Thursday, October 30, 2008
Recently, I saw Bill Maher’s bitingly satirical documentary “Religulous.” The flaw in this otherwise entertaining and illuminating film is his uncompromising conclusion: that religion is inherently bigoted and violence-prone and that even moderately religious people are “enablers” for the extremists.
In a related vein, some people whom I’ve dialoged and debated with online have characterized as “racist,” my view that the Arab and Muslim worlds have a huge problem with violence and intolerance. They are NOT inherently this way – that would be a bigoted assertion.
One has to ask if many majority Arab countries and areas (e.g., Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, the Gaza Strip, Sudan/Darfur) and non-Arab Muslim countries (e.g., Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey) are not plagued by inter-communal violence and intolerance. If they are not, then my point could be categorized as prejudiced or at least mistaken.
My observation is based upon my reading of the facts that indicate social pathology, but it is not intended to denigrate anybody for their ethnicity or religion. I mean to highlight the desperate need for progressive change in these places. And obviously this does not exempt Israel and predominantly Christian societies from the need for more tolerance and enlightenment. This blog regularly reports upon Israel’s shortcomings and abuses; we are equal opportunity critics.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
In the latest polls, Livni is slightly ahead of Netanyahu, with Barak a very distant third.
A Yediot Achronot poll gives Kadima 29 seats, Likud 26 and Labor 11; Ma'ariv has Kadima earning 31 seats, Likud 29 and Labor 11.
In the Yediot poll, the left-center and right-religious blocs are tied with 60 seats each in the 120-member Knesset; Ma’ariv has the left-center ahead, 61-59.
But according to Tel Aviv University economics professor Dan Ben-David, Israel's long term prospects look dire absent fundamental electoral reform:
... For quite a while, it has not been possible to govern in the Holy Land.
The problem is not only that the head of the country's executive arm is ... not given the authority to build a cabinet with ministers who know something about the realm of their ministries and who also work for him/her. The problem is not only that Knesset members are not elected personally by voters. ... The problem is not only the absence of fixed terms of office in the executive and legislative branches. ...
In Israel's current system of government, measures taken to survive politically in the present have a way of determining future reality. For example, it was not possible to remove Israeli citizens from Gaza without paying the political ransom of removing the ultra-Orthodox education stream from the system-wide educational reform that was approved at the time....
... They demand an increase in personal subsidies for each child - which have been shown to encourage extremely high birth rates - that are, in turn, translated into incomes that enable the choice of non-work as a way of life.
Three-quarters of ultra-Orthodox males and Israeli-Arab females of prime working ages (25-54) are not employed, while the rates of non-employment of their spouses are double Western averages. In 1960, only 15 percent of the country's primary school pupils studied in the ultra-Orthodox and Israeli-Arab educational systems. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, in just four years, the 50 percent barrier will be crossed.
If today's youth adopt the work habits of their parents, it should be clear that, in another generation or two, the resultant majority of the country's population will create an untenable financial burden on the minority - who, by no small coincidence, will also be the sole bearers of the national defense burden. And what about the brain drain from Israel, which only accelerates this demographic process? Who is even dealing with this issue? ...
A political tiebreaker of a totally different magnitude is needed: A political system in which each of the representatives, from the president down to the last Knesset member, is elected to fixed terms of office directly by the people. Representatives from different towns and regions will have to start looking out for the education that their constituents' children receive, for jobs and personal security for the people who put them in office, for clean neighborhoods and environmental concerns in the areas that they come from. The accountability for successes and failures will be personal, with a corresponding political price tag.
When they will have to start dealing with the welfare of those who actually voted them into office, the politicians will have a lesser degree of freedom to advocate keeping the biblical Land of Israel instead preserving the health of today's State of Israel; a lesser degree of freedom to be more concerned about Palestinian Arabs in Nablus and Ramallah than about Israeli Arabs in Taibeh and Rahat; and a lesser degree of freedom to insist on Torah studies as a substitute for, rather than as a complement to, education that facilitates the understanding of modern democracy and provides the tools for working in a global economy.
The total number of seats currently held by the three largest parties - Kadima, Labor and Likud - has already fallen to just half of the Knesset's total (60 MKs in all). In light of the internal demographic changes that are taking place in Israel, the existing political fringes that represent narrow sectoral interests will become the majority in the Knesset in the near future, and the national perspective toward policy-making will have disappeared from the political scene....
The time has come for the leaders of Kadima, Labor and Likud to understand that the country has reached the point of no return. Only the leaders of these three parties still have the combined parliamentary ability to put in place a new democratic system of government by the next elections. This will be the ultimate political tiebreaker that will return to the people the ability to salvage their collective future.
This entire article can be read online at Haaretz.com.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Here are the estimated results of the Knesset elections if voting took place today (a la Dahaf):
Yisrael Beiteinu 9
National Union/National Religious Party 7
United Torah Judaism 7
"Arab parties" 10
(Sorry about the "Arab parties", but, in its reportage, Israel's Hebrew-language media generally doesn't bother to discriminate between three distinct parties, all of which find their main constituency among the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel - Hadash, Balad, and Ra'am-Ta'al.)
A poll by Teleseker showed Kadima with 31 seats, Likud with 29 and Labor with 11.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
The news from Friday suggests that Kadima leader, Foreign Minister Tzipp Livni, has struck out in her efforts to form a new government, and that Israelis will be heading to the polls in early 2009. This comes after the ultra-orthodox Mizrahi (Sephardi) Shas party, a member of the current caretaker government, announced that it had made a "final" decision not to join a government led by Livni.
Shas based its decision on Livni's reported unwillingness to approve almost three hundred million dollars in additional transfer payments to large families (a prime Shas constituency). She also seems to have rejected a key Shas demand that she pledge in writing not to negotiate with the Palestinians about the future of Jerusalem.
Of course, nothing in Israeli politics is final until it absolutely is, and several election-averting scenarios still exist.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Yossi Beilin, October 9: Nothing being done to address discrimination against Arab citizens
In reaction to the events in Acre, Meretz MK Yossi Beilin stated that eight years have gone by since the October 2000 riots, and nothing has been done to implement the recommendations of the Orr Commission regarding the unequal status of Israel's Arab citizens. "We are sitting on a powder keg, but somehow we're surprised each time the tension explodes," he commented, calling for a concerted effort to address this issue.
Haim Oron and Zehava Galon, October 10: We mustn't surrender to extremists
Meretz chair, MK Haim Oron, and Meretz MK Zehava Galon have separately called on the Mayor of Acre, Shimon Lancri, not to cancel the annual Acre Theater Festival during Sukkot. Oron said that such a step would be, "an act of surrender to Arab and Jewish extremists". Galon stated that, "the supreme test of the police is to uphold democratic rule in the country and not permit mob rule". The two MKs stressed that extremists on both sides must not be allowed to dictate events.
Haim Oron, October 16: Free the Arab driver from Acre
Meretz chair, MK Haim Oron, has called on the Public Security Minister, requesting that he consider the release of Tawfik Jamal, the driver from Acre who drove into a predominantly Jewish neighborhood on Yom Kippur eve, and who was later arrested on charges of harming religious sensitivities and reckless endangerment. Oron stated: "I don't see the logic of this [arrest], which fuels a local fire and turns it into a national blaze. On one hand, they cancel the Acre Theater Festival, which is extremely important for coexistence, and on the other, they generate riots through this arrest."
[Note: Tawfik Jamal was later sent to house arrest by a court in Haifa.]
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
During the 1948 War, the [Egyptian] government imposed martial law, and approximately 800 Jews were placed in internment camps. Most were alleged to be either Zionists or Communists reflecting the government’s apparent belief that the two groups were acting in collusion. In addition, Zionism was declared illegal, Jewish organizations were required to provide the names and addresses of their members, and a significant number of Jewish families were expelled from their homes.
The property of about 70 Jewish individuals and firms was placed under state administration. This included a number of major Jewish-owned department stores, and other well-known businesses. But the anti-Jewish measures were characterized both by their excessiveness, and by their inconsistency. Some of the owners of these corporations were known to be Zionists, but others were not. Some leading Zionists were not affected at all.
Government actions were accompanied by a press campaign against local Jews. For example, a Wafdist newspaper published blacklists of Jewish businessmen. There were also a number of examples of popular violence directed against Jews. In June 1948, a bomb killed 22 Jews and wounded 41 in the Karaite section of Cairo. The Egyptian Government absurdly blamed the explosion on fireworks stored in Jewish homes, and conflict between Karaite and Rabbanite Jews. Later following an Israeli air attack on Cairo in July 1948, a number of Jewish-owned department stores and cinemas were bombed. A further explosion in the Rabbanite Jewish section of Cairo in September 1948 killed 19 Jews and wounded 62. A subsequent bomb in November 1948 destroyed a prominent Jewish publishing house.
The government was relatively inactive in protecting the Jewish community from these attacks which appear to have mainly been perpetrated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Some of the factors which may have contributed to government policy included their fear of the political strength of the Brotherhood, the Prime Minister’s personal anti-Semitism, and a general incompetence. However, no specifically anti-Jewish legislation was passed, and there is little evidence that the above events were linked to a deep-seated anti-Jewish campaign or public ferment.
The key question that remains to be answered is whether the Arab-Israeli War necessarily precluded a continuing role for Jews either in Egypt or the Arab world in general. On the one hand, a state based on genuinely secular liberal principles could reasonably be expected to maintain the rights of a minority population even whilst being in a state of war with that population’s neighbouring nation state. This was particularly the case given that the leaders of the Egyptian Jewish community persistently affirmed their loyalty to Egypt, and made significant (albeit almost certainly coerced) donations to the Palestine War fund.
On the other hand, the increasing threats towards Jews in Egypt and other Arab countries suggested that the distinction between Jews and Zionists was no longer maintained. The Jewish minority would inevitably be regarded as a potential fifth column, and hence excluded from the Arab nation. From 1944 to 1947, a number of threats were made by Arab leaders concerning the likely fate of Arab Jews as a result of events in Palestine.
In November 1947, for example, the Egyptian Delegate to the United Nations Muhammad Husayn Haykal (known to be a relative liberal in Egyptian politics) warned that the Palestine Partition Resolution could lead to reprisals against Jews in Arab countries. According to Haykal: “Partition of Palestine might create in those countries an anti-Semitism even more difficult to root out than the anti-Semitism which the Allies were trying to eradicate in Germany…If the United Nations decides to partition Palestine, it might be responsible for very grave disorders and for the massacre of a large number of Jews.”
Haykal’s warning was followed by specific resolutions of the Arab League in February 1948 dealing with the Jews of Arab countries. The resolutions implied concern for “the welfare and property of Jewish citizens”, and urged Jews to maintain their loyalty to their homelands, and to eschew any involvement in Zionist activity. But they also threatened that “any act of Zionist terrorism is liable to bring a holocaust upon the entire Jewish community”. It was unclear whether this clause referred to terrorist activities by Palestinian Jews, or alternatively by local Jews sympathetic to Zionism.
1949-1954: a Temporary Respite
Between 1948 and 1950 about 20,000 Jews left Egypt including over 14,000 who migrated to Israel. Many were lower middle-class Jews who found their economic prospects destroyed by widespread unemployment, and the ongoing campaign to Egyptianize business ownership and administration. Much of this exodus was openly organized by emissaries of the Mossad l’Aliya, the Israeli Institute for Immigration, which established a number of travel agencies inside Egypt in order to coordinate the process.
Nevertheless for those Jews who remained there was some evidence that life was returning to normal. Between July 1949 and February 1950, most of the Jews who had been interned were released, and their property restored by the government. Many Jews continued to practice their professions in areas such as journalism, publishing, law, medicine and finance. Jewish sporting teams continued to operate as did communal institutions such as hospitals and schools although most Jewish newspapers ceased publication. In addition, King Faruq resumed his traditionally friendly relations with the Jewish community including the awarding of royal decorations to leading Jews.
Following the 1952 Free Officers Revolution, the new Prime Minister General Muhammad Naguib worked particularly hard to establish good relations with the Jewish community, and publicly assured Jews that they continued to be part of the Egyptian nation. Naguib visited a number of Jewish institutions including the Cairo synagogue on Yom Kippur, and the Egyptian Chief Rabbi was invited to attend national celebrations.
Naguib’s replacement by General Gamal Abdel Nasser in March 1954 seems to have halted this trend towards better relations, and was followed by the unfortunate Operation Susannah episode. In July 1954, Egyptian authorities arrested an Israeli spy ring consisting of 13 operatives including an Israeli officer and a dozen local Jews. They had carried out a number of acts of sabotage including setting fire to the United States Information Service Library in Cairo, the Alexandria Post Office, and a number of cinemas. Little damage was done, and no fatalities had occurred. The two leaders of the group were sentenced to death, and the other defendants were sentenced to long prison terms.
The espionage operation – which later became known in Israel as the Lavon Affair due to a political scandal over who was responsible for ordering the bungled action – seems to have been intended to undermine western confidence in the stability of the Egyptian regime. In particular, it was hoped to prevent the planned withdrawal of British forces from the Suez Canal.
During the trial period, the Egyptian authorities and media were careful to distinguish between the minority of Zionist spies and Egyptian Jews, and emphasized that the majority of Egyptian Jews were loyal citizens. However, Operation Susannah does appear to have further undermined the rights and standing of Egyptian Jews.
The Second Wave of Repression: the 1956 and 1967 Wars
The second Arab-Israeli war was accompanied by harsh government measures against the Egyptian Jewish community. About 1,000 Jews – both Zionist and non-Zionist - were detained, most Jews were placed under surveillance, many Jews were directly expelled from the country, and over 500 Jewish businesses were placed under state control. Significant measures were taken to exclude Jews from economic life. In addition, Zionism was declared a criminal offence, and Zionists were deprived of the right to hold citizenship. However, in contrast to 1948 there were few instances of popular violence directed against Jews.
Following the conclusion of the war, Jews were directly pressured to leave Egypt either by formal deportation orders, or via more covert methods of intimidation and harassment. Between November 1956 and March 1957 over 14,000 Jews departed Egypt mainly for Israel, including most of the key community leaders.
From mid-1957 to mid-1967, a further 17-19,000 Jews departed Egypt. Most of the key Jewish institutions including the school system were taken over by the Egyptian Government. In addition, the nationalization decrees of 1960-62 destroyed the livelihood of many Jews.
At the time of the Six Day War about 7,000 Jews remained in Egypt. These Jews appear to have experienced a final wave of persecution including mass arrests and subsequent expulsion. The organized Egyptian Jewish community had come to an end.
Summary and Conclusion
The Egyptian body politic appears to have been relatively more liberal and tolerant towards Jews than other Arab countries such as Iraq and Syria. Until the 1956 Suez War a sizeable Jewish community remained in Egypt, and active government or popular violence against Jews had been relatively restrained. Nevertheless by 1967 the formal existence of Egyptian Jewry had also come to an end.
The factors which led to the demise of Egyptian Jewry are complex, but nonetheless closely related to the onset of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Most Jews did not leave Egypt voluntarily, although it is true that some were active Zionists and positively attracted to the idea of living in Israel. However, more often than not support for Zionism seems to have been a defensive response to perceived insecurity and/or active persecution.
Another factor was the general post-colonialist resentment of foreigners which led to their gradual exclusion from Egyptian social and economic life. Hence many Jews appear to have left Egypt because of economic factors such as loss of jobs and livelihood, rather than specific anti-Jewish persecution. Similarly a number of authors have noted that other foreign minorities such as the Italians and Greeks also experienced hostility, and left Egypt in significant numbers. But it was arguably the conflict over Palestine which specifically motivated ethnocentric groups and the government to target and scapegoat Jews.
A considerable number of Jews – perhaps the majority – seem to have departed as a result of systematic harassment or direct expulsion. It was perhaps inevitable that the Jews would experience some backlash as a result of being seen as holding potential dual loyalties to both their homeland, and the nation with whom that country was at war. But their wholesale departure suggests that the threats first uttered by Arab leaders in the mid-late 1940s ultimately came to fruition: that Jews in the Arab world were driven out as a direct and unapologetic retaliation for Jewish actions in Israel/Palestine.
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Monday, October 20, 2008
In 1945, there were approximately 900,000 Jews living in Arab countries. But by the time of the 1967 Six Day War only a small number remained.
Two dichotomous perspectives – both linked to contemporary political agendas and propaganda – have traditionally been used to explain this modern Jewish exodus.
On the one hand, there is what has been termed the pro-Zionist or alternatively "neo-lachrymose conception of Jewish-Arab history" which interprets the exodus as a response to a long history of Arab persecution. This perspective tends to assume that all Arabs at all times persecuted Jews in a manner commensurate to the persecution of Jews under Christian regimes, and that this vicarious persecution culminated in the widespread and uniform expulsion of Jews following the establishment of the State of Israel. The political purpose of this agenda is at least in part to counter contemporary Palestinian refugee demands, and also to reinforce the claims of Oriental or Mizrahi Jews within an Israeli society founded primarily around a narrative of European Jewish suffering and persecution.
The "neo-lachrymose conception" has its obvious historical and political limitations. Any evidence-based analysis would confirm that Jews generally enjoyed greater tolerance under Islamic rule than that of Christianity. Equally, the modern Jewish exodus from the Arab world followed different paths in different countries. Whilst the overwhelming majority of Iraqi Jews were expelled in 1951, a sizeable number of Jews remained in Egypt till and beyond the 1956 Suez War. And the Lebanese Jewish community remained relatively secure until the 1975 civil war.
On the other hand, the anti-Zionist perspective portrays a harmonious historical relationship between Jews and Muslims that was destroyed only by modern Zionist intervention. According to this perspective, the Jewish exodus was mainly voluntary. Jews were manipulated and persuaded to leave by a combination of Zionist and colonialist conspiracies. Anti-Jewish feeling played little or no part. The political purpose of this perspective is to contest the legitimacy of the State of Israel which is based at least in part on its self-defined role as a refuge for all Jewish victims of persecution, whether from Europe or the Middle East.
This perspective also has obvious limitations. The historical relationship between Jews and Islam was often marred by institutional anti-Jewish oppression and discrimination including examples of violent persecution. There is also little doubt that exclusivist Arab nationalism played a key role in defining the limits of modern Arab citizenship. In most cases Jews were excluded irrespective of their attitude to Zionism and Israel.
This paper aims to move beyond these polarized and inadequate perspectives to identify the complex push and pull factors that contributed to the Jewish exodus from modern Egypt. In particular, attention is drawn to the key historical events: the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the 1952 Egyptian Revolution, the 1956 Suez War, and the 1967 Six Day War that shaped the context which determined the nature of the exodus. It is argued that the exodus was a direct (and perhaps inevitable) by-product of the Arab-Israeli conflict given the progressive targeting of Jews as the enemy of Arab nationalism.
The Jews of Modern Egypt prior to 1948
During the inter-war years, it has been estimated that 75-80,000 Jews resided in Egypt. They were a culturally heterogeneous community including about 20,000 indigenous Jews, and immigrants from Italy, Greece, North Africa, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Yemen. There was a significant gulf between the Sephardic Jews and the Ashkenazic Jews, and also between the Rabbanite Jews [the main current of Jewish continuity, which followed the rabbinical (Talmudic) tradition--ed.] and the smaller community of Karaite Jews [who only followed laws laid down in the Hebrew Bible--ed.]. About 30% of the community held Egyptian citizenship, but the rest were either foreign nationals or stateless.
Economically, most Egyptian Jews belonged to the middle, lower middle, and lower classes with at least 25% living in significant poverty and dependent on charity. However, about 5 to 10% of the community formed an affluent upper middle class. This group included professionals such as lawyers and doctors, bankers, owners of a number of large department stores such as the Cicurel family, and a high proportion of registered stockbrokers. As late as 1954, Jews still comprised about 15% of the Egyptian economic elite. Most Jews spoke European languages, and few (except for the poorer communities) conversed in street Arabic.
Many Egyptian Jews (as per most Jews in the Arab world) identified with and benefited from ties with European culture and values. This identification reflected not only self-interest, but in many cases a genuine fear of the ethnocentric intolerance of the indigenous population. Conversely, many Muslims resented this Jewish link with what they saw as colonialist interference in their traditions and culture. The gradual introduction of decolonisation undermined Jewish well-being and prosperity.
Nevertheless, some Jews found acceptance within what was primarily a liberal and secular Egyptian nationalist movement. A number of Jews were active in the anti-British independence movement, and some were elected to Parliament. Jews were also prominent in the emerging Communist movement which would follow the Soviet Union in supporting the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. As a result, some conservative Egyptian leaders sought to link Zionism and Communism in an attempt to discredit both movements.
Zionism attracted little interest from Jews in the Arab world, and was actively opposed by the communal leadership in Egypt. Only about 4000 Jews – many of whom were recent immigrants to Egypt - departed for Palestine. There was some revival of the Zionist movement during World War Two, and Egyptian delegates even participated in the World Zionist Congresses of 1946 and 1947 although only 10 % of Egyptian Jews bought shekels. The movement then was suppressed as a result of the 1948 war, but continued to operate underground.
Anti-Semitism does not appear to have been a major factor in Egypt prior to 1948. To be sure, Egyptian ultra-nationalist and Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood emerged in the late 1930s, and began to target Jews and Jewish institutions. But these early attacks were condemned by the Wafd Party and other influential liberal and secular groups which actively distinguished between Jews and Zionists.
However, the 1945 Balfour Day riots provided a sign of things to come. Massive anti-Zionist demonstrations led by Islamic and nationalist groups resulted in the destruction of the Ashkenazic synagogue in Cairo, and attacks upon nearby Jewish shops and private homes. The Egyptian Prime Minister placed joint blame on the "mob," and the Zionists who had allegedly provoked the attacks. Nevertheless, King Faruq and the Secretary General of the Arab League publicly regretted the incidents, most of the media condemned the riots, and the Egyptian Government offered to pay compensation for the destroyed synagogue.
A further source of concern was the passing of the 1947 Company Law which required the majority of Board members of Egyptian joint stock companies to be Egyptian nationals. Although the law was not specifically directed against Jews it did result in many Jews losing their jobs, and there was widespread concern that minority groups were being removed from public economic life. There were also some media campaigns against Jews, and significant anti-Jewish riots associated with the passage of the 1947 United Nations Partition resolution. However, in general, the government continued to defend Jewish life and property. To be continued...
Friday, October 17, 2008
This paper explores the question of the other Middle Eastern refugees - the Jews who fled or were expelled from Arab countries between 1948 and the mid 1950s. Specific attention is drawn to the experience of Iraq.
Using relevant literature, the author analyses the two principal and polarised versions of the exodus: the Zionist position which attributes the Jewish exodus almost solely to Arab violence or threats of violence; and the Arab or anti-Zionist position which assigns responsibility to a malicious Zionist conspiracy. This paper suggests a middle-ground or less polarised version which acknowledges the role of both anti-Jewish hostility, and the attraction of Zionism and the newly-created State of Israel.
Some comparison is also made between the Jewish exodus, and the slightly earlier Palestinian exodus. Whilst acknowledging certain similarities, the author rejects as overly simplistic the specific equation of the two exoduses, or the notion that they constituted a legitimate exchange of populations. -- Philip Mendes [Dr. Mendes is on the faculty of Monash University, located near Melbourne, Australia]
The Case of Iraq
The Jewish departure from Iraq arguably provides the best case example of the Jewish exodus from the Arab world.
The Jews of Iraq constituted one of the oldest communities of the Jewish Diaspora, dating back over 2500 years to the time of the Babylonian exile. They were well integrated into Iraqi society, and generally prosperous. Yet during 1950 and 1951, more than 120,000 Jews (95% of the Jewish population) left Iraq for Israel via the airlift known as Operation Ezra and Nehemiah. How and why did this mass evacuation occur?
The traditional Zionist view views the exodus as a response to a long history of Arab persecution. This history of persecution culminated in an official policy of oppression and discrimination following the creation of the State of Israel. According to this perspective, the Iraqi Jews were also specifically attracted to Israel by the emotional power of the Zionist idea (Schechtman 1961:8-9; Katz 1973:32-37; Peters 1984:43-46 & 99-104; Yonah 1990:38; Cohen 1991:55; Meron 1995; Gat 1997:1; Meron 1999; Mandel 2001).
The alternative anti-Zionist view highlights the positives of Arab-Jewish history. The Jews of Iraq are depicted as an overwhelmingly prosperous and integrated community. Their exodus is attributed not to anti-Semitism, but rather to a malicious Zionist conspiracy including instances of bomb-throwing aimed at achieving mass Jewish emigration to Israel (Hirst 1977; Wolfsohn 1980; Shiblak 1986; Alcalay 1993:45-51; Bahry 1996:111; Gat 1997:2; Abu Shakrah 2001).
Both these perspectives are overly simplistic, and arguably intended to bolster contemporary political claims and agendas. Following the general argument of the Israeli historian Moshe Gat, I will contend that the Jewish exodus from Iraq can be attributed to both push and pull factors. While some of these factors were paralleled in other Arab countries, others were arguably unique to Iraq such as the prominent and popular identification of Jews with Communism.
Iraqi Jews in the pre-1948 period. Most of the literature agrees that Iraqi Jewry in the first half of the twentieth century was a relatively prosperous and well-integrated community.
Jews were particularly prominent in trade utilising both their knowledge of European languages, and contacts with expatriate Iraqi Jews in the countries with which they traded. They also dominated the professions of banking and money-lending known locally as the sairafah business. For example, a large proportion of members of the Baghdad Chamber of Commerce were Jewish. On the other hand, the majority of Jews were poor, and some were destitute (Batatu 1978:244-254; Shiblak 1986:30-32; Gat 1997:9-10).
Following the establishment of the modern Iraqi state in 1920, Jews contributed prominently to local arts and literature. They were represented in the Iraqi parliament, and many Jews held significant positions in the bureaucracy, Overall, Jews viewed themselves as Arabs of the Jewish faith, rather than as a separate race or nationality. Only a minority of Jews were sympathetic to Zionism, although over 5,000 Iraqi Jews migrated to Palestine between 1924 and 1944 (Landshut 1950:42-45; Kedourie 1970:309; Luks 1977:37; Haim 1978:188-191; Hillel 1987:11; Gat 1997:5-16 & 74).
Nevertheless, during the 1930s, there was increasing evidence of a decline in Iraqi tolerance for minority groups. The massacre of Christian Assyrians seeking autonomy in August 1933 was widely viewed as an ominous signal (Landshut 1950:52; Schechtman 1961:91; Gat 1997:17). In addition, European anti-Jewish propaganda began to impact on Iraq. Numerous Palestinian exiles headed by the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, spent time in Iraq. The German Ambassador to Iraq, Dr Fritz Grobba, was also a malevolent influence.
Anti-Jewish feeling was soon reflected in both official and popular actions. For example, large numbers of Jewish clerks were dismissed from government positions, and restrictive quotas were placed on Jewish access to higher education. In addition, following the outbreak of the Arab revolt in Palestine, public attacks including bombings took place against Jews and Jewish institutions. Considerable pressure was also placed on Jews to publicly dissociate themselves from Zionist activities. However, there was no official government policy of discrimination, and the authorities took action to protect Jews from extremist attacks (Hourani 1947:104; Cohen 1966:5-7; Cohen 1973:26-28; Luks 1977:32-33; Rejwan 1985:217-220; Kedourie 1989:28-31; Gat 1997:17-19).
The security and confidence of Iraqi Jews was shattered by the pro-German military coup of April 1941. The coup leaders were quickly defeated and exiled by a British army occupation, but their departure was followed by a large-scale farhud or pogrom against the Jews of Baghdad. The farhud was perpetrated by Iraqi officers, police, and gangs of young people influenced by Nazi ideology, and the popular perception of a Jewish alignment with Britain. Over 180 Jews were murdered, several hundred injured, and numerous Jewish properties and religious institutions damaged and looted (Cohen 1966; Cohen 1973:28-32; Kedourie 1974:306-309; Woolfson 1980:156-163; Shiblak 1986:50-53; Eppel 1994:115-117).
However, the new Iraqi Government soon took steps to restore law and order. The leaders of the farhud were jailed or exiled, and some were even executed. An offical committee of enquiry attributed the farhud to a number of factors including German propaganda, and the influence of Palestinian and Syrian exiles led by the Mufti of Jerusalem (Stillman 1991:405-417). The Jewish community was also awarded financial compensation.
Consequently, the traditional leadership of the community was able to retain its commitment to Jewish integration into Iraqi society. However, an increasing number of younger Jews began to turn to either Communist or Zionist solutions. Younger Jews established a Zionist underground movement dedicated to Zionist education, the defence of Jews from further violence, and the organisation of emigration to Palestine (Hillel 1987:11-12; Gat 1997:20-28).
The outbreak of the 1948 Israeli-Arab War crystallised the "precarious" position of Iraqi Jewry. The war coincided with considerable political agitation around the signing of the British-Iraqi Portsmouth Treaty. Both extreme right nationalists and communists campaigned against the continuation of the British presence. The Communist Party had a significant Jewish membership particularly in Baghdad including two key leaders, Yehudah Abraham Zaddiq and Sason Shlomo Dallal. Both would later be hanged by the authorities (Cohen 1973:41-42; Batatu 1978:650-651; Rejwan 1985:230; Shiblak 1986:59-61; Hillel 1987:106-107; Gat 1997:32-33 & 54).
The government took two principal measures to restore political calm. On the one hand, martial law was imposed in order to maintain internal stability including the protection of Jewish life and property from extremists. On the other hand, the government implemented an official anti-Jewish policy of controlled oppression and discrimination.
Jewish freedom of movement was limited, and Jews were forbidden to leave the country. Jews were forced to donate money to assist the Iraqi forces serving in Palestine. Import licences were restricted, Jewish doctors were refused registration, and Jewish banks were forbidden to engage in currency transfers. Wealthy Jews were detained and fined. A law was passed defining Zionism as a criminal offence attracting severe penalties, and all Jews who had departed for Palestine in the last 10 years were declared to be criminals. In addition, government bodies were ordered to dismiss all Jewish employees consisting of approximately 1500 people.
The anti-Jewish policy came to a head in August 1948 with the arrest and execution of the millionaire businessman, Shafiq Ades, chief agent of the Ford company in Iraq. Ades was charged with purchasing surplus military equipment, and allegedly supplying them to Israel. Many Moslem businessmen including Ades's business partners were involved in similar activities, but none of them were charged. The show trial was presided over by Judge Abdullah al-Naasni, a veteran Nazi sympathizer.
The public hanging of Ades shocked the Jewish community. Ades was an assimilated Jew unsympathetic to Zionism who had been on close terms with leading government officials. His fate appeared to indicate the end of hopes for Jewish integration into Iraqi society (Schechtman 1961:101-105; Cohen 1973:33-35; Shiblak 1986:68-70; Gat 1987:394; Hillel 1987:113-114 & 163-165; Kedouri 1989:39-43; Gat 1997:32-40; Tripp 2001:141-142).
Following the Middle East armistice in January 1949, anti-Jewish pressure temporarily eased. However, arrests and discriminatory practices continued. In addition, the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri as-Said tentatively canvassed and then shelved the possibility of expelling the Iraqi Jews, and exchanging them for an equal number of Palestinian Arabs (Hillel 1987:210-213; Gat 1997:46-50).
Subsequently, the government succeeded in locating the key leaders of the Zionist underground movement. Brutal measures including widespread arrests and torture were used to suppress the movement. However, these actions created an internal crisis in the Jewish community which led to the downfall of the traditional leadership, and its replacement by leaders sympathetic to the Zionist agenda. Increasingly, Iraqi Jews considered immigration, rather than integration, as the solution to their problems (Hillel 1987:214-217; Gat 1997:51-67; Tripp 2001:142).
In March 1950, the Iraqis passed a Denaturalization Bill which gave Jews the legal right to immigrate. The Bill recognized an existing reality whereby approximately one thousand Jews were illegally departing each month via the Iranian border. The Bill also reflected a desire to be rid of disloyal elements - whether Zionist or Communist.
The authorities ironically saw the two groups as closely connected despite their inherent political enmity. This seemingly illogical view reflected two factors: the significant number of Jews in the Communist Party, and the Party's support (following the Soviet Union) for the establishment of the State of Israel (Cohen 1973:42; Haim 1978:202; Shiblak 1986:79). The authorities also believed that the departure of Zionist elements would marginalise anti-Jewish extremists. They anticipated that only about 10,000 mainly poorer Jews would elect to depart, and that most Jews (particularly those involved in commerce and finance) would remain (Gat 1997:68-78).
Contrary to claims of a Zionist conspiracy to evacuate Arab Jewish communities, the Israeli Government was initially highly reluctant to absorb a large number of Iraqi Jews.
This perspective partly reflected economic and budgetary realities. For example, Israel was already experiencing severe housing and employment problems in meeting the needs of existing immigrants from post-Holocaust Europe (Hillel 1987:228-231).
In addition, some Zionist leaders openly favoured European Jews ahead of the Iraqi Jews who were regarded as culturally inferior. For example, some Jewish Agency representatives argued that European Jews constituted "better human material" than the Jews of North Africa and the Arab countries (Gat 1997:101-133 & 194).
However, pressure was placed on the Israelis by a number of sources. In particular, the passage of the Property Freezing Law in March 1951 rendered the denaturalized Jews not only stateless, but also penniless. There was also evidence of increasing threats to the safety and lives of remaining Jews (Gat 1997:135-151). Eventually after a number of months of hesitation, the Israeli Government agreed to accelerate the pace of immigration, and transport the entire Jewish community out of Iraq to Israel (Gat 1997:151-159).
The Bombings and the Jewish Exodus
The Jewish exodus from Iraq was influenced by, and coincided with, a wave of bombings which took place between April 1950 and June 1951. These bombings damaged both Jewish and American targets, produced a number of serious injuries, and caused the deaths of six Iraqi Jews.
The motivation behind and responsibility for these bombings remains a contentious issue. According to a number of anti-Zionist authors, the bombings were perpetrated by Zionist agents in order to cause fear amongst the Jews, and so promote their exodus to Israel (Black Panthers 1975:128-132; Hirst 1977:155-164; Eveland 1980:47-49; Wolfsohn 1980:186-201; Shapiro 1984:37-38; Avnery 1986:135-136; Shiblak 1986:119-127; Shohat 1988:12; Giladi 1993; Cohen 1998:111).
Some evidence for this argument is provided by the fact that the Iraqi authorities charged three members of the Zionist underground with perpetrating the explosions. Two Jews were subsequently found guilty and executed, whilst a third was sentenced to a lengthy jail term (Gat 1997:173-175).
In addition, many of the Iraqi Jewish immigrants shared the belief that the bombs had been thrown by the Zionist underground to persuade them to move to Israel (Gat 1997:177). Many years later, Uri Avnery's muckraking newspaper, Haolam Hazeh, would popularise this claim. Avnery's argument was then repeated by numerous anti-Zionist commentators.
Attention has also been drawn to the similarity between this incident, and the 1954 bomb attacks by Zionist agents on American institutions in Egypt. These attacks would be featured in what became known as the Lavon Affair (Melman & Raviv 1989:64-68; Gat 1997:61 & 186-187). However, the later attacks were arguably different in content and motivation in that they did not target or injure Jews, but rather damaged British and American institutions in an attempt to tarnish Egypt's reputation in the West.
In contrast, the historian Moshe Gat argues convincingly (in my opinion) that there was little direct connection between the bombings and exodus. He demonstrates that the frantic and massive Jewish registration for denaturalisation and departure was driven by knowledge that the denaturalisation law was due to expire in March 1951.
He also notes the influence of further pressures including the property-freezing law, and continued anti-Jewish disturbances which raised the fear of large-scale pogroms. In addition, it is highly unlikely the Israelis would have taken such measures to accelerate the Jewish evacuation given that they were already struggling to cope with the existing level of Jewish immigration (Gat 1987:395; Gat 1997:182-187; also Meir-Galitzenstein 1988:235).
Gat also raises serious doubts about the guilt of the alleged Jewish bombthrowers. Firstly, a Christian officer in the Iraqi army known for his anti-Jewish views, was arrested, but apparently not charged, with the offences. A number of explosive devices similar to those used in the attack on the Jewish synagogue were found in his home. In addition, there was a long history of anti-Jewish bomb-throwing incidents in Iraq.
Secondly, the prosecution was not able to produce even one eyewitness who had seen the bombs thrown. Thirdly, the Jewish defendant Shalom Salah indicated in court that he had been severely tortured in order to procure a confession (Gat 1997:180-181 & 187-188; Gat 2000:11-13; also Hillel 1987:277-282; Meron 1995:51).
It therefore remains an open question as to who was responsible for the bombings, although Gat suggests that the most likely perpetrators were members of the anti-Jewish Istiqlal Party (Gat 1997:187; Gat 2000:20). Certainly memories and intepretations of the events have further been influenced and distorted by the unfortunate discrimination which many Iraqi Jews experienced on their arrival in Israel (Black Panthers 1975:132-133; Shohat 1988; Swirski 1989; Massad 1996).
Why did the Jews Leave?
To summarize, the massive and rapid Jewish exodus from Iraq arguably reflected a combination of push and pull factors. The key push factor was the strength of popular anti-Jewish feeling which was heightened by the 1948 Israeli-Arab war. Increasingly, Jews were viewed as a potential fifth column whose real sympathies lay with the enemies of Iraq.
These feelings were intentionally exploited and strengthened by deliberate government policies which deprived Jews of their civil and economic rights (Kedourie 1989:49-50). On the one hand, the authorities cynically scapegoated Iraqi Jews in order to deflect attention from their military failures in Palestine. On the other hand, they appear to have held a genuine belief that the departure of a significant number of Jews would both contribute to a lowering of the communist threat, and undermine one of the key propaganda themes of the extreme right.
The Palestinian intellectual Edward Said describes this "wholesale persecution of communities, preeminently but not exclusively the Jewish ones" as reflecting a "xenophobic enthusiasm officially decreeing that these and other designated alien communities had to be extracted by force from our midst" (Said 2001:208-209).
An important role was also played by the Zionist underground movement which increasingly succeeded in convincing the Jewish community that emigration offered the best solution to their problems (Kedourie 1970:311-312). In doing so, they openly encouraged and arguably aggravated the existing tensions in the relationship between Jews and the wider Iraqi society (Gat 1997:193). However, the Zionist agenda only moved from the margins to the centre of Jewish life precisely because of the push factors described above (Hillel 1987:110-111).
The existence of the State of Israel as a potential place of refuge also provided the Iraqi Jews with a new and attractive option which they had not enjoyed at the time of the 1941 pogrom or during earlier periods of persecution (Cohen 1973:35).
Comparing the Jewish Exodus and the Palestinian Exodus
The Israelis and their supporters have often argued that the experience of the Jewish refugees can be equated with that of the Palestinian refugees. Both left their countries due to violence or threats of violence. Unlike the Palestinians, however, who remained in refugee camps rather than being offered homes elsewhere, the Jewish refugees were welcomed and resettled in the Jewish State of Israel. Their settlement inside Israel constitutes (so the argument goes) a direct and legitimate exchange of populations.
The Arab view is almost dichotomous. The Jewish refugees were respected and equal citizens of Arab countries, but were persuaded to leave by malicious Zionist propaganda. Unlike the Palestinian refugees, they left voluntarily and are welcome to return at any time.
As the above discussion has demonstrated, neither of these perspectives reflects the complexity of the Jewish exodus. To be sure, there are some superficial similarities between the two exoduses. However, the differences between the two exoduses are arguably far more significant.
Firstly, the Palestinian expulsion occurred under conditions of external war and conflict, whereas the Jewish departure from Iraq primarily reflected internal political developments. In addition, the Jewish departure reflected far more diverse factors. As already noted, many Jews were strongly motivated by Zionist beliefs, and voluntarily left Iraq for Israel (Tessler 1994:309).
Secondly, the two exoduses did not concur chronologically. The Jewish exodus from Iraq and other Arab countries took place a number of years after the Palestinian exodus. There is no evidence that the Israeli leadership anticipated a so-called population exchange when they made their arguably harsh decision to prevent the return of Palestinian refugees (Morris 1987:254-255).
Thirdly, it is important to remember that the Arab States, not the Palestinians, were responsible for the Jewish exodus.
Finally, Israel agreed to accept the Jewish refugees who subsequently integrated with varying degrees of success into Israeli society, and looked towards the future. Unlike the Palestinians, most of the Jewish refugees had little or no desire to return to their former homes in Baghdad or elsewhere. In contrast, the Arab states refused to facilitate an organized resettlement of Palestinian refugees. Consequently, most looked backwards, and held onto hopes of a return to Palestine (Segre 1971:126). This analysis demonstrates that the two exoduses are not identical in motivation and cause, and should be considered separately.
On the one hand, Arab denial of the contribution made by anti-Jewish hostility to the Jewish exodus from Iraq and elsewhere is insensitive and ahistorical. Jewish refugees from Arab lands should be entitled to some form of compensation for abandoned lands and property. There is no reason why organisations such as the World Organisation of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC) should not be formally represented in negotiations between Israel and the Arab states (Goldberg 1999; Khalidi 1999:235).
On the other hand, it is equally insensitive for Israel to use the experience of the Jewish refugees as a justification for its treatment of the Palestinian refugees. The latter group also have a justifiable claim for financial compensation (Mendes 1996:96; Mendes 1997:208).
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Wednesday, October 15, 2008
JERUSALEM (JTA) – The rioting in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Akko, which erupted after an Arab man drove through a Jewish neighborhood on Yom Kippur, shows just how combustible Arab-Jewish relations in Israel are. Yet after four successive nights of clashes, in which rampaging Arabs stoned Jewish-owned shops and cars as Jewish mobs torched Arab homes, there was no sign of the violence spreading to other mixed-ethnic cities such as Haifa, Jaffa, Nazareth or Lod.
Nor did the current Jewish-Arab tensions appear likely to reach the proportions they did following October 2000, when Israeli police shot dead 12 Israeli Arabs and a visitor from the West Bank in clashes across northern Israel that coincided with the launching of the second Palestinian intifada.
But the rioting in Akko is more than an isolated violent episode in need of containment. Even if the rioting abates, it is sounding warning bells for the Israeli government. Jewish-Arab tensions in Akko and in the country as a whole have been simmering under the surface for years. The rioting was an expression of Arab frustration and Jewish mistrust.
The latest trouble started on the eve of Yom Kippur, Oct. 8. On this holiest day of the Jewish calendar, everything in Israel comes to a halt. For the duration of the 25-hour fast, businesses and places of entertainment are shuttered, and the roads are virtually free of cars. Even completely secular Jews and non-Jewish Israelis refrain from driving in Jewish neighborhoods. Click here to read more online at JTA.org.
See also this from the Jerusalem Post: "Arab-Jewish coexistence groups remain committed to staying the course in Acre."
Monday, October 13, 2008
First, here are a few select quotes from the interview:
Friday, October 10, 2008
After the establishment of Israel in 1948, a massive exodus of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab lands took place, extending into the mid-1960s. Whether Jews were driven out in reprisal for the Israeli victory in its War of Independence, which resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians or left voluntarily, encouraged or even prodded by Zionist organizations seeking immigrants to increase the Jewish population of Israel, is in dispute. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. But was it only the success of the Zionist project that accounted for this exodus, or were other factors at work?
Arab spokespersons often claim that Jews lived in peace and security under Arab rule and that it was only the anti-Arab nature of Zionism that provoked Arab hostility toward Jews in their midst. This claim is untrue. When European countries colonized the Middle East in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, these societies were dominated by clerics who harbored anti-Jewish attitudes based on the Koran as well as by reactionary rulers who occasionally made scapegoats of Jews to divert popular unrest, tolerating or permitting anti-Jewish violence and looting.
Maxine Rodinson, a Marxist intellectual who became a scholar of the Islamic world, confirms the harsh treatment visited on Jews by pre-colonial elites and the existence of popular anti-Jewish sentiment. Arab clerics were known to accuse Jews of ritual murder. Sunni Muslims held Jews responsible for inventing Shi'ism, which they considered a heresy.
"In various Muslim countries," writes Rodinson, "public signs of contempt were attached to Jews and the most difficult and repugnant jobs were reserved for them." See Cult, Ghetto an State: The Persistence of the Jewish Question (1981), p. 186. Morocco, with by far the largest Jewish community in the Arab world, was the worst case. Jews were forced to live in ghettos, suffered public humiliation, and were conscripted for forced labor, even on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. British scholar, Edward Lane, living in Egypt in the mid 19th century, wrote "many a Jew has been put to death upon a false and malicious accusation of uttering disrespectful words against the Koran or the Prophet."
It is absolutely true that Jews fared better in Arab/Muslim lands than in Christian ones for many centuries. The most notorious pogroms, massacres and genocides all occurred in Europe. Yet the status of Jews in Arab lands was "second class" at best, whereas, by the 19th century, Jews attained legal equality and greater freedoms in the West.
Modernity came to the Middle East and North Africa in the form of European colonialism. Whereas most Jews welcomed Western influence as a liberating force, most Arabs feared it as a foreign imposition, a threat to their religious traditions and political independence. Jews (and Christians) in the region were more sympathetic to European intervention than Arabs or Muslims for two reasons: (1) they were already alienated from their Arab homelands due to official discrimination and popular prejudice, and (2) they looked to their coreligionists in Western Europe for protection. For Jews in Arab lands, French Jews assumed this role, advocating for greater rights; and European powers also pressed Arab rulers to lift restrictions on Jews.
Beginning in 1860, French Jews spread Enlightenment ideas among Jews in the Arab Middle East through the Alliance Israelite Universelle, an organization that established hundreds of schools promoting French language and culture. French influence was most pronounced in Algeria, which became a French colony in the 1830s.
In 1870, due to the efforts of the prominent French Jewish statesman and Minister of Justice, Isaac-Adolphe Cremieux, Algerian Jews were granted French citizenship. Many Jews in neighboring Tunisia and Morocco, which also came under French control, sought and managed to obtain French citizenship as well. In Egypt, which became a British colony in 1882, Jews eagerly acquired citizenship from a range of European powers. In Iraq, which became a British mandate after World War I, Jews unsuccessfully petitioned the British government to become British subjects. Throughout the Middle East, Jews profited from their European orientation by acquiring a Western education and developing business ties with the West. Some Arabs took a similar route, but the majority suffered under colonialism and resented Jews for their success.
Arab nationalists who opposed both the traditional Arab elites and their European patrons sometimes appealed for Jewish support in their struggle against colonialism, but for the most part, they chose to emphasize their Arab and Muslim credentials in order to appeal to the Arab masses. Lucette Valensi, a Tunisian Jew who immigrated to France and became a scholar of the Islamic world, observes that Arab secular nationalism had no appeal for the minority of Jews who were committed to overthrowing colonial rule. The memoirs of Tunisian-born novelist Albert Memmi's give the same impression. If anti-colonialist Jews were alienated by Arab nationalism, how much the more so for the overwhelming majority of Jews, who sought the protection of the colonial powers or of powerful Arab rulers promising to protect them from mob violence?
As Arab regimes began to win independence from the colonial powers, beginning in the 1930s, Jews were gradually squeezed out of the government jobs and contracts they had won under colonial rule and were forced to learn Arabic in place of Hebrew and French, in which they were fluent. Their outsider status became painfully obvious. To escape discriminatory treatment and in search of better economic opportunities, they began to emigrate to France and other European countries. Algerian independence in 1962, for example, was a great victory for the Arab Algerians and the world wide struggle against European colonialism, but it spelled the end of the Jewish community there. Within a few years nearly all of Algeria’s Jews departed for France.
These trends were well under way before Jewish settlement in Palestine under the 1917 British mandate became a major issue and well before the Zionist movement gained a foothold among Jews in Arab lands. With the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, Arab attitudes toward Jews worsened as German anti-Semitic propaganda flooded the Arab world. It is perhaps understandable that many Arab nationalists, suffering under the British and French colonial yoke, looked to Germany as an ally, but their adoption of Nazi-style anti-Semitism made it impossible for Jews to cooperate with Arab nationalists against colonialism.
Between 1937 and 1939, a rash of bombings against Jewish targets occurred in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. These acts of violence were not the doing of the Arab governments, but neither were the perpetrators caught and punished. In 1941, in Iraq, the most prosperous Jewish community in the Middle East, a massive pogrom broke out during an anti-British, pro-German coup. Arab soldiers, paramilitary groups, and urban mobs killed 180 Jews, destroyed many homes and businesses, and left twelve thousand homeless. When order was restored, the pro-British Iraqi government condemned the violence, but Iraqi Jews had good reason to fear for their future. During the German occupation of Tunisia during World War Two, five thousand Jews were sent to labor camps, where half died. Jewish property was confiscated and Jews were subjected to periodic mob attacks. Many Arabs served the Germans as prison guards and police, informed on Jews to Nazi officials, and participated in pogroms. There were righteous Arabs as well who protected and saved Jews, but most Arabs were indifferent to their fate.
After World War Two, but before the United Nations resolution for the partitioning of Palestine in November 1947, riots broke out in Egypt against Jews, Christians, and foreigners. The government apologized but took no steps to curb antisemitic propaganda emanating from Muslim clerics and Egyptian nationalists. In Libya, massive rioting killed 130 Jews, injured hundreds more, destroyed synagogues, and left four thousand Jews homeless. Opposition to the Jewish presence in Palestine was not the root cause of these outbursts.
Jews in Arab lands who survived these persecutions lost faith in Europe and became ardent Zionists. When Israel was created, the long-suffering 44,000 Jews of Yemen departed for the new Jewish state en masse between 1948 and 1950, and 31,000 out of 36,000 Libyan Jews left in a stampede between 1949 and 1951. No amount of Zionist propaganda could have caused such a sudden evacuation.
The situation in Iraq was more complicated. There, Zionist emissaries worked feverishly to speed the departure of the Jewish population, and the Iraqi government did little to reassure Jews that they could safely remain. By this time, Jews in North Africa (Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco) were better treated, yet they departed nonetheless during the 1950s and early ‘60s due both to their fear of Arab nationalism and the encouragement of Israeli agents. Many chose France or Canada over Israel as their destination, so it could not have been Israeli propaganda alone that caused them to emigrate. There was no ambiguity in Egypt, however, when in 1956, it expelled its entire Jewish population.
In sum, the Arab-Israeli conflict was but one cause of the disappearance of Jews from Arab lands. Jews and Arabs experienced European colonialism differently – the former, as an opportunity to improve their status; the latter, as a threat to theirs. Jewish foreign ties and economic success angered the Arab Muslim majority, and this anger reinforced the tendency among Jews to seek the protection of the colonial power or the patronage of friendly but corrupt pro-colonial Arab leaders. Arab nationalists correctly perceived Jews as pro-European but failed to launch any serious effort to win them over. Instead some adopted anti-Semitic rhetoric imported from Nazi Germany. After the creation of Israel, Arab hostility to Jews in their midst increased. Jews in Arab lands, whether pushed out by Arab pressure or pulled in by the lure of Israel or the West, left their ancestral homelands forever.
Is it fair, however, to equate the exodus of Jews from Arab lands with that of Palestinians from Israel in 1947-1949? If "they" did it to "us" does that justify what "we" did to "them?" Two wrongs never made a right, but beyond that basic moral principle, the circumstances were different. Palestinians did not want to leave. Jews did. Outright expulsion, as suffered by the Palestinians, was the exception rather than the rule. Israel and the Zionist movement encouraged the "ingathering of exiles." Nothing justifies the harsh treatment meted out to Jews in Arab lands, but most left voluntarily.
To this day, anti-Semitic propaganda is rife in the Arab world and within Palestine itself, especially in areas under the rule of Hamas. The harshness and duration of the Israeli occupation and Israel's self-identification as a Jewish state does not help Palestinians or other Arabs distinguish between opposing Israel and hating Jews. Yet a mature national liberation movement has the duty to make these distinctions and to differentiate between Jews who seek to oppress Palestinians and those who seek to work with them toward achieving justice for both peoples. The failure of Palestinian and Arab leaders to repudiate anti-Semitism decisively and emphatically does not inspire confidence among Israeli Jews and plays into the hands of those who wish to prevent a just peace that recognizes Palestinian national rights.
Bennett Muraskin is a union official in New Jersey and a writer active in Jewish secularist circles. His writings are occasionally published in Meretz USA’s ISRAEL HORIZONS magazine. This is adapted, with minor modification, from the article published in the summer 2008 issue of Humanistic Judaism.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
... Last July, I interviewed Louis Michel for the Belgian Jewish monthly Contact J. ... Michel, a leader of the Liberal Party, is a highly regarded statesman, a former Belgian foreign minister and the current European commissioner for development and humanitarian aid. We talked about human rights in the Palestinian territories. Michel claimed that the Israeli government shows no understanding of the matter and tramples the basic rights of the Palestinians.
After a long tirade against Israeli actions in the West Bank, he burst into a passionate plea against what he saw as an intolerable mixing up by many Jews between legitimate criticism of a government and an assault against the very existence and legitimacy of the people and state this government represents: "I am a victim of this confusion, in the way I am accused of anti-Semitism each time I speak out against Israel's policies. I always was, I still am and I'll always be a genuine friend of Israel and of the Jewish community of my country, but I can no longer tolerate being insulted by members of the community." ...
The Belgian political class does not understand the sensitivity of the Jewish community, which tends to see verbal attacks against "their" state as an avatar of the old threats, rooted in old prejudice, against their people. The Jews often do not grasp the difference between criticism of a sovereign state whose policies might be considered problematic – and sheer anti-Semitism. In this gap of perceptions lies the problem.
This is not only a Belgian problem, not even a solely Jewish problem. In the whole of Europe, the strong national ethos has given way to an array of antagonistic communal feelings and demands. It feels as if the effort to create a set of values shared by all has vanished, only to be overcome by particular identities fighting each other for mutually exclusive recognition and respect.
What is to be done? To be sure, putting an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be helpful. In the meantime, one should negotiate red lines compatible with a democratic way of life.
We Jews need to be more prepared to accept criticism in line with what Israelis themselves direct toward their own regime. But by the same token, Europeans should be careful not to confuse Israel with the Jewish citizens of Europe. Nor should they confuse criticism with xenophobia, and must distinguish between rejection of the ephemeral policies of an elected Israeli government and an attempt to deny Jews the freedom to their own state. It is not okay to deny Jews the human rights to which every people is entitled; it is okay to debate achieving a solution that will restore and preserve the human rights of both Palestinians and Israelis. These should be the red lines of the public discourse.
Monday, October 06, 2008
Still, this is after first praising Martillo in the same post for being "spot on" regarding another matter. Phil explains that this is why he links to Martillo on his blogroll; so I don't expect him to stop linking. Even so, judging by comments posted by readers, some of Phil's fans are giving him a hard time for even criticizing Martillo. And he's merely criticizing Martillo, not denouncing him, because antisemitism is apparently not very troubling for Phil.
In Phil's prior post (he copiously piles on posts like cordwood), cleverly entitled "The Neocon Shell Game Used Liberal Shells," Phil is still cynically casting doubt on our motives regarding the Meretz USA decision that the Iraq war was not part of our mandate, despite my explanation.
McCarthy-like, he actually asked me to name names of who voted for and against. I don't even recall who was in the room five years ago. I had to be one of the few board members at the time who hoped for the overthrow of Saddam (albeit entirely for humanitarian reasons). But as I told him in an email some months ago, once the UN Security Council had voted against military action, I felt that unilateral US-led action against Iraq was a bad idea.
I sent him a statement written by Meretz USA’s director, Ron Skolnik, and he found a way to use it against us on his blog:
Skolnik: Knee-jerk support for Israeli government policy and actions isn't right, and it isn't smart: This year's [Meretz USA] Israel Symposium participants neither overlooked nor absolved Israel's mistakes and flaws: They recognized them as part of a three-dimensional reality in which all parties – Palestinians, the greater Arab world, the US, et al. – have too frequently blundered and erred.My email response was to express astonishment that our statements against the occupation and for Palestinian rights have been received as if they were pro-Likud screeds (especially by his readers posting comments). "This illustrates how you and your readers are so extreme; we either go along with you 100 percent or we are the enemy. You turn our dovishness into an attack on us."
Weiss: I think this is pathetic lukewarm language.
He then challenged me to "Show me the condemnation of the pogroms against Palestinian farmers. ... I will be happy to eat my words."
I immediately responded with this: http://www.meretzusa.org/meretz-against-settler-violence! He took back his words – to a degree – but he still went fishing for something he could object to on our Web site. He noted that we don’t see it as part of our mission of educating on Israeli-Arab peace issues to take a position on the Iraq war:
It's pathetic. They can't even come out against the Iraq war! Oh my god. This obviously shows the extent to which U.S. militancy against the Arab world hasI had to explain that we're a 501c (3) non-profit that cannot take stands on US political issues, but he prefers to make this into but another reason to attack us as Zionists guilty of "dual loyalty."
gained support within the Jewish community.
Hopefully, he will post my reply, in which I relate in part that: "Jeremiah Gutman, a civil liberties attorney and president of Meretz USA when he passed away a few years ago, was a staunch opponent of the Iraq war. I recall that he constantly wore a big button proclaiming: ‘He lied, they died’."
In the meantime, Phil Weiss' attacks on the Zionist peace camp render no help to either the cause of peace or any humanitarian concern for the Palestinians. But the point for Phil, apparently, is to score points, showing his adoring readers how "progressive" he is.
Friday, October 03, 2008
Sometimes Weiss argues for justice for the Palestinians. At other times, the high-minded stuff goes out the window and you get a crude gut reaction that expresses narrow self-interest and fear, such as: "As for one-state/two-state, I don't care: All I want is self-determination for 4 million Palestinians, or our buildings will get blown up." (What does this say of how Phil really feels about Palestinians or other Arabs?)
We engaged in a public dialogue with Phil last year and he occasionally gives us a civil nod, but often we are simply a whipping boy for he and his confreres to flog on his blog as either ill-intentioned or deluded "Zionists." This exercise raises my blood pressure, but its main challenge is that most of his contributors and readers are so hidebound and extreme in their beliefs.
I’ve debated Phil via email and in several instances, he and some of his collaborators on his blog site. These are links to our online debates:
http://www.philipweiss.org/mondoweiss/2008/10/universalism-doesnt-require-us-to-turn-our-backs-on-our-people.html?cid=133196267#commentsPhil links with the extreme anti-Zionist blogger Joachim Martillo. If you’ve got the stomach for it, you can judge for yourself whether he is an antisemite or just someone who goes off the deep end. Martillo claims to be Jewish, but his Web postings and his comments drip so heavily of invective on "Zionist Jews," with dark predictions of what will happen when gentiles get wise to them, that he seems antisemitic to me. I understand from colleagues that his wife, who’s in the same "business" of virulent anti-Zionist activism, is even worse.
I asked Phil what he thinks about the antisemitic comments that he attracts; he responded that he’s concerned but doesn’t see this as a reason to modify his views. His blog, with its constant drum beat on the evil influences of "Zionism" and the "Israel Lobby," is a veritable petrie dish for cultivating hatred. When I challenged him for linking to Martillo’s site on his blogroll, and for commenting approvingly of Gilad Atzmon, an expatriate Israeli who inveighs not only against Israel and Zionism but also against Jews and Judaism, this is how Phil responded: "I don't study Martillo or Atzmon, but I find they have interesting ideas...."
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
At this point in time, prospects for peace in the Middle East seem discouraging at best. Based on the pubic records, the peace process appears to be at a standstill with little being accomplished.
The most recent attempt at a comprehensive peace settlement ended in abysmal failure at the end of the 20th century resulting in even more violence. The challenge is to go beyond the traditional top-down diplomacy dependent on the whims and idiosyncrasies of individual leaders and build a more solid and enduring foundation for peace based on the people themselves. Consider these examples from the public record as a clue to a way to create such a foundation and to resolve the crisis:
1. “In Chaos, Palestinians Struggle for a Way Out,” James Bennett, NY Times, 7/15/04 A:1:
... a contest is under way [by the Palestinians] between ... those who would destroy Israel and those who would live beside it.
2. “Isolated and Angry, Gaza Battles Itself, Too, James Bennett, NY Times, 7/16/04 A:12)
Mr. Dahlan ... asked if Palestine wanted to go the way of Iraq or Libya. Palestinians could either build a model in Gaza, or embrace chaos and destruction.... Are we going to have war or peace?... It was time, he said, to choose [italics added].
3. "Why They Hate Us, Really," Russell Mead, April, 2004, NY Times:
In his op-ed piece he claimed that the large majority of people he spoke to in various Arab countries were ready to tolerate the existence of the Jewish state of Israel. Exactly how representative that sample is of the entire population is, of course, open to question.
"Live from Gaza: A New View of Israel" (Daoud Kuttab, Institute of Modern Media, Al-Quds University, NY Times, 8/21/05):
The dramatic scenes from Gaza should lead us all to double our efforts to ensure that Palestinians can be free in an independent state alongside a safe and secure Israel.
1. “Can Militants Make Peace?” (Time Magazine, 2/6/06):
According to the article, Palestinians voted for Hamas not in support of its terrorist goals but to end domestic corruption. No mechanism was suggested for testing this hypothesis.
2. “Extreme Victory” (Newsweek, 2/6/06):
According to this article, Opinion polls say most Palestinians, even among those who voted for Hamas, want a decent peace deal and not endless conflict. Again no mechanism was suggested for testing this claim.
3. “Is Hamas Ready to Deal” (NY Times, 8/17/06) by Scott Atran, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and the University of Michigan:
In his column, Atran claims that Hamas is ready to be reasonable and end its all-or-nothing call for the destruction of Israel. Whether he was right then or, if so, still is at present, are separate issues.
4. "The Big Lie about the Middle East: Tell James Baker: Arab nations don't care about the Palestinians," Lisa Beyer, Time, December 18, 2006:
The Israelis and Palestinians aren't going to make peace until they have brave, inspiring leaders, which they don't, and when they are sick of fighting, which they aren't.
1. "The Women’s Channel," Walter Isaacson, Time, January 22, 2007:
If a suitable framework for a Palestinian state is reached, Abbas would then go to his people with a referendum: Do you want it or not? He is convinced that more than 70% would vote yes, thus marginalizing the Hamas resisters. Olmert would do the same, and probably get close to the same support....
2. "Anniversary of 1967 War Highlights Lasting Divisions," Isabel Kershner, NY Times, June 6, 2007:
Another Palestinian writer, Bassem al-Nabris, a poet from Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip, wrote in the Arabic electronic newspaper Elaph that if there was a referendum in the Gaza Strip on the question of whether people would like the Israeli occupation to return, half the population would vote 'yes.' But in practice, he continued, I believe that the number of those in favor is at least 70 percent, if not more.'
3. "Her Jewish State," Roger Cohen, NY Times Magazine, July 8, 2007:
Saeb Erekat, Palestinian Negotiations Department: There are 70-percent-plus of Palestinians who go with the two-state solution, even if nearly 50 percent of the Palestinians voted for Hamas...It's time for decisions.
4. "Hamas Fighters Training Abroad, Israeli Army Says," Steve Erlanger, NY Times, 8/28/07 A12:
Israel and Mr. Abbas have an opportunity the general [Moshe Kaplinksy, Israeli Army deputy chief of staff] said. It's maybe even a new era. But the Palestinians have to decide where they're going, if they want the situation as in Gaza or not.
1. "Support for 2-State Plan Erodes as Year Winds Down on Talks," Isabel Kershner, NY Times, September 4, A10:
Palestinian public opinion polls show a clear majority still favors a two-state solution and the Fatah establishment remains committed to it, according to Khalil Shikaki, a well-respected political analyst in Ramallah.
Dr. Feinman's narrative continues:
The pattern is clear. People at the ordinary level are tired of the violence. They would like to live normal lives. They often vote with their feet to leave the region since there is no prospect for peace at present. No one can impose peace in the Middle East. The violence will not cease because distant leaders mouth pretty words of peace in hollow tribunals and pass meaningless resolutions that serve no constructive purpose except to inflate the egos of organizations that have chosen to be irrelevant to the peace process. Hints, between-the-line innuendos, winks, lies, and differences in the words spoken in English for global consumption and those spoken in native tongues for home consumption will not bring about peace. There must be more to the peace process than accumulating frequent flyer miles or the desire for revenge.
It should be easy to confirm the validity of the claims that the peoples are ready to live in peace. The mechanism is called the vote. The time has come to let the voices of the people themselves be heard. No roadmap for peace is necessary if the people do not want to journey. No shuttle diplomacy is required if the people involved do not seek peace. Why should outsiders be held accountable for the peace if the peoples themselves won’t even go on record as wanting peace?
Can leaders lead where the people have yet to express a wish to go? What do the peoples want?
Do they want to push each other into the sea and/or transfer the other from the land? Are they willing to grant the other the same rights they demand for themselves? Do they want more of the same?
We need to create a mechanism to express the voice of the people trapped in silence. We need to create a mechanism for the voice of the people to be heard by all the world. We need to create a mechanism that witnesses the desire by the people for either peace or violence. The time is long overdue. The time for the voice of the people themselves to be heard is now. It is time for a bold action to break through the stale rhythm of clichéd public relations notices.
In the Bible there is the touching story of the Isaac and Ishmael reunited at the grave of their father Abraham ... then again there is the story of Cain and Abel. Palestinians and Israelis vote. The choice is simple: Cain and Abel or Isaac and Ishmael? Vote. The world has been held hostage long enough.