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July 6, 2016

In Marking Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day, Senior Iranian Officials Call For Israel’s Destruction

As the Iranian government commemorated Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day on Friday, July 1st, which included the usual protests involving the burning of US and Israeli flags, some senior Iranian religious leaders and government officials expressed their desire to see Israel’s destruction. These pronouncements, some of which echoed prior comments made by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, included:

  • “Today the most important point for the Islamic world is unity against Israel and whoever breaks this unity would be a traitor. People of Iran never abandon their goal. I hope that a third intifada will lead to the destruction of Israel.” – Grand Ayatollah Hossein Nouri Hamadani 
  • “As the Supreme leader said: In 25 years we will be the witness of the destruction of Zionist regime.” – Commander of the Iranian Army’s Ground Force Brigadier General Ahmadreza Pourdastan
  • “We are getting close to collapse and destruction of the Zionist regime. This regime is making all its effort to support the terrorism and elimination of Muslims.” – Hossein Taeb, Iranian Shia Muslim cleric and current head of the Intelligence Organization of Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution

The Al-Quds Day celebrations also featured Iranian government-sponsored demonstrations with harsh anti-Israel expressions, and anti-Semitic and anti-Israel cartoons were published in Iranian media outlets.

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March 9, 2016

Examining Zionism: Yesterday and Today

Zionism is a movement and ideology which has religious, cultural political and practical meaning.  The connection to Zion – Jerusalem – and the commitment to a national Jewish and democratic homeland in Israel, the birthplace of Judaism, has been a source of inspiration, a call to action, and a safe harbor for Jews fleeing persecution. Herzl bridge

But while Zionism is a positive in the Jewish historical narrative, the term and movement has been the object of increasing demonization and delegitimization. From passage of the  “Zionism is Racism” resolution in the U.N. General Assembly in 1975 (repealed in 1991), to recent charges by New York college students that a “Zionist Administration” was responsible for high tuition, to British students calling political opponents “Zios,” Zionism is used by some as a politically charged term with negative connotations.

Enter Colliding Dreams, a compelling documentary by Joseph Dorman and Oren Rudavsky that examines the meaning of Zionism and the history of the building a modern Jewish state. Somewhere along the 150-year path from Zionism’s origins with Moses Hess and Theodore Herzl, to the present Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, remarkable things, both amazing and regrettable, have occurred in Zionism’s name.  With the birth of the State of Israel, the continued survival of the Jewish people was insured. At the same time, Palestinians have been personally and nationally impacted by this Jewish nationalist movement.

The challenges, competing narratives, inconsistencies and messiness of Zionism are fully on display in this documentary, from the controversies over Israeli settlements, to the treatment of Palestinians, to enhanced militarism and fundamentalism. But also in full focus is the pride, promise and commitment of what Zionism has meant and continues to mean for so many, Jews and non-Jews alike.

For those who consider themselves Zionists, for those who know little or nothing about the movement and its history, and even for those who consider themselves opposed to Zionism, Colliding Dreams offers much-needed historical context with diverse narratives. The film takes a reasoned and fresh look at the conflict, and provides a truthful tale of achievement and woe. And while the film makes an important contribution to the necessary dialogue, what’s left is the question of the next chapter for Zionism’s future.

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August 5, 2015

Egypt’s New Interest in its Jewish Past

There has been much discussion about  the recent Egyptian TV drama The Jewish Quarter, which depicts the Jew­ish com­mu­nity in Egypt in the 1940s through a love story between a Jew­ish woman and a Mus­lim Egypt­ian army offi­cer.

ADL noted that despite some expectations that it would depart from the usual anti-Semitic canards typically found in Ramadan-period productions, The Jewish Quarter divides Egyptian Jews into two categories:  “good” Jews and “bad” Jew.  The good Jews are loyal to Egypt and sup­port its war against Israel while Zion­ist Jews, are depicted as wicked, liars, evil and try­ing to betray Egypt.

At the same time, as flawed as The Jewish Quarter is, it appears to reflect a new interest among Egyptians in its once-thriving Jewish community.

Examples include, the 2012 Egyptian-made film, Jews of Egypt , which documented the  history of the community and a number of recent articles which have examined the Jews’ historical role in the country’s success.

the jewish quarter egypt

“No one can deny the role played by Egypt’s Jews throughout its history, a role considered vital and important”, noted one article published in Egypt’s Al-Wafd newspaper (July 21), adding that “They’ve always been part of Egyptian cultural and social fabric”. Other newspapers go even further in their superlatives as they invoke prominent Egyptian-Jewish figures from the past, such as legendary singer Layla Murad (who later converted to Islam and was outspoken in her criticism of Israel),  a feature about whom was recently published in the country’s Al-Yawm As-Sabi newspaper (July 13): “She is the voice of love in her days, in ours and in every day”, says the article. “She is capable of bestowing upon you positive energy through which to face life’s futility; capable of making you sense the beauty of life; and capable of creating a new heart between your ribs, one that will know a new meaning of love and life.”

Why is there now this renewed interest in Egypt’s Jewish community of seven decades ago?  An article published (July 18) about The Jewish Quarter TV series in Egypt’s most widely circulated daily – Al-Ahram – suggests one possible answer, which is that it’s not about the Jews in and of themselves. Dr. Hala Mustafa writes, “Naturally, this isn’t a historiography of Jewish presence in Egypt, but rather a demonstration of one feature of Egyptian cultural liberal legacy. It is characterized by diversity, wealth and pluralism in their fullest sense and exceeds the immediate political context. Jews were only part of a bigger system which embraced citizens of non-Egyptian origins and foreign emigrants, such as Greeks, Italians, Armenians, French and others. This naturally led to a mixture of Western and Oriental cultures, eventually producing a distinct tolerant Egyptian culture.”

It seems that in the midst of Egypt’s tremendous instability, with the country’s leadership moving from secular to Muslim Brotherhood and back again to a secular regime; fighting Islamic terror in Sinai; struggling over the country’s very ethos, the Egypt of the 1940’s simply represents a more liberal and tolerant country that some long for in these times of religious extremism and Islamic political awakening.

Whether this new interest will endure, much less translates to a new approach to Jews and the Jewish State, remains to be seen.

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