Tag: Books

New book: Arab opposition to Zionism has always been antisemitic

Arab antisemitism is indistinguishable from anti-Zionism, suggests a new book by Elder of Ziyon, veteran analyst and blogger. Point of No Return reviews The Protocols: Exposing Modern Antisemitism.

For anyone following Middle Eastern news as it relates to Israel, Elder of Ziyon has long been the go-to blog for up-to-the minute news and analysis. No one knows Elder’s true identity, but his avatar is the supposed likeness of the medieval rabbi and thinker Rashi.  Elder uses him to symbolise the cabal purveying one of the most notorious of published conspiracy theories – The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It is a Tsarist forgery hatched in 19th century Russia and still a best-seller in Arab bookshops.

For 14 years now Elder of Ziyon has been stroking his beard and ruminating over modern manifestations of antisemitism,   the overarching topic of his blog.  Now a book in five sections distils the themes he has been exploring in over 30,000 posts. The result is  The Protocols: Exposing Modern Antisemitism.

The book is a  welcome addition to any reader’s bookshelf.

In contrast to the Jerusalem Declaration which provides an impossibly narrow definition, Elder offers an even broader definition of antisemitism than the widely-accepted IHRA.  Any example aimed at Jews as individuals, people, as a religion or an ethnic group can be antisemitic, he suggests.   Elder’s principal preoccupation is with leftwing antisemitism,  a phenomenon routinely ignored by progressives and underrated in the USA. The apathy of the Jewish community to this form of antisemitism, he claims,  is exacerbated by poor  leadership, ignorance, and lack of pride in Judaism and Israel.

In Section One, Elder provides a sweeping history of antisemitism from Greek through Christian, Voltairean, right up to modern-day antisemitism. It is new wine in old bottles.

Many think the BDS movement is recent, but the first boycott of Jews in Palestine goes back to 1909 and boycotts were enthusiastically embraced by the Arab League in 1945. Although the BDS movement has had a negligible impact on Israel economically, Elder warns that it gives a dangerous aura of respectability to antisemitism today.

Arab antisemitism was, and remains, antisemitism. Arab opposition to Zionism and Israel has always been antisemitic. It predates Zionism: the first Arab attack was on Jews in Petah Tikva in 1886 and the first altercation at the Western Wall occurred in 1911. Elder traces all the major influences, from conspiracy theories and blood libels to the role of the wartime Mufti of Jerusalem, author of the  1937 Nazi pamphlet ‘Islam and Judaism’ , through to Holocaust denial/ inversion and  the Hamas charter.

An important factor perpetuating the conflict is the misplaced Arab sense of honour. Arab tenants in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah are encouraged not to pay rent because it is more honourable to be homeless than to admit that Jews own the homes they live in.

But in Elder’s estimation, the greatest challenge to Arab antisemites comes from within their own ranks: those countries who have signed the Abraham Accords with Israel. It is a game-changer.

Section Two focuses on international law and all the familiar accusations routinely levelled  at Israel: proportionality, distinction,  the use or misuse of human shields. What does international law say on settlements and the Right of Return?  Elder has plenty to say.

The remaining sections are  about the demonisers, ‘faux peaceniks’ and the pernicious corruption of academic Middle East Studies by so-called Experts – the likes of Judith Butler, Ilan Pappé , Jasbir Puar and Avi Shlaim. Peter Beinart, the American liberal turned-anti-Zionist, is a clever propagandist setting the framework to win the argument before it even starts.

What to do ?  Elder of Ziyon’s solution is:  “To fight it, expose it’ . When Elder writes his blogposts, he tries to ensure that the reader learns something they didn’t know before.  And there is bound to be much that even a seasoned antisemitism-watcher can learn from this clearly laid- out and comprehensive guide.




Coffee table book showcases the ongoing stories of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews

Sephardi Voices US have been interviewing Jews who lived in the Muslim world and recording their stories for posterity. Now Dr Henry Green and Richard Stursburg have produced a coffee table book to help fill the lacunae in this field, writes Nina Boug Lichtenstein in her Jewish Book Council review.

Not only does this hand­some, glossy hard­cov­er include a gallery of stun­ning por­traits mak­ing it a per­fect gift and cof­fee table book, but the tim­ing of its pub­li­ca­tion is essen­tial. Hen­ry Green and Richard Sturs­burg have cap­tured the voic­es and faces of the still-liv­ing gen­er­a­tion of Jews who have expe­ri­enced first­hand — as chil­dren and adults — the great uproot­ing from their home­lands in Africa and the Mid­dle East in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. This is not a book that lingers in dis­tant his­to­ries of dead Jews, but one that puts front and cen­ter the ongo­ing sto­ries of Sephar­di and Mizrahi Jews who have lost so much, strug­gled, and yet also rebuilt rich, mean­ing­ful lives in their new home­lands, pre­dom­i­nant­ly Israel, France, Cana­da, and the Unit­ed States.

We are increas­ing­ly see­ing more and bet­ter reports, his­tor­i­cal research, and sto­ries that appear about Jews from Islam­ic lands, not just in acad­e­mia but also in the press and not the least on social media. In France and Israel, this rec­ti­fi­ca­tion has in no small part been due to the fact that Sephar­di and Mizrahi Jews make up the major­i­ty of the Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion and that they have con­tributed to an impor­tant revi­tal­iza­tion of Jew­ish cul­ture and joie de vivre in coun­tries where the shad­ow of the Holo­caust hangs heavily.

Pub­li­ca­tions on the top­ic in Eng­lish have lagged behind, but books like Lyn Julius’s recent Uproot­ed: How 3000 Years of Jew­ish Civ­i­liza­tion in the Arab World Van­ished Overnight, and now Green and Stursburg’s stun­ning and much-antic­i­pat­ed con­tri­bu­tion, help fill the lacu­nae on the top­ic. While the authors of Sephar­di Voic­es have cre­at­ed an aes­thet­i­cal­ly pleas­ing pub­li­ca­tion, they also pro­vide ample his­tor­i­cal con­text to give the read­er a sol­id sense of the gen­er­a­tions of Jews that called places like Moroc­co, Tunisia, Iran, Iraq, and Ethiopia their homes.

Read article in full





The rise and fall of the Sassoon dynasty

Baghdad-born David Sassoon built a global business empire in the 19th century centered on India and the Far East, but within three generations, the fortune his family made was dissipated, and his descendants were more focused on enjoying their social lives. Now a distant relative,  academic Joseph Sassoon has deciphered  an archive of Judeo-Arabic correspondence which throws new light on the Sassooon enterprise. The result is his new book, The Global Merchants: the Enterprise and Extravagance of the Sassoon Dynasty. Review in The Guardian: 

The Prince of Wales visiting the Sassoon residence in Bombay, ‘Sans souci’, in 1876

By the end of the 19th century, the Sassoon family were regularly referred to as “the Rothschilds of the East”. This wasn’t just lazy, it was wrong. For one thing the Sassoons’ interests and influence stretched right around the world from Shanghai via Bombay, London and Lancashire, all the way to the Atlantic coastal plain of the United States. Then there was the fact that, unlike the Rothschilds, the Sassoons were not bankers but traders, specialising in opium, cotton and oil. What perhaps the late Victorians really meant when they compared the Sassoons to the Rothschilds was simply this: they were very rich and they were Jewish, a combination that conjured ambivalent feelings not just in “polite” society through which antisemitism flowed like a subterranean river but, over time, in the Sassoons themselves.

Joseph Sassoon, who is a descendant of the dynasty’s founder David, believes that it was his family’s experience as serial immigrants that drove their success and explains their decline. Their original role as treasurers to the pashas of Baghdad meant that they seamlessly acquired the Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew and Persian that equipped them to do business throughout the vast Ottoman empire. When in 1828 they were forced to flee to Bombay as a result of a pogrom, they quickly added Hindustani to their repertoire and settled down to rebuild their lives, using their tried and tested methods of exemplary ethics and ferocious hard work.

In order to avoid a repeat of that first expulsion, though, the family needed to become adept at reading the political landscape and adapting accordingly. Joseph Sassoon points out that the treaty marking the passing of India’s governance from the East India Company to Queen Victoria in 1859 was signed not in the residence of the outgoing governor but in “Sans Souci”, the home owned by the man whom the Illustrated London News described as “Mr David Sassoon, the well-known wealthy Jew Merchant of Bombay and China”. In the face of such antisemitic sneers, these early Sassoons were careful not to draw unwanted attention to themselves. While their fortune was one of the great wonders of the industrialising world, it was offset by a thoughtful philanthropy that built hospitals, libraries and schools for the whole community.

These productive years as “good immigrants” did not last, and it is the Sassoons’ fall from fortune that gives this somewhat dry family history its emotional heart and narrative pace. Within a hundred years of hosting diplomatic milestones, younger members of the family were pawning their jewellery and filing for bankruptcy. It is, Joseph Sassoon thinks, a story of assimilation and gentrification going hand in hand with the dissipation of cultural capital.

Read article in full

FT review (with thanks: Miro)


Seha the wise clown transmits Moroccan-Jewish values

Seha the Clown (and his alter ego, Seha the Sage) has long been the central character in  Jewish folktales from Morocco. Now Marc Eliany (with an introduction by Annette Fromm) has assembled stories told to him by his grandparents in a new book.

Jewish Folktales from Morocco: Tales of Seha the Sage and Seha the Clown (Sephardic and Mizrahi Studies) by [Marc Eliany, Annette B. Fromm]

Seha, the traditional wise man-fool in Jewish Morocco is a popular fictional hero in simple, yet rich tales, playful yet witty enough to provide life lessons with commitment to social fairness and mutual respect. In this collection of tales the author introduces readers to his grandparents and the lessons they imparted. Through humorous Seha tales, the author transmits deeply engrained Jewish values, accentuated in accompanying socio-historical commentaries, which shed light on the evolution of Seha as a popular fictional hero, as well as, on processes of social change and modernization experienced by Moroccan Jews subject to three national movements competing for their soul in Israel, France and Morocco.

Endorsements: “Eliany’s tales of Seha the Sage and Seha the Clown convey with humor and wit the colors, shades, flavors and fragrances of community values that bridge folktales to social-history, social change and modernization in Jewish Morocco. Eliany’s work indicates that recounting thousands of years of a community’s history requires telling its folktales too.” —Dr. Dan Albo, Bar Ilan University. Israel.

“With this volume, Marc Eliany becomes a transformational agent who introduces to readers the tales of Seha that he heard in his family’s oral tradition. The sage-clown, who could be a trickster and a fool, represents two aspects of wisdom in the folklore of many peoples. Seha joins a gallery of Jewish wise-clowns in Ashkenazic and Sephardic narratives.” — Prof. Dan Ben Amos, University of Pennsylvania, USA

“Through the memories of his beloved grandparents, the author transmits his appreciation for the humor, way of life and values of Moroccan Jewry. They present us the witty character Seha, which has been enjoyed by many generations of both children and adults. We are grateful for the author’s works which preserve the culture of Moroccan Jewry which has been transmuted by modernity and emigration.” —Prof. David Bensoussan, Université du Québec, Canada.

“Eliany’s allegorical tales, convey with wit a community quest for intercultural respect and emancipation. Entertaining and informative.” —Dr. Yigal Bin-Nun, Paris VIII University, France.



This refugee’s heart still belongs in Egypt

Viviane Bowell used her free time during the coronavirus lockdown in 2020 to write her memoirs of her country of birth, Egypt. From Egypt with love is a deeply personal, thoughtful work with not a trace of bitterness. Lyn Julius reviews the book in Times of Israel:

At the Shepheard’s Hotel in 1923 (via Samir Mahfouz, Facebook)

In 1956, one of the famous hit songs of the time was ‘Que será será. The song is indelibly associated with the Suez crisis in a 14-year old Jewish girl’s memory.  It may have been a footnote in most history books, but the  crisis of 1956 turned Viviane Bowell’s life upside down.

Viviane  was a shy and awkward teenager, cocooned from the outside world by her parents. She  only spoke French and Arabic. Within a month of the Franco-British-Israeli attack on the Suez Canal,  the family was forced to leave their native Cairo. Jews of British and French nationality were punished as  ‘collateral damage’ in politics. Viviane’s mother was British, and it soon appeared that any Jew (Viviane’s father was stateless) was fair game for expulsion. Viviane’s parents signed a ‘voluntary’ paper ‘donating’ their property to the Egyptian state. They left with 20 kg and 20 Egyptian pounds in their pockets while their tearful servants bid them goodbye. From a warm, dusty and bustling metropolis they were catapulted in the bleak British midwinter into a Gloucestershire hostel serving pork sausages and boiled cabbage. Resettled  in London,  her parents never spoke about Egypt, yet only socialised with other Egyptian Jews.

It was during the coronavirus lockdown that Viviane decided to set down what he remembered of Egypt. The manuscript was originally intended for her grandson but then became a popular self-published memoir.

There has been an explosion of memoirs by Jews from Egypt, mostly middle class Jews  displaced by the Suez crisis. Viviane Bowell appears to have read most of them. She conjures up a rich picture of the Cairo of her youth, the fellucas on the Nile, the grand avenues, the department stores, the famous tea room Groppi, where her parents met for the first time, the languid summers on the beach in Alexandria. She includes some important historical context, as well as interesting diversions into superstitions and the popular songs and films of the time.

Viviane’s family on her father’s side, the Chouchans,  was Ladino-speaking Sephardi, originally from Toledo via Istanbul. Her mother’s family, the Gubbays, were Arabic-speakers from Aleppo in Syria. They typified the Jews of Egypt, drawn from disparate corners of the Ottoman empire, most relatively recent arrivals attracted by the opening of the Suez canal in 1869. But the Jews lived in Egypt, says Viviane,  ‘like a grafted limb’ – of Egypt, yet  apart from it.

In charting the gathering storm leading up to her uprooting Viviane dwells on the events of 25 January 1952. The Free Officers’ Revolution does not largely figure in Jewish memoirs  – but it was a seminal moment. It began as a reaction to 40 policemen killed by the British. Viviane watched from her apartment balcony as a furious crowd  swept down her street, setting  fire to large sections of Cairo –  including Groppi, the Cicurel and Orosdi Bak department stores, Barclays Bank, cinemas, cafes, banks, and the Shepheard Hotel – where British officers used to sip their gin slings. The red tarboush worn by effendi (gentlemen) was abolished overnight and substantial sectors of the economy nationalised. Five thousand Jews left between 1952 and 1956. But Viviane’s family would not have left had they not have been forced to.

Unlike many other  memoirs, Viviane’s  examines the psychological effects of uprooting on her later life. ‘From Egypt with love’ tries to make sense of how her ambivalent relationship with her parents impacted on her. In many ways  she was a repressed feminist.  Her failure to  break free of traditional ties resulted in a  succession of missed opportunities,  a broken marriage and a nervous breakdown.

Visiting Cairo 40 years later, Viviane hardly recognises her home city, yet acknowledges that ‘the past defines us and makes us who we are today.’ Her story is that of 850,000 Jews driven from Arab countries. There is an irrepressible optimism about the book – The refugees were survivors, not victims.. ‘A calamity is only a calamity when your response to it is to accept victimhood,’ she writes.  Although her family lived in a social bubble,  her heart still belongs in Egypt. In this thoughtful, deeply personal  and well-researched memoir,  there is no trace of bitterness,  just an acceptance, and a certain cheerful fatalism: ‘Que será será’. 

To Egypt with love : memories of a bygone age by Viviane Bowell (2021)

Read article in full

Review by Sarah Ahmed (Egyptian Streets) 



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.