Jews in the Danger Zone
Turmoil in the Middle East has placed several “remnant” Jewish communities, literally and figuratively in the direct line of fire of unstable political and military groups throughout the region. A synagogue in Tunisia was torched; a reporter called “Jew” was violently attacked. While these acts may not be organized anti-Semitism, the undercurrent is apparent.
Asked about expectations for the Jewish communities in Arab countries in the face of the current societal and governmental changes, Rabbi Elie Abadie told the Algemeiner that “each country is an individual case. We must monitor each situation. There is no question that some of the demonstrations have had anti-Semitic components, but not all are the same. The statements coming out of Egypt, for example, show the traditional anti-Semitic libels continue. Statements that the Jews control the media and western society are typical.
Abadie is the senior rabbi of the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue in Manhattan, a major Sephardic congregation and a respected voice throughout the Jewish community. In May, he plans to lead a humanitarian trip to Syria which will visit the local Jewish community and meet with officials of the Syrian government. Asked if he was concerned about the safety of the group, he responded that the Syrian government is stable, and as guests of the government, the travelers will remain under its protection.
The Algemeiner, in conversation with Israeli Deputy Minister for Development of the Negev and Galilee Ayoob Kara in 2010 learned that the border between Israel and Syria has in fact, been intermittently opened to allow family visits several times in recent months, and that there is limited commercial activity between the two countries.
To date, Egypt has assured (and shown by its actions) that its treaty with Israel remains in force. Anti-Semitic signage among the anti Mubarak protestors celebrating in Tahrir Square are provocative and of concern. President Obama has said “Egypt will never be the same… for Egyptians have made it clear that nothing less than genuine democracy will carry the day.” Will that democracy include an integral change in the attitude of the “free” Egyptians towards Israel?
Will the demand for freedom recognize the internal changes that must be made or will Israel be the scapegoat? While no Israeli flags were burned during the protest, American reporter Lora Logan, a white Christian, was attacked and scorned with the labels “Jew” and “Israeli spy.”
The manner in which military operations in the Middle East are conducted is very much influenced by the American base in this small island nation. Home to the Fifth Fleet, the naval force essential to US strategy for protecting Persian Gulf shipping, positive relations with the ruling government are essential to US military planning. An uneasy quiet has emanated from Washington regarding the Bahraini government response to Pearl Square protestors. No word has come of any actions against Jews – Israelis – doing business in the country.
Saudi Arabia has no resident Jewish population. Its nationals do, however, conduct business with Jews and Israelis throughout the world, with business associations between Saudis and Jews/Israelis (such as the management of the Plaza Hotel in New York – owned by Israeli Yitzchak Tshuva by Fairmont Management, whose biggest shareholder is Saudi investment firm Kingdom Holding) in many locations.
The US State Department says the Saudis “restrict civil liberties, freedoms of press, speech, assembly, association, and some religious practices.” The country is the world’s largest oil producer. What happens there will affect the world economy. Will King Abdullah be able to satisfy his population with increased welfare funds and a limited loosening of social regulations, especially as he faces a “Day of Rage” March 11?
The Jewish community of Tunisia is minute, numbering around 2,000. Outright acts of anti-Semitism have occurred during the anti government protests in Tunisia. While the Tunisian government has “expressed regret” for the burning of a synagogue and has “condemned verbal attacks on Jews by Muslims” and stated that it “denounced any act likely to undermine respect for different faiths” the fact is that attacks have occurred. The ministry statement that “in line with our ideals and the spirit of our grand people’s revolution, we can only be more devoted to the traditions of freedom of religious expression, as much in beliefs as in the practice of the faith” would be a most positive position. The reality of the “street” however is quite different shouts of “Be gone the Jews, the army of Mohammed is back!” rang out outside the Tunis synagogue prior to Friday Sabbath services. Rene Trabelsi of the Jewish community in Djerba where most of the country’s Jews reside, blames the fundamentalist movement El-Tahrir (Freedom), which was “very silent under the regime of (toppled president Zine el Abidine) Ben Ali, but now is out to cause chaos.”
One immediate result of the overthrow of the Tunisian government is the immigration of six Tunisian Jewish families, totaling 20 people, who have made aliyah to Israel.
The Algemeiner recently attended the announcement of the King of Morocco’s support for the development of a Jewish cultural center in Morocco. Jews have been in Morocco over 2000 years. (The population which once numbered 225,000 is currently about 6,000. Most have immigrated to Israel.) It is said to be “one of the most tolerant environments for Jews in the Arab world.” To date, Morocco has remained stable, as have conditions for its aging Jewish community.
King Mohamed VI continues his father’s protection of the Jewish community and has publically stated mistreatment of Jews would not be tolerated. Though there have been attacks on Jewish targets in past, during this period of political upheaval, none appears to have occurred. Morocco allows Jews to hold positions in its government, even to the position of Special Counselor to the King. The government has sponsored rallies to demonstrate support for the Jewish community.
While Iran lent rhetorical support to the protestors in Cairo, it continues to suppress every attempt at reform within its borders. Will the wave of freedom reach the streets of Tehran? The complexities of Iran require additional space and will be followed in a future issue of the Algemeiner.
Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon says “the crisis n the Middle East has disproved the “linkage” argument which says that solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would result in “peace in the Middle East.” He asks if the “revolutions sweeping the Arab world signal the precursor to a reassessment of how Israel is treated by the media, non-governmental organizations, UN bodies and others? We are under no illusions. Recent events in the Mideast have exposed the hypocrisy and double standards applied to Israel.”
The anti Israel rhetoric has not stopped. Hamas and Hezbolla threaten Israel’s physical existence, threatening destruction and suicidal Islamo-terrorists. Activists seek economic and political deligitimization, using well funded propaganda machines.