‘Jews of the Levant’ exhibition traces group’s millennial presence in Arab Maghreb

‘Jews of the Levant’ exhibition traces group’s millennial presence in Arab Maghreb
Jewish mosaic with tree of paradise, Roman synagogue of Naro (Hammam Lif, Tunisia), 6th century from the Brooklyn Museum in New York. (Hakima Bedouani)
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Updated 26 November 2021

‘Jews of the Levant’ exhibition traces group’s millennial presence in Arab Maghreb

‘Jews of the Levant’ exhibition traces group’s millennial presence in Arab Maghreb
  • Exhibition covering 1,100sqm billed as cultural event of international importance
  • General curator highlights need to preserve heritage, ensure its transmission to future generations

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron recently attended the opening in Paris of an exhibition organized by the Arab World Institute (IMA).

“Jews of the Levant, a Millennial History,” now open to the public, covers 1,100 square meters of exhibition space and has been billed as a cultural event of international significance.

Documenting centuries of Jewish presence in Arab countries, it includes displays of archaeological remains, liturgical objects, jewelry, costumes, ancient manuscripts, paintings, and photographs, along with music and audiovisual installations.

Items have been brought together from international collections in France, the US, Spain, the UK, Belgium, Brazil, and Morocco, to highlight the ancestral cohabitation between Jewish and Muslim communities. Exhibits mark periods of rich artistic and intellectual creations as well as erratic violence.

General curator of the exhibition, Benjamin Stora, a university professor and historian specializing in the Arab Maghreb, is from the historic city of Constantine, in northeastern Algeria.

He noted that Jews were present in North Africa before the arrival of Christianity and that the Arabic language was imposed on the Jewish community from the ninth century.

“The Jewish community in the Arab Maghreb spoke only in Arabic, except in certain regions where they either spoke Berber or Latin, a mixture of Spanish, Hebrew, and Arabic,” he said.

Stora pointed out that there was an interpenetration of the three languages that reflected the cohabitation of the two communities which included expatriate rabbis from Andalusia who settled in Tlemcen, Constantine, and other cities in the Maghreb countries.

An undeniable imprint

He added that the Jews left an undeniable imprint on the cultural heritage of the region, especially when it came to craftsmanship. “My family members, originally from Constantine, were jewelers and made snake-shaped objects that women wore at parties and weddings.”

On political and religious clashes between the two communities, he said: “The period of French colonization and the Cremieux Decree of 1870 (granting French citizenship to Algerian Jews but not to Muslims) marked the separation between the two natives, Muslim and Jewish.”

He added that the outbreak of the war of independence saw four generations of French Jews position themselves alongside France, completing the rupture in relations between Muslims and Jews.

Preservation of memories

Stora, who has worked for more than 40 years on the history of the contemporary Arab Maghreb, highlighted the theme of the preservation of ancient memory.

He said: “We cannot reduce this essential question of clashes to the Palestinian issue, the colonization, or the departure of the Jews. It is also a question of preserving memories, which cannot wait for all political questions to be resolved.”

Denis Charbit, a professor of political science at the Open University of Israel and member of the exhibition’s scientific council, is responsible for the link between the IMA, the Israel Museum, and the Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi Institute.

A specialist in 20th-century Jewish history, he said the exhibition had an important role to play in the fight against ignorance and pointed out that the Jewish presence alongside the Arab and Berber populations dated back 2,000 years.

He noted that it was necessary to integrate the disruption and exile of Jews from Arab countries into the exhibition and that while relationships were not always smooth, they were not part of a black book either.

On the reasons behind the rupture, Charbit said that Arab nationalism had not shown itself to be sufficiently inclusive. “It was considered that the Jewish populations, who were also indigenous, Arab, and non-Muslim, were not part of the Algerian, Tunisian, Iraqi, or Yemeni nations.”

He added that the birth of Zionism and creation of the state of Israel presented Jews with the possibility for a final departure. Others who have benefited from the cultural and linguistic project of the Alliance Israelite Universelle organization in Baghdad, Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon, and other parts of the Mediterranean, have gone into exile in France.

Stora said it was necessary to protect the heritage and ensure its transmission to future generations. “It is not a question of a single history, a single religion, a single culture, but a plurality of interventions, cultures, civilizations of languages, as well as a passage of populations,” he added.

Bridges

Charbit said: “In Israel, the Jews have a history with the Palestinians, even if it is written in tension and in blood. There are bridges and things in common.”

The Jews of the Levant in Israel had a sweet and sour relationship with their countries of origin, partly due to a feeling of exile, but they also felt nostalgia for the stories of a once harmonious social life, he added.

“The Holocaust black hole did not prevent European Jews from remaining connected to their European heritage. Maintaining this link is the great ambition of this exhibition,” Charbit said.

This story originally appeared in French on Arab News en Francais


17 dead in China restaurant fire: authorities

17 dead in China restaurant fire: authorities
Updated 7 sec ago

17 dead in China restaurant fire: authorities

17 dead in China restaurant fire: authorities
BEIJING: A fire at a restaurant in northeastern China on Wednesday killed 17 people and injured three, according to local authorities.
The blaze broke out at 12:40 pm in an eatery in the city of Changchun, the local government said in a statement posted on the Weibo social media platform.

Japan PM ‘regrets’ Morocco’s absence from TICAD 8

Japan PM ‘regrets’ Morocco’s absence from TICAD 8
Updated 22 min 14 sec ago

Japan PM ‘regrets’ Morocco’s absence from TICAD 8

Japan PM ‘regrets’ Morocco’s absence from TICAD 8
  • Japan PM Kishida Fumio asked Morocco to cooperate with Japan in the future

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio said that Morocco’s decision to not participate in the 8th TICAD Summit was “regrettable” during a meeting on Wednesday with the Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch.

Kishida stated that he would like to obtain the cooperation of Akhannouch in order to promote the entry of Japanese companies into Morocco and also asked the Moroccan side to cooperate with Japan in the future, including on TICAD events.

In addition, Kishida said that Morocco’s ammonium phosphate is important for the stable supply of fertilizers and that he looked forward to Morocco’s constructive response on the matter.

The two leaders also exchanged views on international issues and resolved to continue working closely together in dealing with the food security risks.

Akhannouch expressed his heartfelt condolences on the passing of former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and stated that he would like to further strengthen the cooperative relationship that the two countries have built over many years in a wide range of fields.

Kishida expressed his gratitude to Akhannouch for attending Abe’s state funeral and said that the two countries have enjoyed good relations for many years based on the friendship between the imperial and royal families.


Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM

Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM
Updated 28 September 2022

Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM

Kishida promises support for two-state solution in meeting with former Palestine PM
  • Kishida stated that Japan should refrain from any unilateral measures that go against the peace process

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday reiterated his support for a “two-state solution” to the Palestinian problem during a “candid exchange of views” with former Palestinian Prime Minister Dr. Rami Hamdallah in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Kishida stated that Japan should refrain from any unilateral measures that go against the peace process and said he would like to continue contributing to the improvement of the environment for the progress of peace in the Middle East.

Japan’s PM also expressed his support for Palestine’s economic self-reliance through food assistance of more than $8 million – which was provided in response to the deterioration of food security in Palestine as a result of the situation in Ukraine – and the “Corridor for Peace and Prosperity” initiative promoted by Japan. Hamdallah expressed his gratitude for Japan’s support. 

Hamdallah conveyed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ condolences on the passing of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Kishida expressed his gratitude for the condolences sent by Palestinian officials.

Both sides agreed to continue to develop the relationship between Japan and Palestine.

This article was originally published on Arab News Japan.


India bans Islamist group, citing ‘terror links’

India bans Islamist group, citing ‘terror links’
Updated 28 September 2022

India bans Islamist group, citing ‘terror links’

India bans Islamist group, citing ‘terror links’
  • The Popular Front of India denies involvement in extremist activity
  • Police have arrested more than 300 PFI cadres in raids across the country since Friday

NEW DELHI: India banned an Islamist group and its affiliates for five years on Wednesday over alleged terrorism links, after a nationwide crackdown that saw hundreds of the organization’s members arrested.
A government notice said the Popular Front of India (PFI) had been outlawed for its ties to extremist organizations, including the Daesh group, and for violent attacks attributed to its members.
The PFI denies involvement in extremist activity and says it is the subject of a “witch hunt” by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government.
Police have arrested more than 300 PFI cadres in raids across the country since Friday.
A home affairs ministry statement announcing the ban outlined a laundry list of charges accusing the group of violent and subversive activities.
Members had engaged in “cold-blooded killings of persons associated with organizations espousing other faiths, obtaining explosives to target prominent people and places and destruction of public property,” Wednesday’s notice said.
The ministry said PFI members had been responsible for at least 10 murders in southern India since 2016 and accused the group of “pursuing a secret agenda” to radicalize society and undermine democracy.
Hard-line Hindu groups have long campaigned for a ban on PFI, which is estimated to have tens of thousands of members around India.
Calls to outlaw the organization have grown in recent months after several Muslim-led protests against the government.
The group was accused of organizing street rallies against a state ban on the wearing of hijabs by Muslim school students in Karnataka, which resulted in violent confrontations between protesters and Hindu activists.
Modi’s government has been accused of clamping down on dissent and promoting discriminatory policies toward the country’s 200-million-strong Muslim minority since coming to power in 2014.
Actions against the PFI were “a conscious attempt by the Modi government to spread Islamophobia among the public and demonize Muslims as a community,” CPIML Liberation, a communist political party in India, wrote on Twitter.
But the PFI has been implicated in violent attacks before, with 13 members jailed in 2015 for hacking off the hand of a university lecturer accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
Wednesday’s ministry notice said some PFI activists had joined Islamic State and participated in terror activities in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
It also linked the PFI to Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), an extremist group that carried out several bombing attacks in India’s eastern neighbor in 2005 that left at least 28 dead.


UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan
Updated 28 September 2022

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan

UN official warns of conflict, more poverty in Afghanistan
  • UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in late August that more than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity

UNITED NATIONS: A senior UN official warned Tuesday of a possible internal conflict and worsening poverty in Afghanistan if the Taliban don’t respond quickly to the needs of all elements of society, saying their crackdown on the rights of girls and women signals indifference to over 50 percent of Afghanistan’s population and a willingness to risk international isolation.
Markus Potzel, the UN deputy representative for Afghanistan, told the Security Council some of the Taliban’s “claimed and acknowledged achievements” are also eroding.
He pointed to a steady rise in armed clashes, criminal activity and high profile terrorist attacks especially by the Islamic State extremist group which demonstrated in recent months that it can carry out assassinations of figures close to the Taliban, attack foreign embassies, fire rockets against Afghanistan’s neighbors — and maintain their longstanding campaign against Shia Muslims and ethnic minorities.
Potzel said the economic situation also “remains tenuous,” with food security worsening and winter approaching.
The UN humanitarian appeal for $4.4 billion has only received $1.9 billion which is “alarming,” he said, urging donors to immediately provide $614 million to support winter preparations and an additional $154 million to preposition essential supplies before places get cut off by winter weather.
UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in late August that more than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity. And “we worry” that the figures will soon become worse because winter weather will send already high fuel and food prices skyrocketing, he said.
While there have been some positive developments in Afghanistan in recent months, Potzel said, they have been too few, too slow, “and are outweighed by the negatives, “in particular, the ongoing ban on secondary education for girls — unique in the world — and growing restrictions on women’s rights.”
When the Taliban first ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women and girls were subject to overwhelming restrictions — no education, no participation in public life, and women were required to wear the all-encompassing burqa.
Following the Taliban ouster by US forces in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks in the United States, and for the next 20 years, Afghan girls were not only enrolled in school but universities, and many women became doctors, lawyers, judges, members of parliament and owners of businesses, traveling without face coverings.
After the Taliban overran the capital on Aug. 15, 2021 as US and NATO forces were in the final stages of their chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years, they promised a more moderate form of Islamic rule including allowing women to continue their education and work outside the home.
They initially announced no dress code though they also vowed to impose Sharia, or Islamic law. But Taliban hard-liners have since turned back the clock to their previous harsh rule, confirming the worst fears of human rights activists and further complicating Taliban dealings with an already distrustful international community.
Potzel said that in UN discussions with Taliban officials, leaders state that the decision has been made and is maintained by Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, “defended by hard-liners around him, but questioned by most of the rest of the movement who are either unable or unwilling to change the trajectory.”
The result, he said, is that women and girls are relegated to their home, deprived of their rights, and “Afghanistan as a whole is denied the benefit of the significant contributions that women and girls have to offer.”
“If the Taliban do not respond to the needs of all elements of Afghan society and constructively engage within the very limited window of opportunity with the international community, it is unclear what would come next,” Potzel said.
“Further fragmentation, isolation, poverty, and internal conflict are scenarios, leading to potential mass migration and a domestic environment conducive to terrorist organizations, as well as greater misery for the Afghan population,” he said.