An organ of the French-Jewish press, Tribune Juive, is treating with scepticism reports that the defenestration of a 90-year old Jewish man in Lyon was not antisemitic. The man, René Hadjaj, was pushed from the 17th floor of a building by a Muslim neighbour. Hadjaj, who is likely to have been born in North Africa, lived on the second floor. The incident, attributed to a dispute between neighbours, has disturbing echoes of the Sarah Halimi case and comes a short time after the mysterious death of Jeremy Cohen, who ran into the path of a tram in order to escape a group of assailants. The representative body for French Jewry, CRIF, has not inspired confidence by announcing that people should not jump to conclusions. The Jerusalem Post has the story:
A dispute between neighbors in France ended with the death of a 90-year-old Jewish man, according to police, who do not suspect an antisemitic motive.
Police arrested a 51-year-old neighbor of the deceased, René Hadjaj, sometime after Hadjaj’s death on Tuesday evening outside his home in Lyon in eastern France, the Tribune Juive Jewish newspaper reported on Friday. The suspect had pushed Hadjaj to his death from an elevated story of their residential building, prosecutors told Le Progrès, a local newspaper.
Le Progrès reported that police had initially investigated a possible antisemitic motive but have now excluded it.
As Israel marked its national Holocaust Remembrance Day, a major Iranian paper newspaper published an opinion piece including antisemitic tropes and overt praise of Adolf Hitler. Jews were known for their stubborness, objections and excuses, it said. The Times of Israel reports:
On Friday, the Islamic Republic of Iran will mark Quds Day, a day of solidarity with the Palestinian cause initiated by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979 – the year of the Islamic Revolution. The national holiday is characterized by anti-Israel speeches and events and threats to “liberate” Jerusalem from Israeli control.
Corresponding with this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day marked in Israel, the state-run ultraconservative Iranian daily newspaper Kayhan ran a front-page opinion piece that openly praised Nazi leader Hitler.
Recent terror attacks in Israel and violence on the Temple Mount have their roots in longstanding anti-Jewish prejudice. Muslim-Jewish relations have never been idyllic and the destruction of indigenous Jewish communities was never simply a reaction to the failure to destroy Israel, argues Mark Regev, former Israel ambassador to the UK, in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Sandra):
It has been suggested that this Muslim antisemitism is an aberration, the exception to centuries of peaceful Jewish-Muslim coexistence, and that this contemporary animosity stems from the modern clash between Arab nationalism and Zionism.
In this view, it was the birth and growth of the Jewish national movement that energized Islamic enmity, fueling events like the Farhud pogrom in Bagdad in 1941 where some 180 Jews were killed, and the violence across Libya in 1945, where a further 140 Jews were murdered.
Moreover, the post-World War II near-total exodus of the Islamic world’s one million Jewish inhabitants, involving the destruction of indigenous Jewish communities whose presence in the Middle East predated Islam, is explained not by the antisemitism disseminated by Husseini and his ilk, but by the Arab world’s failed attempt to destroy the Jewish state at birth in 1948-49.
Those who celebrate pre-Zionist Jewish-Muslim harmony point to Spain in the Middle Ages, where Muslim control facilitated a Jewish “golden age” of intellectual, cultural and economic vitality. This is contrasted with the parallel reality in Christian Europe, where the omnipresent charge of deicide demanded constant retribution – manifesting itself ferociously during the Crusades with the mass slaughter of European Jewish communities, and the massacre, expulsion and Inquisition that followed the Reconquista, the reestablishment of Christian rule in Spain.
But just as it is important not to understate Christian antisemitism, it is crucial not to overplay Muslim tolerance. Middle East historian Bernard Lewis suggested distinguishing between two concepts: persecution and discrimination.
In reference to the former, Lewis wrote that “classic Islamic society was indeed tolerant of both its Jewish and Christian subjects – more tolerant perhaps in Spain than in the East, and in either incomparably more tolerant than was medieval Christendom.”
Yet when it came to discrimination, “Islam never was or claimed to be tolerant, but on the contrary, insisted on the privileged superiority of the true believer.”
While acknowledging that antisemitic violence in the Islamic world was less pronounced than in Christian Europe, it is incorrect to portray an idyllic picture of Jewish-Muslim relations. Jews under Islam were classified as dhimmis, and although their lives and property were ostensibly safeguarded, that protection necessitated a subordinate status – an inbuilt social, political and legal inferiority.
Many of today’s anti-Zionists will be surprised to learn that discrimination of Jews under Islamic rule was recorded by none other than Karl Marx. Writing in 1854, some half-century prior to the rise of political Zionism, Marx described the situation of Jerusalem’s Jews under Ottoman rule: “Nothing equals the misery and the suffering of the Jews of Jerusalem, inhabiting the most filthy quarter of the town… [They are] the constant objects of oppression and intolerance…”
In the decades following Marx’s article, the situation of Jews in the Middle East improved with the lessening of historic dhimmi discrimination. But as this process was inspired by liberal European ideas, it brought with it an anti-Jewish backlash, heightening the association of the indigenous Jew with the hated foreigner.
Paradoxically, many Muslims who rejected western influence still eagerly embraced European antisemitic tropes, including the blood libel, most famously in Damascus in 1840, and the global Jewish conspiracy, evident in numerous Arabic editions of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Undoubtedly the birth and development of Zionism contributed to Islamic hostility, building upon long-standing prejudicial attitudes. For while traditional Islam was willing to tolerate Jews whose status was safely inferior, Jewish aspirations for national self-determination and equality among the nations ran counter to centuries of established Islamic teaching.
While serving as Israel’s ambassador in London I experienced my first Ramadan breaking-the-fast iftar meal. Jewish-Muslim coexistence groups promote joint iftar events, but generally the subject of Israel is politely left at the doorstep, it being understood that a discussion of the Jewish state could negatively impact the desired ambiance. Yet, the Israeli embassy also hosted an annual iftar meal, attended by a small group of remarkable Muslims willing to engage.
Recent developments provide some optimism as to the trajectory of Jewish-Muslim relations. The Abraham Accords’ breakthroughs are significant and include a state-to-state interfaith and intercultural dialogue designed to enhance understanding. And in Israel, MK Mansour Abbas is breaking stereotypes, demonstrating that political Islam doesn’t have to be the Muslim Brotherhood’s unbridled hostility.
Genuine Muslim-Jewish coexistence is neither simple nor impossible, requiring the expansion of Islam’s commitment to tolerance to include an appreciation of the Jews’ desire not to revert to their former subservient status.
Algerian-Jewish Eric Zemmour ‘s revisionist whitewashing of France’s role in the Holocaust sowed doubts in some French Jews’ minds about voting for him, a far-right candidate in the French elections. It could have been a ploy to attract French Catholic voters. Now that he is trailing in the polls, is Zemmour nailing his colours to the Jewish mast? Times of Israel (via JTA) reports:
PARIS, France (JTA) — It’s been six months since Éric Zemmour quit his job as a journalist to run as a far-right candidate in France’s presidential elections. But this week Zemmour, who is Jewish, landed likely the biggest scoop of his career.
On Tuesday, just days before Sunday’s first round in the presidential race, the right-wing Zemmour broke on social and mainstream media the story of Jérémie Cohen, a 31-year-old disabled Jewish man whose death in February police now suspect may have been the indirect result of violence, which some believe was antisemitic.
Zemmour, a 63-year-old former television pundit whose chances of becoming president are slim, has helped focus national attention on the incident in the midst of a campaign in which antisemitic violence, the rule of law and politicized Islam are central themes.
It is seventy-two years and one month since the Iraqi Parliament passed a Law permitting the legal emigration of Jews – on condition they forfeited their citizenship. The law became a trap: all those who had registered to leave – 105,000 – could not return, and the only country which would accept them was Israel. Paradoxically, Iraq sent its army to defeat the Jewish state in 1948, then in 1950 made sure that all the Jews leaving it came to Israel. The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center in Israel explains the background and consequences:
In late 1949 no one expected that in two years Iraq would be emptied of Jews and only less than ten thousand Jews would remain there. But during this period a number of events began that played an important role in driving the exit process. In December 1949, the emergency laws that had been in place in Iraq since mid-May 1948, when the Iraqi army joined the armies of Arab countries that went to war against Israel, were repealed.
Civil law was restored and an illegal exit from Iraq, which in the period of emergency involved heavy prison sentences, returned to being a violation of the Passport Act with a maximum sentence of six months imprisonment and a fine of 100 dinars. A mass exodus of Jews who have been politically and economically harmed in the previous year and a half had now begun.
Thousands of Jews made their way to the Iraq-Iran border, most of them crossing the border into the Basra area and others passing through Amara and Hanakin. Within five months, from January to May 1950, about 4,000 Jews arrived in Tehran and from there were flown to Israel. Among the fugitives were Zionists and communists persecuted by the government and unemployed young people who were badly affected by the economic crisis in Iraq and the anti-Jewish discrimination policy introduced since May 15, 1948, which included mass dismissals of Jews from government jobs, restrictions on import licenses and travel restrictions on Jewish merchants. Jews were not admitted to institutions of higher learning.
This escape was accompanied by a considerable transfer of funds. Impoverished Jews began selling property to survive and others began smuggling money into Iran. The departure of these groups and the smuggling of funds undermined the existing order and increased the unrest in Iraq. Authorities tried to end the escape but failed: the large bribes paid by the fugitives bought the assistance of military and police forces, and Iran, which worked in coordination with Israel, refused repeated requests to extradite the refugees to Iraq, encouraging continued escape. The Iraqi government also did not dare to toughen the punishments against the fleeing Jews for fear of being criticized in Western countries.
The solution proposed by the Iraqi government, led by Prime Minister Tawfiq al-Suwaidi, was a “citizenship waiver law,” a law that allowed Jews to leave Iraq legally. The law was approved by the Iraqi parliament and senate and published on March 9, 1950. Nuri al-Said, the most powerful man in Iraq, was not involved in enacting the law but it is hard to believe he did not know about it and did not support it. And these are the main points of the law:
The Council of Ministers may decide to revoke Iraqi citizenship from any Iraqi Jew who voluntarily prefers to leave Iraq once and for all, after signing a special form before an official appointed by the Minister of the Interior. […] The force of this law shall be valid for one year from the date of its entry into force. It may be revoked at any time during this period by royal decree published in the Official Gazette.
The law had two purposes:
To put an end to the illegal exodus of Jews from Iraq to Iran and from there to Israel, to monitor the departure and departure arrangements, to monitor capital expenditure and to prevent foreign currency smuggling, and to get rid of a particularly active agitating element in the Communist Party and eliminate the Zionist underground.
To restore a sense of security to the Jews who would remain in Iraq. The government expected that most Jews would prefer to stay and thus express a declaration of allegiance to Iraq and reservations about Zionism. As a result, attitudes toward Jews would be improved, security and stability would be restored, and these would lead to economic recovery. The image of Iraq in the eyes of Western countries would also be improved.
The Citizenship Waiver Law stipulated that Jews who chose to leave would relinquish their Iraqi citizenship and the right to return to Iraq, receive “travel documents” and leave Iraq within a limited period of time not exceeding 20 days. The Iraqi government estimated that the number of departures would be 6,000-7,000; Ibrahim al-Kabir, one of the community’s leaders, predicted that the number of people leaving would not exceed 25,000, while Israeli estimates were higher, referring to an increase of 30-70,000 Jews.
On the face of it, the law seemed to be a proper arrangement for the emigration of several thousand Jews from Iraq. However, this law had some problematic elements.
The law was restricted to Jews only and thus exposed them to vulnerability, as indeed happened a year later, with the freezing of the immigrants’ property.
The law focused on revoking the citizenship of Jews registered with the Ministry of the Interior and also included waiving the right of return to Iraq. In doing so, the Iraqi government sought to ensure that Jews did not return to Iraq. This conduct is an unprecedented event in the history of world immigration.
The Jews left Iraq without citizenship and therefore did not receive passports but laissez-passers In this situation it was clear that no country, except Israel, would accept them.
Citizenship revocation was final and anyone who registered had to leave. In the following months, news arrived in Iraq about the difficult situation in Israel and quite a few Jews asked to stay in Iraq – but this was not granted to them. Everyone who signed up was forced to leave Iraq.
The validity of the law was limited to one year only , and this constituted a means of pressure on the undecided.
The law did not mention at all what would happen to the property of the Jews and did not even involve departure with loss of property. But on March 10, 1951, immediately after the registration ended and the “Citizenship Waiver Law” expired, the Iraqi government enacted a law that boycotted Jewish property.
All of these problematic issues posed difficult dilemmas for Iraqi Jews, further undermining their security and thus, in the end, the law became a trap. At the end of the year, it became clear that more than 105,000 Jews, most of them Iraqi Jews, had given up their citizenship, joined the airlift between Baghdad and Lod and all arrived in the State of Israel.
There was an incomprehensible paradox here: if in 1948 the Iraqi government sent its army to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state, then in 1950 it made sure that all the Jews leaving it all came to the State of Israel!
And another paradox: the informal agreement between the Israeli government and the Iraqi government (“Shlomo Hillel-Tawfiq al-Suwaidi Agreement”) stipulates that Iraqi Jews would pay for the flight, and the money would be transferred not in Iraqi dinars but in pounds sterling. Another gift given by the Iraqi government to the State of Israel!
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.
Point of No Return
Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries
One-stop blog on the Middle East's forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.