Lebanese ‘family reunion’ was a cynical fundraising event

Last month, the Lebanese embassy in Paris invited Lebanese Jews for a ‘family reunion’. Was this a ‘welcome home ‘ or a transactional event, a cynical,  fundraising advertisement for the fantasy of a pluralistic Lebanon? David Daoud does not mince his words in Haaretz (with thanks: Lily, Tom):

A wedding at the Maghen Abraham synagogue in Beirut

Identity is complicated.

The incongruity of my fluent Lebanese Arabic and the Star of David always hanging around my neck usually prompts curious inquiries into my origins – those origins. I prefer to cut those questions short, invariably responding, “I’m from Connecticut.”

Particularly with Lebanese interlocutors. I know they’ve probably heard of Lebanese Jews. Maybe from their parents, or they’ve seen Beirut’s Maghen Abraham synagogue, or watched a documentary about the community. Rarely have they met one, but seldom is their curiosity about my origins meant to initiate a genuine inquiry into Lebanese Jewry – our identity, customs, sentiments, or beliefs. Rarely, it seems, are Lebanese interested in us as real people rather than props. These interactions often carry an implicit invitation to claim my presumed “Lebanese patrimony,” tied to my parents who left in 1989, thus stamping my hechsher on an imagined pluralistic Lebanon, a country which rejects my Jewish identity. But I unfailingly refuse these invitations.

I’m simply not Lebanese. I don’t, and don’t want to, fit into their “Lebanese” box, a token, yet another “Arab Jew” – that irksome term seemingly designed to erase our ethnic identity – playing a role created by someone else.

That’s why, when I saw that the Lebanese government had taken the unusual step of inviting Jews who’d left Lebanon to a “family reunion” in its Paris embassy, where the Lebanese ambassador told them the Lebanese state was in danger and “all sects” needed to come to its aid, calling on them to come “home,” I didn’t feel the delight of a long-delayed recognition of kinship. Quite the opposite.

I grew up thoroughly American in Connecticut, where I formed my most meaningful early memories and childhood connections. Without the memories (or sufficient substitutes) which anchor the older generation’s nostalgic, albeit complicated, longing for a “lost homeland,” I failed to develop any feelings for Lebanon. What little childhood exposure I had to Lebanon came from my mother – the language, music, or occasional dish – but it failed to resonate. I knew of Khalil Gebran, of Fairouz, Sabah, and Wadih al-Safi, and kibbeh nayyeh. But my father preferred Frank Sinatra, the Foundations, and Bob Dylan, among others; these were the soundtrack of my childhood, before I even formed my own musical tastes. And I thought kibbeh nayyeh was gross. I still think it’s gross.

My mother’s stories about Lebanon seemed like fables, their characters and settings lacking counterparts in my childhood surroundings. And her Arabic lessons only distanced me from Lebanon. I chafed against learning a language incomprehensible to my American friends, and which, at the time, served only to expose me to the region’s widespread antisemitic and anti-American sentiments. America was my only country, and Israel was my ancestral homeland – two nations that gave my people dignity, whose sights and smells I’d experienced firsthand, and which embodied identities I lived daily, not an intangible one left behind by my parents in a distant land where Jews were second-class citizens.

When I first visited Lebanon as an adult, my sentiments and identity had been fully formed. The experience reinforced my emotional detachment, the sense that I couldn’t belong without abandoning the meaningful parts of my identity. I still remember fretting over whether to pack my tallit and tefillin and my relief as I passed through Beirut airport’s security without them being discovered. Perhaps I was being paranoid, but why would I even want to belong to a country where I’d ever have to feel that way, where I felt the need to hide my identity?

I also found myself unable to relate to the Lebanese – their culture, history, aspirations, triumphs, travails, and prejudices were simply not my own. I spoke their language and could understand them on an intellectual level. But I would never innately relate to the world through a “Lebanese lens.”

Not to mention the casual antisemitism, and the characteristic smugness with which Lebanese would pontificate – inaccurately – on Jews and Judaism. It wasn’t everyone, but there was enough of it to be off-putting. The Shiite woman and her daughter who recounted their fear of being poisoned by Moroccan Jewish hoteliers in France; the self-assured Sunni doctor who lectured me on how the “pornography” of the Song of Songs accounted for Jewish women’s “loose morals”; the Christian woman who surprisingly borrowed a Qur’anic term – al-maghdoub alayhum, those who anger God – to describe Jews.

I also recall my inability to respond. It is with that mindset of indifference and wariness that I initially reacted to the Lebanese Embassy in France’s invitation to local Lebanese Jews to a meet-up in Paris, an invitation that several dozen Jews answered by attending, joined by France’s Chief Rabbi, Haim Korsia. “Are these your cousins?” a friend of mine jokingly texted. “God, I hope not,” I dismissively responded. To another friend, I responded “Mixed feelings, tbh.”

I’d felt those same mixed-to-negative feelings about Maghen Abraham’s restoration a decade prior – “That’s nice, but so what? Actually, maybe it’s a bad idea for Jews to visibly congregate in a country dominated by Hezbollah…”

But then I read the fine print, and indignation replaced indifference. A 70- year-old Jewish woman who had left Lebanon three decades ago asked Ambassador Rami Adwan “Why now?” He responded that Lebanon was “currently in danger, and all of its citizens, of all sects, must help save it.”

This wasn’t a welcome home party. Per An-Nahar, “this meeting dealt with the Jews as…as one of the capabilities [qudra min qudurat] of the Lebanese diaspora communities which, as a result, have the abilities to help Lebanon emerge from its downfall.”  This was a transactional event, a fundraising advertisement for the fantasy of a pluralistic Lebanon, with some Jews thrown in for good measure. Lebanon was cynically manipulating these guests – their nostalgia, memories, and longing for their birth country – to use them as an untapped resource, no different from the offshore hydro-carbon deposits it is disputing with Israel.

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  • https://www.nli.org.il/en/newspapers/hrt/1960/01/18/01/

    Heruth⁩ – ⁨חרות⁩⁩, 18 January 1960

    An increasing anti-Jewish campaign in Lebanon

    By Oded Raz, our writer on Arab affairs

    The Jewish community in Lebanon is the first victim to visit the world recently, which has given its signals in Arab countries as well. The appearance of swastikas on the walls of one of the commercial centers in the capital, Beirut, last week, is the first revelation of an increasing antisemitic campaign, endangering the lives of eight thousand Lebanese Jews.

    The vast majority of Lebanese Jews are concentrated in Beirut, in one neighborhood that is a kind of a closed ghetto, the neighborhood surrounds the Great Synagogue, which is the only one in Lebanon, Lebanese Jews are mainly engaged in trade and liberal professions.

    Hatred Against the Background of Commercial Competition

    Two major events that preceded the painting of the swastikas terrified Lebanese Jews:

    The first is the wave of hatred that has recently grown on the part of Muslim Arabs towards the Jews in the context of trade matters.
    These Muslims saw the Jews as a factor that pushed their feet away from the trade and nationalists with whom they incited against the Jews as “traitors who help Israel,” especially after the recent “Zionist spies” trial in Beirut.

    The second event that had a significant effect on the encouragement of the new wave of anti-Semitism in Lebanon was the article published in the influential official newspaper Al-Hayat الحياة, in which the newspaper acknowledged the existence of a serious anti-Semitic movement in the world and called on the Arabs to join this movement, in order to act against the Jews and the State of Israel.

    Political observers view with grave concern the emergence of swastikas in Lebanon as a bad omen, indicating the existence of an antisemitic body that absorbs its actions from Nazi elements, this body could become a serious factor that would endanger the lives of Lebanese Jews.

    The roots of Nazism are found in Arab countries

    The announcement by French Minister Jacques Soustelle at a protest rally organized by the Committee for the Defense of Democracy last week that the source of anti-Semitism needs to be searched in the Arab League and Pan-Arabism – has serious implications:
    In Arab countries, there are now roots of Nazism from which Arab nationalists now draw their ideas, some of whom hold key positions in the Arab political arena.

    There are German Nazis in Egypt who are making their mark on the life of the economy, the military and the venomous propaganda against the Jews and the State of Israel. German economic experts help Nasser solve his economic problems. German officers serve as instructors in the Egyptian army. German propagandists are engaged in training and directing anti-Jewish propaganda over the waves of the Sawt al-Arab صوت العرب station and the other propaganda trumpets. These facts were also revealed by Baghdad Radio on its broadcast about a month ago, in which it listed a number of Nazi Germans operating on Arab broadcasting stations under false Arab names.

    Fear of an organized Nazi existence

    The reality of Nazi elements in Arab countries has a tradition. Iraq was famous for the pro-Nazi uprising of Rashid Ali al-Khilani, the man who did much at the end of the last military revolution. Al-Khilani’s right-hand man, Sadiq Shanshal, has until recently served as Iraqi propaganda minister …

    Political observers rely on the assumptions of Arab personalities of the Nazi past on the one hand and the Nazi German foundations found in Arab countries on the other, and express their concern for an organized Nazi body operating in Arab countries and centered in Cairo, where it receives political authority.

    In view of all this, the situation of the Jews still in the Arab lands must be seen as extremely serious. The swastikas that appeared in Beirut may also spread to other Arab countries and there is a serious danger to the lives and very existence of these Jews in the future.

    מסע אנטי-יהודי הולך וגובר בלבנון

    מאת עודד רז, סופרנו לענינים ערביים

    הקהילה היהודית בלבנון היא הקורבן הראשון הפוקד לאחרונה את העולם, אשר נתן את אותותיו גם במדינות ערב. הופעתם של צלבי קרס על קירות אחד המרכזים המסחריים בעיר הבירה ביירות, בשבוע שעבר, הוא הגילוי הראשון למסע אנטישמי ההולך וגובר, ומסכן את חייהם של שמונת אלפים יהודי לבנון.

    רוב רובם של יהודי לבנון מרוכזים בביירות, בשכונה אחת המהווה מעין גיטו סגור ומסוגר, השכונה סובבת את ביה הכנסת הגדול, שהוא היחידי בלבנון, יהודי לבנון עוסקים בעיקר במסחר ובמקצועות חפשיים.

    שנאה על רקע התחרות מסחרית

    שני מאורעות מרכזיים שקדמו לציור צלבי הקרס הפילו אימתם על יהודי לבנון.

    הראשון הוא גל השנאה שגבר לאחרונה מצד הערבים המוסלמים כלפי היהודים על רקע עניני המסחר.
    מוסלמים אלה ראו ביהודים גורם אשר דחק את רגליהם מהמסחר והלאומנים שבהם הסיתו נגד היהודים כ”בוגדים המסייעים לישראל”, ביחוד לאחר משפט “המרגלים הציוניים” שנערך לאחרונה בביירות.

    המאורע השני שהשפיע לא במעט על עידודו של גל האנטישמיות החדש בלבנון היתה הכתבה שפורסמה בעתון הרשמי רב ההשפעה
    ‘אל-חיאת’ בה הודה העתון בקיום תנועה אנטישמית רצינית בעולם וקרא לערבים להצטרף לתנועה זו, כדי לפעול נגד היהודים ומדינת ישראל.

    משקיפים מדיניים רואים בדאגה חמורה את הופעת צלבי הקרס בלבנון כאות המבשר רעות, המעיד על קיום גוף אנטישמי שיונק את פעולותיו מיסודות נאציים, גוף זה עלול להפוך לגורם רציני שיסכן את חייהם של יהודי לבנון ויעודד פעולות פוגרום לא רק בלבנון אלא גם בארצות ערביות אחרות בהן מצויים יהודים.

    שרשי הנאציזם מצויים בארצות-ערב

    הכרזתו של המיניסטר הצרפתי ז’אק סוסטל באספת מחאה שאורגנה ע”י הועדה להגנת הדמוקרטיה בשבוע שעבר שיש לחפש את המקור לאנטישמיות בליגה הערבית והפאן ערביות, יש לה משמעות רצינית: בארצות ערב מצויים עתה שרשי הנאציזם מהם יונקים עתה את רעיונותיהם ערבים לאומנים, אשר חלק מהם מחזיק בתפקידים מרכזיים בזירת המדינית הערבית.

    במצרים נמצאים נאצים גרמניים המטביעים את חותמם על חיי הכלכלה, הצבא והתעמולה הארסית נגד היהודים ומדינת ישראל. מומחים כלכליים גרמניים מסייעים בידי נאצר לפתרון בעיותיו הכלכליות. קצינים גרמניים משמשים מדריכים בצבא המצרי. תעמלנים גרמניים עוסקים בהדרכה ובכיוון התעמולה האנטי יהודית מעל גלי תחנת “סַוְּת אל-ערבּ” ושופרות התעמולה האחרים. עובדות אלה גילה אף רדיו בגדד בשידורו לפני כחודש, בו מנה שורה של גרמנים נאצים הפועלים בתחנות השידור הערביות בשמות ערביים בדויים.

    חשש לקיום נאצי מאורגן

    מציאות יסודות נאציים במדינות ערב היא בעל מסורת. עיראק נתפרסמה במרד הפרו נאצי של רשירץד עאלי אל־כילאני, האיש שפעל רבות בשלהי המהפכה הצבאית האחרונה. יד ימינו של אל־כילאני, צַדֶיק שַנְשַל, שימש עד הזמן האחרון כשר התעמולה העיראקי.‭.. ‬

    משקיפים מדיניים מסתמכים בהנחותיהם על האישים הערביים בעלי העבר הנאצי מחד ועל היסודות הגרמניים הנאצים המצויים בארצות ערב מאידך, ומביעים את חששם לקיום גוף נאצי מאורגן הפועל במדינות ערב ומרכזו בקהיר, שם הוא מקבל את הסמכות המדינית לפעולותיו ולהתפתחותו.

    נוכח כל זה יש לראות את מצבם של היהודים המצויים עדיין בארצות ערב כחמור ביותר. צלבי הקרס שהופיעו בביירות עלול להתפשט גם על שאר מדינות ערב ויש בכך סכנה רצינית לחיים ולעצם קיומם של יהודים אלו בעתיד.

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  • As a young child, I grew up with “uncles” & “aunts” & “cousins” from Beirut. Although we were Jews & they were Maronites, we shared with them a warmness that we didn’t share with anyone else. They lived near my grandfather & became close because there weren’t so many other Arabic speakers around. I was grateful for the Southern Lebanese Army being a buffer zone for Israel (I’m deeply ashamed of Ehud Baraq’s stupid betrayal) & I went out of my way to befriend Lebanese on campus, not realizing that Lebanese Druze & Shi’ites were not SLA material. I was young & less wise.
    But that was 40 years ago. Today, I read a lot about Lebanese online. Whether or not they’ve been radicalized by the presence of Hezbollah, they have their eyes on Israel. Israel is everything they could have been, had they not taken a sharp turn towards…hate.
    Strangely, when I went to Rome, I felt an overwhelming connection to the Romans. They felt like Tel Aviv, only there weren’t. 40 years ago, when I’d meet a Lebanese, there was similar type of feeling.
    I’ve watched many a DNA unpacking of Lebanese on youtube & so many of them have a great Jewish genetic component, which they immediately ignore, in favour of much smaller components from anything not Jewish. Italians also have a significant Jewish DNA component. The energy of both of these people feels all too familiar, but at the end of the day KABDEHU WEHHADSHEYHU.

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