Tag: Jewish refugees from Arab lands


The Middle East’s Most Overlooked Refugees: Liat Collins, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 29, 2018— As a teenager growing up in London in the 1970s I was completely swept up in the fight for Soviet Jewry…

Putting Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries on the Global Agenda: Ashley Perry, JNS, Nov. 20, 2018 — Do you know what we commemorate on Nov. 30?

American Jewry’s Hanukkah Hypocrisy?: Jonathan S. Tobin, Jewish Press, Dec. 6, 2018— The New York Times’s coverage of Jewish topics has long been fodder for those who study both media bias and the complicated relationship between the newspaper and the members of the tribe that are among its most loyal readers.

Pearl Harbor: Seventy-Seven Years Later: Frederick Krantz, CIJR, Dec. 7, 2018 — We are remembering today the beginning of World War II for the United States, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941, “A date which will live in infamy”, as FDR put it…

On Topic Links

‘Ethnic Cleansing’ of Jews in Arab Lands Must be Addressed: Israeli Diplomat: Janice Arnold, CJN, Dec. 3, 2018

Jews from Islamic Countries are Migrants of the Clash of Civilizations: Giulio Meotti, Arutz Sheva, Dec. 3, 2018

Why is the Story of the Jewish Refugees so Little Known?: Lyn Julius, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 24, 2018

10 Awesome Hanukkah Menorahs: Aaron S., Jerusalem Online, Dec. 5, 2018



Liat Collins                                    

Jerusalem Post, Nov. 29, 2018

As a teenager growing up in London in the 1970s I was completely swept up in the fight for Soviet Jewry, dedicating most Sunday afternoons to demonstrations outside the Soviet embassy and other sites to help promote the message “Let My People Go!” Much of the fight was personal, with campaigns focusing on certain figures who became well known as “refuseniks.” Decades later, seeing Natan Sharansky walking down a Jerusalem street on Shabbat still gives me a feeling of satisfaction.

The movements calling for the release of Soviet Jewry drew together Jews of different ages in different continents and in many ways served those of us in the Diaspora as a rallying point around which our Jewish identity gelled. It’s the sort of solidarity that is sadly lacking today, when Diaspora Jewish youth are as likely to be pitched against each other, in pro-Israel versus pro-Palestinian configurations, with the latter more interested in creating a Palestinian state than protecting the existing Jewish state, however they want to portray themselves.

At some point, I became aware of other distressed Jewish communities. While a broad spectrum of British Jews – like their co-religionists elsewhere – were fighting for Soviet Jews to be able to come out of the cold, few seemed aware that Jews in Damascus, Baghdad and other communities were literally dying to get out. It is sobering to recall that in those days, before the Islamic Revolution in 1979, Iranian Jews were completely free and many Israelis lived and worked in Iran.

Demonstrators for Soviet Jews held all sorts of publicity stunts; I remember a rally with pet dogs; a vigil in silence; and sitting down to block rush-hour traffic in London’s Piccadilly Circus. A few years ago I had the opportunity to show Sharansky some photos of me demonstrating on his behalf which he signed to my lasting pride “Thanks for marching for me. It worked. Am Yisrael Hai! [The People of Israel Live!]”

The work on behalf of Sephardi Jewry was much more low-key. I discovered a group called The Jews in Arab Lands Committee headed by the late Percy Gourgey MBE. Gourgey, born in India to an Iraqi-Jewish family, eagerly harnessed my youthful enthusiasm and together with a band of teenage friends I founded a student branch of the committee to help draw attention to the plight of our brethren and interest politicians and opinion makers in this little-known cause.

In many ways the fate of the remaining Jews in Arab lands was worse than that of Soviet Jewry. Drawing attention to a refusenik made the Soviet authorities realize there were international eyes following what they were doing and conditions might be improved as a result; drawing attention to a specific member of the Jewish community in Damascus was more likely to result in that person’s disappearance. Still, with a huge amount of dedication and daring, many of the Jewish community were ultimately able to escape to freedom. When a couple of years ago I met a man who had fled from Syria as a teen I felt the same sort of satisfaction as I had meeting Sharansky and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.

Today, I live in an area of Jerusalem’s Katamonim neighborhood fondly referred to as the “Kurdish enclave” thanks to the Kurdish and Iraqi Jews who compose the bulk of the local population. Further down the road there is a large pocket of Moroccan and Tunisian Jewish families, with more French-speakers moving in. Anyone who thinks that Israel is some kind of Woody Allen-style, Yiddish-dominated culture planted in the Middle East is in for a surprise on their first visit. The descendants of Jews from Arab lands now make up more than 50% of the Jewish Israeli population and when Israelis talk of “mixed marriages” they are usually (jokingly) referring to Ashkenazi-Sephardi ties.

There are plenty of Sephardi (and Yemenite) families who have lived in the Land of Israel for centuries, but the majority of Sephardim arrived after the creation of the state in 1948 – the non-Palestinian refugees who are largely overlooked. On November 29, the date that the UN in 1947 accepted the Partition Plan that would lead to the establishment of the State of Israel, the world body now cynically marks “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.”

Symbolically, on November 30 Israel commemorates the expulsion of more than 800,000 Jews from Arab lands who came to Israel, started new lives in harsh conditions, and helped make the country the success it is today. Jews first settled in future Arab lands following the Babylonian conquest of the Kingdom of Judea, more than 2,500 years before Judea would be known as “The West Bank” – when its Jewish communities had more formidable enemies than pro-boycott advocates at Airbnb.

As Lyn Julius noted in an opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post this week, “More Jews (850,000) fled Arab countries than Palestinian refugees (approximately 711,000), and their exodus was one of the largest movements of non-Muslims from the region until the mass flight of Iraqi Christians… Mizrahi Jews, whose communities predate Islam by 1,000 years, have been written out of history.” In world opinion, the Palestinians alone are the victims. And the Palestinians spend more effort on perpetuating this status, with the very willing help of bodies like the UN, than in building a state of their own – a state the Arab world turned down in 1947, opting instead to try to wipe Israel off the map.

The Arab world also took revenge on the Jews living among them with devastating riots and anti-Jewish measures. According to Israeli Foreign Ministry statistics, since 1948: “In the North African region, 259,000 Jews fled from Morocco, 140,000 from Algeria, 100,000 from Tunisia, 75,000 from Egypt, and another 38,000 from Libya. In the Middle East, 135,000 Jews were exiled from Iraq, 55,000 from Yemen, 34,000 from Turkey, 20,000 from Lebanon and 18,000 from Syria. Iran forced out 25,000 Jews.” Today, only some 4,000 Jews remain in Arab countries. In other politically incorrect words, the Jews are the victims of ethnic cleansing…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]





Ashley Perry

JNS, Nov. 20, 2018


Do you know what we commemorate on Nov. 30? Sadly, for most Israelis and Jews around the world, it is just another day. However, according to a law passed in 2014 by Knesset member Dr. Shimon Ohayon (with the assistance of this author), this is now the date of the official day of commemoration for Jewish refugees from Arab countries. It should be an important day on the official global Jewish calendar because the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa are an essential part of Jewish history, even for those whose ancestors did not come from there.

One of the issues I was able and proud to raise during my time in government was of the ethnic cleansing of almost a million Jews from the Middle East and North Africa—communities massively predating Islam and the Arab conquest of the region in the seventh century, and the appropriation of their assets estimated in today’s prices to be many billions of dollars. Unfortunately, this history—the forced exodus of Jews who, along with their descendants, constitute the majority of Jews in Israel—is barely studied, mostly ignored and seemingly of little interest to the general population and even to Diaspora Jewry.

Apart from the great work of organizations like Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, Justice for Jews from Arab Countries and Harif, I was amazed that the issue had only seldom been raised in any meaningful way around the world. Growing up in a thriving Jewish community, attending a Jewish school, and being involved in the Jewish community and Zionist organizations, I am astounded now, thinking back, how little was taught about the long and illustrious history of the Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa, and their subsequent expulsion. How many are taught about the Jewish communities of Algeria, Egypt, Syria and Yemen—to name but a few of many nations now completely without a Jewish presence?

While in government, we often raised this issue on the international stage and at the foreign ministry under the leadership of then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and even initiated a now annual event at the United Nations solely devoted to the issue of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries with our partners in the World Jewish Congress and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. However, the more we pressed the issue, which by international, U.S. and Israeli law must be part of any resolution to our conflict, the more I understood that Jews in Israel and abroad are not even aware of it…

It is rarely part of any high-level Jewish or pro-Israel conference, barely touched in any pedagogic or educational syllabi, or addressed by any mainstream Jewish or pro-Israel organizations. Before we ask the world to recognize and address their moral, legal and historic rights, we should inform ourselves about the history of the communities, as well as their cleansing and extinction during the 20th century. For many around the world, Jewish history and culture is largely defined by the Jews of Eastern and Central Europe. Still, the Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa bestowed great scholarship, cultural and economic successes on many occasions without parallel anywhere in the world.

It is an uphill battle and one our opponents do not want to become widely known because it flips on its head all standard notions about the conflict, including conquest, oppression and indigeneity. I know of an academic who tried to hold a purely historical conference on the history of the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa, and was turned away by dozens of American universities, even Jewish-studies departments, because the subject matter was considered “too controversial.”

Digest that for a moment: the 2,000- to 3,000-year history of Jewish communities—their achievements, their successes, their suffering. We should not allow the suffocation and extinction of these historic communities to be erased from the pages of history. We should share their stories and keep their memories alive, especially their destruction, which was largely ignored around the world. Please join us in making Nov. 30 not another day, but a vital date in our calendar where we are free to talk about history, rights, redress and justice.




Jonathan S. Tobin                                             

Jewish Press, Dec. 6, 2018

The New York Times’s coverage of Jewish topics has long been fodder for those who study both media bias and the complicated relationship between the newspaper and the members of the tribe that are among its most loyal readers. An article published the week before Hanukkah about the health risks associated with eating fried potatoes set off a debate as to whether the feature was a not-so-subtle dig at a holiday tradition. But whether you think the piece (which actually never mentioned Hanukkah or latkes) really was proof of anti-Semitism or just an unfortunate coincidence that should remind us that sometimes a fried potato is just a fried potato, the discussion was indicative of the suspicions that many Jews hold about the Times.

But there was little doubt that a Times op-ed published in its Sunday edition—the day the holiday began this year—would set alight the debate about its attitude to Jewish sensitivities. In the piece, novelist Michael David Lucas made a couple of accurate observations while attempting to pour cold water on Hanukkah celebrations, while also promoting a misunderstanding of both Jewish history and the struggle to preserve Jewish identity in our own day.

Lucas, who identifies as a “assimilated Jew,” was absolutely right about two things. One is that for many Jews, Hanukkah’s sole significance is as a counterweight to the dominance of Christmas in American popular culture. The other is that many of the otherwise non-observant Jews who embrace it—either on its own or as part of a “Chrismukkah” conflation of the two winter season holidays—know little or nothing about the history of the festival or what the conflict it discusses meant.

But he’s wrong to assert, even obliquely, that it is hypocritical for non-Orthodox or predominantly secular Jews to join in the Hanukkah fun. Lucas is right that Hanukkah is more important to American Jews than other more important religious observances. A survey published by the Jewish People and Policy Institute last week claimed that as many as 60 percent of American Jews light candles on Hanukkah, which is more than the 53 percent who fast on Yom Kippur or the 23 percent who light Shabbat candles, according to the 2013 Pew Survey on Jewish Americans. It’s also greater than the 32 percent of those identifying as Jews who have a Christmas tree.

He is also correct to point out that the main significance of Hanukkah to many Jews is that it is a Jewish answer to Santa Claus. That doesn’t just mean providing Jews with an excuse for taking part in the national obsession with December consumer spending. It also gives them a holiday for which they can demand equal time at public-school assemblies and municipal ceremonies in protest against the annual reminder that Jews are in the minority. For others, it is, merely as Lucas says of himself, an answer to the pleas of their children for Christmas…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]




Frederick Krantz                                               

CIJR, Dec. 7, 2018


“And some there be which have no memorial, who are perished as though they had never been.”

Ecclesiasticus 44:9

We are remembering today the beginning of World War II for the United States, with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941, “A date which will live in infamy”, as FDR put it..  Followed by its final termination four years later in the Pacific, World War II was the most destructive conflagration in the history of the world, then and since.

While many people think it began in 1939, with Hitler’s invasion of Poland, it in fact began many years before, with Japan’s aggression in 1931 (Manchuria) and 1937 (China).  And while the fighting and bloodshed finally ended in 1945 (in Europe with the Allies on the Elbe, the fall of Berlin to the Red Army, and in the Pacific, in August, after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Tokyo’s final, formal surrender on the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Harbor, in September), the war’s consequences, with and after the Cold War, are with us still.

The titanic struggle between the Allies, led by Great Britain and the US after the defeat of France and (as is often forgotten), by China in Asia, and the Axis, led by Germany and Japan (with Mussolini’s fascist Italy a subordinate player) would cost humanity well over 60,000,000 military and civilian deaths. These included over 6   million Jews, exterminated by the German Nazis as an integral part of their racial plan to impose an “Aryan” 1,000-Year Reich on first Europe and then the world).

While all the figures given here are approximate, and some vary according to the source, across WWII civilian casualties far exceeded military. Of some 70 million combatants on all sides, about 17 million were killed. The Soviet Union suffered the most civilian deaths, more than 21.5 million; China ca.15 million; Germany 4 million, Japan 2 million; Poland, with the highest per capita death rate, over 6 million dead (50% Jews), equal to 15% of the population.

France lost 600,000, the United Kingdom 65,000, Italy 800,000. Belgium, Holland  Greece and Yugoslavia,; the Scandinavian countries; Finland, Romania, and Hungary (German allies); Bulgaria and Albania and others—all suffered grievous civilian (and in some cases military) casualties.  Ca. 8 million Soviets (including partisans) and 3 million Germans, died on the Eastern front. British armed forces lost 380,000 men, Commonwealth and Imperial allies over 100,000 [Canada, 37,000], the USA 300,000 servicemen.  And over 1 ½ million Jews fought in all the Allied armies.

And millions more people suffered as refugees, forced laborers, oppressed and exploited or sacrificing, populations, in population transfers, and so on.  The cost of the massive destruction of cities, roads, rail-lines, buildings, churches, industrial plants, harbors, bridges, dams, and of the millions of tons of shipping destroyed (true of China, Philippines and other Pacific theater countries as well) is estimated at over $1.5 trillion, probably a very low figure.

The numbers of dead, military and civilian, are staggering and unimaginable (and far outweighed, it should be noted, by those wounded, physically and emotionally). World War II, counting only from 1939 (and not from the beginnings of Japanese aggression in Asia in 1931) lasted 2,174 days; deaths averaged 23,000 lives a day, 15 people were killed [many brutally and senselessly murdered] a minute, for six long years. *  Each death was in its own way a tragedy—multiply each by 60 million to begin to get a sense of the unimaginable human cost of this catastrophe. Europe still has not recovered from the demographic ravages of 1939-1945.

Why did Hitler lose? There are of course many intersecting reasons—Churchill’s leadership and the resilience of Great Britain’s then Empire, with its Commonwealth reinforcements (including Canada); Roosevelt’s pre-December 7, 1941 Lend-Lease aid; Germany’s two-front war after June, 1941, radicalized after the Allied landings in No. Africa and then Italy after November, 1942 and in Normandy in June, 1944 (four of every five Germans who died in combat in WWII died on the Eastern front).

The lack of cooperation between Germany and Japan was a key factor; Allied victory by late 1943 in the Battle of the Atlantic (aided by the breaking of the Germans’ Enigma code), the key role of America’s immense industrial power and production (including large-scale transfers of war materièl to the Soviet Union), and the massive Allied strategic bombing campaign against Germany, were other elements. The flight of Jewish and German emigré nuclear physicists to Britain and the U.S.  precluded rapid German development if an atomic bomb, and the obstinate endurance, courage and sacrifice of millions of ordinary Russian soldiers and civilians (see Vasily Grossman’s great Stalingrad novel, Life and Fate), reinforced by superb (and plentiful) equipment like the T34 tank, Stormovik attack-fighter, and Katyusha rocket artillery, also played key roles.

But as Andrew Roberts concludes in his magisterial The Storm of War. A New History of the Second World War, while stressing Hitler’s misplaced confidence in his own will and military genius and the German racialists’ disinterest in rallying “inferior” conquered peoples, “The real reason why Hitler lost the Second World War was exactly the same one that caused him to unleash it in the first place: he was a Nazi.”*

And so the Age of Global War, which began in fire, smoke and terror in China, Poland and Pearl Harbor ended in triumph in Berlin and Tokyo Harbor four years later, with the dropping of the first atomic bombs and the beginning of the Cold War. Let us never forget the heroes, civilian and military, who, in their millions, made the ultimate sacrifice that we might be free.

*Andrew Roberts, Storm of War (New York, Harper Collins, 2011), pp.579; 608.

(Prof. Krantz is Director & President of the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research,

Editor of the Daily Isranet Briefing and the Israfax quarterly,

and a Professor of History at Liberal Arts College, Concordia University.)


CIJR Wishes All Our Friends & Supporters: Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!



On Topic Links

‘Ethnic Cleansing’ of Jews in Arab Lands Must be Addressed: Israeli Diplomat: Janice Arnold, CJN, Dec. 3, 2018—Vivianne Schinasi-Silver calls herself “the last of the Mohicans,” the final generation to remember “the golden age” of the Jewish community of Egypt.

Jews from Islamic Countries are Migrants of the Clash of Civilizations: Giulio Meotti, Arutz Sheva, Dec. 3, 2018—Every year, on 30 November, Israel and the Jewish world remember the 850,000 Jews expelled from Arab-Islamic countries. Many of them live among us in Europe, in Rome as in Paris, in Milan as in Brussels.

Why is the Story of the Jewish Refugees so Little Known?: Lyn Julius, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 24, 2018—Seventy years ago, the newly-established State of Israel opened the floodgates to hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees. Many were Holocaust survivors from the displaced persons camps or remnant communities of Eastern Europe, but the biggest contingent seeking refuge in Israel came from Arab and Muslim countries.

10 Awesome Hanukkah Menorahs: Aaron S., Jerusalem Online, Dec. 5, 2018




The resurgence of Hebrew literature in America and the Jewish refugees from Arab lands.


Denouncing Tehran as the biggest threat to global security, Canada has closed its embassy in Iran and will expel all remaining Iranian diplomats in Canada within five days Foreign Minister John Baird, cited Iran's nuclear program, its hostility towards Israel and Iranian military assistance to the government of President Bashar Assad Syria…
"Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today," said Baird, accusing Iran of showing blatant disregard for the safety of foreign diplomats.  "Under the circumstances, Canada can no longer maintain a diplomatic presence in Iran … Diplomatic relations between Canada and Iran have been suspended," he said.

In response, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed Canada's decision to expel the Iranian ambassador from Ottawa and to close the Canadian embassy in Tehran,  "I congratulate Canada's PM [Stephen] Harper for showing leadership and making a bold move that sends a clear message to Iran and the world. The determination shown by Canada is of great importance in order for the Iranians to understand that they cannot go on with their race toward nuclear arms. This practical step must set an example of international morality and responsibility to the international community,"

Cynthia Ozick
The New Republic,  June 7, 2012
On December 17, 2007, on the storied stage of the Poetry Center of the 92nd Street Y in New York, the Hebrew language—its essence, its structure, its metaphysic— entered American discourse in so urgent a manner as to renew, if not to inflame, an ancient argument. The occasion was a public conversation between Marilynne Robinson and Robert Alter: a not uncommon match of novelist with literary scholar. In this instance, though, the scholar is an English Department anomaly: not only a master of the Anglo-American corpus, but a profoundly engaged Hebraist and Bible translator and expositor, whose newly published volume of Englished psalms is the evening’s subject.

The novelist, too, is exceptional among her contemporaries—a writer of religious inclination, open to history and wit, yet not dogged by piety, if piety implies an unthinking mechanics of belief. Robinson may rightly be termed a Protestant novelist, in a way we might hesitate to characterize even the consciously Protestant Updike. Certainly it is impossible to conceive of any other American writer of fiction who could be drawn, as Robinson has been drawn, to an illuminating reconsideration of Calvinism.
Protestant and Jew, writer and translator: such a juxtaposition is already an argument. The expectation of one may not be the expectation of the other. The novelist’s intuition for the sacred differs from the translator’s interrogation of the sacred. And beyond this disparity stands the inveterate perplexity, for English speakers, of the seventeenth century biblical sonorities of the King James Version (KJV): can they, should they, be cast out as superannuated? The question is not so much whether the KJV can be surpassed as whether it can be escaped.

From that very platform where Robinson and Alter sit amiably contending, a procession of the great modernists of the twentieth century (among them Eliot and Auden and Marianne Moore and Dylan Thomas) once sent out their indelible voices—voices inexorably reflecting the pulsings and locutions that are the KJV’s venerable legacy to poets. And not only to poets: everyone for whom English is a mother tongue is indebted to the idiom and cadences of the KJV. For Americans, they are the Bible, and the Bible, even now, remains a commanding thread in the American language.
It is that thread, or call it a bright ribbon of feeling, that animates Robinson as she confronts Alter’s rendering of Psalm 30, marveling at its “sacred quality of being,” and at the Psalmist’s “I, this amazing universal human singular who integrates experience and interprets it profoundly.” Any translation, she concludes, “is always another testimony.” Here the novelist invokes exaltation in phrases that are themselves exalting, as if dazzled by a vast inner light washing out both the visual and the tactile: hence “testimony,” an ecstatic internal urge. But Alter responds with an illustration that hints at dissent.

The KJV, he points out, has “I will extol thee, O Lord; for thou hast lifted me up,” while for “lifted me up” Alter chooses, instead, “drew me up.” The Hebrew word dolah, he explains, refers to drawing water from a well; the image is of a bottomless crevasse in the earth, fearfully identified in a later verse as “the Pit.” Rather than turning inward, the translator uncovers sacral presence in the concrete meaning of the Hebrew, so that the metaphor of the well instantly seizes on weight and depth and muscle. Which approach is truer, which more authentic?
This, then, is the marrow—the unacknowledged pit—of the argument. And it becomes explicit only moments afterward, in Robinson’s beautiful recitation of Alter’s translation of Psalm 8, followed by Alter’s reading of the Hebrew original. The contrast in sound is so arresting that Robinson is asked to comment on it. She hesitates: it is clear that to American ears the Hebrew guttural is as uncongenial as it is unfamiliar. Diffidently, courteously, she concedes, “I have no Hebrew.” “Well, I have,” says Alter.
And there it is, the awful cut exposed: the baleful question of birthright. The translator asserts his possession of the language of the Psalms: is this equal to a claim that he alone is their rightful heir? Perhaps yes; but also perhaps not. The novelist, meanwhile, has embraced and passionately internalized those selfsame verses, though in their English dress—then is she too not a genuine heir to their intimacies and majesties? Never mind that Alter, wryly qualifying, goes on to address the issue of vocal disparity: “And if anyone thinks that he is reproducing the sound of Hebrew in English, he is seriously deluded.” A translator’s gesture of humility—the two musical systems cannot be made to meet; it cannot be done. But this comes as an aside and a distraction. What continues to hang in the air is Alter’s emphatic declaration of ownership.
Hebrew in America has a bemusing past. The Puritans, out of scriptural piety, once dreamed of establishing Hebrew as the national language. Harvard and Yale in their early years required the study of Hebrew together with Latin and Greek; Yale even now retains its Hebrew motto. Divinity school Hebrew may be diminished, but it endures. And though the Hebrew Bible is embedded in the Old Testament, its native tongue is silenced. “We have no Hebrew,” admits biblically faithful America.

Then can Hebrew, however unheard, be said to be an integral American birthright? Was Alter, on that uneasy evening in New York, enacting a kind of triumphalism, or was he, instead, urging a deeper affinity? Deeper, because the well of Hebrew yields more than the transports of what we have come to call the “spiritual.” Send down a bucket, and up comes a manifold history—the history of a particular people, but also the history of the language itself. An old, old tongue, the enduring vehicle of study and scholarship, public liturgy and private prayer, geographically displaced and dispersed but never abandoned, never fallen into irretrievable disuse, continually renewed, and at the last restored to the utilitarian and the commonplace.

Hebrew as a contemporary language, especially for poetry, is no longer the language of the Bible; but neither is it not the language of the Bible. And despite translation’s heroic bridging, despite its every effort to narrow the idiomatic divide by disclosing the true names of things (the word itself, not merely the halo of the word), we may never see an America steeped in Hebrew melodies.
Yet once, for a little time, we did.

THERE WAS A PERIOD, in the first half of the twentieth century, when America—the land, its literature, its varied inhabitants and their histories—was sung in the Hebrew alphabet. Long epic poems on American Indians, the California Gold Rush, the predicament and religious expression of blacks in the American South, the farms and villages and churchgoers of New England, the landscape of Maine—these were the Whitmanesque explorations and celebrations of a rapturous cenacle of Hebrew poets who flourished from before World War I until the aftermath of World War II. But both “cenacle” and “flourished” must be severely qualified.

Strewn as they were among a handful of cities—New York, Cleveland, Boston, Baltimore, Chicago—they rarely met as an established group; and if they flourished, it was in driven pursuit of an elitist art sequestered in nearly hermetic obscurity. They were more a fever and a flowering than a movement: they issued neither pronouncements nor provocations. They had no unified credo. What they had was Hebrew—Hebrew for its own sake, Hebrew as a burning bush in the brain. Apart from those socio-historic narratives on purely American themes, they also wrote in a lyrical vein, or a metaphysical, or a romantic.

Though modernism was accelerating all around them, and had taken root through European influences in the burgeoning Hebrew poetry of Palestine/ Israel, the American Hebraists almost uniformly turned away from the staccato innovations of the modernists. They were, with one or two exceptions, classicists who repudiated make-it-new manifestos as a type of reductive barbarism. Rather than pare the language down, or compress it through imagism and other prosodic maneuvers, they sought to plumb its inexhaustible deeps. And when their hour of conflagration ebbed, it was not only because their readers were destined to be few. Hebrew had returned to its natural home in a Hebrew-speaking sovereign polity: a fulfillment that for the American Hebraists was, unwaveringly, the guiding nerve of their linguistic conviction.

Who, then, were these possessed and unheralded aristocrats, these priestly celebrants unencumbered by a congregation, these monarchs in want of a kingdom? Were they no more than a Diaspora chimera? In a revelatory work of scholarly grandeur that is in itself a hymn to Hebrew, Alan Mintz has revivified both the period and the poets. The capacious volume he calls Sanctuary in the Wilderness is history, biography, translation, criticism, and more—a “more” that is, after all, an evocation of regret. The regret is pervasive and tragic. Think not of some mute inglorious Milton, but of a living and achieving Milton set down in a society unable to decipher so much as a-b-c, and unaware of either the poet’s presence or his significance. Yet Mintz never condescends; with honorable diffidence, he repeatedly refers to this majestic study as merely introductory, an opening for others to come. (Top)

[This article has been shortened  in the interests of space.
For the full article please see the On Topic links below.]

Irwin Cotler
Jerusalem Post, Sept. 6, 2012
This November will mark the 65th anniversary of the UN Partition Resolution of November 29, 1947. It is sometimes forgotten – and often not even known – that this was the first-ever blueprint for an Israeli-Palestinian “two states for two peoples” solution. Regrettably, while Jewish leaders accepted the resolution, Arab and Palestinian leaders did not, and by their own acknowledgment, declared war on the nascent Jewish state while also targeting the Jewish nationals living in their respective countries.
Indeed, had the UN Partition Resolution been accepted, there would have been no 1948 Arab- Israeli war, no refugees, and none of the pain and suffering of these past 65 years. The annual November 29 UN-organized International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People might well have been a day commemorating a Middle East peace, and the establishment of both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine.
Yet the revisionist Middle East narrative – prejudicial to authentic reconciliation and peace between peoples as well as between states – continues to hold that there was only one victim population, Palestinian refugees, and that Israel was responsible for the Palestinian nakba (catastrophe) of 1948.
The result is that the pain and plight of 850,000 Jews uprooted and displaced from Arab countries – the forgotten exodus – has been both expunged and eclipsed from both the Middle East peace and justice narratives these past 65 years.
Indeed, the upcoming United Nations commemoration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People – celebrated on the anniversary of the Partition Resolution – will likely ignore, yet again, the plight of Jewish refugees, thereby indulging and encouraging this Middle East revisionism.
Moreover, this revisionist narrative has not only eclipsed – and erased – the forgotten exodus from memory and remembrance, but it also denies that it was a forced exodus, and one that resulted from both double rejectionism and double aggression. This is the real nakba – the real double catastrophe.
Simply put, the Arab countries not only rejected a proposed Palestinian state and went to war to extinguish the nascent Jewish state, but also targeted the Jewish nationals living in their respective countries, thereby creating two refugee populations – the Palestinian refugee population resulting from the Arab war against Israel, and the Jewish refugees resulting from the Arab war against its own Jewish nationals.
Indeed, evidence contained in the report entitled “Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries: The Case for Rights And Redress” documents in detail the pattern of state-sanctioned repression and persecution in Arab countries – including Nuremberg-like laws – that targeted its Jewish populations, resulting in denationalization, forced expulsions, illegal sequestration of property, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and murder – namely, anti-Jewish pogroms.
And while the internal Jewish narrative has often referred to pogroms as European attacks on their Jewish nationals, it has often ignored Arab-Muslim attacks on their Jewish nationals. Moreover, as the report also documents, these massive human rights violations were not only the result of state-sanctioned patterns of oppression in each of the Arab countries, but they were reflective of a collusive blueprint, as embodied in the Draft Law of the Political Committee of the League of Arab States in 1947.
This is a story whose voices are only now being heard by many for the first time. It is a story whose painful testimony has been shared too often only among the victims themselves. It is a truth that must now be affirmed, acknowledged, and acted upon in the interests of justice and history.
Regrettably, the United Nations also bears express and continuing responsibility for this distorted Middle East and peace narrative.
Since 1948, there have been more than 150 UN resolutions that have specifically dealt with the Palestinian refugee plight. Yet, not one of these resolutions makes any reference to, nor is there any expression of concern for, the plight of the 850,000 Jews displaced from Arab countries. Nor have any of the Arab countries involved – or the Palestinian leadership involved – expressed any acknowledgment, let alone regret, for this pain and suffering, or for their respective responsibility for the pain and suffering.
How do we rectify this historical – and ongoing – injustice? What are the rights and remedies available under international human rights and humanitarian law? And what are the corresponding duties and obligations incumbent upon the United Nations, Arab countries, and members of the international community?…
It must be appreciated that while justice has long been delayed, it must no longer be denied. The time has come to rectify this historical injustice, and to restore the plight and truth of this forgotten – and forced – exodus of Jews from Arab countries to the Middle East narrative from which they have been expunged and eclipsed these 65 years.
…Remedies for victim refugee groups – including rights of remembrance, truth, justice and redress, as mandated under human rights and humanitarian law – must now be invoked for Jews displaced from Arab countries.
…In the manner of duties and responsibilities, each of the Arab countries – and the League of Arab States – must acknowledge their role and responsibility in their double aggression of launching an aggressive war against Israel and the perpetration of human rights violations against their respective Jewish nationals. The culture of impunity must end.
…The Arab League Peace Plan of 2002 should incorporate the question of Jewish refugees from Arab countries as part of its narrative for an Israeli- Arab peace, just as the Israeli narrative now incorporates the issue of Palestinian refugees in its vision of an Israeli-Arab peace.
…On the international level, the UN General Assembly – in the interests of justice and equity – should include reference to Jewish refugees as well as Palestinian refugees in its annual resolutions; the UN Human Rights Council should address, as it has yet to do, the issue of Jewish as well as Palestinian refugees; UN agencies dealing with compensatory efforts for Palestinian refugees should also address Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
…The annual November 29 commemoration by the United Nations of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People should be transformed into an International Day of Solidarity for a Two-State – Two-Peoples Solution, as the initial 1947 Partition Resolution intended, including solidarity with all refugees created by the Israeli-Arab conflict.
…Jurisdiction over Palestinian refugees should be transferred from UNRWA to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. There was no justification then – and still less today – for the establishment of a separate body to deal only with Palestinian refugees, particularly when that body has been itself compromised by its incitement to hatred and violence, as well as its revisionist teaching of the Middle East peace and justice narrative.
…Any bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – which one hopes will presage a just and lasting peace – must include Jewish refugees as well as Palestinian refugees in an inclusive joinder of discussion.
…During any and all discussions on the Middle East by the Quartet and others, any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees should be paralleled by a reference to Jewish refugees from Arab countries.
Some governments have made welcome progress on this question, such as the US Congress in recently adopting legislation recognizing the plight of Jewish refugees and requiring that the issue be raised in any and all talks on Middle East peace. I have a motion before the Canadian Parliament in this regard which I hope will soon be adopted. Legislatures around the world should hold hearings on the issue to ensure public awareness and action, to allow for victims’ testimony, and to right the historical record – an effort in which I trust that Canada will be engaged this fall.
In sum, the exclusion and denial of rights and redress to Jewish refugees from Arab countries continues to prejudice authentic negotiations between the parties and a just and lasting peace between them. Let there be no mistake about it – as I have said before and will continue to affirm: Where there is no remembrance, there is no truth; where there is no truth, there will be no justice; where there is no justice, there will be no reconciliation; and where there is no reconciliation, there will be no peace – which we all seek.(Top)