Month: August 2021

The Syrian blood libel that never was

Few have not heard of the Damascus Blood Libel of 1840: Jews in Damascus were accused of a murder in order to use the victim’s blood to bake Matza. Innocent Jews were imprisoned, several were tortured or died. Moses Montefiore and Adolphe Crémieux embarked on a mission to entreat the Ottoman sultan to condemn future blood libels. But 13 years later, another Blood Libel was prevented in the city of Aleppo, thanks to a vigilant Jewish baker named Moosa. Halakha of the Day has the story:

Sir Moses Montefiore went on a mission to the Levant after the 1840 Blood Libel

The pleas of the desperate Jewish community of Syria for the influential European countries to intervene were ignored by the British and the French. Several community leaders and rabbis were tortured by the Turkish authorities in Damascus, who seized the opportunity to confiscate property and take by force the possessions of the most affluent families in the community. The Damascus Libel had devastating consequences for the local Jewish population …

A few years later, on the 13th of Sivan in 1853 in the city of Aleppo, a blood libel was avoided just in time. While there is not much documentation in this case as in the case of the Damascus libel, one known version is that on that date the dead body of a child, who died or was killed in dubious circumstances, was “planted” by a group of Gentiles in the house of the Jewish baker at midnight. The antisemites plan was to arrive in the morning with the police and accuse the baker of a ritual murder. Then, start riots, looting the community, etc. A Jewish baker was the perfect target for this accusation, since he would be held responsible for “using Christian blood to prepare matzot, or other ritual foods.”

Miraculously, the baker (named Moossa, Moshe in Arabic) woke up in the night. He discovered the body, understood the potential threat, and got rid of it.When the authorities arrived in the morning they could not find anything.The baker informed the rabbis of the city what had happened and the rabbis said that HaShem , in His mercy, had saved the Jewish community of Aleppo from a terrible tragedy, and instituted that the 13th of Sivan be remembered as “Nes Moossan” (The miracle that happened through Moossa) and in remembrance of this miracle, we skip the recitation of the Viduy (confession), and that is a significant act of liturgical celebration.

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Libyan Jew: I want to scream

The desperate situation of Afghan women under Taliban rule  has prompted Giulia Boukhobza  to write this heartfelt Times of Israel blog, protesting the apathy of the West’s ‘woke’ brigade to women’s rights in the Muslim world. As a Jew and a woman, she  was well acquainted with the way men harassed girls in Libya. Giulia fled  her native Tripoli for Italy in 1967, before re-settling in the USA. (With thanks: Denis)

Afghan women dressed in burqas

I was born in Tripoli, the capital of Libya, in 1951. I am the second oldest of six sisters and two brothers. Even though Libya was in some ways more cosmopolitan than Afghanistan — we had movie theaters and concerts, an American airbase, and Italian schools where I had my education — Muslim women still had to wear a burqa in the streets, covering the entire body except for a mesh screen to see out of, and did not work outside the house.

We, as non-Muslim (Jewish) females, were allowed to wear Western clothes. Yet, I knew from a very young age that I belonged to the worst group of all: Being both a female and an “infidel.” You can argue which was worse. In my view, it was being a female.

Wearing Western dress made me a perpetual target. Or, to paraphrase the countless men and boys who tried to pinch me, touch my breasts, and expose themselves to me (and my sisters and female friends), I was a “whore,” a “sinner,” a “prostitute” and a “dog.”

They would attempt to “bump” into me while walking, or, if I was in the water, come from underneath to try to remove my bathing suit. I could feel their repressed lust coupled with unbridled hatred. My fear was indescribable. I became so traumatized that, to this day, decades later, I am still reluctant to enter the water and can barely swim.

Surely, their hatred was a function of religious indoctrination coupled with the frustration of desiring women but being taught that their own women had to be essentially hidden from sight and “pure.” Yet strangely, because I did not know any better, because I had never seen the world outside Libya, I somehow adjusted to this life. I instinctively understood the tactics for survival – try to stay quiet, keep my head down, cross the street if a male approaches. And, yes, confide in my girlfriends in a similar position for the sake of my own mental health, but never with my parents or brothers in order to protect them from their own sense of helpless rage.

After all, we were a tiny minority within a larger minority of non-Muslims in an overwhelmingly Muslim-majority society. And we felt it. We girls more than others.

I remember vividly an episode that encapsulates so much for me.

A new girl from Greece arrived in our school. She and I become fast friends. Earlier, she had lived in Italy, and I thought she was sophisticated, elegant, and beautiful.  One afternoon, she and I were walking in the center of Tripoli and some men started groping us. She immediately began screaming at them. I saw danger. I took her hand and started running with her, entering the first store I saw.

Breathless, I told her she cannot yell like that. We could have ended up being punched, killed, or imprisoned on some trumped-up charge. I’ll never forget her reaction. She looked at me as if I were crazy and said: “No, they can’t do that to me. I have my Greek embassy here to protect me.”

I came home and broke my own rule by telling that story to my mother. Her reaction was that from now on I could only meet my new friend at my place or hers, but not outside because if something happened, I did not have any “embassy” to help me.

And then in 1967, after a hate-fest that saw some Jewish families slaughtered and my family almost burned alive by a mob, we were allowed to leave Libya with one bag each and the equivalent of thirty dollars per person. I was never to return.

Italy offered us refuge. The ten of us arrived on July 14th, crammed into one room in a hostel, and four days later two sisters and I started working to help our family survive. At the time, we were 17, 16 and 15 years old.

Life was not easy and we were as poor as church mice, but I still remember that period in Rome as one of the happiest times of my life. It took me a while to understand exactly why. And then one day it came to me. It was the discovery of freedom. Freedom to be me. Freedom to be a female. Freedom to walk and not be scared of being harassed. Freedom to appreciate that when young Italian boys would flirt with me, they knew they had no right to touch me or call me a “whore” just because I didn’t wear a burqa.

Now at the age of 70, I cannot even begin to fathom living without that freedom, or, even worse, that my granddaughters would have it denied to them.

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More from Giulia Boukhobza

 

Israeli court: Moroccan Jews ineligible for Holocaust compensation

Israel’s Supreme Court has rejected  a demand by Moroccan Jews  to be recognised as Holocaust survivors eligible for compensation.  According to Haaretz, the plaintiffs, represented by lawyer David Yadid, had not managed to show  objective evidence  of ‘fear’ among Moroccan Jews.  In addition, the Vichy regime was thought to be acting independently of the Nazis.  The ruling by Israel’s top court was not viewed as a total loss by the plaintiffs, as some benefits were afforded to Moroccan immigrants during their long legal battle. This case was for Moroccan Jews  to receive monthly renta payments as Holocaust survivors. However, Yadid is determined to ask for a re-hearing. See my comment below. (With thanks: Imre)

Lawyer David Yadid, representing the plaintiffs

The ruling described the suffering of Moroccan Jews under France’s Nazi-aligned Vichy government, which controlled Morocco at the time and pressured the Moroccan authorities to implement antisemitic legislation. Morocco responded by issuing orders that restricted Jews’ ability to acquire housing, education and employment, it noted.

The suit, which was filed against the Finance Ministry’s Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority, had argued that these restrictions “gave legitimacy to harming Moroccan Jews” and resulted in “extreme tension and fear,” and therefore deserve recognition under the law.

Justices Neal Hendel, David Mintz, and Yosef Elron agreed that Moroccan Jews suffered antisemitic abuse from the authorities. Nevertheless, the plaintiffs don’t qualify for compensation under the law since the harm they suffered “consisted mainly of a reduced ability to integrate into the job market and acquire an education outside the Jewish community, alongside undermining some community members’ ability to choose their place of residence. These restrictions, which weren’t imposed in the territory of the German Reich but on Moroccan soil, don’t meet the demands of the law.”

Moreover, the ruling said, the Moroccan authorities made their own decisions separately from the main Vichy government, and the Germans had little influence over them. In fact, Morocco rejected some of the Germans’ requests, thereby disproving the petition’s claim that the Vichy government in Morocco was actually worse than the Nazis.

As for the plaintiffs’ subjective experience of fear and tension, the ruling said they needed to show objective evidence that this fear was warranted. The justices accepted the lower court’s finding that the evidence offered was unpersuasive, just as they accepted its finding that the restrictions imposed did not amount to “deprivation of freedom’.

As Yadid noted, the plaintiffs’ battle wasn’t completely without fruit. In 2015, the treasury decided to grant financial benefits to survivors from Morocco and Algeria on account of the restrictions they suffered. This consisted mainly of an annual grant of 4,000 shekels ($1,240). And three years later, the Claims Conference decided to give them one-time grants of 2,500 euros

In summary, the justices wrote that “the role of the historian is separate from that of the court, and that’s a good thing.

“The test of history has many participants, and is subject to additions and updates which are inappropriate for a concrete legal procedure. The law, on the other hand, works according to precise rules, with all the pros and cons that that entails.”

Nevertheless, Yadid accused the treasury of “discriminating between victims of the Nazi regime out of budgetary considerations,” pointing out that the Jews of Libya and Tunisia had been recognized as victims of Nazi persecution. He added that he will consider asking the court to rehear the issue with an expanded panel of justices.

Read article in full

My comment: Supporters of the judgement argue that the class action was a cynical move to extract money from the state seventy-five years after the fact. However, the court’s distinction between the role of the historian and that of the court is mystifiying: surely court rulings should be based on historical facts? On the other hand, the court has been criticised for being influenced by budgetary considerations and  its judgement interpreted as evidence of continued discrimination against Mizrahi Jews.

Based on 24,000 questionnaires he sent out to claimants in the class action,  an expert witness  told Point of No Return:

‘ 55,000 Jews were forced out of their homes in Casablanca and Fez. They were ordered to live in the crowded Jewish run-down mellahs so that they could be prepared for eventual evacuation and deportation. After the war, these people did not regain their property. The Vichy regime was allowed to continue after the Allied landings on 9 November 1942, Operation Torch, until  1944.  Vice-President of the Vichy regime Xavier Vallet, deputy to Vichy leader and criminal  Maréchal Petain, was convicted as a Nazi war criminal after the war. Vallet initiated the Nuremberg laws in Morocco.  Such documentation would have been enough to convict Eichmann.’

The witness cited the  37 forced labour camps where Moroccan Jews – French colonial subjects – were interned. He claimed that the King  had instigated anti-Jewish riots in January and February 1943 in Fez, Meknes and Rabat, and dismissed 60 Jews from their jobs, although he later re-instated them.

All these factors would have created a climate of fear.

It should also be pointed out that deportees and inmates in French camps in France,  two-thirds of whom were Sephardic Balkan and North African Jews – recent immigrants to France – received reparations from Germany.

The Moroccan case in the Israeli courts recalls a similar ruling against Farhud survivors, who had argued  unsuccessfully, after five legal rounds, that the 1941 pogrom in Iraq was a Nazi-inspired event.

In any event, we have not heard the last of this story.

Journalist ‘framed Ades to extort money’

In September 1948, Shafik Ades, the richest and best-connected Jew in Iraq, was hanged  in front of his newly-constructed villa, sending shock waves through the Jewish community. Joe Samuels was 17 at the time. He remembers becoming hysterical  when he saw the photograph of Ades’ hanging  body on the front page of the Alzaman newspaper. Much later, Joe was told the following (uncorroborated) story by Tawfik Zanki, who in turn had heard it from his father. Zanki moved from Basra to Los Angeles in 1996. 

Ades was tried swiftly in an army court

After the failure of the Arab countries to eliminate Israel in the war of 1948, the Arabs channelled their anger into blaming their Jewish citizens. They  openly expressed their mistrust and hatred in the media, such as the evening newspaper Al Yaktha and the mouthpiece of the Istiklal (Independence) party. Articles were filled with hate for the Jews, calling them spies and a fifth column.

After WWII the British Army offered to sell as scrap metal what was left of their war equipment and cars which they didn’t want to take back, some of which were still usable. They left the scrap behind at the Shieba camp near Basra.

Ades’ body was left to hang all day long in front of a crowd of thousands

Shafik Ades and a Muslim merchant friend Nadji Al Khutheiry formed a company and bought some of the equipment. Some they sold in Iraq and some they sold to Italy.  All sales were cleared with permission from the Iraqi government.

A low-level journalist who was attempting to extract money from Ades threatened to write an article about him in the press. When Shafik refused, the journalist went ahead and published the article, accusing him of shipping war material to Israel through Italy and help her win the war. The article accused Ades alone and did not mention his partner, Al Khutheiry. The article was picked u[p by other media and from there it became a national story.

Ades was then arrested, accused and tried in a special army court in Basra on September 11-13, 1948. The president of the court, Abdallah Al Na’asany,  condemned him (not his partner Al Khutheiry) to death by hanging and confiscated his assets. He was executed on September 23, 1948 in front of his villa, whose construction had just been completed. His body was displayed all day long.

Shafik  had been warned through his connections to flee to Iran through the Shatt al Arab waterway,  but he refused, sure of his innocence,  and that his close friendship with the Regent and many ministers would protect him. Of course, nothing helped; they needed a scapegoat and it was he –  and not his Muslim partner, Al Khutheiry.

More about Shafik Ades

 

 

 

 

Moroccan-Israeli stabbed to death in Tangiers

 Update: Times of Israel says that the victim was giving food to a homeless person when he was stabbed. The authorities say the assassin’s motive is ‘ not clear’.
A Moroccan-Israeli was stabbed to death in the city of Tangiers  on 25 August 2021. Marco Rebibo, 54,  had decided to leave Israel and re-settle in Morocco where he opened a kosher restaurant.
Marco Rebibo: moved to Morocco from Israel

 

The stabbing took place at Rebibo’s restaurant, the Cercle de l’Alliance,  in Tangiers.  According to Dernières infos d’Algerie  the 36-year-old assassin was sporting a Palestinian flag. He  was arrested by the Moroccan security forces, and an inquiry into the murder opened.
An ambulance arriving at the scene of the murder
The incident comes as an embarrassment to Morocco, which has recently signed the Abraham Accords with Israel. It shows that normalisation with Israel is a matter of controversy. The Moroccan press has not specified the victim’s Israeli nationality, stating only that he was Jewish. According to the Algerian medium DIA,  the murder has created a climate of fear among Jewish hotel and restaurant owners. The police has reinforced security around Jewish sites.

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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.

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Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

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