Persian-Israelis defy ban to reach out to Iranians

Persian Jews in Israel have been keeping channels open with people in Iran, as demonstrated by a Voice of America  documentary series made in 2017. Now the series has  been posted online. This week, i24 News reports that a delegation of American Iranians are visiting Israel to demonstrate their solidarity:  (with thanks – Lily)


Broadcaster Menashe Amir surrounded by Persian memorabilia in his Israeli home

Amid long-standing and deepening tensions between Israel and Iran, some prominent Israelis with Persian roots have engaged in little-publicized contacts with Iran’s people and advocated for reviving the historic friendship between the two Mideast powers.

These Israelis are part of the world’s only Persian diaspora community located in a country that Iran’s Islamist rulers have banned their citizens from contacting. They spoke about their barrier-breaking conversations with Iran’s people and hopes for reconciliation as part of VOA’s Persians of Israel documentary series that was filmed in 2017 and published online Friday.

The Israelis featured in the series include veteran journalist Menashe Amir, who has been broadcasting to Iran in Farsi via radio and online for six decades; Rita, one of Israel’s most successful pop stars; Dorit Rabinyan, a novelist who has won international acclaim for writing about romances of young Persian women and a taboo-breaking Jewish-Muslim couple; and Dan Halutz, who led Israel’s military during two of its most challenging operations of the 2000s.

See i24 News Clip »

Iraqi man in pro-Israel video beaten up and hospitalised

It was one of the most eye-popping videos to surface from the Arab world: an Iraqi man calling for Benjamin Netanyahu to save him and bring him to Israel.

The video, which seemed to  attract  the approval of bystanders,  was hailed by Israeli talk show host Avi Abelow as running contrary to the predominant narrative: that Arabs are instinctively hostile to Israel.

But delight amongst Jewish viewers turned to horror as these pictures began to emerge. They show that that the man was badly beaten and is now being treated in hospital.

According to  Israeli Arabic-media monitor Linda Menuhin, the man made his outburst following the fire that killed  92 in a hospital in Nasiriya. Iranian-supported militias were responsible for almost beating him to death, she claims.

Simply to fly the Israeli flag earns an Iraqi three years in prison. Which goes to show how brave – or desperate – this man was, to speak out in favour of Israel.

Tunisians serve up Merguez with everything before 9th Av

Tonight begins the longest fast of the Jewish year, Tisha b’Ab (9th of Av), in memory of the destruction of the two Jewish Temples in Jerusalem. Writing in Harissa, Victor Hayoun reminisces about the customs specific to Tunisian Jewry. To make up for the ban on eating meat in the run-up to the 9th of Av, Jews ate a surfeit of Merguez, the spicy sausage typical of North Africa.

Detail from the Arch of Titus showing the Romans carrying off booty from the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD

We commonly called this period, in Tunisian Judeo-Arabic, “Agein”  or “Ayamet-El-Tkal” [literally: “heavy days”], these were the expressions used by our parents to talk about it. These days were heavy with fear and prohibitions.

We knew it was in memory of a serious event, even of mourning, since we did not eat meat. These are austere days, full of restraint, no festivities, no excess of joy, no cutting your hair, no buying new clothes or anything else new, no undertaking new projects or signing new contracts, no starting to new approaches. In fact, we stopped making progress, we treaded water. It was our way of mourning the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem.

That was not all, there were also the dietary restrictions. We did not eat meat or chicken, except on Shabbat. We were entitled to fish in all its forms: fresh, canned: tuna / sardines / anchovies, dried fish (Bou-Zmeimar) and boutargue (for wealthy people who could pay the price). It was fried in whole fish, cooked in a spicy sauce: H’raiimé, or cooked in a vegetable broth: fish couscous accompanied by fish balls, fried and cooked. We had a great choice. A whole series of possibilities of consumption of fish to “fill” the absence of meat and chicken.

But the Tunisian Jew is all the same a pleasure-lover. He does everything to have fun in all circumstances and also and especially at the table. No prohibition can resist him. If he has found a way to consume rice on Passover, ‘it is really nothing for him to consume meat, or any derivative, during the days leading up to the fast of Ninth of Av, becomes a heavy consumer of Merguez (spicy sausage)during these first eight days of the month of Av (not Shabbat of course). In our childhood, our mother, peace be on her soul, prepared us Merguez before the month of Av, she dried them on a clothesline and then she prepared us Shakshouka with Merguez, Mloukhia with Merguez, beans “Bsal-ou-Loubia” with Merguez and many other dishes cooked with Merguez.

To these dishes of fish and dried meat, We added”Falsou” dishes.”Falso” in Italian which means “false”. These are in fact the “fake” dishes that we called so because the “real” ones were with meat, chicken or fish. In fact, these dishes which did not contain any, were equally delicious dishes such as pasta, cooked vegetables, couscous, or more rarely rice.

Read article in full (French)  »

More about Tisha b’Ab  »

Muslims in Aden pose with book by Israeli

How come a book about the Jews of Aden is suddenly appearing on the streets of this war-torn port at the tip of the Arabian peninsula?

Adenis pose with ‘Passage from Aden’ in front of the Selim school, where Jewish children once studied, and in the main streets of Crater. Here 8,000 Jews once ran businesses and shops. Not a single Jew still lives in the city,today.  Before it became part of the independent state of Yemen,  Aden was under British rule for over 100 years.

What is more startling is that Passage from Aden was written by an Israeli, Sarah Ansbacher,  and is about a museum in the heart of Tel Avi at 5 Lillienblum Street.


Above: Esplanade Road  in Crater as it was in 1947 (left) and the same street today (‘Before’ photo: The Aden Jewish Heritage Museum)

Sarah Ansbacher is the manager of the Aden Jewish Heritage Museum. Passage from Aden is a compilation of remarkable stories that Sarah collected from visitors to the museum, both tourists and Jews with links to Aden.

The photos were taken at the initiative of an Adeni Muslim historian who still lives in the port. It was on a visit to the Adeni Jewish community in Stamford Hill in London that he bought a copy of Sarah’s book and took it back with him to Aden. He and Sarah have since been in touch on line.

Is this a promising sign that Yemen will be the latest Arab country to sign the Abraham Accords? Do not hold your breath. Yemen is controlled by the Houthis, a fanatically antisemitic group which has chased out the last few Jews from the country. The Houthi watchword is ‘Convert or die’.


The Selim school in Crater is unchanged in over 70 years (‘Before’ photo: The Aden Jewish Heritage Museum).


Trading stories from Aden

African politician discredited for his Jewish ancestry

Antisemitism is threatening to penetrate deep  into the heart of Africa as the Congo contemplates disqualifying presidential hopeful Moise Katumbi for having a Sephardi father from Rhodes. JTA report in Times of Israel (With thanks: Nancy)

Moise Katumbi, successful businessman and presidential challenger

JTA — The ancestry of the son of a Jewish refugee in the Democratic Republic of Congo has emerged as a flashpoint for a political crisis that is threatening the integrity of the massive African country.

The crisis came to a head last week when lawmakers loyal to President Felix Tshiseked introduced a bill that would restrict the presidency to those with two Congolese parents.

It’s a thinly veiled move against Moise Katumbi, one of Congo’s most popular politicians, whose father was a Greek Jew who fled the Holocaust in Europe and settled in Congo, where he married a local woman, Katumbi’s mother.

Read article in full  »


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