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.
In the wake of the Abraham Accords and intense interest among Arabs in Israeli life, a group of Arabic teachers and speakers in Israel is building bridgewith the Arab world. Makor Rishon has the story:
Before Omar Adam sunbathed on the shores of Abu Dhabi and winds of peace blew from Sudan, a group of women began working on social media to train Arab hearts to normalize with Israel. With the help of food, poetry, art and fashion, and especially a simple discourse on everyday life, the past and the future, they create a dialogue with citizens of Arab countries who seek contact with the Jews and Israel, and encourage civic connections between us and them.
While their trend seems to be conquering the Middle East, and the old hatred of Israel is loosening even slightly, we met with some of them to hear how to do it. Or rather, how to do.
Moran Tal, an Arabic teacher in high school, a resident of the center of the country – sings in videos that she uploads the songs of Umm Kulthum, Farid al-Atrash and Faiza Ahmad to Twitter, and tries her voice in contemporary hits as well. It has over 15,000 followers, many of them from Arab countries, who follow it, watch, comment and distribute. “I sit with my family at the table, and at the same time correspond with people from Dubai, Kuwait, Iraq and Bahrain,” she says. “I have received responses from the Iraqi beauty kingdom, I am being followed by ambassadors of Arab countries. I even correct errors in Arabic of annoying tweeters.”
Linda Menuhin (in white blazer) with her Arabic-speaking friends (Photo: Makor Rishon)
Smadar Alani, 49, runs the Facebook page “Mazat al-Wassel” (“The Linking Link”), which has almost 8,000 surfers of Iraqi origin. “As an Israeli, I do not interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs and I do not deal with sensitive political content,” says Alani. “I try to focus on culture, literature, music and friendship, any content that produces a bridge. I will bless them with their holidays and name ours.” She also, she says, incorporates music in her posts, which is very powerful on networks.
Hopefully the spirits of peace will reach them as well. A tour of Israel for Iraqi residents.
Sapir Levy, a 25-year-old student, works in the Department of Digital Diplomacy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in an Arabic industry led by Yonatan Gonen. Among other things, she is part of a team that operates the “Israel in Arabic” and “Israel in the Gulf” Twitter accounts, and through them encourages support for the latest policy developments. One of the important tools for this, she says, is the study of the Hebrew language. “This is the new trend. We saw interest in Hebrew even before the agreements, which of course increased the desire of our followers to learn the language. “Their progress in knowing the language. It’s a real pleasure.”
I meet them in a spacious house near Jerusalem – the house of Linda Manuhin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz. Menuhin greets us with a big smile, pastries and her Iraqi daughter poured into small glasses of glass, and the four of them sit down to chat with me in the sunny corner in the center of the house, on nice chairs. “We call this corner the ‘Iraqi Dream,'” Menuhin says, laughing a rolling, contagious laugh. “Even as a student at a school in Iraq, they knew I was not allowed to be laughed at,” she apologizes.
“As soon as I started laughing – the whole class would join in, including the teacher, and the lesson would be over.”
Her father, Adv. Yaakov ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, was a well-known figure in the Jewish community in Baghdad. On the eve of Yom Kippur 1973, two years after his daughter immigrated to Israel, he disappeared. Today, at the age of seventy, Menuhin is a veteran of these warriors. , Has been running Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, and has been advising the State Department for eight years. “I am in charge of the Iraqi Facebook page launched by the ministry. Today we have about half a million positive and positive followers.
Apart from that I have a Facebook page with thousands of followers called ‘Jola Iraqi’, in which I invite Iraqis to travel in Israel with Jews from Iraq. So far I have had two such trips, and the experience has been amazing. I have another Facebook page with 8,000 followers, ‘Shadow in Baghdad’, which tells about my family in Iraq – the Farhud, my father’s disappearance, and the connection between the Jews and the rest of the population.
The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Centre in Or Yehuda is a hidden gem. It testifies to the millenial survival of Jews in present-day Iraq, their glories and tribulations, resulting in the community’s extinction in the 20th century. Brian Schrauger writes about the centre in the Jerusalem Report (with thanks: Shimon)
The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Centre: designed like a traditional Jewish villa
It was a hot summer day in Baghdad on August 8, 1971. Indeed, it was hot in more ways than one. Life had become dangerous for the few remaining Jews living in Iraq’s capital city.
Sami Dallal, 19, had to make a decision: stay for an interrogation by the antisemitic and murderously minded Ba’ath police, or, with his remaining family, make a break for Tehran?
Today at the age of 67, Dallal tells me his story at the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center, an attractive, modern museum in the central Israeli city of Or Yehuda (meaning the Light of Yehuda). Running parallel to one of Ben-Gurion Airport’s runways, jets were taking off every few minutes, at the same place where most Iraqi Jewish refugees, destitute, arrived in Israel in an exodus that began in 1948, peaked in 1951, and ended in the early ’70s.
The Babylonian Jewry Center is a hidden gem, unknown even to many Israelis. Established in 1973, the museum is laid out as an Iraqi villa like the ones in which wealthy Iraqi Jews once lived. The design is appropriate. Far from feeling like a memorial to what was, the center is a place vibrating with the life of Jews who lived in Iraq for 2,600 years.
Two Iraqis have recently been honoured for advocating normal relations between Iraq and Israel. The American Jewish Committee meeting in the US chose Iraqi ex-MP Mithal al-Alusi to receive its Jan Karski award, named after a member of the wartime Polish resistance who tried to warn Franklin D Roosevelt of the Holocaust befalling European Jewry. Sarah Idan will be awarded a prize by UN Rights watch at a ceremony in Geneva on 13 June.
Both individuals have suffered for their brave stance: Mithal al-Alusi ‘s two sons were assassinated and he was warned that his political career would be stunted by his position on Israel. Sarah Idan, Miss Iraq in 2017, was forced into exile in the US after death threats to herself and and her family following a ‘selfie’ she took with Miss Israel. She visitedthe Jewish state in 2018.
Click hereto watch extract from Mithal al-Alusi’s speech at the American Jewish Committee
Accepting the Jan Karski Award, Mithal al-Alusi said that it was being given to all Iraqis who stand up against fascists and the Iranian threat. ‘Help us to be free’, he pleaded.
Advocating an alliance of the West with Iraq and Israel, against Islamo-fascists, Alusi said he dreamt of stability and human rights. ‘Fascists’ such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian regime needed to be taken seriously. “They have killed thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands, they steal our dreams.”
MEMRI clip featuring an interview with Mithal al-Alusi.
Sarah Idan to get award (Jerusalem Post):
Geneva-based non-governmental organization United Nations
Watch has announced that Sarah Idan, who as Miss Iraq in 2017 faced
death threats for posting a photo of herself with Miss Israel, will
receive the Swiss organization’s Ambassador for Peace Award.
recognition of her courageous and extraordinary actions to promote
tolerance, build bridges for peace and spread a message of hope and
unity, the prize will be presented to Idan at a Geneva ceremony attended
by senior diplomats of the U.N. Human Rights Council, during U.N.
Watch’s 2019 annual gala dinner on June 13.
Previous winners of the award include Nobel Peace Prize Laureate David
Trimble; French Prime Minister Manuel Valls; Spanish Prime Minister José
María Aznar; Turkish journalist Yavuz Baydar; Chinese dissident Yang
Jianli; Antonio Ledezma, the Mayor of Caracas and former political
prisoner; Russian dissident and world chess champion Garry Kasparov; Dr.
Massouda Jalal, Afghanistan’s first Minister for Women’s Affairs; and
Esther Mujawayo, an activist for victims of the genocide in Rwanda.
awarding Idan with this honor, U.N. Watch executive director Hillel
Neuer hopes that the United Nations and human-rights agencies in Geneva
will learn from Idan.
Sarah Idan (right), posing with Adar Gandlesman, Miss Israel
“Sadly, today, there are too many people,
and especially on social media, who are only increasing polarization,
hostility and isolating one community from another,” Neuer told JNS.
“Sarah Idan is the opposite.”
“In all of her public activities,
she is someone who is seeking only to bring people together and to
underline our common humanity,” he said.
According to Neuer, Idan
exemplifies an “Ambassador for Peace” in her public speeches and in her
courageous November 2017 Instagram photo with Miss Israel Adar
Gandelsman, as well as her 2018 visit to Israel, where she reunited with
Miss Israel and bonded with Israeli Jews who fled Iraq decades ago.
Fascinating interview in Hamodia by Sara Lehmann with the protagonist of the film Shadow in Baghdad, Linda Menuhin, whose father was abducted in 1970s Iraq and never seen again. Linda will be showing the film at SOAS in London on 17 January 2019.
Yaakov Abdul Aziz, Linda’s father, in dark suit and glasses with the last rabbi of Iraq (in turban and dark classes), Rabbi Sasson Khedouri.
How did the war affect your everyday life as a Jew?
They started to come after the Jews. They enacted many measures against the Jews. Jews were kicked out of social clubs, not admitted to university, not allowed to work anywhere. There was a kind of tightening of the rope around us. There was also incitement against Jews on the radio, in the newspapers. Even our Muslim friends and neighbors were scared to show any relationship with Jews. Just like in Germany.
What happened in Germany was the result of long-simmering anti-Semitism that gradually found expression in German laws against the Jews. But despite anti-Semitic allusions in the Koran, it seems as if this anti-Semitism had national and political origins.
Yes, you are absolutely right. Somehow those allusions didn’t float to the surface all these years. First of all, Jews pre-dated Islam in Iraq by 1300 years. So we were the indigenous people and we really didn’t feel anti-Semitism. Apart from the incident of the Farhud, anti-Semitic acts were exceptions to the rule.
When the Baath Party came to power, they tried to intimidate the whole country. The best way is to start with the Jews, the most vulnerable component of the population. And then they went after the Christians and afterwards the Muslims themselves. I always say, first Saturday people, then Sunday people, and then Friday people.
In the documentary you talk about the public executions of Jews at Fahrir Square. Can you describe that episode and how it affected you?
In 1969, following a fake trial, Iraqi authorities publicly hanged 14 people accused of spying for Israel, nine of whom were Jews. I remember there was a live transmission on the radio of the fake trials for months. It was a terrible period for the Jews.
During that time, we used to fast every Monday and Thursday and pray, as was customary in a time of trepidation for Jews. We prayed things would improve. In 1968, more and more people were arrested, interrogated, beaten in prisons, and never returned home. A 40-year-old relative of mine was taken to be questioned and came back in a body bag. Eventually they even stopped returning bodies and there was no burial. It was a cruel and violent regime that affected everybody.
Is that what drove you to leave Israel on your own in 1970?
Since childhood, my mother always told us stories about her family in Israel, and there was constant correspondence with our relatives there. So we grew up with the sense that we would eventually move there. But all these atrocities convinced me that we Jews will have the same fate in Iraq as those arrested and should move to Israel to join our brothers and sisters.
I left with my brother in December 1970, and my mother and younger sister left six months after us. Our escape route took us through Iran, in the bitter cold. We left on a Friday and on Sunday my father was arrested, which proves that they were following every move of the Jews. He was arrested, released and then arrested again after my mother’s departure. We believe he was arrested because he bailed out 132 Jews who were caught trying to leave Iraq. My father signed an affidavit of support and was held responsible for their commitment to stay in Iraq and not run away again.
He couldn’t do it for all of them because he had to pay a sum of money for each, so he had to find Muslim lawyers to do it. At that time, it wasn’t easy, because who would want to bail out a Jew? But he found some young Muslim lawyers trying to make a living who agreed to do it. Once these Jews started to leave again, my father didn’t have the capacity to pay all these amounts. I don’t know what happened to the other Muslim lawyers.
On the one hand the Iraqis didn’t want the Jews, and on the other they didn’t want them to leave?
It’s not that they didn’t want Jews to leave. That was a pretext. They were looking for ways to extort them. I was always trying to find a common denominator among those Jews who were arrested; the majority were rich people that the government would benefit from by arresting.
But in the end my father didn’t have the capacity to pay all the amounts he obligated himself to. Also, it was easier to pick him up because he was alone and didn’t have family left to inquire about him.
What prompted you to start searching for your father after so many years?
In 1991, during the Gulf War in Iraq, I was working as an Israeli television commentator and began having a very tough time. I started to have nightmares about Saddam Hussein and my position as an Iraqi working for Israelis. All of a sudden, I began to hate the Arabic language, which was my mother tongue. I eventually had to quit my job as a Middle East correspondent and editor with the IBA (Israeli Broadcast Authority) in Arabic and went to work for the Israeli police in intelligence.
By 2003, the Iraq War put Iraq in the news again on a daily basis. But now things were different. Before then, there was an iron curtain which prevented me from even asking questions; now there was internet access to the Iraqi press. I approached the American embassy and then the Israeli Defense but nothing came out of it. Next, I went to London, because many Iraqis fled there from the Baath regime, primarily non-Jews. I met people who knew my father, but got no concrete information.
I followed the news coming out from Iraq about the Baath regime’s mistreatment of Iraqis. I felt sympathy for all those who suffered. It wasn’t only me. I also saw sympathy expressed for the Jews. So I started to write and publish again in Arabic in a more personal way, and I started to get feedback.
Through such feedback you describe meeting an Iraqi journalist who tried to help you solve the mystery of your father’s disappearance. Were you surprised to get help from an Iraqi?
Yes. And I was very proud that I was able to penetrate the Arabic world. It used to be taboo. Who would ever publish something in Arabic by a Jew? Or an Israeli? But there were many people who wanted to help me who are not in the film.
The Iraqi journalist spoke of his grandmother who remembered the “peace-loving Jewish neighbors who were forced to flee” and asks, “Why do we talk about the Christians and other minorities but not about the Jewish community? The community was here for over 2000 years.”
Do you think he is an anomaly?
No. These days, on the contrary. I wrote many pieces about the earthquake that is shifting public opinion about the Jews. First of all, the Iraqi population was a collective victim of its rulers and I think the violence had touched everyone. And there was fear, so no one would stand up for a Jew. They wouldn’t stand up for their brother.
Now Hebrew and English books about Iraqi Jews are being translated into Arabic. I even have a picture of an Iraqi minister buying books about Jews. I think this is because it’s an issue of Iraqi identity, not just a minority identity. Now that everything is ruined, they are trying to rebuild that identity.
The Bush Doctrine that guided the Iraq War was intended to create democracy in Iraq but failed because of corruption and an ideological entrenchment of anti-democratic forces. Would you agree that it’s an uphill battle to change this mindset?
Yes, there was a culture of violence with political upheaval and indoctrination of entrenched violence. Bush came and wanted to change it, and it doesn’t change.
But in relation to the Jews, it’s different. They look at the Jews as always having been part and parcel of the Iraqi fabric of society. Not only that, but the Iraqi Jews had contributed so much to the Iraqi society and economy. So dreaming of the Jews coming back is not just idealistic. They keep asking for their return. Looking for the Jews is not just a whim; it’s a practical goal. There’s a strong belief that since the Jews left, there’s no brachah in Iraq.
There’s also a change of attitude towards Israel. The Iraqis see that Israel has done so much for the Palestinian cause and they think that the Palestinians have exempted themselves from the burden of responsibility. They feel that the Palestinians should focus on taking care of themselves.
Do they contrast the Palestinian refugee problem with the successful Israeli absorption of close to a million Jewish refugees from Arab countries?
Yes, but this population swap wasn’t highlighted enough. The story of the Jewish refugees was cut off from the narrative, both in Israel and abroad. And that’s what made me start advocating for this case. I have been active with the Justice for Jews from Arab Countries initiative.
I also helped to achieve the Day to Mark the Departure and Expulsion of Jews from Arab Countries, which was instituted in 2014. This day, celebrated on November 30, is commemorated in Israeli schools too, where it needs to be taught. There are two types of populations in Israel: Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews. 50 percent of Jews don’t know about their own history, which is not fair.
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