As has become our end-of-the-year custom, we bring you the Point of No Return review of 2021.
This year was still in the grip of the Coronavirus pandemic. Nevertheless, there was no shortage of news.
Much the best news of the year was the consolidation of the Abraham Accords. Israel and Morocco signed a defence agreement.A Jewish wedding was celebrated in Bahrain, and the UAE continued to build on its new alliance with Israel. Israel and the UAE and Bahrain opened embassies.
For weeks, the story has been hogging the headlines of the Lebanese Muslim who posed as a Jew and married into an observant family in Brooklyn. The deception is all the more scandalous since the Syrian-Jewish community is bound by a takana or decree, forbidding marriage with non-Jews. Even marriage with Ashkenazim was not encouraged until recently. Jonathan Sacerdoti reports in the Jewish Chronicle:
The father of an Orthodox Sephardi woman who discovered her husband was a fake Jew after their wedding has warned the groom to “back up a million feet” if he believes he can win his daughter back.
Ali Hasan Hawila had posed as an observant Jew for years before marrying his bride from the Syrian Jewish community of Brooklyn New York.
His true identity as a Lebanese Muslim who had not converted was uncovered just weeks after they got married.
Now the bride’s father, Yosef Kredi, has spoken about the terrible damage done to his daughter and the family by the deception.
Mr Kredi said: “He knows what he did. And he knew before, but he took a risk, he took the chance. He gambled on my account, he gambled with my money, with my own life he gambled.” He added: “He destroyed our life.”
Mr Hawila recently told the JC that he now wants to go to Israel where he intends to convert to Judaism so as to win back his bride.
Spluttering with fury and disbelief at Mr Hawila’s delusional hopes, Mr Kredi said: “I want him to back up a million feet, to go back to where he comes from, to go back as far as he can, not to come near us, not to call my daughter any more, not to try with anything.
“He called her sister last time. And even my daughter. Please, stay far from our family, please.”
Mr Kredi had even taken Mr Hawila to pray alongside him at his synagogue.
The distraught father said: “He acted one thousand percent Jewish.
“What he did is wrong. He passed his limit. He’s smart, but he’s not smart like this. No way what he did can be accepted.
“He hurt me, he fooled me around, he fooled my daughter, he fooled my family. He killed me.” Hawila, 23, adopted the first name Eliya when he emigrated from Lebanon to America in 2015. (…)
Born in Aleppo, Mr Kredi came to the United States in 1983. He said: “I’m from Syria. I was born with Arabs. I came from Arabs, we know the Arabs, we love the Arabs. They come to us on Saturday for Havdalah, they help us, we talk to them, we love them. In this community we have a lot of Arabs on Fifth Avenue.
“We go to them, they know us, we do business together, we joke together sometimes. I want the whole world to hear me. I’m not against anybody, I love everybody. I love the Arabs, I love the Jews, I love the Christians. I wish for everybody the best. But I don’t want nobody to come near my family if they’re going to fool me about like this.”
Mr Kredi’s daughter had met Hawila on a Jewish dating website, and believed him to be Jewish when they got married earlier this year.
Since his deception was uncovered, she has been living apart from him in a safe house, and has even lost her job as a result of all the public attention.
Mr Kredi said: “It’s going to take time. The pain is not going to go away for two, three, four months. This is big pain he caused. Hashem, he knows why this happened. Slowly everything’s going to go back to normal.
Haokets (the Sting) has run out of funding and is being forced to close. The magazine has focused on socioeconomic disparities and ‘discrimination’ against Mizrahim in Israel by the Ashkenazi establishment. But its pro-Palestinian stance is unpopular with Mizrahim generally, who mostly support the rightwing. Now the Mizrahi left is at a crossroads. ‘Obituary’ in +972 magazine:
When (Yossi) Dahan established Haokets nearly 19 years ago with his friend and fellow academic Itzik Saporta, they were even paying out of their own pocket. The two had become acquainted as members of the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow Coalition (“HaKeshet” in Hebrew) — a collective of scholars and activists promoting Mizrahi equality in Israel — and, in an era before social media, decided to set up a blog through which to spread a political-economic analysis that was almost totally absent from the Israeli media landscape.
“Itzik and I were quite frustrated with the established Israeli media and how they cover all kinds of issues, especially socioeconomic and cultural issues,” Dahan explains in a phone call soon after the announcement. Compared to the public discussion around these topics in other countries, they were dismayed at the “poor and restricted” Israeli discourse; in particular, the pair had grown “frustrated with the Israeli left on economic issues.”
Whereas in most political contexts the left/right spectrum indicates the extent to which parties or individuals support the equal distribution of resources, in Israel, the distinction is more about where one stands on the question of Palestine. Class issues have little bearing on Israel’s left/right divide; in fact, the support base of Labor and Meretz, considered Israel’s mainstream left parties, tends to comprise the wealthiest sectors of society, which remain, in large part, Ashkenazi.
This aberration is partly what makes it so hard for Haokets to raise the funds it needs to operate. Dahan tells +972 that the magazine’s financial troubles are largely a reflection of its dual readership: Mizrahim on the one hand, most of whom do not identify as left-wing, and the Israeli left on the other hand, most of whom are Ashkenazi.
As a result, while Haokets’ Mizrahi audience appreciated the focus on socioeconomic disparities and ethnic discrimination, the same audience complained whenever it wrote about the occupation. Left-wing Ashkenazi readers, meanwhile, were excited that Mizrahim were talking about Palestinian rights but disgruntled that they brought up intra-Jewish ethnicity, deeming it an unimportant or unnecessarily divisive topic. “It’s very difficult to raise money when you have audiences that like you but also hate you at the same time,” Dahan jokes.
Tunisia got rid of its Jews by pretending it was doing everything in its power to keep them. Andre Nahum explains how Jews fell victim to Arabisation, abuse of property law, economic strangulation and a policy to replace Jewish civil servants with Muslims. This extract covers the period between independence in 1956 and the Bizerte crisis of 1961, but the rest of the article, which appeared in Pardès no 34 (2003) is well worth reading too.
At the beginning, the bey Sidi Lamine remained on his throne and Habib Bourguiba was appointed prime minister.
The transition went smoothly and the new regime showed no hostility towards the Jews. Quite the contrary … If there were Cassandras predicting the inevitable emigration of the community, most wanted to hope that a Jewish minority could still live in an Arab country.
As early as 1948, there had certainly been, with the creation of the State of Israel, emigration to this new country. The Jewish agency, particularly active in North Africa, had managed to persuade a number of families to make their aliya. Most were the poorest and most deprived in the community, and they were particularly people from the provinces. Very few white-collar workers left, only a few die-hard Zionists. The Jews, for the most part, remained in limbo – although very attracted by France, its democracy, its language, its culture. The end of the protectorate made them Tunisian citizens, but they could not allow themselves to see the old metropolis as a foreign country. The majority accepted this situation; a few families decided to emigrate, mainly to France. The memory of the dhimmi status in which their grandparents had lived until the arrival of France in 1881 was too vivid. Moreover, the Israeli-Arab conflict, which had had no impact until then on relations between Jews and Arabs, could change their lives at any time.
When Habib Bourguiba abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the republic, the first articles of the new constitution stated that: “Tunisia is a republic, Islam is its religion and Arabic the language”. Ipso facto the Jews were put in a special category.since they were not Muslims and they did not speak classical Arabic which became the official language of the country.
I remember a funny episode in this regard. One fine day, the authorities wisely decided that all Tunisians should have a surname, which was not the case until then: individuals were known as “X ben Y ben Z”. It was stipulated that all citizens had to fill out a form, in Arabic, of course. Like everyone else, I went to the relevant office. As I could neither read nor write Arabic although I spoke the language perfectly, I had to get an interpreter who willingly agreed to help me for a fee – a few coins since I was “illiterate”. We must give Bourguiba credit for always saving face.
When Bourguiba called legislative and then presidential elections, he insisted that Jewish citizens register on the electoral roll and fulfil their duty when he did not need a single Jewish vote. But he did need the Jews to bridge the gap between the French who were leaving and the Muslims who were not quite ready to take their places.
In the early days of independence, gestures of friendship multiplied towards the community. Everything was done to reassure it. Friendly relations were established between bourgeois Jews and Arabs, which had hardly been the case under the protectorate. We saw Jews attend large Arab receptions and vice versa and we thought that, contrary to what was happening in other Arab countries and in particular in Iraq and in Nasser’s Egypt, it would be possible for Jews to live normal lives in this Arab Muslim country.
Very soon the new republic abolished the elected Jewish community council under the leadership of lawyer Charles Haddad and replaced it with a “provisional commission of Israelite worship” appointed by the authorities. Unless I am mistaken, “provisional” became permanent.
It also abolished the rabbinical court which handled the personal status of Jews. It may seem the norm in a democracy to place Jewish citizens under the jurisdiction of national courts. The old Jewish cemetery on Avenue de Londres, which reminded us of the very ancient Jewish presence in the city, was transformed into a public park: the rabbis prohibited access to Jews. After the authorities promised to exhume the corpses and send them to Israel, bulldozers were used to level the land. As for the hundreds of gravestones, no one knows what happened to them. A friend of mine told me he saw a few stored in a senior official’s garden, perhaps waiting to be used to pave his garden paths.
From 1956 to 1961 things went more or less well. Bourguiba ruled the country with an iron fist. The all-powerful police ensured the full safety of people and property. But seeing no future for themselves and no longer used to living under a dictatorship since the French protectorate, many Jews considered leaving, even as the regime interfered in all sectors of public life. For example, some leaders of the national doctors’ union displeased the president: tremendous pressure was put on the practitioners to resign from the organization. Every day the radio announced triumphantly the names of the doctors who had abandoned the union. In the end, only a few members of the board of directors remained until the very last government ultimatum to lower the flag and dissolve this rebel institution.
Since the establishment of the State of Israel, Tunisian Jews have always felt close to it.
They could not show their solidarity in public for obvious reasons and avoided pronouncing the very name Israel for fear of reprisals. But they would regularly listen to “Kol Israel”, Jerusalem radio, and keep themselves informed of every incident, however insignificant, taking place there.
With the Muslims there was a kind of modus vivendi and we avoided talking about the problems of the Middle East. Habib Bourguiba, who had courageously distanced himself from fundamentalist Islam by drinking a glass of fruit juice on television in the middle of the month of Ramadan, did not show any hate-filled hostility towards Israel and even advised the PLO during a trip to Jordan to favour a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
Economically, Tunisia had adopted a new currency, the dinar, which was theoretically worth ten francs. But, to protect it, very strict exchange controls were imposed and the new currency could not be exported or imported. However, the Jews, made wary by the vagaries of their history, tried to transfer money to France when they could. Legal shipments were made by postal order. These could not exceed fifty francs; to transfer a substantial sum it was necessary to make numerous trips to every post office. All had long queues.
The second possibility was to transfer the money illegally by various means, including smugglers. Many thought that their departure would be illegal. That’s why we talked about it in a low voice, away from prying ears, and if we were in a public place, we looked carefully to right and left to make sure we weren’t overheard. The government artfully tried to get rid of the Jews by pretending that it was doing everything to keep them. Officially it wanted to retain them. In reality everything concurred to make them leave. Perhaps they already had left, as President Bourguiba once said, “their bodies in Tunisia and hearts elsewhere”. Perhaps the Jews who had already decided to go into exile and the regime were playing a kind of poker.
In 1956, independent Tunisia had very few Muslim cadres, most civil servants and technicians being French, and a few Jews. When the French went back home, the Tunisians skilfully played on this situation to fill the places vacated by the French with Jews for as long as it took to train their Muslim replacements. They were thus able to secure the transition from a French administration to a Tunisian Muslim administration cheaply after a short ‘Jewish’ period. A friend of mine, a police officer under the protectorate, was thus offered an unexpected promotion in this administration and, when he had trained a young Muslim, his secretary, his company car and his driver were removed and he was made redundant, leading to exile. This policy therefore allowed a smooth transition But, little by little, each profession was confronted with its own hardships. Jewish judges and lawyers who had previously used French found themselves hamstrung when literary Arabic became the official language of justice. In hospitals, a Jewish doctor who would normally have reached the post of head of department, saw his Muslim pupil promoted above his head.
For Jewish traders, things were different. Since essential goods came from abroad and mainly from France:import licences had to be obtained for each product. The licences granted to Jews became increasingly few and far between and were given to Muslims who were often completely new to the field. Moreover, Jews only obtained licences if they had Muslim partners. This applied to the wholesale textile trade, a business I knew well, my family being established in Souk-el-Ouzar, the centre of the trade.
Bullying, bordering on discrimination, overwhelmed the Jewish owners of land and buildings, often leading them to sell them at ridiculously low prices to Muslims.
As with the French, as soon as an apartment appeared unoccupied, the law allowed it to be taken over by a Muslim Tunisian under the pretext that it was empty.
This is what almost happened to my parents who spent the summer by the sea. They saw our family home requisitioned. It took the energetic intervention of a friend of mine, a Muslim radiologist, to halt this abuse of power. Gradually, the Jews began to lose heart.
What is worse Mr. Ben Salah, Minister of Commerce, managed to convince Bourguiba that the economic future of the country lay in a kind of collectivism, vaguely inspired by Marxist ideals. He established “cooperatives” in all sectors. I mean all, in agriculture as well as trade and commerce.
Thereafter modest Djerba grocers, known until then for their generosity and their individualistic working methods, were forced to register in a cooperative. This made them go through multiple administrative formalities to acquire a bag of semolina or a can of olive oil. This “brilliant” initiative, which traumatized Jews and Arabs alike, put the country on the verge of bankruptcy and caused a number of Jewish traders to emigrate for economic reasons, simply because they could not feed their families.
The community thus began to unravel, but the bulk of the Jews still remained in place, although concerns gained ground when it became more and more evident that we could only be second-class citizens. To the difficulties of the whole population, we had to add our own. And as here below, only Allah is eternal. Ben Salah fell from grace, he was deposed by Habib Bourguiba who with great wisdom sent his minister and his socialism packing and revived the liberal economy, thus saving what could still to be saved.
The experiences of Jews forced to leave Egypt, Iraq, Tunisia, Lebanon, Algeria, Morocco and Iran are told in a new documentary, ‘L’Exode Silencieux’.
The film , which is 56 minutes long in its full version, was made by the Communauté Sépharade Unifiée du Quebec and the Montreal Consulate of Israel to mark the 30 November annual commemoration of the exodus of more than 850,000 Jews from Arab countries and Iran. It begins by describing the comfortable lives of these middle class Jews. Attitudes towards them changed over time, with the rise of pan-Arabism and repercussions of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Many left with nothing.
Some acknowledge that they were refugees, but never enjoyed the rights of refugees. However, one speaker, Abraham Elarar, objects to describing Moroccan Jews as refugees : he says they left for economic reasons or Zionism.
On the other hand, the historian Georges Bensoussan says that they left out of fear and therefore the word ‘refugee’ could apply to almost all Jews who left the Arab world.
While conditions did vary from country to country, there is no hope of reconciliation while Arab countries distort their own history, Bensoussan claims.
For the first time, Sylvain Abitbol of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) discloses that JJAC appointed the accountancy firm Baker Tilly to carry out an assessment of lost Jewish property and assets. The total value is estimated to be between $300 and $330 billion while the Palestinian losses are estimated to total $30 billion.
Sima Goel from Iran and Lisette Shashoua from Iraq say that they hope that the ordeal they went through will serve as a warning to Jews threatened by antisemitism today in the West.
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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