, but I could not go back to Iraq to see my parents since I was now denationalized, like every Iraqi Jew living outside Iraq.

 I often had terrifying nightmares of going back to Baghdad just to see my parents on a 24-hour layover and getting stuck trying to find a family to escape with again. Now now there was no one left to flee with anymore, since almost all the Jews had left.

Finally a miracle took place after a ten-year war with Iran ended. Iraq lifted the ban on travel and even granted passports to the seventy remaining Jews. My parents, who resisted escaping in order to remain Iraqi nationals in the futile hope of salvaging even a few of their properties, decided to apply for a passport  and come out to visit us.

The first time I heard them on the ‘phone, after twenty long years, I could not recognise my own mother or father’s voices! They came to London and were visiting us in Montreal with the intention of going back to Iraq. They truly believed that everything was going to open up, in the same was as the ban on travel from Iraq had been lifted.  Saddam, however, had other plans: he invaded Kuwait and the rest is history …

The war on Iraq, Desert Storm, broke out. This time, w put our collective foot down and insisted that our parents forfeit all they owned and not go back. My dad Menashy was eighty years old when he came to Canada. His entire wealth remained frozen in Iraq!
None of the children of my grandfather Shaul Shashoua nor those of my equally wealthy grandfather Eliahou Meir Heskel Haim were able to enjoy their families’ fortunes.

Not only did my parents come out with nothing,  they missed out on every happy occasion in our family for more than twenty years.
They were not able to attend any of their daughters’ weddings nor enjoy the births of any of their four grandchildren.
They were still stuck in Baghdad at all the Bar- and Bat Mitzvahs of my nieces and nephews. They only got to meet their grandchildren, Kevin, Carol, Tamara and Dan, after they became teenagers. The tragedy was that they were strangers to each other:they had to get acquainted.

 We survived Iraq and the humiliations and persecutions, but our emotional and financial suffering did take a toll on our family.

Yes, there was one more happy occasion my parents were able to attend.
On 3 August 1993, they actually walked me down the aisle when I married Albert Ades, who was accompanied by his parents Suzette and Jacques.

Lisette and Albert Ades on their wedding day

Moroccan prime minister rejects normalisation with Israel

Update: Moroccan prime minister walks back his anti-normalisation comments(Times of Israel)

In the wake of reports that Morocco might be next to make a peace accord with Israel following the momentous announcemnent of peace with the UAE, the Moroccan prime minister has moved to scotch the rumours, according to this i24 News report. US secretary of state Mike Pompeo is due to visit the region. 

Saad Dine el Othmani: no peace with Israel

Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Dine El Otmani on Sunday rejected the prospect of normalizing ties with Israel, shooting down rumors his state would be one of the next to ink an agreement with Jerusalem.

“We refuse any normalization with the Zionist entity because this emboldens it to go further in breaching the rights of the Palestinian people,”

El Otmani told his Islamist PJD party as cited by Reuters.
Morocco has been one of the Arab nations rumored to normalize relations with Jerusalem, following the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) steps.

“Both states have extensive tourism, and trade and economic relations,” an unnamed UAE advisor told Hebrew-language daily Israel Hayom after the Israel-UAE deal was announced.

Read article in full


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