Tag: Kurds

Many Kurdish Jews died during their 1950 exodus

The Iraqi Jewish Archives have revealed interesting details about the exodus of  Kurdish Jews from Iraq, according to amateur historian Sami Sourani, who helped translate documents from Arabic.
A family of Kurdish Jews airlifted to Israel
The Kurdish Jews  had to travel down to Baghdad in order to join the airlift to Cyprus and on to Israel.
During their exodus from Iraq during 1950 -1, the Baghdad Jewish community took charge of the welfare of the 18,000 Kurdish Jews who passed through the capital. It had to request a special budget to bury the many elderly Kurdish Jews who  died in Baghdad.
According to Sami Sourani, who volunteeered to translate some files, the  Baghdad Jewish community stepped up to the challenge of caring for the refugees during their short stay at the Massouda Shemtov synagogue.
The community took on the responsibility of feeding the refugees. The cook was Shalom Saleh who was  hanged in January 1952 together with Yousef Basri on charges of Zionism.
Saleh worked very hard to feed the Kurdish arrivals. A ladies’ committee boiled 100 eggs a day.
The Community appointed a rabbi to take care of  the Kurdish refugees.  Some of the very old who could not stand the warm weather of Baghdad and passed away. To their credit,  the Jewish community of Baghdad made sure that the dead were buried with dignity, regardless of their financial situation.  This was done by the Hebra Kadisha – the Burial Society. The rabbi in charge wrote a letter to the Rabbanut of Baghdad asking for a special budget to buy cloth for shrouds.
The rabbi wrote that the dead people were so numerous, he could not afford to buy shrouds. He told how he was working every day until midnight just to talk to the refugees and deal with their welfare. Sometimes  he had to buy them material using his own money. He requested a raise in his salary  –  about eight dinar per month, at that time. The Rabbanut responded favourably and he got what he wanted.

 

More from Sami Sourani:

Kurdish imposters wanted resident Jew dead

Moving to the Kurdistan Region was the best decision of Levi Meir Clancy’s life. It was the fulfilment of a dream – until he was warned that there was a plot afoot to kill him.  The reason? He stood in the way of the ambitions (amply documented  on Point of No Return) of a group of conspirators posing as Jews. Clancy tells his story in the Times of Israel: 

Levi Meir Clancy: owns a home in Kurdistan

Even without a Saddam Hussein or an Adolph Hitler in power, there are still people with the mentality of a collaborator. That was how the conspirators behind my attack seemed to behave. They were all driven by personal gain. After one conspirator was allegedly convicted of homicide and locked away, the rest continued to collaborate with his associates in their pursuit of antisemitic legends about Jewish wealth and Jewish privilege.

Unfortunately, officials in the Kurdistan Region seemed to believe that antisemitic attacks must involve someone whose primary goal is the “cleansing” of Jewish people from society. Frankly, this is a ridiculous perspective because there are no Jewish people remaining, except a few expatriates who are countable on one hand. There is no Jewish community being “rounded up” like a scene from the Holocaust, because there is no Jewish community.

This outdated perspective on antisemitic violence in the 21st century has created a tremendous blind spot. Without any vigilance, the potential for violence has festered. The conspirators simply had to choose a course of action that avoided the most crude and sophomoric stereotypes of antisemitic behavior.

It was not just the Kurdistan Region’s officials who were unprepared. With the rise in visitation to the Kurdistan Region, many foreigners (and even Jewish people and Israelis) have come to the Kurdistan Region for short periods, experienced no serious problems, and then returned to their homes abroad. As a result, based on their own brief but enjoyable visits, many people shunned the possibility that someone in Erbil might be hunted for their Jewishness. Yet here I am, forced to wake up every morning with the possibility that I will not live to see the next day.

But still, for many people, the idea that an antisemitic plot is underway in the Kurdistan Region is beyond the limits of comprehension — or, perhaps, beyond the limits of compassion. (…)

The people behind the plot against me were a network of men who had emerged over the last few years with false claims of being long-lost Jews, with two of them even securing roles as representatives in the Kurdistan Region’s government. Additionally, they received support from outside of the Kurdistan Region from those who had their own motives as well.

Smartly, the conspirators did not publicly disagree with the popular narrative about coexistence. In fact, they decided to harness it by claiming that they themselves were in fact are long-lost Jews. They ran to the media and made many headlines. It was a catchy story. This opened many doors for them, and provided a level of impunity for increasingly disastrous behavior because well-intentioned people were shy about seeming hesitant regarding supposed Jewish affairs.

At every opportunity, the conspirators issued false but self-perpetuating claims to the media that there was a very large Jewish community in the Kurdistan Region that hovered around 400 families — but which was, in fact, non-existent. The motives were fairly limited,

  • Most of these men just wanted to be in the business of organizing hotly-desired visas, either for aliyah to the State of Israel, or asylum to Europe, which they thought would be very easy to obtain by claiming to be Jewish.
  • Many of them wanted control over real estate connected to Jewish heritage sites, or thought that there was a vault somewhere containing piles of Jewish gold. They would break into Jewish heritage sites to stage photo opportunities, and follow YouTube recordings that played in the background to reenact occasional holidays for the press.
  • A few thought that claiming to be Jewish would help them obtain one-off opportunities such as scholarships from Jewish organizations or some sort of entry into a Masonic cabal.

The whole thing reeked of antisemitic stereotypes, but it was impossible to get any sort of official response on these grounds alone. To my shock, trying to kill me for my Jewishness was still insufficient. At that point, I realized how violence was enabled — there was no point where any official attending to religious issues simply said “that is enough” and got to work.

Two Israelis were involved in Nahum restoration

Good news from Iraq : a project to restore the Jewish character of  the tomb of Nahum at al-Kosh, funded at a cost of $2 million by the US, Kurdish and Czech governments,  has been completed by the ARCH NGO. The shrine miraculously escaped obliteration by Islamic State in 2014.This  long Times of Israel feature by Tal Schneider focuses on the involvement of a US Jewish army vet and two Israeli engineers, specialising in synagogue restoration, who were given special permission to visit the site. Point of No Return has documented the failure of UNESCO to save the derelict site and earlier proposals for its reconstruction.   We have also posted the accounts of foreign visitors (here, here and here ) to the shrine. (with thanks: David, Lily)

Yaakov Shaffer and Meir Ronen, the two Israeli engineers involved in the restoration of the tomb of Nahum.

On a spring day in April 2017, two jeeps, their windows blacked out, sped down a sandy highway in Iraqi Kurdistan toward the small Christian village of Alqosh.

In the cars sat two Israeli engineers, one in each, for security reasons. They had entered the country holding the only passports they had — Israeli — to take part in an extraordinary reconstruction mission.

The two, Yaakov Schaffer and Meir Ronen, watched through sealed windows as they drove past scenes of ruinous destruction left by nearly two decades of war. Some 15 miles away, fighters from the Islamic State terror group were battling the Iraqi army.

As they approached the village, the jeeps pulled over and Schaffer and Ronen got out, accompanied by their Kurdish security guards. On foot, they climbed into the town and made straight for the antiquities site at the northern part of the ancient city: the Tomb of Nahum, the Old Testament prophet.

For decades, the people of Alqosh, members of the Chaldean Catholic Church, guarded a shrine once revered by local Jews as the final resting place of Nahum of Elkosh. But on that day, the structure that lay before them was crumbling around a caved-in roof.

“The walls and pillars were cracked and crumbling. It looked like the rest of the building would collapse at any minute,” recalled Adam Tiffen, an American entrepreneur and project manager who had visited the site a year earlier and was there that day with the Israelis.

The three of them entered. As they began to examine the structure, they unfurl the options that lay before them to save the ancient shrine.

Read article in full

 

 

Israel worked with the Kurds for 10 years

In the 1960s, Israel supplied weapons and instructors to the Kurds of northern Iraq.  In 1970 – 1, the Kurds assisted Israel in smuggling  1,300 Jews out of Iraq and over the border into Iran.  Eliyahu Tsafrir, himself of Kurdish background,  was the Mossad’s man in Kurdistan. Jonathan Spyer interviewed him for the Jerusalem Post: 
Eliyahu Tsafrir in the Kurdish mountains
As Tsafrir recalls it, “The Mossad delegation was in Kurdistan for 10 years. The delegation included military advisers and instructors. We supplied [the Iraqi Kurds] with weapons, including artillery, and we conducted courses there – from the section commanders’ course and all the way to the course for battalion commanders.”
The Mossad presence in Kurdish northern Iraq was logistically dependent on Israel’s then-excellent relations with Iran.
“People would fly to Tehran, and then with the help of the Savak [the pre-revolutionary Iranian intelligence service], they would enter the Kurdish territory.”
The Israeli presence was the result of the close relations forged with Mulla Mustafa Barzani, grandfather of current Iraqi Kurdish President Nechirvan Barzani. Tsafrir arrived to command the mission in 1974. But from headquarters, he had already witnessed the benefits this connection had brought to Israel.
Eliyahu Tsafrir (Photo: J Spyer)
“In 1970-1971, we had used the assistance of the Kurds to get 1,300 Jews out of Baghdad. From there to the Kurdish area, and then to Iran, where the Jewish Agency was waiting to bring them to Israel. I was head of the department at HQ dealing with this.”
In 1974, then-Mossad head Zvi Zamir proposed to Tsafrir that he take up the leadership of the delegation in northern Iraq. His appointment was meant to last two years.
The benefits accruing to Israel from this mission were not solely in the field of Jewish immigration to Israel. Rather, the main purpose in return for the assistance given to Kurdish fighters was to gather intelligence, particularly on the Iraqi army.
“Iraq sent to every war against us a division, sometimes two divisions,” says Tsafrir. “Our interest was in an intelligence window, also by way of Kurdish officers who were officers in the Iraqi army. We activated them, also in the area of recruitment of agents, in order to achieve ‘coverage’ of the Iraqi Army.”

 

Read article in full

Joe Schemtob’s story

 

Israeli rabbi wants millions to build community with no Jews

Exclusive to Point of No Return

 An Israeli rabbi is claiming to be Chief Rabbi of a non-existent community and is demanding $10 million to build a mega-synagogue for them.

Israeli Rabbi Daniel Edri, who headed the Haifa Beth Din and has no Kurdish roots, has produced a letter from the Kurdish Ministry of Religious Affairs nominating him as the Chief Rabbi of Kurdistan. But the Ministry itself has claimed that the letter is a forgery.

The forged letter nominating Rabbi Edri as Chief Rabbi of Kurdistan

This month, the rabbi claims to have been in touch with an old Jew in Baghdad called Daoud Benattar who told him that there were ”close to 100 Jews in Baghdad’. Benattar is not known to anyone who is familiar with the few Jews still in Iraq. According to Edwin Shuker, who visits Iraq regularly, there are only four Jews still living there.

Likewise, there are no Jews in Kurdistan, although some Kurds claim distant Jewish ancestry.  The entire community –  some 18,000 Jews –  was airlifted to Israel in 1950.

A non-Jew called Sherzad Mahmoud Mamsani was exposed as an imposter after the Kurdistan Regional government sacked him as head of the Directorate of Jewish Affairs and exiled him. Mamsani’s objective was to raise funds from the Jewish diaspora in order to ‘rebuild’ the Kurdish Jewish community.

Rabbi Edri was first introduced to Sherzad Mamsani in 2017 and has admitted knowing that he was not a Jew.  He is now believed to be working with  one of Sherzad’s acolytes,  Ranjar Cohen. Rabbi Edri has been quoted as saying, ‘Sherzad is out of Kurdistan so we are going ahead without him.’

Despite his name, Cohen is not a Jew either. After failing to  register a synagogue with the Ministry of Religious Affairs,  Ranjar Cohen  registered a non-profit humanitarian organisation named Aramaic Organisation which he promoted as a Jewish congregation. After the imposters were denied entry to the shrine of the Prophet Nahum, they organized a Hanucah ceremony at a hotel instead.

Rabbi Daniel Edri wearing traditional Kurdish headdress

Rabbi Edri ‘supervised’ the  Hanucah menorah lighting ceremony in December 2020. Of  the two founders of the Aramaic Organisation  one is now in jail, convicted of murder.

It is suspicious that in order to achieve his objective of reviving the Kurdish Jewish community, Rabbi Edri seems to have avoided working with the late Dr Moti Zaken, the leading authority on Jews of Kurdistan, who spoke out against any abuses. Rabbi Edri has preferred to use his own dubious Kurdish contacts. In order to minister to the phantom community he purportedly heads, Rabbi Edri would have to register Muslims as Jews.

It appears that the death of Dr Zaken may have left a vacuum which imposters and fraudsters can freely fill.

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