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Wednesday, 5 July 2017

UK synagogue membership at lowest since ’90

(JTA) — The United Kingdom has the largest number of synagogues in its history, but membership in those institutions is at its lowest in decades, according to a newly published report.

In its report titled “Synagogue membership in the United Kingdom in 2016,” the Institute for Jewish Policy Research counted 454 Jewish houses of worship with a combined membership of fewer than 80,000 households.

The report, which was published Tuesday, reveals that 79,597 Jewish households across the United Kingdom held synagogue membership in 2016, down from 99,763 in 1990 — a 20 percent decline over a quarter of a century.

According to the authors, the decline is only partially related to assimilation and can be explained primarily by demographic forces – a general decline in the number of Jewish households that exist in the United Kingdom.

In the United Kingdom, where approximately 250,000 Jews live, many synagogues employ a membership system in which worshippers who pray there regularly pay fees for activities and maintenance.

Orthodox synagogues had the largest membership at 53 percent, the report said, down from 66 percent in 1990. Reform and Liberal shares, at 19 and 8 percent in 2016, have slightly increased over that period.

“The affiliated British Jewish community is changing. The mainstream Orthodox center is in numerical decline, whilst stricter forms of Orthodoxy are in the ascendancy,” Jonathan Boyd, the executive director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, said in a statement about the report. “Because the more progressive wing is largely stable, representing just under a third of the total, the trends point to a future in which stricter forms of Orthodoxy will hold an increasingly prominent position, not only in synagogue membership, but in how Judaism is practiced and how Judaism is seen and understood by others.”

Three-quarters of the U.K. synagogues are in Greater London and the adjacent areas of South Hertfordshire and South-West Essex, and 11 percent are in Greater Manchester. Half of all synagogue members belong to synagogues that are situated in just five areas in the London area: Barnet, Westminster, Hertsmere, Redbridge and Stamford Hill.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Libyan Jews and Arabs meet in Greece

Libyan Jews held a meeting in Greece on Friday aiming at furthering reconciliation between Libyan Jews who were expelled from Libya in 1967 and Libyan officials, the Libyan Express reports:

 Delegates from Israel, Libya and the Libyan-Jewish diaspora participated in the conference.
The meeting will last for three days, according to media sources.
In the meeting, the Israeli Minister of Communications, Ayoob Kara, held talks with the former Minister of Media and Information of the eastern government of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, Omar Al-Gwiri.

Another official from the National Salvation Government of Khalifa Al-Ghweil, which is a rial government formed by the General National Congress, attended the meeting and vowed to help facilitate the return of and reconciliation with the Libyan Jews.

The President of the (UK-based) Union of Jews of Libya, Raphael Luzon, said before the beginning of the meeting that it will be a very significant step for Libyan reconciliation efforts and will include many Libyan figures.

Read article in full

Kurdish director of Jewish affairs 'not trusted'

Two interesting facts emerge from this article in Middle East Eye about Kurdish Jews:  Mawlud Afand, the editor of the Israel-Kurd magazine abducted in 2012, was released from Evin prison in Tehran in 2015 ( but Point of No Return has reason to believe he is still in Iran). The other is that Sherzad Omar Mamsani, who was temporarily suspended as head of the Jewish directorate in Kurdistan, is self-appointed and not altogether trusted. Since the Kurdish-Jewish community has not existed since 1950, the 'Jews' referred to in this article are most likely 'Ben-Ju' of Jewish ancestry. 


Nash Didan, a short film by a young Israeli about her Kurdish grandmother (with thanks: Michelle)

 In Iraqi Kurdistan, which prides itself as a bastion of tolerance in the region, and which will vote in an independence referendum in September, a higher, yet debated, number reside. As many have converted to Islam and Christianity over the years and others pose as Christians and Muslims, statistics are unclear and call into question what defines a "Jew". Mordechai Zaken, historian and former adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has said that most of the several dozen families that had some distant family connection to Judaism immigrated to Israel in the aftermath of the Gulf War.

 "Most of these people are Muslim Kurds who perhaps have a grandmother or great grandmother of Jewish origin who converted to Islam two or three generations ago," he told the Jerusalem Post. Decades into life without a Jewish support system - synagogues, rabbis, collective holiday celebrations - the once flourishing sense of Jewish community has faded. Additionally, incidents reminding Jews to proceed with caution have not been consigned to the 20th century. In 2012, Mawlud Afand, the publisher of the now discontinued Israel-Kurd magazine, which one Sulaimaniya man remembers buying covertly "like [he] was buying cocaine," was kidnapped and imprisoned in Iran after repeated warnings to cease publication, according to those close to him. He was released in 2015.

 A seemingly progressive development came in 2015 when the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) passed the Law of Minorities, which gave a handful of minority religions - Zoroastrianism, Yarsanism and Judaism among others - the right to official representatives in the KRG through the Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs. The Jewish representative appointed by the KRG was Sherzad Mamsani, a man who says he lost his right hand in a 1997 bombing in which he says he was targeted for his faith. Among his goals, he said, is the restoration of the region's Jewish historical sites, erection of synagogues, and the carrying out of a public relations effort to improve the perception of Jews. One Kurdish Jew, who did not want to give his name, remembers vividly his father's reaction when he first heard the news of Mamsani’s appointment. "My father was so happy, he cried at the first mention of a Jewish representative," he said.

But two years into his post, Mamsani has struggled with his own image in Jewish communities. Just months after his appointment, Zaken told the Jerusalem Post that Mamsani was "someone who does not distinguish between truth and lies in his eagerness," adding that his "publicity campaign" is "causing confusion" and "damaging the KRG". Zaken, the author of Jewish Subjects and Their Tribal Chieftains in Kurdistan, accused Mamsani of inflating the number of Jews in Kurdistan for political gain.

 Most recently, Mamsani has controversially undertaken a mission to conduct a census of Jewish families in the region by aggregating documents, an initiative he once described in a 2016 Times of Israel interview as "insanity" and an idea that would let "enemies find us and kill us little by little". "Information can be bought in Iraq," worries one Jewish man with his information, given over by a family member, now on file. While some families have cooperated, others have balked at what they see as a double standard initiated by a leader who claims to have, but has not proved to have, Jewish roots and official connections.

 KRG's Director of Relations and Religious Coexistence, Mariwan Naqshbandy, confirmed to MEE that Mamsani was granted his post, which is unpaid, without presenting paperwork or community input, but simply after putting himself forward for the role. One Jew who has met Mamsani, speaking on behalf of his family, said: "We didn't turn over paperwork. I haven't seen good or bad things yet - I just don't trust him.

 "Lots of Jewish people are asking who he is. They don't want to show their documents. They want proof [of who he is] before coming out." But confirmation won't be coming from what many believe to be the most validating source: Israel.

"Sherzad is not an Israeli citizen, has no [sic] an Israeli passport and has no connection to the Israeli government or any official standing in Israel," Margalit Vega, the director of Israel's Gulf States Department at the Foreign Ministry, wrote in an email to MEE. Earlier this year, Mamsani temporarily stood down for what he called "some reasons," and he himself admits to having many critics.

"Most of my community [is] anti-Sherzad," said Mamsani, who repeatedly stresses that he's not a politician. The Jewish representative seems to be most favourably viewed on foreign trips and in external publications, where he is painted as a brave champion for religious minorities who, as Mamsani puts it, "stands in the centre of the fire among radical Islamic countries".

Read article in full

French Jews enraged that killer might not stand trial

The French Jewish community is enraged at what seems to be a refusal of the court to try the Muslim who murdered Sarah Halimi about two months ago. Arutz Sheva reports: 

Halimi, who was 66 at the time she was murdered, served as a teacher for many years at a Jewish school in Paris. A Muslim attacker stabbed her, then threw her from her third story apartment to her death.

The judges on the court asserted this week that the murderer’s lawyers had brought conclusive proof that he suffers from mental illness and was not thinking clearly when he committed the cruel murder; therefore, it is possible that he may even be released without going through legal proceedings. They said that it is possible that he didn’t even intend to kill her when he attacked her.

The Jewish community in France intends to appeal the decision when it is officially announced, and is demanding that the court relate to the act as murder with nationalistic intent and not as was asserted. A representative of Halimi’s family said that the act was a terror attack, and blamed police for trying to cover up the murder.

Read article in full 

The issue of Traore’s motives was front and center during a recent panel discussion on the popular weekend TV talk show “On n’est pas couché” (“We’re not lying (down)”). (With thanks: Janet)

Michel Boujenah: murderer was a crazy antisemite

The main guest was Michel Boujenah, a French Jewish actor and writer, who engaged in a sometimes emotional examination of Halimi’s murder with three other panelists and the show’s presenter, Laurent Ruquier.

On the subject of Traore, Halimi’s killer, Boujenah told the audience: “They said it was a mentally unstable person. But it was a mentally unstable person who chose his victim, who tortured her, insulted her with every antisemitic slur, and threw her out of the window.”

Boujenah, who was born in Tunis, continued: “He was crazy. But he was a crazy antisemite. There is no doubt about this question.”

Read article in full (Algemeiner

Police blocked neighbours in Halimi case

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Michel Boujenah, victime d’une campagne de boycott en Tunisie

La programmation de l’humoriste et acteur tunisien de confession juive Michel Boujenah à la 53ème édition du Festival de Carthage n’a manifestement pas plu à tout le monde.

Les appels au boycott, voire d’annulation du spectacle de Boujenah se sont multipliés sur les réseaux sociaux, en raison des « positions pro-sionistes et pro-Israël adoptées par l’artiste ».

« Nous ne voulons pas de sionistes, quelque soit leur nationalité, sur nos scènes et dans nos festivals ! »

Une lettre ouverte adressée au ministre de la Culture et au Directeur du festival de Carthage, a été rédigée par la filiale tunisienne de la campagne internationale « Boycott, désinvestissement et sanctions », dans laquelle les raisons derrière les appels d’annulation du spectacle sont expliquées.

« Michel Boujenah est connu comme l’une des plus grandes figures franco-tunisiennes sionistes qui ont toujours défendu Israël, ses guerres et son armée (surtout dans les médias français). Il se dit haut et fort et fièrement sioniste (dans diverses déclarations, dont celles publiées le 5 février 2013, sur JSS News), et ne cache pas sa loyauté envers Israël, où il avait présenté plusieurs spectacles (d’ailleurs, il se prépare à présenter le même spectacle programmé au festival de Carthage, à Tel Aviv le 25 juillet).

[…] Non seulement le comédien exprime cette admiration, mais il se considère aussi comme une partie du « peuple israélien ». Il considère également les criminels de guerre Ariel Sharon et Yitzhak Rabin comme les « plus grandes figures de paix » (dans une déclaration qui remonte à 2010, sur le site SVP Israël) », peut-on lire dans la lettre.

Les signataires ajoutent que le pouvoir politique tunisien doit assumer ses responsabilités quant à la poursuite de ces activités de normalisation, et l’ignorance de nos positions historiques de soutien inconditionnel au peuple palestinien.

Des « pour » et des « contre »…

La campagne contre le spectacle de Boujenah à Carthage a été soutenue et appréciée par des centaines d’internautes tunisiens, qui ont considéré unanimement que l’humoriste ne doit pas monter sur la scène de Carthage.

D’autres, par contre, se sont dits surpris de voir un tel acharnement contre Michel Boujenah, lui qui à toute occasion, fait la promotion de la Tunisie partout où il va.

Yamina Thabet, présidente de l’Association Tunisienne de Soutien des Minorités (ATSM), a dénoncé un « comportement lâche » et un « acte anti-juif ».

« L’appel à boycotter le spectacle de Boujnah , sous prétexte de lutte contre le sionisme , n’est rien de plus qu’un acte anti-juif quand on sait qu’il s’agit d’un Tunisien qui a toujours crié haut et fort son attachement au pays…

Je ne suis pas là pour défendre une personne qui de toute façon n’en a pas besoin, ni pour servir un discours mielleux sur la nostalgie et l’attachement au pays comme si le fait d’être d’une confession autre que musulmane nécessitait de faire ses preuves ! Ce que je dénonce, c’est ce comportement, disons le, lâche de ceux qui faute d’avoir des gonades pour reconnaître leur haine se cachent sous les jupons d’une excuse passe-partout », a-t-elle indiqué.

 Va-t-on observer le même scénario Gad Elmaleh au Liban ?

En 2009, l’humoriste franco-marocain de confession juive, Gad Elmaleh avait été contrait d’annuler sa tournée au Liban après que sa programmation au festival Beiteddine, à Beyrouth, avait provoqué une polémique.

« Suite aux différentes manifestations d’hostilité et appels au boycott à l’encontre de la venue de M. Gad Elmaleh, c’est avec regret que nous nous voyons contraints d’annuler la participation de l’artiste au festival de Beiteddine, considérant que ces éléments pourraient mettre en danger la sécurité de l’artiste et entraver le bon déroulement des spectacles », avait annoncé son agent M. Gilbert Coullier.

La pression de la société civile aura-t-elle le même effet sur la présence de Boujenah à Carthage ? Ou l’humoriste présentera quand même son spectacle, tout comme Gad Elmaleh en 2007 à Carthage, sous se soucier de la polémique ? Seul le temps le dira !


Tunisians urge boycott of 'Zionist' Boujenah

Tunisians are calling to boycott the celebrated comic Michel Boujenah, who is due to appear on 19 July at the Carthage Festival.

Michel Boujenah: born in Tunis

In an open letter addressed to the minister of culture and festival director, the boycotters, from the Tunisian branch of the BDS movement,  claim that Boujenah, who was born in Tunisia but lives in France, is not only a proud Zionist but also considers himself part of the 'Israeli people'.

The signatories call on the Tunisian government to assume its responsibilities vis-a-vis 'normalisation' and reaffirm the country's historical, unconditional support for the Palestinian people. 

Tunisian social media surfers are evenly divided on the issue. Hundreds think that his apearance on the stage at Carthage should be cancelled. Others are surprised at the fierce reaction against Michel Boujenah. Yamina Thabet of the Tunisian Association for the Support of Minorities (ATSM) denounced the campaign against the comic as 'bullying behaviour' and 'antisemitic'.

Boujenah is scheduled to perform in Israel on 25 July.

Enrico Macias, the pro-Israel Algerian born singer, cancelled several planned visits to his country of birth after fierce popular protests.   

Thursday, 29 June 2017


The BBC must immediately and unequivocally apologise for stating that “The Holocaust is a sensitive topic for many Muslims because Jewish survivors settled in British-mandate Palestine, on land which later became the State of Israel.”

The line appeared in a BBC News article about German Muslim schoolgirls who went on a visit to concentration camps in Poland suffering racist abuse from local people. The line has now been removed.

The Holocaust is indeed a sensitive topic for many reasons, not least because six million Jews were systematically massacred. It should not be a sensitive topic to Muslims, or anybody else, because of the foundation of the State of Israel. Zionism, the movement to create the modern State of Israel began decades before the Holocaust, and had the country existed at the time of the Holocaust, millions of innocent Jewish civilians may have lived.

For the BBC to lend credence to the notion that it is legitimate to be “sensitive” about the Holocaust because of the existence of the State of Israel invokes antisemitic notions that the existence of the State of Israel is in some way racist, and it is offensive to tar “many Muslims” in this way. The International Definition of Antisemitism states that “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination (e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour)” is antisemitic.

Interfaither: Why do Moroccans treat Jews so well?

There is something disturbing about Yael Eckstein's grovelling paen of praise for Morocco in The Times of Israel. Here is a country whose Jewish population is one percent of what it was in 1948. Yet for interfaither Eckstein, it is a shining example of Jews, Muslims and Christians coexisting in mutual respect! Why do you treat Jews so well? she keeps asking,  ignoring the fact that Jews have been threatened by pogroms,  mob violence and forced conversions and have abandoned their homes and businesses at times of tension.  Eckstein answers her own question: it is because of the king. The Jews - abetted by starry-eyed interfaithers -  have been instrumentalised as part of Moroccan foreign policy.   The restoration of synagogues and cemeteries is a small price to pay for US support of Morocco. But if the king goes, so do the Jews. What value is coexistence if it is only skin deep ? (With thanks: Boruch, Daniel, Lily, Imre).  

It just didn’t make sense. It seemed too good to be true. But as I quickly learned, it was just another day in mystical Morocco, a country that defies norms, defines tolerance and is home to a dwindling population of 2,500 Jews. Though Morocco is a Muslim country, the bellboy at my hotel told me with a loving smile, Jews were actually in Morocco 600 years before Muslims—when they were sent out of Jerusalem following the destruction of the First Temple. “This is your home,” the bellboy said, while pointing to a picture on the wall of the Atlas Mountains. “Your people were here before mine.”

 This respectful attitude was the prevailing sentiment in my communications with every Muslim I met throughout my stay during the end of Ramadan. Moroccans are genuine in their respect for the Jewish people, love for Moroccan Jews, and awe for the holy rabbis who walked their streets and are buried in the Jewish cemetery. I nearly cried when I saw how well the locals preserve the Jewish cemetery. “Why do you treat the Jews so well?” I asked a Muslim teenager who works for an organization called Mimouna, whose members are Muslim youths passionate about spreading Jewish history. Mimouna made history by starting a Jewish studies program at a Moroccan Arab university, along with the Arab world’s only Holocaust education program.

“Why wouldn’t we treat them well?” he responded. Indeed, it is illogical for local Muslims to suddenly turn on native Jews who have lived in their country for thousands of years. But we live in an illogical world. Morocco is one of the few places where Christians, Muslims and Jews coexist in peace and mutual respect. Why? One night I attended a Ramadan fast-breaking event—organized by the inspiring local Chabad rabbi at an Orthodox synagogue. Dozens of Jews and Muslims gathered to celebrate. King Mohammed VI’s representative for the entire Marrakesh region also attended. He sent blessings from the king to the Jewish community and closed his eyes with intent—and answered “amen”—when the Chabad rabbi said the traditional Jewish prayer for kings. Why are Jews in Morocco treated so well?
Yael Eckstein

Simply put, it’s because of the king. During World War II, when the Nazis asked the king of Morocco to put together a list of Jews in his country, he boldly answered, “We don’t have Jews, we have Moroccans,” and refused to comply (this is debatable - ed). Today’s king, Mohammed VI, is the grandson of King Mohammed V, who protected his country’s 265,000 Jews. Like his grandfather, Mohammed VI believes Jews are just as Moroccan—and just as important—as Muslims, Christians and everyone else. If anyone in Morocco messes with Jews, they are messing with the king.

 Many project that in a decade, there won’t be any Jews left in Morocco. Most of the Moroccan grandmothers who read Psalms all day have moved to Israel. Moroccan Jewish youths have largely moved abroad. The remaining Jews are the gems of ancient times.

What legacy do Jews want to leave in Morocco? What pillars do Jews want to set up in Morocco that will carry on long after there are no Jews left? After my four-day journey representing Christian and Jewish supporters of The Fellowship, I deeply understand why it’s so important that our organization partnered with Chabad and Mimouna to distribute thousands of food parcels from the country’s ancient synagogues to local Muslims for Ramadan.

 It is clear to me why we must set up a Jewish information center in central Marrakesh and make sure the Jewish cemetery will keep being preserved by local Muslims. I realize how critical it is that we also continue to distribute food parcels to poor Jews on a monthly basis, so they aren’t neglected or looked at as beggars, but rather serve as a shining example of the fact that all Jews, Christians and Muslims are responsible to look out for one another.

In a country that lives on ancient spiritual stories of holy men and women who once walked its streets, this is our final opportunity to leave an eternal legacy on behalf of the millions of Moroccan Jews who came before us. What legacy should we leave? That the Jewish people came in peace, left in peace and were only known for peace. This is what it means to live in the vision of God.

Read article in full

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.


JUNE 26, 2017 11:58 AM

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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:



(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 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.

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)





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. 


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

Saved by a liqor glass, betrayed by friends