Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ramat Gan Memorandum

IRAQI JEWS arriving in Israel. 1951

WITH the Jewish New Year dawning tomorrow, an interesting document reaches us from Israel, and from the city of Ramat Gan, where many Iraqi Jews settled. The Israeli government decided recently that another special day be added to the calendar by declaring that the exodus of Jews from Arab lands ought to be remembered with a memorial day.

The day recommended is the anniversary of the Farhud, or pogrom in Baghdad, on the night of June 1/2, 1941, though oddly it was not till ten years later that the mass flight of Jews from Iraq took place. (Many Jews did leave after the 1941 pogrom but for India, where there was already a long established "Baghdadi" Jewish community). Odder still, it has taken more than sixty years since the arrival of Iraqi Jews in Israel for the Zionist establishment to decide that they, and the Jews from other Arab countries, deserve some attention paid to their history, and then only as victims and refugees.

Rather then consider centuries of culture and co-existence, this is being tied to the events of one night of bloodshed (and doubtless ignoring the many Iraqis who defended their Jewish neighbours), this being presented as encapsulating Arab-Jewish relations and a supposed Nazi-inspired drive against the Jews to "explain" current hostility to the State of Israel.

Could this by any chance be related to the increasing difficulties which Israeli hasbara (PR) has been running into, and the need to counter sympathy with Palestinian refugees? Well, here is a blogger in the Jerusalem Post celebrating the new commemoration:

This key achievement can be credited to Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon. He stated: "a new memorial day would correct a historical injustice by finally recognising the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees and victims who were persecuted and forced to leave their homes in Arabs countries". The recommended date for the commemoration is the anniversary of the "Farhud," the massive pogrom against the Jews of Iraq which broke out on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot on June 1–2, 1941. During the pogrom, at least 170, and up to 780, Iraqi Jews were murdered.
Ayalon said that "the Arab League should recognise the historical fault of Arab countries and these countries should bear responsibility for expelling the Jews and turning them into refugees."

It is quite unbelievable that in Israel, where over 50% of the Jewish population have Sephardi/Mizrahi roots, that their history is not being taught in schools. But that's about to change. Ayalon stated that on the new memorial day, "we will remember the 850,000 Jewish refugees who were forced to flee from Arab states. This would not just be a symbolic act; in our blood-soaked region, remembrance carries a political and diplomatic meaning. The Palestinians are speaking about refugees at length. Then we will too. While our refugees have assimilated into society, the Palestinian refuges have always been, and still remain, no more than a propaganda tool for their leaders."

I'd have said it was perfectly believable that the history of the Sefardi/Misrachi, and specifically the Arab Jews has not been taught in Israeli schools. It is part of the general despising of Arab history and culture which entailed dismissal and ignorance of Arab-Jewish achievement too, and expected children to be ashamed of their background. Since Iraqi Jewish professionals were required to replace Palestinians as hewers and drawers of water, and grateful to the Ashkenazi elite, and Misrachim to prove their loyalty by being more anti-Arab than the rest, it has been instrumental too.

But now the Misrachim are expected to have further reason for gratitude, as they are accorded a new role, and this interst in them comes not from the Ministry of Education but from the Deputy Foreign Minister, surprise, surprise!

Entitled "Save the Date even if you're Ashkenazi", the piece is written by Michelle Huberman, who we are told is the Creative Director of Harif, an Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. Michelle currently lives in London. She mentions that Harif was founded by Lyn Julius, who seems to divide her time between decrying the "unhappy history" of Jews in Arab lands and blaming the Palestinians for not recognising that Israel must be a Jewish state rather than a state for all its citizens. Huberman also recommends a film, The Forgotten Refugeess, directed by Michael Grynszpan. Seems like quite a few Ashkenazim who "remember", and to whom Mizrachim are to be grateful for representing them. But I am being unfair. Lyn Julius we're told is among those whose parents left Iraq in 1951.

But do I discern a note of sarcasm, even ingratitude, in this message from Ramat Gan?

Statement from the Ramat Gan Committee of Baghdadi Jews, 14 September, 2012 / 27 Elul, 5772

A) We most sincerely thank the Israeli government for confirming our status as refugees following a rapid, 62-year-long evaluation of our documents.

B) We request that Ashkenazi Jews are also recognized as refugees so that they won't consider sending to our homes the courteous officers of the Oz immigration enforcement unit.

C) We are seeking to demand compensation for our lost property and assets from the Iraqi government - NOT from the Palestinian Authority - and we will not agree with the option that compensation for our property be offset by compensation for the lost property of others (meaning, Palestinian refugees) or that said compensation be transferred to bodies that do not represent us (meaning, the Israeli government).

D) We demand the establishment of an investigative committee to examine:

1) if and by what means negotiations were carried out in 1950 between Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri as-Said, and if Ben-Gurion informed as-Said that he is authorized to take possession of the property and assets of Iraqi Jewry if he agreed to send them to Israel;

2) who ordered the bombing of the Masouda Shem-Tov synagogue in Baghdad, and if the Israeli Mossad and/or its operatives were involved. If it is determined that Ben-Gurion did, in fact, carry out negotiations over the fate of Iraqi Jewish property and assets in 1950, and directed the Mossad to bomb the community's synagogue in order to hasten our flight from Iraq, we will file a suit in an international court demanding half of the sum total of compensation for our refugee status from the Iraqi government and half from the Israeli government.

E) Blessings for a happy new year, a year of peace and prosperity, a year of tranquility and fertility.

The Ramat Gan Committee of Baghdadi Jews (As originally posted by Almog Behar on FB, thanks to Dave Woody for passing this on.)

And on this last note, may I take this opportunity of wishing l'Shana Tova to all, b'kol zot!

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