A quarter of students studying Yiddish at Israeli university are Arabs (& First Israeli Arab woman to command IDF combat unit)

November 06, 2012

Palestinian student Imama Hithnawi, 18, says he enjoys Yiddish


* “Yiddish intrigues me with its majesty and its enigmatic, refined musical tone. I have no explanation for the fact that I have always felt a connection to this language” -- Yusuf Alakili, 50, from the Arab-Israeli community of Kfar Kassem, currently studying for a Master’s degree in literature at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv

* “My dream is to read Sholom Aleichem’s Tevye the Dairyman in its original language”

* First Israeli Arab woman becomes commander of an IDF combat unit

* Egyptian soccer player says he is likely to accept a formal offer to join the Israeli Hapoel Tel Aviv team

* Fury as it is revealed that UK government is paying Palestinian prisoners (including convicted terrorists) more than the average UK worker



The Israeli band Orphaned Land have taken the unusual step of applying for Turkish citizenship, in order to allow them to put on shows for fans in Arab countries


* This dispatch contains various items related to Arab affairs.

* You can comment on it here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.



1. Israeli band gets ready for an Arab world tour
2. First Arab woman becomes commander of IDF combat unit
3. Anger as it is revealed that UK government is paying Palestinian prisoners (including terrorists) more than the average UK worker
4. “Nu? Arab Students’ New Shtick: Kibbitizing in Yiddish” (Yediot Ahronot, Israel)
5. “Egyptian footballer says he may play for Israeli team” (Egypt Independent, Nov. 4, 2012)
6. “Debate among Muslim clerics: Is it proper to rejoice over Hurricane Sandy in the U.S.?” (Memri, Nov. 1, 2012)
7. “A Dramatic change of Iran’s image in the Arab World” (By Ali Hussein Bakeer, Turkish Weekly, Oct. 31, 2012)

[Notes below by Tom Gross]


Members of the popular Israeli band Orphaned Land have taken the unprecedented step of applying for Turkish citizenship, in order to allow them to put on concerts for fans in Arab countries.

The band is very popular in Turkey and the Arab world. They have already played together with a Palestinian band in Turkey (which unlike most Arab countries allows Israeli citizens to enter).

This video has music and interviews with the band about their forthcoming Arab tour. (Courtesy: Israel 21c).


For a related dispatch please see the clips of Rita here:

Jewish star sings Persian classics in Tel Aviv and her fans in Iran can’t get enough.



Two weeks ago, a twenty-year-old Christian Arab became the first female Arab commander of an Israeli army combat unit.

Mona Abdo, who grew up in Haifa, but now lives in Kiryat Haim, made history by graduating from the Israeli Defense Forces’ Commanders training course. She will become a commander in the Caracal combat unit, which has both male and female, and Arab and Jewish soldiers serving alongside each other.

She volunteered to join the Israeli army in 2010 and was initially assigned to the Ordnance Corps. But, after four months, she decided she wanted to play a more active role, and was transferred to the combat unit Caracal.

She says that her parents and family encouraged her throughout the entire process. Abdo’s younger sister has also now joined the same unit as her. Abdo says she is not finished yet and aims to climb further up the IDF chain of command.



British MP Robert Halfon (who is a longtime subscriber to this email list) has written to the British Conservative-led government’s International Development Minister, Alan Duncan, demanding an explanation after the director of the important non-governmental organization, Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), Itamar Marcus (who is also a subscriber to this list) revealed that new legislation introduced last year by the Palestinian Authority explicitly redirected British government aid to pay Palestinian prisoners and their families – including those serving multiple life sentences for acts of terrorism, such as the planning and directing of suicide bombings.

A minimum salary give to such prisoners serving time in Israeli jails is £230 a month for a prisoner starting his sentence, and £1,957 a month for those serving more than 30 years. This is more than the average take-home salary in Britain.

The British Foreign Office and Department for International Development have said they will investigate the report. In past years Britain and other European governments have denied that their aid money has gone to fund Palestinian terrorism despite consistent reports to the contrary.


I attach four articles below.

-- Tom Gross



Nu? Arab Students’ New Shtick: Kibbitizing in Yiddish
By Dudi Goldman
Yediot Ahronot (Israel)
Oct 15, 2012

“Yiddish intrigues me with its majesty and its enigmatic, refined musical tone. I have no explanation for the fact that I have always felt a connection to this language.”

Contrary to what you might expect, the speaker of these lines is not a Polish poet or German philosopher. He is Yusuf Alakili, 50, from Kfar Kassem, currently investing much effort in his studies for a Master’s degree in literature at Bar Ilan University’s Hebrew. Alakili studies Yiddish on the side for his own enjoyment.

How did this affair start? “In the 1980s, I worked with a Jew of Polish origin who lived in Bnei Brak, and Yiddish was the main language there. I was captivated by its musical tone and decided to study it in earnest. My dream is to read Sholom Aleichem’s Tevye the Dairyman [the inspiration for Fiddler on the Roof] in its original language.”

And what bothers him? “I don’t know who is to blame, but I don’t understand why this magnificent language is neglected, when such an extensive body of literature exists in Yiddish. Did you know that [Nobel Prize laureate] Agnon started writing in Yiddish, and only later transferred to Hebrew?” he asks.

Alakili is not alone. About a quarter of the 400 students studying Yiddish at Bar Ilan are Arabs, says Ber Kotlerman, academic director of Bar Ilan’s Center for Yiddish Studies. According to Kotlerman, some of the Israeli Arabs are searching for a way to connect to the Jewish culture with which they must cope, and it is not easy for them.

“Even Jews in the Diaspora search for this – a way to connect to the local culture – and it is wonderful that Yiddish can be a sort of ambassador, a bridge between nations and cultures,” he says. “Take, for example, the case of Tevye the Dairyman, whose daughter marries a Christian and he sits shiva [the traditional Jewish mourning ceremony] for her. Two years ago, a female Arab student approached me to say that her father would do the same thing if she fell in love with a Jew,” says Kotlerman.

Salam Bashara, 22, of [the Israeli Arab town of] Tira, is currently finishing her undergraduate degree in Arab literature. She explains how the Yiddish language and culture move her greatly.

“I fell in love with Hebrew literature back in high school. When I studied Yiddish, I became acquainted with Sholom Aleichem and the early works of Agnon,” and also watched various films, such as the wonderful movie “The Cantor from Vilna.”

“The cantor’s loss of his son [to the surrounding secular culture] is a universal experience, something that everyone can identify with,” says Bashara, who hopes one day to write her masters thesis on the parallels between Arab and Yiddish literature.



Egyptian footballer says he may play for Israeli team
Egypt Independent
November 4, 2012


Mahdy Suleiman, an Egyptian goalkeeper, said he is likely to accept a formal offer to join the Israeli Hapoel Tel Aviv F.C. during the upcoming winter break, “if it is the only chance to play football.”

Suleiman is currently playing for Petrojet F.C, which competes in the suspended Egyptian Premier League. He previously played for prominent Egyptian football teams Ennpi and Arab Contractors.

Suleiman told Sky News Arabia in a telephone interview, “I received the formal offer through a Hungarian agent. I have not yet accepted it, but I might think of accepting if it is the only way for me.”

He described agreeing to play in the Israeli league as a “very serious risk.”

“A large number of Egyptian players contacted me as soon as they knew of the offer, so that I [could] ask the agent to find opportunities for them in the Israeli league, if possible,” the 25-year-old goalkeeper added, without naming the players.

Suleiman said that any player’s wish to play in the Israeli league is justified by the suspension of football activity in Egypt, criticizing “those responsible for resuming the activity in the country who do not think of the future of all the workers of the sports sector.”

Suleiman did not reveal the financial terms of the offer he was sent, and neither did he reveal the number of years of the contract.

Premier League football activity has been suspended in Egypt since the Port Said football violence, in which at least 72 Ahly fans, particularly members of the group Ultras Ahlawy, were killed after fans of the club Masry stormed the pitch at Port Said Stadium.

Some workers in the football sector, including players, administrators or journalists, complain about financial difficulties as a result of the activity halt.

However Ultras Ahlawy, supported by other members of the football sectors, members of the victims’s families and many political activists and groups reject the resumption of Premier League matches.



Debate among Muslim clerics: Is it proper to rejoice over Hurricane Sandy in the U.S.?
The Middle East Media Research Institute
November 1, 2012

Following Hurricane Sandy, which hit the East Coast of the U.S. on October 29, 2012, many Twitter users in the Arab world expressed joy over the crisis in the U.S. and even wished for its demise, whereas others condemned these reactions and called to express compassion for the Americans. A number of Muslim clerics joined this debate, some of them agreeing with the first group and describing the hurricane as a punishment from Allah, and others agreeing with those who condemned this attitude.

The following are excerpts from some of the clerics’ statements:

Among those who expressed satisfaction over the hurricane was Egyptian cleric Wadgi Ghoneim, who tweeted on October 29, 2012: “America is currently subject to [an attack] by one of Allah’s weakest armies (meaning Hurricane Sandy).”[1]


On October 31, he tweeted: “In my opinion, this is revenge by the Lord [Allah] for [harming] his beloved Mustafa [another name for the Prophet Muhammad]...” Ghoneim presumably means that Allah sent the hurricane as punishment for the anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims.[2]

Saudi cleric Nasser Al-’Omar likewise regarded the storm as divine punishment, and even issued a fatwa stating that the Muslims must be glad and thank Allah for it: “We must rejoice at anything that harms these arrogant and tyrannical oppressors. America is the spearhead of oppression, evil and tyranny in the present age. It has used its wealth, which Allah the Almighty bestowed upon it, to oppress mankind throughout the world.

America’s history is black, in every respect and in all parts of the globe, especially when it comes to [its treatment of] the Muslim nation. For America is an infidel and tyrannical nation that is hostile to Allah and His Messenger, and fights the Muslims. It has defiled and degraded Allah’s Book [the Koran]. It is close to all that is evil and distant from all that is good, and defends terrorism in the world. Who supports Israel? Who endlessly defends the Jews? Who destroyed Afghanistan and Iraq? Who takes the wealth of the Muslims worldwide and repays them with missiles, bombs and nuclear warheads? America and its agents are [also] the ones who supervise the most oppressive and deadly prisons, such as Guantanamo. The list of its crimes around the world is endless, and nobody can compete with it... America’s might [is used to promote] civil war, deception, evil, tyranny, and straying from the straight and narrow.

“So why should we not rejoice when it suffers harm?... Should we not be glad that Allah has heeded the prayers of the weak and oppressed around the world? Should we not be glad, when [the storm is clearly] a punishment from Allah for their crimes...? Some Muslims say [that] we should feel sorry about what has happened [in America]! This is a mistake [which indicates their] ignorance of the religious texts... When we see these strong winds destroying some of the states in America, we know it is a boon from Allah, for which we should be grateful and glad... In sum, we may rejoice over what has harmed America, for that is the reasoning of the Koran and the way of the prophets...”[3]

UK-based Islamist Anjem Choudary tweeted: “Hurricanes, floods and tornados are the soldiers of Allah which Allah releases against those he wishes to punish or to wake up, Allah Akbar!”[4]

Among the clerics who criticized these statements was the Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh ‘Abd Al-’Aziz bin ‘Abdallah Aal Al-Sheikh, who told the daily Al-Hayat: “It is improper to curse those affected by Hurricane Sandy in prayer, since there are many Muslims among them. We pray [that Allah] empower the Muslims and lead them to obedience... Muslims must learn a lesson from [natural] disasters and must not curse all [the victims]. This does not serve the Muslims, and must cease.”[5]

Saudi Sheikh Salman Al-’Odeh tweeted: “To all those who pray that Hurricane Sandy will bring disaster, I quote the words of the Prophet [Muhammad about] the idolaters in Mecca: ‘I hope that [Allah] produces from their loins [sons] who worship Him [i.e., who become Muslims].’“[6]


Al-Azhar Sheikh Salam ‘Abd Al-Galil said: “The Muslims should not draw a connection between the hurricane and the anti-Islamic film, and should not rejoice over the crisis because this will trigger disdain and contempt [against them]. Allah puts all of his creatures to the test, [both] the Muslims and the infidels. Muslim nations can also by hit by a hurricane at any time, and then the other nations will heap scorn upon us.”[7]


[1] Twitter.com/wagdighoneim, October 29, 2012.
[2] Twitter.com/wagdighoneim, October 31, 2012.
[3] Umh1.com, October 30, 2012.
[4] Twitter.com/anjemchoudary, October 30, 2012.
[5] Al-Hayat (London), October 31, 2012.
[6] Twitter.com/salman_alodah, October 30, 2012.
[7] Al-Watan (Egypt), October 30, 2012.


For a related dispatch please see:

Islamists: Allah sent Hurricane Sandy “to punish U.S.” (& Spot the difference: Obama-v-Romney video).



A Dramatic Change of Iran’s Image in the Arab World
By Ali Hussein Bakeer
Turkish Weekly
October 31, 2012


Last week, Umayya Center for Strategic Studies held a workshop in the Egyptian capital Cairo, entitled “the Iranian Agenda in the Arab World”. Sixteen researchers, academics and journalists from several Arab countries and of many different orientations (Islamic, seculars, liberals, pan Arab, Sunni, Shiite and even people from the al-Ahwaz province in Iran) were invited as speakers.

The workshop which was widely covered by the media and broadcast live on many channels including (Misir25) from Egypt, (Al-Rafidain) from Iraq and (Aljazeera Mubasher) from Qatar, focused on carefully examining Iran’s agenda in the Arab world, the dangers of Iranian policies in the region especially amid the Syrian revolution and the Mullah regime’s and its allies’ bloody involvement in it.

Participants discussed the pillars of the Iranian agenda in the region, the domestic factors of this agenda, “regionalism” in Tehran’s foreign policy, Iran and the Arab revolutions.

It was evident from the participant’s papers that Iran’s alleged legacy in the Arab world has entirely vanished. Previously, it was very hard for anyone to criticize Iran; the vast majority of public opinion in the Arab world was sympathetic of Iran, perceiving it as an Islamic country supposedly defying the “great Satan” (United States) and Israel. The workshop reflected a dramatic change in this perception of Iran in the Arab world.


The Syrian revolution has significantly affected Iran’s image in the Arab world and clearly had a negative impact on Arab perception of Iranian policies in the region.

Right now, even those who are neutral to Iran and its agenda are having a hard time explaining their position. The small number of people who still support Iran are viewed as sectarian, radicals or traitors. Participants reflected the general atmosphere in the Arab world that there can be no excuse whatsoever that could justify any person or country to support the bloody Assad regime against its people. Such a support could not be justified under any circumstances even if it served the purpose of resisting to Israeli occupation. This is a matter of freedom and a group of slaves can’t resist Israel or any other occupier.


Moreover, speakers explained that Arabs are against Israel not due to any anti-Semitic sentiments, but because they are occupying Arab lands, humiliating Palestinians, violating all kind of international laws and using espionage and spies to internally shake the stability of Arab countries, and this is not different in any way from what Iran is doing too in the Arab world.

Currently Iran occupies islands that belong to the UAE, claims that Bahrain in its entirety is an Iranian province that must be taken back, uses its arms and militias as proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain, Palestine, Kuwait, Syria and other countries, divides Arab societies on sectarian faults and inflames sectarian sentiments.

Both countries have regimes that operate with a Mafioso mentality in the region. They are not interested in any legitimate stability, they are not interested in prosperity of the region and welfare of its people, they strongly oppose any comprehensive and just peace in the region and on the contrary they play hard in order to make sure this doesn’t take place, both regimes use minorities in order to achieve political aims and in addition to all of these they use Arab countries as playground for increasing their influence in the region.


During the event, the participants showed a commitment to distinguishing between Iran and the Shiite. They stressed that commenting on Iran doesn’t mean in anyway commenting Shiite people. The speakers further agreed that the Mulla’s regime ultimate goal is to use Shiite in its agenda. Iran neither represents, nor protects the Shiite’s within the Arab world. Giving examples of this, the speakers noted Iran’s support for Armenia against Shiite Azerbejan, also noting the Iranian authorities’ treatment of the Arabs of Ahwaz province, although they are Shiite too.


Speaker warned that Iran is hiding behind slogans such as “Islamic unity”, “resistance” and other slogans in order to penetrate the public bases while covering its real intentions. Iran will not be ashamed from brokering deals with what it claims to be the “great Satan” (United States) and Israel when it is in their national interests to do so, as they did before many times during Mullahs rule.


Participants assured that Arabs are not enemies of Iran or Iranian people, but they will stand strongly and firmly against the intimidating and reckless policies implemented by the mullahs’ regime in the Arab countries. As long as the current Iranian policies remain, the Arabs and Iranians will not have positive relations.

Considering the importance of directly reaching the Iranian public, speakers stressed the necessity of establishing new Arab media channels operating in Persian, in order to break the siege put by the mullahs on the Iranian people and to be able to deliver the message of Arabs directly without any interference from the mullah’s regime. This is especially critical when the mullah’s regime is using misleading ways to present false picture of events and stories as it did with the Egyptian president’s speech in Tehran few months ago.

Finally, the workshop participants restated their support for all Iranian people fractions and minorities in their struggle to obtain their rights.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.