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‘This is where we are, and we are not leaving here’ — Notes from BirthWrong

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Editor’s Note: You can read Max Blumenthal’s earlier dispatches from the BirthWrong trip here and here

As the bus marked “Group Birtherong” rumbled from Seville to Cordoba, I flagrantly violated a tour leader’s unilateral directive to avoid intense discussions about Israel-Palestine. A group of Israelis had joined us on BirthWrong, and I wanted to talk about the coalition negotiations, which were still underway. As soon as I mentioned them to Oded, a soft-spoken Israeli guy in his late 20’s, we fell into a conversation. Oded told me how his friends and family back in Tel Aviv were still recovering from the despair of Netanyahu’s victory, and now they had to cope with the likelihood that his government might be the most right-wing in Israel’s history. I argued that from the standpoint of mobilizing BDS-style pressure on Israel, Netanyahu’s triumph was an optimal outcome. Oded saw the rise of his country’s racist, hyper-militarist government as the result of poor political choices and not the logical outcome of Israel’s fundamental ideological underpinnings. He was convinced Herzog and Livni would have steered the ship back in the right direction, and still believed that change from within Israeli society was possible.

(Photo: Max Blumenthal)

(Photo: Max Blumenthal)

As a small crowd gathered from the front of the bus to listen to our discussion, another Israeli with a radical left orientation named Hilla challenged me on BDS, dismissing it as a symbolic ploy that could never undercut the influence of AIPAC or the Israeli weapons industry. Hilla told me she was burned out after a decade of direct activism against the occupation and had become convinced that nothing could stop Goliath. She said she was writing her dissertation on the power of passive non-compliance in the face of oppression. Her treatise sounded like a remix of Bertrand Russell’s essay, “In Praise of Idleness,” but with a nihilistic tinge. Despite all his lingering faith in his country’s pathetic liberal camp, Oded had also tapped out on the Israeli experience. He had left the country of his birth, joining Hilla and some 15,000 Israeli citizens in permanent exile in Berlin. Denounced as yordim who disrespected the Holocaust by members of their government, and welcomed as equal citizens in the city where the Final Solution was devised, these luxury refugees were living symbols of the failure of a 67-year-long experiment in Jewish nationalism. And now they were on the BirthWrong bus and part of a dramatically different experiment.

BirthWrong was centered heavily on the Jewish past, on moments in diaspora life that provided guidance for a future beyond Israel, or which at least offered a few inspiring tales of resistance against overwhelming odds. Annie Cohen, a member of the London-based Jewdas and BirthWrong organizer, led a series of talks during the trip on the Jewish contribution to the fight against fascism in 1930’s Europe. She described the famous street battle on East London’s Cable Street that pitted Jews, Irish, and assorted leftists against followers of the Nazi sympathizer Oswald Mosley, and she recounted the stories of the Jews in Civil War-era Spain, where they comprised a disproportionate number of foreign fighters. At the close of Cohen’s last talk, we said Kaddish for the all-Jewish, Polish-based Naftali Botwin Company that lost most of its members in a rout by Francoist forces. The brigade’s history has been badly under-acknowledged in the vast annals of Jewish history in 20th century Europe, and has scarcely registered on the radar of the Hollywood studios that churn out a new Holocaust epic every few years. (Here is one of the few online sources on the Botwin Company.)

Maimonides in Cordoba. (Photo: Max Blumenthal)

Maimonides in Cordoba. (Photo: Max Blumenthal)

In Cordoba, we explored the legacy of Maimonides, the 11th century polymath whose writings made Jewish practice applicable to modern life, and who kept close contact with the leading Islamic thinkers of the Spanish Golden Era. Our local guide’s repeated emphasis on the Arab heritage of Maimonides reminded us how the culture he represented was first destroyed by the Inquisition, then erased by the Eurocentric ideology that positioned Jews and Arabs (and by extension, Muslims) as implacable enemies requiring of separation. Today, the idea of an Arab Jew is seen as ridiculous except within the circles of radical Mizrahim trying to recover their identity from the ravages of Zionism.

On our way from Seville to Cordoba, where the tour alternated between museums, carefully preserved former Jewish quarters and semi-dormant synagogues, we took a slight detour to a living experiment in radical politics.

At midday, the BirthWrong bus unloaded in an empty parking lot in an Andalusian village called Marinaleda. Without any clear agenda, we wandered down the town’s main street, past blocks of walls painted with anti-capitalist and anti-war graffiti, and spread out through a neatly tended public park. It was there that a group of us stumbled into Chris Burke, a gregarious, middle-aged Englishman who had permanently relocated to Marinaleda. Burke told us he was drawn to this rural Spanish hamlet by the vision of the town’s communist mayor, Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo, who led a series of land occupations and supermarket expropriations that won thousands of acres of farmland, housing plots, and a steady supply of food, lifting the local farmers from generations of destitution.

Once lorded over by Franco’s police, subjected to regular evictions and kept in abject poverty by aristocratic landlords, Marinaleda’s residents are now guaranteed two weeks of work every month in the surrounding fields and a community-owned canning factory. They pay no more than 15 Euros a month for housing plots and own houses on 80 year mortgages built at a discount. And the town was completely free of police. According to Burke, Marinaleda’s local assembly organizes group outings for its residents and a free annual fair for four nights in July. A membership to the town’s swimming pool costs a total of 5 Euros a year.

“It’s enjoyable living here,” Burke told us. “No one’s worried about making money. They’re mostly worried about how they’re going to enjoy themselves.”

As we chatted with Burke, we were joined by a Senegalese migrant who identified himself as Hussein. He told us how he had spent eight days on a treacherous voyage across the Mediterranean before arriving in Seville, where he was kept on the run by local authorities. When a Spanish friend told him about Marinaleda, Hussein decided to pay the village a visit. “The mayor welcomed me here and protected me from the police,” he said. Now he is a permanent resident protected from the police and guaranteed work and housing.

Described as “Spain’s model communist village” by Dan Hancox, the author of a book about Marinaleda, the town was not without its flaws. According to Burke, many locals depended on unemployment when they were not able to work the fields and factory, meaning they were partially subsidized by the Spanish state. Thus any future cuts in social benefits threaten to undermine viability of the town’s socialist model. “There is not quite enough land or crops here but it’s just enough to keep us going,” Burke added. “We really need to add another industry.”

Even as a crisis looms, Marinaleda stands as a model of resistance against the tide of austerity consuming the rest of Europe. “This town is about Andalusians saying, ‘This is where we are, and we are not leaving here,’” Annie Cohen declared to our group. “And that’s the spirit we want to represent with BirthWrong.”

Annie Cohen leads a discussion in Marinaleda. (Photo: Max Blumenthal)

Annie Cohen leads a discussion in Marinaleda. (Photo: Max Blumenthal)

Max Blumenthal

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author.

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53 Responses

  1. Les on May 12, 2015, 12:14 pm

    [This is from Haaretz rather than America’s own New York Times.]

    An odyssey from Birthright to the BDS movement
    Some young Jews on the Israel excursion program say a rah-rah atmosphere has turned them into harsh critics of the occupation.
    By Naomi Darom 13:27 10.05.15 65

    Sam Sussman’s tour of Masada started in a pretty standard way. It happened three years ago as part of the Taglit-Birthright program, which offers young Jews free 10-day trips to Israel. At Masada, 50 American students were on hand.

  2. Jackdaw on May 12, 2015, 1:08 pm

    “…on account of the vast number of our sins God has hurled us into the midst of this people, the Arabs, who have persecuted us severely, and passed baneful and discriminatory legislation against us … ”

    “Never did a nation molest, degrade, debase, and hate us as much as they”–Halkin & Hartman, “Espitles”, “Epistle to Yemen”, pp 99, 126.


    Golden Age. Right. Uh huh.

  3. Jackdaw on May 12, 2015, 1:26 pm

    Maybe the BirthWrong tour should visit the 500 year old Spanish village of Castrillo Matajudíos (Camp Kill the Jews).

    • a blah chick on May 12, 2015, 2:14 pm

      You know, it’s almost like you’re enjoying reciting stories of oppression and death, like you’re trying to find justification for your own hatred. “Look, look, how they hate us! This is why we must do what we do!” Don’t try to find our common humanity just find out how much those people hate you.

      Very sad.

      • amigo on May 12, 2015, 2:31 pm

        “You know, it’s almost like you’re enjoying reciting stories of oppression and death, like you’re trying to find justification for your own hatred.” ABC

        If zionists would only learn to love themselves more than they hate Palestinians , we might get somewhere.

      • Jackdaw on May 12, 2015, 3:03 pm

        No chick.
        What’s very sad is that a village in Spain chose to keep it’s anti-Semitic name for 500 years.

        What’s very sad is that Maimonides family was given the choice to convert to Islam of die. What’s very sad is that Maimonides family had to sojourn like Odysseus for a dozen years to escape fanatic Islamists.
        What’s very sad is that the Jews of Yemen fared no better, and that Jews would live as dhimmis for another 800 years under Muslim domination.

        What’s galling is that Max buys into the ‘Golden Age’ myth and whitewashes 1000 years of Jewish suffering under Islamic rule.

        “… try to find our common humanity ”

        Oh sure. Israel is tolerant of gays, and it’s ‘pinkwashing’. Israel helps earthquake victims and it’s ‘disaster washing’. Israel wants to do it’s part to fight climate change, and it’s ‘greenwashing’.

        There is no common humanity with ‘haters’. That’s what Maimonides discovered 800 years ago.

      • annie on May 12, 2015, 3:14 pm

        No chick.
        What’s very sad is that a village in Spain chose to keep it’s anti-Semitic name for 500 years.

        actually you don’t have a monopoly on what’s sad jack. i had a similar response to your initial comment as blah chick and i too think it’s sad. it doesn’t mean what happened to jews hundreds of years ago in spain isn’t sad also.

        What’s galling is that Max buys into the ‘Golden Age’ myth and whitewashes 1000 years of Jewish suffering under Islamic rule.

        hm, not so sure that accurately characterizes what i’m gleaming out of his (excellent) recent reports.

        you sound upset.

      • Elisabeth on May 13, 2015, 8:05 am

        You use the word dhimmi as if it meant ‘ slave’ or ‘outcast’ , but the word literally means “protected person.”

        According to scholars, dhimmis had their rights fully protected in their communities, but as citizens in the Islamic state, had certain restrictions, and it was obligatory on them to pay the jizya tax.

        Dhimmis were excluded from specific duties assigned to Muslims, and did not enjoy certain political rights reserved for Muslims, but were otherwise equal under the laws of property, contract, and obligation.

        They were also exempted from the zakat tax paid by Muslims.

        So they pay one tax and do not pay another.

        Overall this sounds better than the position of Palestinian Israeli’s, let alone the people of the West-Bank and Gaza.

    • marc b. on May 12, 2015, 4:27 pm

      What a silly little article. It effortlessly slides from the story of the controversy over the name of a Spanish village (population sixty f*cking four in 2012) to an indictment of Spain as one of the most Anti-Semitic countries in Europe (according to an unbiased – of course – 2008 Pew poll). Oh, and, yes, Jackdaw, cue dramatic exclamation, Maimonides!, medieval Europe being a utopia of tolerance for all except Jews.

    • Walid on May 12, 2015, 7:32 pm

      Anyway, last summer 93% of the 57 residents of “Kill the Jews” in Spain voted to change the name of their hamlet to Castrillo Mota de Judios, or “the hill of the Jews”. Jackdaw’s Guardian article on the hamlet of “Kill the Jews” touched only lightly on the subject of Spain’s patron saint, San Tiago de Matamoros, the killer of Moors. There are hundreds of statues all over Spain of San Tiago showing him chopping off the heads of Moorish Moslems, with the most prominent at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Christendom’s third holiest site. Closer to the US, there’s the Mexican border city of Matamoros (killer of Moors) across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas.

      More thrills for Jackdaw from France where a single farm and 3 homes that form a hamlet 100 km south of Paris is still refusing to change its name from “Mort aux Juifs”, or “death to the Jews’ a name it has held for 700 years in spite of pressure by various Jewish groups.

      Elsewhere in France, there’s a 60,000-people township 4 km south of Paris called “Villejuif”, which means “Jew-Town” that has nothing to do with Jews since hardly any Jews live there. The name is believed to be a corruption of a Gallo-Roman name, Ville Juvius, meaning the villa of Juvius. Nobody is offended by the name.

    • Landie_C on May 13, 2015, 10:18 am


      Forcible conversion is a bitch, isn’t it? I’m sure you’ll also join me in regretting the forcible conversion of non-Yahwists in the territories conquered by the Hasmoneans.

      But to return to your main assertions, which appear designed to persuade us of the primordial hatred of Muslims for Jews, and the essential iniquity of Muslims, consider this:

      Your view is contradicted by the general assessments of scholars whose names will be familiar to you. Bernard Lewis notes that “There is nothing like Auschwitz in Islamic history.” The Israeli scholar who spawned a veritable cottage industry on the study of Jewish-Arab relations through history, SD Goitein, remarked that Jews tended to have it worst when sectarian Islam, and I paraphrase, deviated from practices followed by the majority of Muslims. His prime example, and that of most of his colleagues, is that of the Almohad movement. But Goitein also documents times of rising tolerance and opportunities. Far from “long-standing traditions of Jew-hatred,” Muslim attitudes toward (Jewish & Christian) dhimmis fluctuated, yet can be summarized as that of ambivalence, some notable periods of convivencia, and rare instances of mass forcible conversions, systematic expulsion or wholesale extermination as was the case in Europe

      • Jackdaw on May 13, 2015, 12:53 pm

        @Landie C.

        ““There is nothing like Auschwitz in Islamic history. ”

        With all respect to Bernard Lewis, the Armenian Genocide was a like
        Auschwitz. Very much like Auschwitz.

        I believe Lewis may be a denier.

      • Jackdaw on May 13, 2015, 1:14 pm

        @Landie C.

        My ancestors emigrated to Jerusalem in 1811. They were treated badly by the Arabs and Turks. Beatings and murders until the Europeans embassies interceded and gave my ancestors European citizenship. Only foreign citizenship stopped the violence and extortion.

      • RoHa on May 13, 2015, 8:29 pm

        “the forcible conversion of non-Yahwists in the territories conquered by the Hasmoneans.”

        You’re not supposed to mention that.

        “Far from “long-standing traditions of Jew-hatred,” Muslim attitudes toward (Jewish & Christian) dhimmis fluctuated, yet can be summarized as that of ambivalence, some notable periods of convivencia, and rare instances of mass forcible conversions, systematic expulsion or wholesale extermination as was the case in Europe”

        The “Jewish and Christian” is important.

        Persecutions that afflicted Christians just as much as Jews (or, in the case of the Armenian Genocide, Christians only) cannot be used as evidence of “Jew-hatred”, but only as evidence of intolerance of non-Muslims.

      • Landie_C on May 13, 2015, 9:53 pm


        Calling a neocon like Lewis a denier is more than a little perverse. I don’t know of any neocons who are Muslim or Arab apologists. And for every famous historian like Lewis, there are a dozen lesser-known historians of Arabs and the Muslim world (many of them also Jewish like Lewis) who have arrived at similar conclusions.

        We have been discussing Muslim-Jewish relations and Lewis is right as far as that goes. Your exception also proves the rule: the Ottoman empire on the verge of dissolution and on the eve of transformation into a modern secular nation-state.

        It’s self-serving fiction to portray the encounter between Jewish Europeans on the one hand and indigenous Palestinian Muslims and Christians on the other, as a clash between virtue and vice. It also makes for a bad argument to cite the example of your relatives. My great uncle (Polish-Jewish) was murdered by his fellow soldiers (Gentiles) during the Russo-Japanese war, but that doesn’t constitute prima facie evidence of Slavic perfidy.

        Integrity demands of us that we read widely, promiscuously, about Muslim/Arab-Jewish relations and not just that which makes us feel more virtuous. Btw, you mention the year 1811. Is it not true that the first Jew to be murdered in Jerusalem in the 19th century was a rabbi who got into a dispute over building materials in 1851? Isn’t it true that, according to a fictionalized Zionist rendering, the rabbi was murdered in 1811 while on a religious pilgrimage? Maybe I’m wary for nothing, but your reference to 1811 has me, well… intrigued. I’d like to know more.

      • Jackdaw on May 14, 2015, 1:46 am

        @Landie C

        The Armenian genocide, there’s an online debate as to whether Lewis is a denier, is viewed by some, as jihad.

        My ancestors were Perushim of the Vilna Gaon. See Arie Morgenstern’s ‘Hastening Redemption’, or, better yet, his article

        I don’t know about this rabbi’s murder in 1859, but I know my ancestor, a silversmith, was severely beaten by a Turkish officer, and an ancestress was knifed to death by an Arab.
        The history books record that the Perushim were generally ill treated by the local Muslims.
        Then there’s the Damascus Blood Libel of 1844, about which I’m sure your familiar.

        I’m not arguing who treated the Jews worse, I’m arguing that the treatment of Jews under Islam was not good (dhimmitude) and that I cited examples from my family’s history, recording in books.

      • Jackdaw on May 14, 2015, 2:10 am

        @Landi C

        “We have been discussing Muslim-Jewish relations and Lewis is right as far as that goes. Your exception also proves the rule”

        No. My exception doesn’t prove the rule

        “…We possess letters written about the fate of Jews who underwent one or another of the Ottoman conquests. In one of the letters which was written before 1470, there is a description of the fate of such a Jew and his community, according to which description, written in Rhodes and sent to Crete, the fate of the Jews was not different from that of Christians. Many were killed; others were taken captive, and children were brought to devshirme (i.e., the Ottoman system of expropriating, and forcibly Islamizing dhimmi male children for service to the Empire, primarily as slave soldiers)…Some letters describe the carrying of the captive Jews to Istanbul and are filled with anti-Ottoman sentiments. Moreover, we have a description of the fate of a Jewish doctor and homilist from Veroia (Kara-Ferya) who fled to Negroponte when his community was driven into exile in 1455. He furnished us with a description of
        the exiles and their forced passage to Istanbul. Later on we find him at Istanbul itself, and in a homily delivered there in 1468 he expressed his anti-Ottoman feelings openly. We also have some evidence that the Jews of Constantinople suffered from the conquest of the city and that several were sold into slavery.”

        See, Joseph Hacker, “Ottoman Policy toward the Jews and the Jewish Attitudes toward the Ottomanss during the the Fifteenth Century,”in Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire: The Functioning of a Plural Society

      • RoHa on May 14, 2015, 5:34 am

        “the fate of the Jews was not different from that of Christians.”

        So no specific Jew-hatred, then. (Unless you think the Jews should have been treated differently from the Christiains.)

      • RoHa on May 14, 2015, 5:51 am

        Though, with all these Jew-hating Arabs just longing for a chance to slaughter Jews, one does have to wonder why the Zionists thought it would be be a good idea to go and live smack in the middle of them all

      • marc b. on May 14, 2015, 10:11 am

        Funny that. I thought the Armenian genocide was perpetrated by the secularized Turkish state. How is this part of a unified ‘Islamic History’?

      • Landie_C on May 14, 2015, 1:44 pm


        For all I know, neocon Lewis may have schmoozed to such an extent with key figures in Turkish government or academe that he finds it convenient to downplay the Armenian genocide. But we are discussing Muslim-Jewish relations in toto over the course of history. And in addition to Lewis and Goitein, I suggest that you look up Norman Stillman, Mark R. Jacobs, Emily Gottreich, Raphael Patai and other nice Jewish historians and see if any of them will support your thesis of the perfidious Muslim seething with primordial hatred of The Jew and tormenting them in every generation.

        So the Perushim were ill-treated by the local Muslims and not the local Christians? How do we know they were treated appreciably worse than other locals or tourists? And what is the context?

        I don’t know so I began looking it up online in the brief free time I had earlier today and jotted down the following notes:

        In 1828 Turks were about to expel the Jerusalem Ashkenazim as enemy aliens (context: aftermath of the Russo-Turkish war)

        In 1829 Rafael Farhi, a Jew, was named head of the government in Damascus, and his appointment was accompanied by an improved government attitude to the Jews. One of the senior officials in the new government in Jerusalem was a relative of Farhi’s… even the army commander in Jerusalem was trying to get in the Jew’s good graces. The leaders of the Perushim seem to have tried to use the improved political situation to advance the Hurvah building project.

        Muhammed Ali adopted a generally positive stance toward the Jews…”

        Even this cursory reading turns up “twinkles” that your account lacks.

        Do understand one thing. I have a special affection for my own people (which I define as liberal cosmopolitan Jews, Bundists, Rabbis like Heschel and Magnes, and certain Sages of yore). I don’t feel obliged to like any group of people as a category (as opposed to liking individuals among them). But I do feel obliged to be respectful and fair-minded, rather than selective and demonizing.

        Can you go along with that?

      • Jackdaw on May 14, 2015, 4:02 pm

        @ LandieC

        “..see if any of them will support your thesis of the perfidious Muslim seething with primordial hatred of The Jew and tormenting them in every generation “.

        I never said that. You’re building a straw man. Good luck with that.

        While I catch up on your cites, please read Andric’s scholarly analysis (i.e., his Ph.D. thesis) “The Development of Spiritual Life in Bosnia under the Influence of Turkish Rule”, was a detailed examination of dhimmitude during five centuries of Ottoman rule.
        His assessment of the plight of the Jews in Ottoman Bosnia, governed essentially under the ancient, discriminatory “Pact of Umar”, which was valid for the entire Ottoman Empire, included these specific observations: “..The Jews, though fewer in number [i.e. than the Christian communities], were well-to-do businessmen and profitable targets for extortion. {Andric includes this footnote from, Levy, Moritz, Die Sephardim in Bosnien, 1911, pp. 28,35: ‘..Acts of violence and extortion by the Pashas against the Jews plunged them into the depths of darkest night…There were many unpleasant run-ins with the authorities from time to time, which however were susceptible to settlement by means of money’.}… The Pinakes, mentioned above as the account books of the Sarajevo Jews, offer a true picture in many ways of conditions as they were then. The year 1730 saw a disbursement of ‘720 puli for the mutesilim, so as to be spared working Saturdays on the fortification [note: i.e., in unpaid, forced labor ‘corvees’.

        Andric further indicates that Christians were deployed in such corvees on Sundays]. It was an outlay repeated in the years to come.”
        “…In the year 1794 the Jews of Sarajevo won permission through an imperial firman to rebuild their synagogue, which had recently burned down. It hardly need be said that the usual stipulations applied. ‘No more than any of the confessions are they allowed to enlarge such a structure by so much as a jot or a tittle in the process of reerecting it’.
        And to the imperial firman were attached the usual formalities- permission of the vizier, permission of the kadi, two separate commissions, and so on. All this took more than two years and cost a tidy sum.”

        Professor Moshe Maoz has summarized the conditions of those Jews (and Christians) living under Ottoman rule for centuries within their indigenous homeland of (Syro-) Palestine, as follows:
        “…the position of the Jews was in many ways precarious. Like their Christian fellow subjects, the Jews were inferior citizens in the Muslim-Ottoman state which was based on the principle of Muslim superiority. They were regarded as state protégés (dhimmis) and had to pay a special poll tax (jizya) for that protection and as a sign of their inferior status. Their testimony was not accepted in the courts of justice, and in cases of the murder of a Jew or Christian by a Muslim, the latter was usually not condemned to death. In addition, Jews as well as Christians were normally not acceptable for appointments to the highest administrative posts; they were forbidden to carry arms (thus, to serve in the army), to ride horses in towns or to wear Muslim dress. They were also not usually allowed to build or repair places of worship and were often subjected to oppression, extortion and violence by both the local authorities and the Muslim population. The Jews in Ottoman Palestine and Syria lived under such ambivalent and precarious conditions for a number of centuries…”

        And these prevailing conditions for Jews did not improve in a consistent or substantive manner even after the mid 19th century treaties imposed by the European powers on the weakened Ottoman Empire included provisions for the Tanzimat reforms. These reforms were designed to end the discriminatory laws of dhimmitude for both Jews and Christians, living under the Ottoman Shari’a. European consuls endeavored to maintain compliance with at least two cardinal principles central to any meaningful implementation of these reforms: respect for the life and property of non-Muslims; and the right for Christians and Jews to provide evidence in Islamic courts when a Muslim was a party. Unfortunately, these efforts to replace the concept of
        Muslim superiority over “infidels”, with the principle of equal rights, failed. For example, in his comprehensive study of the Jews of Palestine during the 19th century, Professor Tudor Parfitt observed:
        “…Inside the towns, Jews and other dhimmis were frequently attacked, wounded, and even killed by local Muslims
        and Turkish soldiers. Such attacks were frequently for trivial reasons: Wilson [in British Foreign Office
        correspondence] recalled having met a Jew who had been badly wounded by a Turkish soldier for not having instantly dismounted when ordered to give up his donkey to a soldier of the Sultan. Many Jews were killed for less.

        On occasion the authorities attempted to get some form of redress but this was by no means always the case: the Turkish authorities themselves were sometimes responsible for beating Jews to death for some unproven charge.
        After one such occasion [British Consul] Young remarked: ‘I must say I am sorry and surprised that the Governor could have acted so savage a part- for certainly what I have seen of him I should have thought him superior to such wanton inhumanity- but it was a Jew- without friends or protection- it serves to show well that it is not without reason that the poor Jew, even in the nineteenth century, lives from day to day in terror of his life’.”
        “…In fact, it took some time [i.e., at least a decade after the 1839 reforms] before these courts did accept dhimmi testimony in Palestine. The fact that Jews were represented on the meclis [provincial legal council] did not contribute a great deal to the amelioration of the legal position of the Jews: the Jewish representatives were tolerated grudgingly and were humiliated and intimidated to the point that they were afraid to offer any opposition to the Muslim representatives. In addition the constitution of the meclis was in no sense fairly representative of the population. In Jerusalem in the 1870s the meclis consisted of four Muslims, three Christians and only one Jew- at a time when Jews constituted over half the population of the city…Some years after the promulgation of the hatt-iserif [Tanzimat reform edicts] Binyamin [note: from “Eight Years in Asia and Africa from 1846 to 1855”, p.44] was still able to write of the Jews- ‘they are entirely destitute of every legal protection’…Perhaps even more to the point, the courts were biased against the Jews and even when a case was heard in a properly assembled court where dhimmi testimony was admissible the court would still almost invariably rule against the Jews. It should be noted that a non-dhimmi [eg., foreign] Jew was still not permitted to appear and witness in either the mahkama [specific Muslim council] or the meclis.”

        I’m tired of this exchange. Good luck.

      • Bornajoo on May 14, 2015, 4:48 pm


        My family lived in Iraq and one or two other Arab countries for generations. I’ve never heard of any stories about Jews treated badly in those countries. My family consider those days their golden years and lament the day they left.

        However I’m not doubting that back in those days minority groups in various countries were not treated as they should have been. But that was centuries and decades ago

        But when I read through the excerpts you provided in your post, all of those examples are no worse than how israel treats Palestinians in the occupied territories TODAY. In fact israel treats the Palestinian people (and others) far, far worse right now.

        Is looking back in the distant past for examples of bad treatment of Jews supposed to somehow excuse israel’s disgraceful treatment of Palestinians, Ethiopians and Bedouins today?

      • just on May 14, 2015, 5:00 pm

        Thanks for that comment, Bornajoo.

      • RoHa on May 14, 2015, 7:41 pm

        At the risk of sounding like a broken record* I will point out again that Jackdaw’s examples show that there was no specific animus towards Jews, since the same treatment was given to Christians. Whatever they show, they do not show “the perfidious Muslim seething with primordial hatred of The Jew” qua Jew.

        (*Though only those of us old enough to be given to tedious repetition will understand this simile, since it is based on technology as obsolete as we are.)

      • Jackdaw on May 15, 2015, 12:01 am


        Did your Iraqi family live through the Nazi inspired Baghdad pogrom of 1941?

        Are you seriously telling us that family ‘ lament the day the left’ [Iraq] Don’t they read the newspapers and see what’s happening today in Iraq?

        No ‘same treatment of [Iraqi] Christians’ there.

      • Bornajoo on May 15, 2015, 3:18 am

        At the risk of repeating myself I do believe that I’ve been through these points with Mikhael (i think) and the answer to your questions are in one of my previous comments;

        As for Iraq today I’m sure you are aware that this failed state is everything to do with and a direct result of the USA’s (and Britain’s) actions (and israel’s urging). You can’t also blame that one on the Arabs/Muslims.

        I live in Britain and I absolutely and resolutely believe that our illegal role in Iraq was nothing less than a heinous war crime. I also believe that Tony Blair should be convicted of these crimes and locked up forever

      • Mooser on May 15, 2015, 1:19 pm

        Gee, and I always thought the Jews who know who where their ancestors were back to 1811 were the lucky ones among us. Always thought they would be, instead of seething with resentment for long ago incidents, incredibly thankful. Oh well, like I always say, the balebatisheh yiden are a closed book to me.

        Oh wait, I get it now. The longer your Jewish genealogy goes back, the more antisemitic incidents you have collected, all of which can be exchanged for justification at the current rate. But if all traces of your family have been obliterated, well, then you don’t have the standing to complain. Makes sense.

      • Mooser on May 16, 2015, 12:38 pm

        “I’m tired of this exchange. Good luck.”

        Is ‘cutting-and-pasting’ really that exhausting?

      • Mooser on May 16, 2015, 1:12 pm

        “and that I cited examples from my family’s history, recording in books.”

        “My family’s history?” The Jackdaw family, or scavenging birds generally? Since we don’t know who you are, all we have to depend on for the “my family” is your word. And that isn’t worth squat because your self-interest is at stake.

        Are you capable of understanding that, or does claiming you come from a Jewish family mean you can’t lie from self-interest, or (gasp) be mistaken, since, to put it mildly, there’s sort of a chain of self-interest here, isn’t there, reaching back through the “generations”?

    • Landie_C on May 14, 2015, 4:52 pm


      Tudor Parfitt is a fine and fair-minded historian. In summing up “the nature of the Middle East conflict” he writes: “if it is essentially a conflict about land and security it is also a continuation in many respects of a Jewish-Muslim symbiosis, antagonism and dialogue which stretch back over the centuries.”*


      *Jews, Muslims and Mass Media: Mediating the ‘Other’
       edited by Yulia Egorova, Tudor Parfitt

  4. a blah chick on May 12, 2015, 3:49 pm

    Since I frequent the Jewdas site I understand where they are coming from. They are a bunch of lefty, anti-Zionist Jews who are tired of hearing how Jewish history began in 1948 and is centered on Palestine/Israel. They are very much into Jewish culture and wanted to conduct a trip that would expose them to Jewish life and history and not how much you love Israel. Also to highlight the fact that Jewish history is not a litany of massacres, pogroms and horrible oppression. Zionism must play down those eras and places where Jews had it pretty good because they believe it underminds the Zionist creed that Jews can live NO PLACE but Eretz Israel (wherever that it, the borders keep creeping about.)

    • Bornajoo on May 12, 2015, 7:50 pm

      “Zionism must play down those eras and places where Jews had it pretty good because they believe it underminds the Zionist creed that Jews can live NO PLACE but Eretz Israel (wherever that it, the borders keep creeping about.)” (abc)

      Well stated abc.

      Thanks Max Blumenthal

  5. just on May 12, 2015, 4:17 pm

    Thanks, Max. It certainly sounds like everyone learned quite a lot.

    I especially appreciated this:

    “One BirthWronger loved Andalusia so much she got a job and stayed. Not even kidding. Reverse aliyah?”

  6. Nevada Ned on May 12, 2015, 8:50 pm

    You article about birth wrong is perfectly OK, but I think you’re forgetting about one thing:

    you don’t have to go all the way to Spain to find a Jewish heritage worth discussing.

    In the US, Jews have accomplished a lot that they can be proud of.

    Especially including the prominent role played by US Jews in the development of the US left (and liberalism).

    It’s certainly true that a lot of American Jews fell in love with Israel, but now the Palestinians are starting to get out their side of the story. So there progress even on that front.

    • RoHa on May 13, 2015, 4:59 am

      “the development of the US left”

      There is no U.S. left. The U.S. only has the right, the far right, the foam-flecked, swivel-eyed, carpet-chewing, raving loony right, and Republicans.

      • bryan on May 13, 2015, 7:34 am

        Roha, where is there a left left? Certainly not in Israel or England (as recent elections have shown). Perhaps you might argue Scotland but that seems to be more about an upsurge in nationalism than about social radicalism. The republicans seem to be sweeping the universe. I guess if we ever find life on Mars the Reds will be in charge there.

      • Bornajoo on May 13, 2015, 3:25 pm

        “There is no U.S. left. The U.S. only has the right, the far right, the foam-flecked, swivel-eyed, carpet-chewing, raving loony right, and Republicans.”

        Ha ha! Too good!

      • RoHa on May 13, 2015, 7:35 pm

        Bryan, I can’t think of anywhere where there is a decent sized properly lefty left left. (I should review the positions of the Scandinavian parties, and especially the multitudinous Danish parties.)

        But even the pseudo-lefty parties left in other countries are far to the left of the leftist part of the American right. (What there is left of it.)

        Recently a study revealed that the right-wing British Conservative party was more left wing than the American Democrats.


      • bryan on May 15, 2015, 9:36 am

        As usual I fear that Western Europe is far in advance of our colonial brothers across the pond but is remarkable the contibution made by secular Jews (like the Millibands’ father) in both societies, before we were plagued with revisioniam, New Labour, neo-conservatism, neo-liberalism and all the other modern fads.

  7. wdr on May 13, 2015, 1:15 am

    Pardon me, but the Jews were kicked out of Spain in 1492. It is precisely because endemically anti-semitic governments could do this to their Jewish populations that Israel was established.

    • RoHa on May 13, 2015, 4:52 am

      Took them 456 years to get round to it. Don’t Jewish wives nag?

      Of course, that might count as a reason for establishing Israel. It isn’t an excuse. Establishing Israel was wrong.

    • bryan on May 13, 2015, 7:26 am

      Welcome to Mondoweiss, and thanks for making your first contribution. I guess you are being satirical – Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain introduced an intolerant, expansive and aggressive nationalism (similar to that found in Israel) that was not endemically anti-semitic but attacked Moslems, Protestants and other non-orthodox Christian groups as well as Jews and assimilated ‘conversos’. They were indeed responsible for many crimes and human rights violations, but they were not Zionists.

    • Mooser on May 13, 2015, 12:56 pm

      “Pardon me, but the Jews were kicked out of Spain in 1492. It is precisely because endemically anti-semitic governments could do this to their Jewish populations that Israel was established”

      “wdr” think of the fate of the Jews who came to the US.
      They had no protection from Israel at all, they had to fend for themselves as individuals, with no help. And when the US government was established, the Jews, my people, received no recognition at all!! In fact, in an act undoubtedly prompted by anti-Jewish feeling, they were forbidden any place in the government, and received nothing, no protection, no land, and the US government refused to meet with our plenipotentiary emissaries!
      The inevitable results of this “endemic” antisemitism I will forgo describing, as I’m sure you know what happened after that. They just put us out there for the attacking!

    • Stephen Shenfield on May 13, 2015, 5:39 pm

      Bryan: “I guess if we ever find life on Mars the Reds will be in charge there.” You’ll find a description of communism on Mars in Bogdanov’s “Red Star.” However, the Martian civilization died long ago, though there are still ruins of a Martian city on a mountainside that you can see on one of the photos on the website of the European Space Agency.

      • bryan on May 15, 2015, 9:38 am

        thanks, but my allusion was to republicanism rather than the people’s cherished flag.

  8. eljay on May 13, 2015, 7:16 am

    || wdr: Pardon me, but the Jews were kicked out of Spain in 1492. It is precisely because endemically anti-semitic governments could do this to their Jewish populations that Israel was established. ||

    The solution to acts of injustice and immorality against Jews or any other group is justice, accountability and equality, universally and consistently applied. The solution was not, is not and should never be the creation of a supremacist state for each affected group.

  9. saramus on May 13, 2015, 9:25 am

    “Maimonides the 14th century polymath”

    Oops! As a medievalist , I feel compelled intervene here. Make that 12th century!

    Moshe ben Maimon (Ibn Maimun)’s dates are 1135 (or 1138?) to 1204. Cordoba’s Golden Age of Convivencia was ended when the Almohads conquered the city in mid-century. Unwilling to convert, Ibn Maimun’s family had to flee, arrived in Fez in 1160, but again had to flee, ended up in Cairo {Fustat}. He earned his living as physician , became court physician to Saladin.

    He was a contemporary of the famed Muslim philosopher-physician-judge Averroes (Ibn Rushd) (1126-1198) also born in Cordoba, who late in life had his works burned and was briefly exiled by the second Almohad ruler; he died in Marrakesh.

    • RoHa on May 13, 2015, 7:42 pm

      There seems to be a recent aura of surprise that Maimonides was influenced by Islamic philosophy.

      I am surprised at this surprise, since those of us who have dabbled (or more, as in your case) in Mediaeval philosophy have long known that Jewish philosophy was a result of Islamic philosophy. Saadia’s philosophical theology, and that of many of his successors, was inspired by the Kalam movement in Islamic theology.

    • jon s on May 14, 2015, 4:51 pm

      Some more on Maimonides:
      Somehow the man managed to be:

      – a rabbinical authority, who handed down rulings according to Jewish law ( halakha);

      -a renowned philosopher, influenced by Jewish traditions, classical Greek philosophy and the Muslim world he lived in. I highly recommend this book, just published in English:

      -acknowledged leader of the Jewish community in Egypt;

      All this while holding on to his “day job ” as court physician.

      We have a fascinating glimpse into his daily life: There’s a letter that he wrote to R.Shmuel ibn Tibbon, who asked to meet him. In reply Maimonides described his routine:

      “I dwell at Fostat, and the sultan resides at Cairo [about a mile ­and­ a­ half away]…. My duties to the sultan are very heavy. I am obliged to visit him every day, early in the morning, and when he or any of his children or any of the inmates of his harem are indisposed, I dare not quit Cairo, but must stay during the greater part of the day in the palace. It also frequently happens that one of the two royal officers fall sick, and I must attend to their healing. Hence, as a rule, I leave for Cairo very early in the day, and even if nothing unusual happens, I do not return to Fostat until the afternoon. Then I am almost dying with hunger. . . I find the antechamber filled with people, both Jews and gentiles, nobles and common people, judges and bailiffs, friends and foes-a mixed multitude who await the time of my return.

      I dismount from my animal, wash my hands, go forth to my patients and entreat them to bear with me while I partake of some slight refreshment, the only meal I take in the twenty­four hours. Then I go forth to attend to my patients, and write prescriptions and directions for their various ailments. Patients go in and out until nightfall, and sometimes even, I solemnly assure you, until two hours or more in the night. I converse with and prescribe for them while lying down from sheer fatigue; and when night falls I am so exhausted that I can scarcely speak.

      In consequence of this, no Israelite can have any private interview with me, except on the Sabbath. On that day the whole congregation, or at least the majority of the members, come to me after the morning service, when I instruct them as to their proceedings during the whole week; we study together a little until noon, when they depart. Some of them return, and read with me after the afternoon service until evening prayers. In this manner I spend that day.”


      • Mooser on May 15, 2015, 1:31 pm

        Thank you “Jon s”. Just that small introduction to Maimionides makes me understand why the attacks on Gaza are necessary, and the occupation a good thing.

  10. Rodneywatts on May 14, 2015, 12:45 pm

    So the ‘Jewdas Jolly’ is over and thanks to Max we have all got a flavour of it. What I love about MW is we get a continuing education with contributions from many points of view and understandings. We get serious arguments and important points made – some cutting, and we also get some great humour.

    This report concerns a novel event which adds weight to arguments that reject aliyah, and as to where it is actually safe to be a Jew. Now Jackdaw and friends may find more comfort in a documentary filmed mainly in Cordoba by the Christian zionist revelation tv with the help of a Jewish historian:

    I have to say that, apart from the zionist slant, it is pretty good. However, as a non-zionist Christian, I did take exception to a claim that the inquisition was caused by a theology that is believed by those of us who are not zionists!! As Amigo and I have said elsewhere zionist thinking is upside down and inside out.

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