Iraqi Jews are mourning the passing of Mordechai Ben Porat – ‘a giant among men’.
Mordechai Ben Porat has passed away aged 98 at his home in Ramat Gan. Baghdad-born Ben Porat was a minister in the Shamir government, a Knesset member and mayor of Or Yehuda for 14 years. He was awarded the Israel prize in 2001 and a medal for services to the state of Israel.
But Ben Porat, who walked to Israel on foot in 1945, will be best remembered for his part, as the Mossad operative in Baghdad, in organising the clandestine emigration of Jews from Iraq, at first through Iran in 1949, and subsequently the airlift of almost the entire 120,000-member Jewish community of Iraq , known as Operation Ezra and Nehemiah or Operation Babylon.
However he was dogged by the rumour that the Zionists set off bombs to cause the Jewish exodus. In the 1960s he won a lawsuit against the magazine Haolam Hazeh.
His time in Iraq was filled with hair-raising escapades, including a stint in prison. On his return to Israel he studied at Tel Aviv and the Hebrew university. In 1975, he established the World Organisation Jews from Arab Countries. Mindful of the need to preserve Iraqi-Jewish heritage, he set up Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center at Or Yehuda – once the site of two ma’abarot or tent camps . As chairman of the Center, he insisted on visiting the centre once a week, even when his health was failing.
Hundreds attended the funeral of Baghdad-born Roni Daniel, 73, one of Israel’s top military commentators, who died of a cardiac arrest. They included ex-President Reuven Rivlin, Naftali Bennett, Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz from Israel’s current cabinet, and two ex-chiefs of staff. ‘Daniel was one of the most Israeli journalists there is,” Gantz said in his eulogy. Bennett had called him ‘the voice of another era.’ YNet News reports:
Daniel worked for Channel 2’s (today Channel 12) news company as a journalist and military affairs correspondent for 28 years during which he became a household name and one of Israel’s top commentators.
Daniel was born in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad in October 1947 and lost his father two months later. At the age of 3, he immigrated to Israel with his mother and grew up on a kibbutz. He enlisted in the IDF in the mid-60s and served in the Nahal Brigade with which he fought in the 1967 Six-Day War against the Egyptians. He later became a company commander and fought in the War of Attrition.
During his reserve service, he was appointed as commander of the Golani Reserve Battalion and reached the rank of lieutenant colonel.
He began his journalistic career in the late 70s, working for Kol Yisrael radio first as a transportation reporter and later as a military reporter. He was promoted as head of the news division in the 1980s and also worked for Army Radio. In the early 1990s, he was one of the presenters of the “Communications File” program on Israeli Educational Television and became Channel 2 news company’s military affairs correspondent in 1993, a position he filled until his death.
The new Israeli cabinet under the leadership of Naftali Bennett has nine women ministers, two with Iraqi roots, two with Moroccan roots, and one with mixed Iraqi-Moroccan roots.
Morocco World News reports:
Meir Cohen has taken up the post of Israel’s new Minister of Labor, Welfare, Social Affairs and Social Services. Cohen was born in the Moroccan coastal town of Essaouira in 1955, migrating to Israel with his family when he was seven years old. The minister started a career in politics by successfully running for mayor of Dimona in 2003. Since then he has worked with several parties, most notably Yesh Atid, a centrist party under which he served as Minister of Welfare & Social Services between 20134 and 2014.
Yifat Shasha-Biton, born to a Moroccan-Jewish mother and Iraqi father in 1973, will now be heading the Ministry of Education. Shasha-Biton received her doctorate in education in 2002, from the University of Haifa. She previously served as Minister of Construction and Housing under the Likud party between 2019 and 2020.
Meirav Cohen, for her part, will continue working as the Minister of Social Equality, a post she’s held since 2020. Continuing her post, she has changed the party under which she works, migrating from the Blue and White party to Yesh Atid. Cohen was born in Jerusalem to two Sephardic Jewish immigrants from Morocco.
Karine Elharrar-Hartstein, an Israeli lawyer and a politician, has taken up the post of Minister of National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Resources. Elharrar was born in 1977 to Moti and Colette Elharrar, two Moroccan Jewish immigrants. She currently serves under the Yesh Atid party.
The new Israeli government, headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, is keen to further enhance the relationship between Tel Aviv and Rabat. “Israel views Morocco as an important friend and partner in the efforts to advance peace and security in the region,” Bennett said.
To many Israelis, Zvi Yehezkeli is something of a hero – an investigative journalist who has daringly infiltrated Islamic state and the Muslim Brotherhood. However, he is not only an Arabic-speaking Jew, but a religious one. Profile by Kay Wilson in Israellycool:
Zvi Yehzkeli: considered one of Israel’s handsomest men
It is rare that a journalist garnishes respect from both sides of the political divide. But such is the case with Zvi Yehezkeli.
Aside from once being voted among Israel’s most handsome men, he is our most famous Arabist: a non-Arab who is an expert in Arab affairs.
A son of parents who fled Iraq and thus with a background of spoken Arabic, Yehezkeli enlisted into the Shin Bet and worked for them in security details all over the world. While he was abroad, he became interested in Islam.
He was especially fascinated with terrorist Yasser Arafat due to the fact that the mass murderer shook hands with the late Prime Minister, Itzhak Rabin, at the Oslo Accords.
In his work as a journalist he went undercover throughout Judea and Samaria to find out how local Arabs felt about the now outdated July 2020 plan to bring areas under Israeli sovereignty. A tiny camera was hidden in his glasses.
Those interviewed didn’t even know they were being filmed. For the release of the report, he distorted their faces and voices to protect them from the brutality of the Palestinian Authority. Unsurprisingly, most of the interviewees stated their preference to live under Israeli sovereignty.
Jews with roots in Iraq are today the third largest community in Israel – after the Soviet and the Moroccan. Did you ever wonder how they got there? Lyn Julius writes this tribute to Shlomo Hillel z”l in Times of Israel.
Shlomo Hillel z”l
The mass aliya of some 120,000 Jews between Iraqi 1950 and 1951 is attributable largely to the efforts of one man – Shlomo Hillel, who died on 8 February 2021, aged 97.
The Jews of Iraq, the oldest diaspora in the world, had been through troubled times in the 1930s and 40s. Hundreds were murdered in the Farhud massacreof 1941, and the Arab war against the fledgling state of Israel had led to persecution, extortion and the criminalisation of Zionism.
In defiance of a travel ban, 12,000 Iraqi Jews were smuggled over the porous border into Iran. Working with a Jewish-born priest, Alexander Glasberg, to get the Jews French visas for Israel, Shlomo bribed Iranian policemen to look the other way. Posing as a member of the crew, Hillel used freelance American pilots to arrange the first test flights transporting out 100 Jews, Operation Michaelberg.
Before Israel had an official army, Hillel led the construction and operation of a secret bullet factory, under the noses of the British. The factory, known as the Ayalon Institute, was built beneath the laundry room of a kibbutz in Rehovot.
When the Iraqi government briefly lifted the ban on immigration in 1950 on condition that the Jews relinquished their citizenship, Baghdad-born Hillel returned to Iraq as a Mossad agent to facilitate their exodus. Aged 23, he posed as Richard Armstrong, the British representative of Near Eastern Airlines to negotiate the airlift of the Iraqi Jews with the Iraqi government. Throughout the meeting he shifted in his seat, fearing he might be recognised by his cousin, the leader of the Jewish community. (He wasn’t). Shlomo told his story in Operation Babylon.
Born in Iraq, Hillel was the youngest of 11 children of a Jewish merchant importing goods from India, Japan and Manchester. Iraq Jews were not generally Zionist, but until the rise of pro-Nazi feeling in the 1930s, there was a small Zionist movement, Achi-ever, where Hillel and his brothers learnt Hebrew. In 1934, aged 11 on a family visit to Palestine, Shlomo insisted on remaining with two elder brothers, attending the prestigious Herzliya Gymnasium in Tel Aviv. Having lived through the massacre of Assyrian Christians in Iraq in 1933, Hillel’s father had a sense of foreboding ‘If they do this to Iraqi Christians, what will they do to Jews?” He moved the rest of his family to Israel.
A founder of kibbutz Ma’agan Michael, Hillel married Temima, who came as a refugee from Europe on the Patria. He reluctantly embarked on a political career, becoming a Minister and Knesset speaker. He also served as as Israeli ambassador to several African countries and was awarded the Israel prize in 1988. But he was always modest about his achievements.
Later Shlomo Hillel was involved in the mass emigration of Jews from Ethiopia. The wheel came full circle when his son Ari fell in love and married an Ethiopian girl. When asked what he thought of the match, Hillel said he was delighted. The Jewish people was completing the ‘Ingathering of the Exiles’.
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Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries
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