Tag: Arab-Jewish relations

Regev: Muslim antisemitism is not an aberration

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):

Mark Regev: Islam has never had a tolerance for the Jewish state

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.

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US interfaith initiative will include Mizrahi Jews

Jews and Muslims in the US have launched an interfaith  project which for the first time includes Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews in order to highlight positive aspects of a shared history. It is called the Mukhayriq project, named after a rabbi who laid down his life on behalf of the Prophet Muhammad. See my comment below. Report in JNS News:

Participants at an interfaith Iftar event co-hosted by the American Muslim and Multifaith Women's Empowerment Council, the Mukhayriq Initiative and the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM). Credit: Anila Ali/Twitter.
Participants at an interfaith Iftar event co-hosted by the American Muslim and Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council, the Mukhayriq Initiative and the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM). Photo: Anila Ali/Twitter.

Cohanim said previous efforts to bring Muslims and Jews together have had only tepid success and in some cases failed altogether as the people behind them were found to have connections to radical organizations. What sets this initiative apart is that it brings Jews from the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa) into the project. “Surprisingly enough, Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews have been excluded from a lot of these efforts in the Jewish community in the past,” she said.

The timing of the initiative couldn’t be better, said Cohanim, noting that there is a new openness among Muslims in the MENA region to rediscover the “indigenous Jewish communities that existed in the region for thousands of years.” She said Muslims want to learn more about that history and even “to reach out to those former neighbors.” She noted that among Jews, there is also a “real excitement” to learn more about Islam and Muslim communities, not just in the MENA region but around the world.

The initiative’s first major project is an accelerator program, in which applicants submit project ideas that would bring Muslims and Jews together. Those selected will receive part of a $50,000 funding pool and work with board members to see their idea brought to fruition. A maximum of 20 applicants will be accepted.

My comment: While any initiative to increase understanding between Jews and Muslims is welcome, and the inclusion of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews long overdue,  the implication of Mukhayriq is that it is Jews who must sacrifice themselves to advance understanding. Just two years  after Mukhayrik’s sacrifice, Muhammad fought the Banu Qurayza Jewish tribe and had 600 of their men beheaded. Jews were ultimately defeated and banished from Arabia. From then on, they were subject to institutionalised antisemitism in the form of the dhimmi status.  It might have been more effective to name this project after a Muslim who saved Jews.

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Jew and Muslim arrange for sick Iraqi girl to travel to Israel

Two Iraqis, one Jewish and the other Muslim, have helped save an Iraqi girl with a heart condition by arranging for her to have life-saving medical care in Israel.  Niran Timan-Bassoon, a Jewish refugee from Iraq, and Imad Al-Rawi, an Iraqi based in London, set up Bridge2Iraq to work together with the charity Save a Child’s Heart.

May be an image of 2 people and people standing

A London-based initiative named Bridge2Iraq working together with Save a child Heart was able to help a 14-year-old Iraqi girl to undergo a life-saving heart operation at the Wolfson Medical Center in Israel.

Bridge2Iraq was established in 2017 by two Iraqis (Niran Bassoon & Imad Al-Rawi) to help Iraqi children suffering from heart problems and defects to travel and get state-of-art medical care at the above named medical centre in Holon, Israel .The idea of establishing this non-profit initiative, so-called Bridge2Iraq, came after Bassoon & AlRawi read an article about Save a Child’s Heart on Facebook.

At a very young age the young girl began having fainting spells and turning blue around her lips. At the hospital, her family was told that she had a heart condition, but the doctors did not know exactly what the condition was.

The mother had no relative to raise and support her children. However, this did not stop the mother to pursue any way to help her daughter. They spent years traveling around Iraq and other countries in the Middle East searching for somebody who could help the girl.

About a year ago, Niran Bassoon was made aware of the case and decided to help the girl and her family and then the girl and her mother arrived in Israel in preparation for her life-saving cardiac surgery.

The surgery was successful and after recovering at the Save a Child’s heart children’s home, alongside children from around the world who were all brought to Israel by Save a Child’s Heart for similar life-saving treatments, the girl and her mother headed home to their family in Iraq.


This magnificent Paris exhibition is worth a detour

For the first time, a major exhibition was held in Paris to showcase the long history of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. Lyn  Julius and Michelle Huberman of Harif made the journey from London to see it. Here are their impressions:

All photos by Michelle Huberman and Laurence Julius

Lyn Julius writes: This blockbuster exhibition  would have been unthinkable before the signing of the Abraham Accords : it is an achievement in itself  to acknowledge that Jews lived among Muslims for 14 centuries. And not only that, but it testifies to the fact that the Jews originated in Judea and  were part of the MENA region for millennia – well before Islam. An important point to make when so many are in denial or see Jews as ‘settler colonial interlopers’ from Europe.

Few visitors can fail to marvel  at the dazzling array of treasures on view at the Institut du Monde Arabe’s Juifs d’Orient: une histoire plurimillenaire exhibition in Paris: sumptuous jewellery, embroidered gowns, filigree silver, exquisite tiks (wooden or metal Torah casings).   A  Challah cloth depicted the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount: it was a startling way to illustrate the centrality of Jerusalem to Judaism. Perhaps most impressive of all were books and manuscripts dating back to the Middle Ages and illustrating the rich interplay between Jewish and Arab culture, including a manuscript lent by the National Library of France authored by the Muslim philosopher Avicenna with notes in Hebrew and Greek. It is extraordinary to learn that Fez had a Hebrew printing press in 1516,  before it had an Arabic one.

The exhibits were arranged according to timelines and came from a variety of sources around the world. Six objects were lent by the William L Gross collection in Tel Aviv, a fact which drove a group of Arab intellectuals to write a letter of protest at  ‘normalisation’ with Israel.

As to be expected in France, where the Jewish community is predominantly North African Sephardi, there was less emphasis on the Jews of Babylon and the Middle East. A random collection of photos and postcards relating to Lebanon seems to have been an afterthought,  tacked on near the exit perhaps in response to complaints that the Jewish community was being ignored.

Crucially, the exhibition failed to give proper weight to explaining the dhimmi status of institutionalised inferiority for non-Muslims. I counted two cursory mentions, stating that the Jews ‘oscillated between coexistence and sporadic violence’. The  great Cordoba-born rabbi Maimonides ‘went’ to Fez and Cairo: there was little indication that  his family had fled the fanatically intolerant Almohads. A proper explanation of the dhimmi’ would have elucidated the reasons why Muslims  started the Constantine riot in Algeria in 1934. (We were told  ‘because they did not get the same rights’ as the Jews). Someone had thought to record the destruction, which claimed 25 Jewish lives,  in a family album on display.

There was little attempt to explore the root causes of the mass exodus of the Jews.  The  blame for the ‘break’ between Jews and Muslims was laid squarely at the door of the European colonial powers. ‘Tensions arose’ out of the clash between two nationalisms. The immigration of Jews into Palestine in  1936 ‘crystallised tensions’. No mention of the rise of pro-Nazi influence or the 1941 Farhud massacre in Iraq.

A splendid exhibition was marred by over-reliance on  video clips from a series ( Juifs et musulmans, si loins, si proches) made about Jews and Muslims for the TV channel Arté by the Franco-Mauritanian director Karim Miské. The final section of the exhibition, ‘the time of exile’ was disappointingly politicised.  A Miské clip mentioned the 700,000 Palestinian refugees without referring to the 850,000 Jewish refugees. These apparently had been ‘persuaded’ by Israel to leave, and most were now suffering from nostalgia for what they left behind.

There is no avoiding the fact that the French government, which runs the Institut  du Monde Arabe, sought to transmit a political message. According to its chairman, Jack Lang: ‘we hope that this exhibition will resonate in the fight against confusion, racism and fanaticism…the relationship between Jews and Arabs  did not originate with the Israel-Palestine conflict.’

The exhibition remains a major achievement, however, and worth a detour, as the Michelin guidebook might have said.

Michelle Huberman comments:

I loved the exhibition, it was full of costumes, jewellery, amulets, ceramics and more. Plus lots of short videos around the exhibits full of people I know. And of course lots on the Sephardi henna which I live and breathe these days. It was lovely to see Talia Collis’s video on the Yemenite one. The lives of those living in these countries was well recorded with excerpts from Remember Baghdad, The Jews of Egypt and others.
My only disappointment was at the end when there was the concluding video by Miské (a Muslim) who narrated his film from the Palestinian perspective omitting so much information about the founding of Israel. It’s so easy to drip, drip this narrative to an unsuspecting audience.
In the visitors’ book I told visitors to go to the Harif website and to read Lyn’s book Uprooted. And to watch The Forgotten Refugees.






Apartheid? The boot is on the other foot

As Amnesty International publishes its report smearing Israel as ‘apartheid’ in order to compare it to the old racist regime in South Africa, we reproduce an article from 2013 that reflects on the irony at the campaign’s heart: much of society under Muslim domination was built on the exploitation of women, Jews and Christians and blacks. Today the Arab world is almost judenrein. The Jews have since found freedom in Israel, and the Abraham Accords have helped to demolish old prejudices.

An Arab citizen of Israel casting his ballot (Photo: Times of Israel)

Anyone who knows anything about Israel will tell you that the comparison is invidious and malicious. Israeli law does not discriminate against Arab citizens. Of course there is – there must be – plenty of room for improvement, but show me one liberal democracy where minorities do not claim to experience discrimination and prejudice.

Not only is the Israel Apartheid campaign a monumental lie of gobsmacking chutzpah, but the boot is on the Arab foot. You only have to witness the way that Arab host countries treat their Palestinians, who are denied citizenship. And not only Palestinians – Kuwait has 300,000 Bedoun residents denied citizenship and the right to vote. Thousands of children born in Arab countries are deprived of citizenship merely because their parents were not citizens. Immigrants from South Asia with no rights whatsoever help keep countries like Dubai, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates running.

Those who berate the West for its orientalism towards the Third World, quoting the late Edward Said‘s eponymous book, ignore the fact that much of society under Muslim domination was built on the exploitation of women, Jews (and Christians)
and blacks. Not only are all Arab countries strong contenders in the Apartheid Oscars, but Saudi Arabia would win hands down. At the bottom of its obscene pecking order are women, non-Muslims and slaves.

Every year, an unknown number of Filipinos in Saudi Arabia are victims of sexual abuses, maltreatment, unpaid salaries, and other malpractices. Wretched Filipina domestics are virtual prisoners with no rights, their passports confiscated.

Across Muslim Africa, blacks are routinely mistreated and abused. Some 20 percent of Mauritanians, about 600, 000 people, are still slaves. Mauritania uses Sharia law to justify a racist system where Arabs exploit the country’s black African population. As Sam Cotton told the  US House International Committee on International Relations,  slave trafficking  also still exists in Sudan.

Before western colonial rule tempered their status, Jews were dhimmis, treated as inferiors and denied basic human rights – the ‘dogs’ of the Arabs. Each religious community ran its own affairs in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion – a de facto Apartheid. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach recalls his father telling him how humiliating it was to grow up in (Shi’a) Iran and have Islamic shop-keepers refuse to take money directly from his hand because as a Jew, he was impure. Other abuses in Muslim lands : the 19th century Moroccan Jew beaten to death for taking in a destitute Muslim woman as his housemaid (that would have been to overturn the natural order); 40 percent of Jews born in Egypt were not granted Egyptian nationality in the 1920s; Jews were denied justice, because Arabs were never called to account for abusing them.

Historian Georges Bensoussan has completed the most comprehensive study to-date of conditions for Jews in Yemen, Iraq and Morocco since 1850 until their mass exodus. He calls the Jews of the Arab and Muslim world the ‘colonised of the colonised’ – tolerated as long as they were useful to their Muslim masters.


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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