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Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Whitewashed’: The Sordid Story of UK Labour Party Antisemitism Laid Bare

A still from “Whitewashed: Antisemitism in the Labour Party.”

“Just sitting in the early morning light, looking out over my beautiful garden, and thinking how much I love this country that gave my family refuge in 1906,” Judith Ornstein — the co-producer of the joint book/documentary project “Whitewashed: Antisemitism in the Labour Party” — wrote to me in an email today. “I don’t know how it has come to this.”

Most British Jews who have been, or are still, members of the Labour Party will have an inkling of how Ornstein feels. For decades, loyalty to the Labour Party was a defining feature of British Jewish life. But in the era of Jeremy Corbyn, the days when someone like the late Jewish parliamentarian Ian Mikardo could be dubbed a “left-wing firebrand” while still remaining a committed and active Zionist, seem as part of a distant, misty past.

“Whitewashed,” in that sense, is very much a creature of its time: the present period, when the Labour Party’s image among Jews has collapsed amid a continued stream of antisemitism scandals. How bad is the relationship? Put it this way — despite the legendary hold of the Democratic Party over American Jewish political life, more American Jews voted for Donald Trump in 2016 than did British Jews for Corbyn in 2017.

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To many observers, the relationship appears beyond repair — at least for as long as Corbyn, currently on a long honeymoon with British public opinion, remains Labour’s leader. And that is why “Whitewashed” is so important, and why it will endure as a representation of what life in Corbyn’s Labour Party is like for anyone who doesn’t believe that the Jewish state of Israel is a living curse upon humanity. As the wonderful British Jewish novelist Howard Jacobson put it, holding up his middle finger to the audience at Monday night’s London premiere of the documentary, “that was what Corbyn was saying to all of us who complained.”

The film’s narrator and writer, David Hirsh, has done a terrific job of presenting a deeply complex issue in clear, urgent terms even to viewers with only a passing familiarity with the Labour Party and its works. While “Whitewashed” occasionally strays onto “inside-the-Beltway” territory, the lasting impression it leaves is that British Jews have been scorned and abandoned not by just any old political party, but one that strides like a colossus across the last century and a half of British history. It’s the National Health Service, it’s the expansion of higher education, it’s the flowering of British pop culture. And under Corbyn, that heritage feels like it belongs to British Jews least of all.

In other words, it’s painful.

The film — which you can watch below — centers on 2016’s internal inquiry into antisemitism in the Labour Party, which led to the infamous “Chakrabarti Report.” As Hirsh tellingly points out, the only visible beneficiary of the report was its author, civil rights advocate Shami Chakrabarti, who was quickly elevated by Corbyn to the House of Lords –Britain’s upper parliamentary chamber — after she ensured that the issue of Labour’s antisemitism had been adequately “whitewashed.”

All the individuals who appear in the film submitted evidence to Chakrabarti’s investigation (collected in the book available here.) All of them have considerable experience and understanding of antisemitism, as academics or as Labour Party activists or both. All of them were ignored by Chakrabarti and her team without so much as an acknowledgement of their efforts.

A great deal of the material Chakrabarti was presumed to be examining was far removed from the complicated political debate over what qualifies as reasonable criticism of Israeli policies towards the Palestinians and what is antisemitic. Arguably, the sheer crudeness of the antisemitism scandals was before anything else an embarrassment to the Labour Party, which, as the film shows, became a natural political home for crackpots like Jackie Walker and her ilk – purveyors of conspiracy theories about “Jewish financing of the Atlantic slave trade,” ISIS as a front for “Zionist” interests, semi-literate jokes about wealthy Jews with dubious “Zionist” loyalties, and so on.

Would it have been difficult for Chakrabarti (a person much admired by a good number of the individuals in the film) to have uncomplicatedly called out this garbage for what it was? The film leaves little doubt that antisemitism was the issue that Chakrabarti was least interested in. More important for her was preserving a degree of distance from the fray for Labour’s leaders — a tricky task when you’ve got the Corbynista former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, ranting on the BBC about how Adolf Hitler supported Zionism one year before he actually came to power.

In tandem, Chakrabarti was determined to keep the underlying political culture in which antisemitism flourishes away from serious scrutiny. Many Britons are now experiencing Corbyn as the prophet of anti-austerity; but sadly, as has too often been the case on the left, such politics are invariably matched with “solidarity” for dictators both dead (Saddam Hussein ) and alive (Bashar al-Assad) and for terrorist groups (Corybn’s “friends,” Hamas and Hezbollah).

Against that context, Labour’s hostility towards Jews — for being more “white” than “ethnic,” for their visibility in cultural, political and commercial life, and most of all, for their emotional and political attachment to an “apartheid state” that “massacres” Palestinian civilians in Gaza — seems a lot less unexpected.

This is where “Whitewashed” is at its most powerful. The film demonstrates that a combination of lies, distortions, hearsay and what the American social psychologist Gordon Allport called the “law of least effort” — taken together, the lifeblood of antisemitism — all nourish the Corbyn Labour Party’s fixation with supposed Judaic malice.

As sobering as the film is, “Whitewashed” is not — at least as far as the film’s producers are concerned — the last word on a matter that is now closed. To the contrary, the Labour Party now has a moral duty to offer its perspective on the insights gleaned from this film, publicly and visibly. I’d like to think Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, Ken Livingstone and all those other Labour Party figures who have twisted serious charges of antisemitism into reputational smears — what Hirsh calls “The Livingstone Formulation” — will have the courage to watch this film. Perhaps the fact that no one expects them to will encourage them, for once, to do the right thing.

Watch “Whitewashed: Antisemitism in the Labour Party” below:


DAR BEN-ATTIA, GABES, 2e GUERRE MONDIALE - 1ere partie

DAR BEN-ATTIA, GABES, 2e GUERRE MONDIALE

(1ère Partie)

Le couple Gracia et Eliahou Ben-Attia eurent trois garçons. Itsh'ak, Khamous et Nissim. Eliahou était un jeune homme quand il était venu à Gabès,  de Lybie, et durant un siècle et demi et des mariages presqu'exclusivement entre cousins germains, les Ben-Attia avaient formé une tribu. Là-bas, les grandes familles recevaient le titre de Dar (Maison). Ce titre leur était donné par les autres car certains ne portaient pas leur nom de famille. Il y avait la Dar Mimoun, Dar Seroussi, et dans notre cas Dar Ben-Attia. Ma Mère m'a dit un jour que la famille du ministre Sylvain Shalom était surnommée Dar-el-Kadi (la maison du Juge).

Il s'était créé un lien excellent entre Dar Ben-Attia et cette ville-oasis située aux confins du  Sahara , sur un beau golfe qui porte son nom. Certains membres s'étaient distingués par leur service à leur communauté.  Jusqu'aux années 40, la 2e guerre Mondiale et le nationalisme arabe, il y eut un bouleversement qui changea des règles centenaires.

Après la Guerre, commença l'exile vers le Nord,  vers la capitale puis la traversée de la  Méditerranée pour s'établir en France ou en Israël. L'histoire de certains membres de cette "tribu" et la disparition d'autres, avant l'heure, pendant la Guerre, seront le sujet de notre travail ici.

Issh'ak eut 4 garçons et 3 filles, Khamous, son frère eut 4 garçons et 4 filles.

C'était aux temps où les parents choisissaient le conjoint de leur enfant sans que les héros n'aient vu  l'un l'autre avant la rencontre sous la Houpa.  Quoi de plus rassurant pour un  frère que d'aller choisir chez l'autre, le bonheur de leurs enfants.  Voyons maintenant un de ces échanges, je dirai presque un Croisement,  de 2 couples de cousins germains  Ainsi Roubine fils de Isshak épousa Bheila fille de Khamous et Sarina sœur de Roubine épousa Abraham , frère de Bheila. Ce couple fut mes grands-parents.  Il n'était pas facile de décrire graphiquement les liens de parenté des générations et les problèmes d'hérédité que ces liens pouvaient créer. Heureusement, à la base, ces gens-là devaient être d'une bonne santé. Plus tard, avec l'appréhension des lois de l'hérédité, ces liens se faisaient de plus en plus rares.

Pour surmonter la difficulté de tracer un diagramme de ces liens familiaux, j'ai dû me résoudre à en choisir une branche qui était indispensable pour tracer la chaine des générations des personnalités figurant dans ce travail. Les autres membres ont été "mis de côté". Même les épouses, dont j'ai oublié les prénoms, ne figurent que dans un carré symbolique: Toutes mes excuses.

Nous reviendrons plus tard sur l'histoire de Roubine, qui est le principal sujet de la saga de personnalités qui ont marqué pour moi les années du 20 e siècle

-        

Un autre couple de cousins eut 6 filles et 2 garçons. Une des filles étaient ma grand-mère maternelle, ce qui montre que même ma mère faisait aussi partie de la famille.

Un des fils de ce couple, appelé Azar, eut un destin tragique, on en parlera plus tard.

Une personnalité qui était intéressante est un des frères à mon grand-père Abraham.

-        Il s'appelait Rfila et différait de l'archétype de sa tribu. Nous y retournerons.

Après cette introduction généalogique, je décrirai d'abord le récit des 2 frères Roubine et Shaul, de ma grand-mère paternelle Sarina.

Roubine Ben-Attia, dont je tacherai de raconter l'histoire, le plus objectivement possible. Il fut à la base de ce travail.

Nous l'appelions Baba-Roubine et les amis de la famille l'appelaient Cheikh Roubine. Toute son attitude lui attribuait du respect. Sans en  avoir point besoin, il tenait une belle baquita (canne).  Il l'employait surtout pour la distinction de sa démarche. Je l'avais appelée la démarche à 4 pas, Le bout de la canne ne touchait terre qu'après qu'il eut fait 4 pas. Après les 2 premiers pas, il pointait  le bout de la canne à un angle de 45 degrés devant lui. C'est seulement après  2 autres pas qu'il la pointait vers le sol.  Quand j'étais adolescent, j'avais essayé d'imiter cette démarche.

Il n'était pas riche mais avait une bonne situation économique. Quand ma petite famille habitait une seule chambre, avec plusieurs autres familles, autour d'une grande cour, il avait une "grande" maison avec 3 chambres et une cour. Il habitait à 2 maisons de celle du grand Rabin Haïm Houry. Je n'avais pas oublié ces petits détails, même après que nous eûmes déménagé vers la Capitale en fin 1947.

Ma Mère, Tunis

A Tunis, mon père succomba à sa maladie, quelques mois après notre arrivée à Tunis et ma mère se retrouva seule, avec 4 gosses, (j'étais l'ainé et j'avais à peine 11 ans) sans instruction ni métier ni aucun support de la famille.  Elle était de petite taille, moins de 1 m 50, mais physiquement solide.

Fillette, elle avait à peine 10 ans, quand elle perdit sa mère et devait déjà s'occuper de toutes les taches familiales.  Son père, Rebbi Messoud Seroussi, se remaria après quatre mois de veuvage. Malheureusement sa nouvelle femme était presque toujours couchée, malade ou après un accouchement dont plusieurs se terminaient par des avortements. Plus tard, je vis que cette femme était la bonté en personne, malgré les apparences, elle  vécut plus de 90 ans. 

Je demandais souvent à ma mère  de me montrer la grande cicatrice de la brulure qu'elle avait sous l'aisselle, brulure qu'elle reçut quand elle avait plongé sa courte main dans le Taboun, pour y "coller" une ftira (pita). Sa force et sa vitalité lui ont permis d'entretenir sa famille paternelle, puis après le décès de mon père, elle le fit pour sa famille, 4 orphelins. Elle vécut plus de 50 ans après la disparition de mon père.

Son père lui avait interdit toute scolarité, son intelligence et sa mémoire, lui ont permis de retenir par cœur tout ce qu'elle entendait. Très jeune, dans la maison paternelle, elle devint une très bonne cuisinière. Plus tard, je la regardais faire, ainsi elle m'avait  fait aimer la cuisine de ses ancêtres, pour le plaisir des générations futures.

La communauté de Tunis distribuait aux indigents, chaque semaine, une somme dérisoire qu'on appelait le Halouk. Mais ce qui fut une aide importante était "Dar Tqeya", (qu'on peut traduire par, la Maison du Soutien,)  une cantine qui permettait aux enfants pauvres, d'avoir un déjeuner chaud, chaque jour. Ma mère ne revenait pas à midi à la maison et ce repas était important pour nous.

Notre petite chambre dans le quartier juif de Tunis, était le seul foyer pour la tribu, restée à Gabès  et nous avions hébergé, pour de courtes durées, dans cette chambre, des "réfugiés du Sud" qui attendaient à Tunis leur départ  vers la France ou vers Israël.

 

Baba Roubine

Baba Roubine dirigeait une compagnie de transport entre Gabès et Tunis (450 km) et accompagnait souvent sa marchandise entre les 2 villes. Quand il était à Tunis, il venait nous voir et déguster les mets que ma mère lui préparait. Il disait souvent, pour la taquiner qu'elle cuisinait presque aussi bien que la tante Bhila, sa femme.

 Connaissant notre situation économique, il profitait de chaque visite pour apporter avec lui toutes  les provisions qui nous manquaient, et  pour plusieurs jours à l'avance. Il revenait vers midi avec sa bouteille de vin rouge pour un repas en famille.   

Pour nous c'était jour de fête, inoubliable jusqu'à la prochaine visite. Ces repas ont resserré les liens avec Baba Roubine plus qu'avec les autres membres de la famille.

La famille du Cheikh Roubine a fait  sa Allya en 1964, sept ans après nous. Nous étions déjà bien établis en Israël. Installée au Sud d'Israël, à Kiriat Gat, une nouvelle ville d'immigrants et un centre administratif pour les Moshavim de la région.

 

Les autorités de l'immigration n'ont tenu aucun  compte des services qu'il avait rendu à la communauté "là-bas". Cet octogénaire n'était plus que l'ombre de ce qu'il était resté dans mes souvenirs, mais il gardait toujours sa dignité de cheikh et sa "chéchia" (chapeau rouge tunisien) avait toujours le long panache de fils noirs qui lui tombait sur l'épaule.

Il avait continué, en Tunisie et en Israël, à signer des Attestations à tout Israélite qui a été envoyé travailler dans les camps nazis de Gabès et ce  jusqu'à la fin de sa vie.

Malgré la distance de Haïfa, je lui avais souvent rendu visite. Il disparut en 1975, entouré de ses enfants et arrière-petits-enfants.

 

Seulement depuis mon arrivée en Israël, j'appris du cousin Nissim (de 6 ans mon ainé) que le cheikh Roubine (son oncle) a été accusé d'avoir trahi sa communauté durant l'occupation nazie de Gabès. Le cas fut porté devant les tribunaux de Tunis qui acquittèrent le cheikh de toutes les accusations. Il ne pouvait me montrer aucun document sur ce chapitre de l'histoire de notre famille.

Il y a près d'un an je reçus un Mail d'un universitaire tunisien, le Professeur Mohsen Hamli, qui me demandait des détails sur Cheikh Roubine Ben-Attia. Il faisait, m'a-t-il écrit, des recherches sur les Cheikhs juifs en Tunisie, durant l'occupation nazie. Il avait surement trouvé ma parenté et mon adresse à la fin d'un de mes articles publiés sur Harissa.com. J'ajoute toujours à mon nom original, mon nom Hébraïsé suivis par mon adresse Email.

Après quelques mois je reçus les documents présentés ici,  ce fut le déclenchement d'un besoin urgent de rendre ces documents publics, ici, et de les passer ensuite aux Archives de YAD VASHEM.

Je tiens à le remercier vivement pour le service rendu à la "tribu" et à l'histoire de notre communauté.

Le rôle du cheikh était, entre autres de représenter la communauté juive devant les autorités locales et de s'occuper des droits et des devoirs des individus et de la communauté en tant que groupe.

Dans les années 30, M. Houati Haddad avait servi comme cheikh des juifs de Gabès.  Son service n'a pas satisfait les notables de la ville (jugement donné par le Gouverneur, lettre plus haut), qui le révoquèrent et nommèrent  Baba Roubine à sa place. C'était  juste avant l'invasion de la Tunisie par  l'Africa-Corps de Rommel, dans sa retraite de Libye. Gabès étant une ville située non loin de la frontière libyenne et un point stratégique, il y avait une base militaire française muni d'un aéroport en fonction.

http://www.harissa.com/news/article/ma-petite-histoire-dans-un-grand-monde-en-guerre-par-abraham-bar-shay-ben-attia

Le cheikh Roubine ainsi que le grand rabbin Haim Houry, qui étaient en somme voisins, furent chargés de remplir les taches les plus abjectes que les nazis avaient infligées aux juifs de Gabès, depuis le saisi des richesses personnelles (bijoux et comptes bancaires) jusqu'au recrutement forcé des travailleurs juifs dans les camps nazis.

En Israël, avec notre assimilation dans le pays, je m'étais intéressé aux malheurs de la Shoa et à ce que les juifs avaient souffert des crimes nazis  en Europe et en Afrique du Nord.

J'ai compris que les nazis avaient contraint Baba Roubine de remplir le rôle du JUDENRAT de la communauté de Gabès. Une plainte de trahison grave avait été déposée contre lui, par celui qui avait rempli son rôle avant l'invasion nazie. Le tribunal de Tunis avait statué que la plainte était un coup monté contre Roubine et l'a acquitté de tout soupçon.

Avec ces documents j'ai pu retracer l'histoire de l'époque, les personnalités et le dénouement heureux pour Baba Roubine.

Après la victoire des Alliés et le départ des nazis de Tunisie, un groupe s'organisa, probablement sous l'instigation de M Houati Haddad et porta une plainte de 5 accusations contre le cheikh Roubine. Ces actes d'accusation "reposaient" soi-disant "sur des enquêtes et des témoignages des notables de la communauté"

Le Gouverneur qui enquêta par la suite, découvrit la nullité des faits cités, il félicita la haute moralité de Roubine et accorda à Houati Haddad le compliment d'être " homme de mauvaise moralité et sans scrupules." (voir lettre plus haut).

Notre histoire eut une fin, que même Shakespeare avait jugée incroyable pour "Roméo et Juliette". Vérone n'est pas Gabès et Kippour revient chaque automne pour effacer les rancunes des générations d'hier. Malgré les controverses et les dures relations entre les cheikhs Roubine et Houati, la petite fille du premier, épousa le benjamin du second.  Ils vécurent 50 ans ensemble; jusqu'au décès du mari il y a quelques mois.

 

Shaul Ben-Attia

M'étant limité aux personnalités ayant  rapports à la guerre. Je ne l'aurais pas rappelé ici mais son activité durant les années 40 était importante, mais discrète et indirecte….

Il était un des frères de ma grand-mère et de Roubine. Il se nommait Shaul, il était l'ainé et le plus aisé de ses frères. On disait qu'il connaissait le Coran par cœur et ses amis Arabes aimaient le faire participer dans leurs discussions, qu'il  enrichissait par ses connaissances

je l'ai très peu connu, mais on parlait souvent de sa générosité, sa noblesse d'amé et de l'aide qu'il accordait à certains membres de la tribu.

On m'avait aussi dit qu'il avait aidé son frère Roubine durant son affaire devant le tribunal de Tunis.

.                                                                                                                  

Sur l'annuaire téléphonique de Gabès, datant de 1937, on peut lire "Shaul Ben-Attia, négociant, Souk Djara". Pour toute la ville de Gabès, il n'y avait, en ce temps-là que 54 abonnés dont 21 appartenaient à des sociétés civiles et militaires. Parmi les autres, il y avait 8 qui appartenaient à des Juifs..

Les appels se faisaient à travers une centrale qui n'était de service que de 7 heures à 19.30, (dimanche de 8 à 11.) On comprend par-là, le manque d'intérêt d'avoir le téléphone à la maison et que seuls les grands commerçants l'avaient pour leur business.

 

Son arrière petit fils Rann Ben-Attia

 

Près de 60 ans plus tard, son arrière-petit-fils Ranny, capitaine dans l'armée Israélienne, a été grièvement blessé durant la guerre "Roc-Inébranlable" (TSUK EYTAN) contre le Hamas à Gaza.

Un projectile creux, rempli d'explosif, lui a pénétré le corps et n'en  pas sorti, bloqué dans l'os du bassin. L'extraction du boulet s'est avérée très délicate, le boulet pouvait exploser à n'importe quel moment. Ce n'est qu'après que le nécessaire fut fait pour la sécurité maximale et avec l'assistance et le courage de médecins et de spécialistes militaires que le projectile fut extrait sans grand dommage.

 

 

(Photos prises du journal Yédiott Ahronot)

Voilà que pendant que j'écrivais ces lignes, je lis dans un journal que juste 2 ans après sa blessure, Rann et sa femme viennent d'avoir un petit garçon, le dernier des Ben-Attia, sixième génération après le patriarche Eliahou.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Fin 1ère Partie, Suite et fin sur la 2ème Partie)

 

Abraham Bar-Shay (Ben-Attia)

Absf@netvision<net.il

 

 

 


A Tunisian wartime story with a happy ending




Abridged from an article in two parts on Harissa  (French)

 Sheikh Roubine was a leader of the Judenrat(Jewish leadership council) during the Nazi occupation of Tunisia between 1942-3. He would sign attestations on behalf of Jews who were forced to work in the Nazi labour camps (presumably so that they were later eligible for reparations). When he was accused of treason by his predecessor, however, the case was adjudicated by the Tunisian courts who cleared Roubine of any wrongdoing. A relative, Abraham Bar-Shay (Benattia), tells this curious story.
 

"We called him Baba Roubine. The friends of the family called him Sheikh Roubine. His whole demeanour invited respect. He held a beautiful baquita (cane) which he did not need for walking. The end of the cane only touched the ground after he had taken four steps. After the first two steps, he pointed the end of the cane at a 45-degree angle in front of him. It was only after two other steps that he pointed it towards the ground. When I was a teenager, I tried to imitate his gait. 

He was not rich but comfortable. When my nuclear family lived in a single room, with several other families, around a large yard, he had a 'large' house with three bedrooms and a courtyard. He lived in two houses of that of the great Rabbi Haim Houry. I had not forgotten these little details, even after we had moved to the capital in late 1947. 

Baba Roubine ran a transport company between Gabes and Tunis ( a distance of 450 km) and often travelled with the goods he shipped between the two cities.When he was in Tunis, he came to see us and taste the food my mother was preparing for him. He often  teased her, that she cooked almost as well as Aunt Bhila, his wife.

Knowing our economic situation, he took advantage of each visit to bring with him all the provisions that we lacked - enough to last several days. He returned towards noon with his bottle of red wine for a family meal.

For us it was a festive and memorable day - until the next visit. These meals strengthened the ties we had with Baba Roubine more than with the other members of the family. 

The Sheikh Roubine family made its Aliya in 1964, seven years after ours. We were already well established in Israel. We settled in southern Israel, in Kiryat Gat, a new immigrant city and administrative center for the Moshavim of the region. 


The immigration authorities knew nothing of the services he had rendered to the community in the old country. This octogenarian was no more than the shadow of his former self in my memory, but he still kept his dignity as a sheikh and his "chechia" (Tunisian red hat) always had the long plume of black threads that fell on his shoulder. 


In Israel he continued until the end of his life what he had done in Tunisia : to sign attestations for all Jews who had been sent to work in the Nazi camps of Gabes.  

It was only since my arrival in Israel, that I learned from my cousin Nissim (six years my senior)  that Sheikh Roubine (his uncle) was accused of having betrayed his community during the Nazi occupation of Gabes. The case was brought before the courts in Tunis, who acquitted the sheikh of all the accusations.He could not show me any document on this chapter in the history of our family. 

Nearly a year ago, I received a mail from a Tunisian scholar, Professor Mohsen Hamli, who asked me for details about Sheikh Roubine Ben-Attia. He was researching the Jewish Sheikhs in Tunisia during the Nazi occupation and I owe him thanks for his service to my 'tribe' and the history of our community. 

After a few months I received the documents (one is presented here). There was  urgent need to make these documents public, here, and then pass them on to the Archives of Yad Vashem. 

The Sheikh's role was, among other things, to represent the Jewish community before the local authorities and to deal with the rights and duties of individuals and the community as a whole.

In the 1930sHouati Haddad  served as a sheikh of the Jews of Gabes. His service was not good enough for the notables of the city (judgment was passed by the Governor) who dismissed him and appointed Baba Roubine in his place. It was just before the invasion of Tunisia by Rommel's Afrikakorps and their retreat from Libya. Gabes was a city located not far from the Libyan border and a strategic point. There was a French military base with an airport in operation. 

Sheikh Roubine and Chief Rabbi Haim Houry, who were in fact neighbors, were charged with fulfilling the most abject tasks the Nazis had inflicted on the Jews of Gabes, from the seizure of personal wealth (jewellery and bank accounts) to the forced recruitment of Jewish workers in the Nazi camps. 

I understood that the Nazis had forced Baba Roubine to fulfill the role of the Judenrat of the community of Gabes. A complaint of treason had been filed against him, by the person who had fulfilled his role before the Nazi invasion. The Tunis court ruled that the complaint was a blow against Roubine and acquitted him of any suspicion. 

  

With these documents I was able to trace the history of the time, personalities and the happy ending for Baba Roubine. 

  

After the victory of the Allies and the departure of the Nazis from Tunisia, a group was organized, probably under the instigation of Mr. Houati Haddad, and filed a complaint of five accusations against Sheikh Roubine. These indictments "were" supposedly "based on investigations and testimonies of the notables of the community." 



Baba Roubine in local costume 

The governor, who subsequently investigated the case, discovered that the facts cited were null and void, congratulated Roubine on his moral fibre and granted Houati Haddad the compliment of being "a man of questionable morality and lack of scruple." 

Our story had a happy ending, which even Shakespeare had judged incredible for "Romeo and Juliet". Verona is not Gabes and Kippur returns every autumn to erase the grudges of yesterday's generations. Despite the controversies and tense relations between the sheikhs Roubine and Houati, the grand-daughter of the first married the youngest son of the second. They lived 50 years together, until the husband's death a few months ago. 

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 Below: letter by French Captain Le Bourhis vouching for Baba Roubine's good character. 


Saved by a liqor glass, betrayed by friends

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Home, for Algeria’s Jews, is elsewhere

Intolerance towards Algerian Jews has been driven by geopolitics and history, not religion. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate, Religion and Human Rights. العربية

In Algeria, like other countries of North Africa and the Middle East, there are red lines when discussing politics and religion. Some Algerian writers have bravely debated Jewish minority rights, but raising too many questions about Algeria’s Jewish minority is still taboo. This is because most people confuse Israel, Judaism and Zionism.

Algeria’s Minister of Religious Affairs, Mohamed Aissa, recently spoke of plans to reopen 25 synagogues closed down in the late 1990s, during Algeria's civil war. The news provoked some Algerian Muslims to protest. The minister, however, says Algerian Jews have a right to exist. Although welcome, the statement is ironic, because few in Algeria would openly acknowledge Jewish identity. Indeed, many observers claimthat the Algerian Jewish community no longer exists.

Radical Islamists have reportedly led opposition to the minister’s plan, but their anger does not stem from Islam itself. Muslims in the Maghreb have a history of coexistence with other religions, as is true in other Middle Eastern countries. Instead, their intolerance is driven by recent history and politics.

Muslims and Jews coexisted for centuries in Algeria until European clerics introduced “anti-Semitism.” French colonists offered Jews special treatment, allowing them to capitalize on new economic opportunities. In 1870, the famous Crémieux Decree granted French citizenship to Algerian Jews, elevating their status from “colonial subjects” to “French citizens.”Some Muslims felt betrayed, leading to the first significant rupture between the two communities. Later, Algerian Muslims accused Jews of failing to support the country’s war of liberation.

In Algeria, religious intolerance against Jews emerged from these processes of colonization and de-colonization, and from a war of independence that generated popular resentment of perceived injustice.

Today, Jews are like ghosts in Algeria; we hear about them living among us, but we never see them. Some say Jews still live in Algeria under strict surveillance, but most Algerians are confused: is there still a Jewish-Algerian community? And if so, is it safe to speak about it? Many suspect that the community exists, but fear that this is a matter of state security about which they should not comment.

Jews are not the only victims of Algerian intolerance; there is also discrimination against Christians. An Algerian Muslim who converts to Christianity is despised because s/he has given up her faith to embrace the ex-enemy’s religion. As a result, even people who are not religiously devout are likely to threaten a convert with rape or death.

In neighboring Tunisia and Morocco, the last few thousand remaining Jews can practice their faith and send their children to Jewish schools. Most Tunisians and Moroccans – ordinary citizens as well as scholars and academics – speak openly of Jewish contributions to their countries. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Algeria, where people vandalized both Christian and Jewish religious symbols, including cemeteries and places of worship, after independence, and during the 1990s’ civil war.

The Arab-Israeli conflict has of course deepened the gap between Algeria’s Jews and Muslims, and has undermined hopes of re-establishing a Jewish presence in the country. Unfortunately, many residents of Arab countries confound anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

Flickr/[john] (Some rights reserved)

Can the Islamic population of Algeria normalize its relationship with a domestic Jewish population?


Algerians often say, “We have nothing against Jews; it is Zionism that is the problem.” But then, many also say, “a Jew will always defend Israel’s interests, even if s/he is not a Zionist. All Jews believe in Israel, and it is therefore better to prevent them from returning to their (Arab) home countries.”

Consider Jewish-Algerian singer Enrico Macias. The Algerian-born French citizen made two attempts, in 2000 and 2007, to visit his “homeland.” Algerian authorities denied him entry, following pressure by members of the public and Algerian political figures, including former Prime Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem. Macias’ critics justified their position by saying that the singer supported Israel’s policies in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Most Algerian Jews seeking to enter Algeria are interested only in visiting, not in relocating to the country. Most likely, few believe there is a place for them in their former country. 

When the last Jewish emigrant from Algeria has died, the notion of visiting the “Algerian homeland” will likely die with them. For descendants of Jewish Algerians, “home” is now somewhere else.

About the author

Farah Souames is an Algerian journalist, formerly based in Cairo. She has reported on North Africa, the Gulf States, Europe and the Middle East, including the Arab uprisings. Her work has appeared in multiple venues, including Al Ahram, The Financial Times, El Watan, BBC, and Al Jazeera. She tweets @souamesfarah


Last Algerian Jews left as late as 1967

The vast majority of Algerian Jews left with the French in 1962 in the wake of the Algerian War, but Benaya BenHamou's family stayed on in Oran. They remained another five years until conditions were so unsafe that even their Muslim friends were advising them to leave. Benaya told his story toPoint of No Return.

"It always stuns people when I tell them that not all Algerian Jews left when Algeria became independent.

My family sided with the Algerians in the late 1950s, when the FLN asked all Jews to choose (between the Algerians and the French). There were only about 1,000 Jews in Oran. My father was well-loved in the city. We thought that nothing would happen to us. But in 1965 Islamists spread rumours about Jewish spies working for the Mossad. At that time we realized that we had better leave the country. But it all happened so fast. I was 15, and all I wanted to do was see my other cousins and friends in France.

"At school I used to be bullied because of my Jewish origins. People would ask me explanations for the suffering of the Palestinians. Everybody in the neighbourhood knew we were Jewish. The synagogues and graveyards had been vandalized. In 1967, when war broke out in Israel, my father's Algerian friends advised him to leave the country before it was too late. That is how, in a rush, I left my beloved city of Oran. I never saw it again.

"I do not know any Jews still living in Algeria. Most emigrated to France. Some went to Morocco."

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About the Decret Cremieux:

Following the French conquest of Algeria, the Decret Cremieux offered French citizenship to Algerians - Muslims as well as Jews. The Muslims declined. Initially fewer than 5% of Jews accepted to become French citizens. Then it was imposed on them. Benaya believes that French citizenship not only weakened the Jews' ties to their religion, but caused tension with Muslim Algerians. (On the positive side, however, it enabled the Jews to escape the humiliations of dhimmitude, which historically placed the Jews last in the social pecking order.)

Scroll down to a post by Hubert Hannoun, setting the context for the Decret Cremieux on Zlabia, the Algerian Jews' website.

Benaya adds:

"When the French passed the Décret Crémieux in 1870 most Jews accepted French citizenship but some were reluctant. The Décret Crémieux sparked debate and soul-searching, especially among important families in Oran, Tlemcen and Constantine. Algerian Jews asked themselves whether the Jews would be better off under French law or whether tradition and religion would suffer under France's lay legislation.

"When the French saw that very few Jews were interested they went even further. They didn't allow Algerian Jews to decide for themselves. Anyone who was born Jewish automatically became French. The other Algerians did not benefit from that law - if they wanted to become French they could, but they did not want to. (And neither did the Jews at the beginning). So the history of Algerian Jews is very complex: they became French, and they threw in their lot with the French against the Arabs. Than in 1940 they lost their citizenship. So they had to face French antisemitism on one side, and the Arabs' anger (because they felt betrayed) on the other. We were trapped!

"It was a kind of a trap, for two reasons.

"First, most French in Algeria were antisemites. There even was an 'anti-Jewish' party. In the 1940s the French betrayed the Jews by stripping them of their citizenship under Vichy law. The Jews were caught between two stools: most Arabs had not forgiven them for accepting French citizenship; the French spread antisemitism throughout Algeria.

"Secondly, the religious argument turned out to be true: As Algerian Jews arrived in France they became less religious, and lost their traditions from fear of being considered 'Arab'.

"I consider that if the French had not introduced the Décret Crémieux in the first place this would have never happened. Giving citizenship to the Jews and not to the Muslims aroused jealousy and tension between the two communities. The French translated antisemitic texts into Arabic during the 1940s. That is why Algerian Jews had to deny their origins.

"It is possible to hear a Moroccan Jew say he is proud to be Moroccan, or a Tunisian Jew say he is proud to be Tunisian. But an Algerian Jew can only be proud to be French, and nothing else."

Monday, 26 June 2017

Forgotten revolt against Rome by Alexandria's Jews

Contrary to popular belief,  the Jews of Hellenised Alexandria were loyal to their people and in their 2nd century rebellion against Rome, suffered thousands killed and the destruction of the Great Synagogue in Alexandria. Eli Kavon explains in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Imre):

 Ancient Alexandria (Jewish Encyclopedia.com)
 
The caricature of the civil war that was a major component of the events that we celebrate on Hanukka is one of loyal, Jewish, Torah-true guerrillas fighting against Hellenized Jews who were all turncoats who rejected Judaism. It is time to discard this portrait of Hellenized Jews as all wrestlers in the Greek gymnasium who underwent surgery to reverse their circumcision.

In fact, one of the reasons Judah Maccabee succeeded in liberating Jerusalem and rededicating the Temple was the support he received from moderate Hellenized Jews who were acculturated and influenced by Greek philosophy and culture but nevertheless were loyal Jews who rejected the extreme edicts and worldview of Seleucid King Antiochus IV.

The reality of the ancient world is that of millions of Jews living in the Hellenistic Mediterranean and Middle East who made significant contributions to Jewish life and thought, despite knowing no Hebrew and having to read the Hebrew Bible in the Greek Septuagint. These Hellenized Jews, like many Jews throughout our history, were highly acculturated but did not assimilate and forfeit their Jewish identity and faith.

The greatest Jewish community in the ancient Hellenistic Diaspora was in Alexandria. In the Egyptian port city founded by Alexander the Great during his conquests of the known world in the fourth century BCE, 250,000 Jews were a significant part of the population by the Roman period in the 1st century CE. First under the rule of the Greek Ptolemies, then under Roman domination, Jews occupied professions from bankers to artisans. The Jewish intellectual elite adopted the genres of Greek literature – the epic poem, drama, the writing of history, the penning of the novella and philosophy – always writing in Greek but focusing on biblical and Jewish themes. In this highly acculturated environment, Jews did not assimilate but rather asserted their identity, especially when faced by the hatred of the Greeks when Rome ruled Alexandria. This animus would later lead to rebellion.

The greatest figure to emerge from the elite of the Jews of Alexandria was philosopher and political activist Philo (c. 25-c. 50 CE). The scion of a wealthy banking family with ties to the monarchy in Judea, Philo read the Torah as both law and philosophy. While he did read the Torah from a literal standpoint and was a pious Jew, Philo added a layer of philosophical allegory on to the text that understood anew the meaning of the text. He reconciled the Torah with the philosophy of Plato. Philo was first great Jewish philosopher and, although he is a harbinger of Saadia Gaon and Maimonides, his writings – in Greek – were embraced by a Church that skewed Philo by focusing solely on his use of allegory. Philo never meant for Jews to abandon the Torah and ritual; he merely took the ideas of the day and recalibrated them for Judaism.

Another great Hellenized Jew writing in Greek was Josephus (37- c. 100 CE). He composed his important works in Rome but had strong connections to the Jewish community in Alexandria. His origins were in Judea and his surrender to Rome while leading the Great Revolt in the Galilee was not simply the act of a turncoat.

In his The Jewish War, Josephus described the 66-70 revolt against Rome using the tools of Greek historiography, taking that insurrection seriously though he often is an apologist for the Roman overlords. In his later work, Jewish Antiquities, Josephus makes Judaism and Jews the heirs of a great civilization and attempts to explain the Jews to pagans by painting a portrait of Judaism as a philosophy. Finally, he penned polemics against enemies of the Jews. Apion, a scholar of Homer, was a Greek in Alexandria who accused the Jews of ritual sacrifice and argued that the ancient Israelites were ejected from Egypt because they were lepers. These libels that were believed by pagans were challenged by Josephus who, although he abandoned the fight against Rome and had as patrons the Flavian emperors, still was proud of his Jewish identity and Jewish heritage. Not exactly a Hellenized traitor.

Yet, the greatest proof that the Hellenized Jews of the Mediterranean and the Middle East were loyal Jews was the rebellion against Rome staged by the Jews against the Emperor Trajan in 115-117 CE, the Kitos War. Little is known of this revolt. There was no Josephus to record the conflict. And there were no letters like those discovered by Israeli military hero, statesman and archeologist Yigael Yadin that shed light on the Bar-Kochba Rebellion 60 years after the first failed revolt. There is a paucity of sources on the Jewish revolt against Trajan and this fight against Rome is overshadowed by the earlier and later revolts in the Land of Israel. While this conflict began in Babylonia with Jews participating in rebellion against Rome’s ambitions in the east, revolt spread to Jews living in the Greek-speaking world, including in Alexandria.

Tensions between Greek and Jew in the Egyptian port city exploded into war and the Roman overlords punished the Jews. The Great Synagogue of Alexandria was destroyed by the Romans and thousands of Jews were killed in the conflict. Jewish memory recounts the devastation of the destruction of the Jews of Alexandria by describing a Mediterranean that turned red with the blood of the Jewish victims. It was a bitter battle that ended the glory and vitality of Jewish life in Alexandria.

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Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Jews who are neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardi

 There is still much confusion about the difference between Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews. Norman Berdichevsky provides some useful definitions in Heritage Florida Jewish News. (With thanks: Michelle)

Any serious student of Jewish history and tradition knows that the only authentic Sephardim are the descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal. They went on to settle in Western Europe including England, Holland, Denmark, North Western Germany, colonial America, the Caribbean and Brazil as well as in lands dominated by Islam, throughout North Africa, the Ottoman Empire, the Balkans and across the Levant. There are thus many Sephardi Jews who have always lived in Europe and many Jewish communities around the world composed of both Sephardim and Ashkenazim, who lived together and intermarried, notably in Italy, Egypt, Syria and Bulgaria, where later Ashkenazi immigrants arrived and were welcome by Sephardi residents. This has also been true in the Caribbean, South America and modern Israel.

 Kurdish Jews being airlifted to Israel

Just as America's Afro-American population has gone through several self-designations indicating a search for their authentic identity ranging from Black to Colored to Negro and then Afro-American and for some, back to Black (originally a term of disparagement used by whites), Israel's Jews of Afro-Asian origin have shifted from Sephardi to Mizrachi (Oriental). For religious purposes, "Sephardi" describes the nusach ("litugical tradition") used by most non-Ashkenazi Jews in the Siddur (prayer book).

In reality, there are also many Jews who are neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardi. These include the Jews of Ethiopia, Egypt, India, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, the Caucasus region (Georgia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia), all of whom are recognized as being of Afro-Asian origin yet have nothing to do with the original Sephardim. They are the descendants of the Jews who fled into exile following the Assyrian, Babylonian and Roman conquests of ancient Israel. No doubt, they were later joined by numerous converts who were attracted to the high moral and ethical principles that distinguished Judaism in ancient times from pagan and polytheistic religions.

There is indeed a serious social and geo-cultural cleavage in Israel's diverse Jewish population groups, precisely because all the four divisions overlap to a considerable degree. Most of the Jews from Africa and Asia arrived in Israel after 1948 and being relative newcomers had to adjust to difficult conditions. Most of them arrived destitute and unlike many of the Ashkenazim never received any reparations for their confiscated property.

They still tend to have larger families and as a rule are much more religiously observant than the Ashkenazim who established the secular norms and institutions of the Zionist movement and later of the State of Israel. It is only human nature that the new arrivals from Asia and Africa resented the more established veteran European settlers and those new immigrants from Europe who immediately found more personal connections and sympathy with the veteran Ashkenazi settlers through a common knowledge of Yiddish and shared political and social backgrounds.

A list of new army recruits will probably reveal names like de Leon, Toledano, Castro, Franco, Mizrahi, Dayan, Gabbai, Abulafia, Kimhi, Shar'abi, Sassoon, Azulay, Kadouri, Marziano, Ohana, Aflalo and Hasson, as often or more than Schwartz, Goldberg, Wolf, Guttmann, Rabinowitz, Berdichevsky, Kaplan or Finkelstein. So how then can they then be one people? They are, because history, traditions and their faith (whether they are orthodox observant or secular) have instilled in them the idea of sharing a common peoplehood.

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