Unlike in France, Burkinis have long been welcome in Tel Aviv (above) and other Israeli beaches
1. “Detecting Trump’s feelings lands Israeli startup $3 million” (Haaretz, Sept 7, 2016)
2. “Israel Seeking Police Recruits: Eager, and Arab” (By Diaa Hadid, NY Times, Sept 4, 2016)
3. “Brussels minister’s tolerance adviser resigns after calling Israel Islamic State’s twin” (JTA, Sept 6, 2016)
4. “How Israel Ignored Its Most Valuable Spy” (By Bruce Riedel, The National Interest , Sept 5, 2016)
5. “I support Israel, which is why I don’t support US aid to Israel” (By Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe, Sept 4, 2016)
6. “Egypt documenting Jewish artifacts” (By Khalid Hassan, Al Monitor, Sept 4, 2016)
[Note by Tom Gross]
I attach a number of articles, mainly related to Israel. There are short extracts from some of them first.
Among the writers:
Bruce Riedel is a retired CIA officer who has advised four U.S. presidents on Middle East and South Asian issues.
Khalid Hassan is a freelance journalist who has worked for several Egyptian newspapers since graduating from Ain Shams University in 2010.
Jeff Jacoby is a lead columnist for The Boston Globe, and a longtime subscriber to this Middle East dispatch list.
Diaa Hadid is the New York Times’s Jerusalem-based correspondent dealing mainly with Israeli Arab and Palestinian affairs.
Diaa Hadid writes: “The roll call was startling for a class preparing to take Israel’s police academy exam: Mohammad Hreib, Ghadeer Ghadeer, Munis Huwari and Arafat Hassanein, dressed like a hipster and named after the Palestinian leader, whom most Israeli Jews view as a terrorist… Israel’s right-wing public security minister seeks to increase the number of Arab Muslims in the police force in three years by adding 1,350 new ones.”
(Tom Gross adds: Jamal Hakroush, the current deputy commissioner of the Israeli police, is a Muslim Arab.)
Jeff Jacoby writes: “The US-Israel alliance would be stronger, not weaker, if the financial largesse were removed from the picture. That money comes with strings attached – strings that by definition limit Israel’s freedom to make choices… The ties that bind Americans and Israelis are among the strongest in the world. Disentangle them from foreign aid and they’ll be even stronger.”
Bruce Riedel writes: “He was the best spy ever recruited by the Mossad. Too bad the Israelis didn’t listen to him. … But the Israelis were not his only clients; this asset also sold his services to Saudi Arabia…
“Why did he do it? Why would a twenty-nine-year-old Egyptian in 1973, married to the daughter of his country’s greatest hero, betray his country to its great foe? Money was part of the story. The Mossad paid him over a million dollars, helping Marwan become a very rich man. Ego was a part, too. As the Angel, Marwan was the central player in the world’s most dangerous conflict. And he enjoyed the thrill of it all…
“Saudi Arabia also had confidence in Ashraf Marwan. They, of course, had no idea he was an Israeli agent. But the Israelis also now had an asset with access to the Saudi royal family, a significant coup.”
Khalid Hassan writes: “Egypt has begun registering Jewish antiquities in an attempt to protect them from theft and neglect – an important step forward in preserving history. However, the government still faces criticism for not making good on promises to renovate the country’s synagogues… Jewish antiquities have always been part of Egypt’s cultural heritage, and government officials have said they are also part of the world’s heritage and the property of all mankind, not only Egypt.”
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DETECTING TRUMP’S FEELINGS LANDS ISRAELI STARTUP $3 MILLION
Detecting Trump’s feelings lands Israeli startup $3 million
Beyond Verbal, a startup that has developed a way to analyze emotions from vocal intonations, uses the presidential candidate’s infamous rhetoric to showcase its product.
Haaretz Business Staff
September 7, 2016
The latest round of Chinese investment in Israeli companies involves a surprise twist in the form of Donald Trump, whose infamous rhetoric is used to highlight a startup’s product.
Beyond Verbal, an Israeli startup that has developed a way to analyze emotions from vocal intonations, announced on Friday that it received $3 million in funding by Kuang-Chi Science, according to a report in Tech in Asia.
“We can understand the speaker’s mood, his attitude toward the subject that he is speaking about, his degree of self-control, his level of cooperation, and also his character – whether he’s someone who makes things happen or someone who pursues power,” Beyond Verbal CEO Yuval Mor told Haaretz in the past.
To understand the capabilities of vocal analysis, it bears visiting Beyond Verbal’s YouTube channel, which shows excerpts of famous video clips.
A popular one is from an exchange between Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Megyn Kelly of Fox News last summer. As the two speak, captions analyzing their emotions run across the bottom of the screen.
Other video clips include the debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney during the elections campaign, an interview with the late Princess Diana and a clip from the film Dirty Harry. All the clips include insights that Beyond Verbal’s system provides in real time.
Mor told Tech in Asia that “we envision a world in which personal devices understand our emotions and well-being, enabling us to become more in tune with ourselves.”
ARAFAT THE ISRAELI POLICEMAN
Israel Seeking Police Recruits: Eager, and Arab
By Diaa Hadid
New York Times (Front page)
September 4, 2016
KIRYAT ATTA, ISRAEL – The roll call was startling for a class preparing to take Israel’s police academy exam: Mohammad Hreib, Ghadeer Ghadeer, Munis Huwari and Arafat Hassanein, dressed like a hipster and named after the Palestinian leader, whom most Israeli Jews view as a terrorist.
“How did they even let you in?” an astonished colleague asked Mr. Hassanein, 20.
The unusual roster is the result of an Israeli push to recruit into its police force Arab Muslims, who are both vastly underrepresented in its ranks and vastly overrepresented among criminal suspects and victims.
Arab Muslims are currently 1.5 percent of the 30,000-member national police force, and the right-wing public security minister seeks to increase that number in three years by adding 1,350 new ones. Many would work in Arab cities and towns, where the ministry has promised to open 12 new police stations. (There are seven in such areas now, out of 70 across Israel.)
The deep-rooted tension between Israel’s police and its 1.7 million Arab citizens – about a fifth of the population – in some ways mirrors the flaring problems over race and policing in the United States. This spring and summer, the public security minister, Gilad Erdan, traveled to London and to New York – where Hispanics make up about 27 percent of the Police Department, African-Americans 15 percent and Asians nearly 7 percent – to study those cities’ experiences with diversifying and sensitizing their forces and with using body cameras to address complaints of police abuse.
“They are not going to disappear, and hopefully we are not, either,” Mr. Erdan said in an interview, referring to Arabs and Jews.
Alongside the recruitment drive, he promoted a rare long-serving Muslim officer to deputy commissioner, the second-highest rank on the force, holding him up as an example of how high an Arab could ascend in the force. The challenge, he acknowledged, is how to enlist this new population sensitively – to do it “for them and not against them.”
Many Palestinian citizens said they felt that Mr. Erdan was pressing forward with the recruitment of Arab officers because the violence that was wreaking havoc in their communities had begun to impact the wider Jewish society. They bitterly noted that Mr. Erdan’s plan was announced only after Nashat Melhem, an Arab-Israeli, opened fire on bar patrons in Tel Aviv on Jan. 1, ultimately killing three people. But Mr. Erdan denied that was the impetus for the plan, saying it had been in the works long before the attack.
Building trust is his challenge. Many Arab citizens identify primarily as Palestinian, not Israeli, and see the conservative government, especially its security forces, as hostile to their interests. They are suspicious of a broader government program to invest $3.8 billion in infrastructure, education, housing and other services in Arab communities – an effort to better integrate the residents, who suffer more poverty and unemployment, into society.
The police recruitment has unleashed a particular conundrum for an Arab population that has not quite recovered since officers fatally shot a dozen Palestinian citizens of Israel and one from Gaza during violent demonstrations at the start of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000. The feeling on the street is that the disproportionate violence afflicting Arab communities is the result of deliberate police neglect.
“The police don’t care for the Arabs,” said Amneh Freij, whose son Suhaib, 24, a professional soccer player, was fatally shot in January last year in Kafr Qasim. Adding to their sense of powerlessness, Ms. Freij’s husband, Mohammed, is the deputy mayor of Kafr Qasim, an Arab town of 22,000 in Israel. His position made no difference, they said.
Mr. Freij’s killer has not been caught. Had the victim been Jewish, Ms. Freij said as she wept in a recent interview, the police would have worked harder to find a suspect. “You would pluck him from between the eyelashes of the townspeople,” she said.
Mr. Erdan acknowledged the Freij family’s grief, and said having more Arabs on the force would help solve such cases in the future because they could better understand local crime structures and gather intelligence and evidence.
There are plenty of cases to work on. Mr. Erdan said 60 percent of Israel’s murders occurred in Arab communities, triple the Arab proportion of the population, along with more than 40 percent of traffic accidents. The Abraham Fund Initiatives, a group that promotes the coexistence of Palestinian and Jewish citizens, said an examination of prosecutions last year showed that Arabs were charged in 58 percent of all arsons, 47 percent of robberies, 32 percent of burglaries and 27 percent of drug-trafficking cases.
While Arab leaders are concerned about crime in their communities, they also complain that police use excessive force. In 2014, Arabs staged a daylong strike to protest the fatal shooting by officers of a 22-year-old as he retreated from their vehicle after banging on its windows with what looked like a knife, and this January, a young man was shot dead and his father beaten during a drug arrest.
And so the sight of an Arab in an Israeli police uniform is, still, visual shorthand for a collaborator, and many argue that the police need reform, not recruits. A popular Arab-Israeli website refused to run the police force’s recruitment commercials.
“More police isn’t the solution. Changing the mentality of the police is,” said Ayman Odeh, who leads a bloc of Arab lawmakers in Israel’s Parliament.
Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, a co-executive director of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, which has led its own initiative to improve relations between Arabs and the police, said there was a contradiction in a government that had been vocally hostile to Arabs while presenting a large budget to improve their lot.
“It’s this conflicting trend – very positive on one hand, very destructive on the other,” he said. The government “is unhelpful – I’m trying to be gentle here – in its rhetoric and action when it comes to the place and collective rights of the Palestinian minority.”
Since the recruitment initiative was announced in April, about 700 Arabs have applied to the police force. Jamal Hakroush, 59, the newly promoted deputy commissioner, said about 200 were expected to make it.
The first hurdle is the entrance exam, which many Arabs have struggled with because of its emphasis on Israeli civics and Hebrew, topics that often get short shrift in Arab-Israeli public school curriculums. So the police created special prep courses for potential recruits, including intensive Hebrew lessons, like the one that Mr. Hreib, Mr. Ghadeer, Mr. Huwari, and Mr. Hassanein took this summer.
These recruits will be bused together to exams, on the theory that they will do better in groups. For their physical exams, they are instructed in Arabic, not Hebrew.
The applicants in class here at an abandoned police barracks in northern Israel have a mix of motivations.
Ahmad Sarhan, 22, said he was inspired by a relative on the force. “My cousin was a shepherd. Now look at him: He has a house,” Mr. Sarhan said. “He has a future.”
Thekra Darwish, 22, said working as a policewoman would help her fight for equality for Arabs. “If we had a Palestinian state, we would serve that one,” she said with a shrug. “But we are here.”
Aisha Dahleh, 26, a social worker, wants to help resolve crimes plaguing her town. If selected, according to Commissioner Harkoush, she would be the first ever Israeli police officer who wears a Muslim head scarf.
“There will be those who say, ‘She is a girl, she is religious, she is an Arab, she is a Muslim – and she works with the state,’” Ms. Dahleh said. “But I know my goals.”
Mr. Hakroush is simultaneously leading a charm offensive with Arab mayors to raise support for the recruitment drive. On a recent day in Taibeh, a town with a particularly violent reputation, he met the mayor, Shuaa Mansour, inside his bulletproof office.
Over coffee and pastries, Mr. Mansour said he would reluctantly support the plan. “Whoever has an alternative to the police – bring it,” Mr. Mansour said. “We have no alternative.”
Guy Ben-Porat, a professor at Ben Gurion University of the Negev who has researched race and policing, said that for decades, the Israeli police and Palestinian citizens mostly sidestepped each other, with tribal elders reconciling conflicts among Arabs instead. As the influence of such elders eroded in modernizing communities, some, like Kafr Qasim, organized their own security patrols.
These volunteer patrols functioned like neighborhood watch groups, mostly cracking down on young men speeding, blasting music and harassing teenage girls. But they could not prevent the killing of Suhaib Freij, even though he was the son of Kafr Qasim’s deputy mayor.
Mr. Freij, sitting in a living room crammed with his son’s soccer medals, was dubious about the prospects for change, but still offered a small voice of support for the new police initiative because, as he put it, “you have to try and try.”
“There are police now,” he noted, referring to a newish police station in Kafr Qasim, “and the incidents happen and happen and happen.”
BRUSSELS MINISTER’S TOLERANCE ADVISER RESIGNS AFTER CALLING ISRAEL ISLAMIC STATE’S TWIN
Brussels minister’s tolerance adviser resigns after calling Israel Islamic State’s twin
Staffer also likened Israelis to Nazis
Jewish Telegraphic Agency
September 6, 2016
A Belgian Muslim official who compared Israel to Nazi Germany and the Islamic State is no longer employed as a minister’s adviser on tolerance.
Youssef Kobo, the adviser on diversity for the minister in charge of equal opportunity in the regional government of Brussels, offered to resign after finding he could no longer fulfill his duties, a ministry spokesperson told the HLN news website Monday.
Last month, Kobo apologized for his vitriol against Israel, which he said was a modern Nazi Germany and “an identical twin” of the Islamic State terrorist group.
He said he was “young and stupid” when he wrote the Facebook posts in 2014, which he said he “regrets,” the La Capitale daily reported. The newspaper had contacted Kobo, 28, following criticism by the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism.
However, in recent days Belgian media discovered earlier tweets, in which he proposed to slaughter activists working to prevent the ritual slaughter of animals.
“What if we compromise on slaughtering Gaia-activists instead of sheep?” he wrote, in what he later dismissed as an inappropriate joke. Gaia is the mythological spirit of Earth.
Kobo had referenced the Islamic State in posting a caricature of Israel cutting the throat of the Gaza Strip, where Israel in the summer of 2014 carried out strikes against the Hamas terrorist group. Kobo said of a video of Israeli troops: “21st century Nazis.”
Kobo told La Capitale that he was “very emotional” following the strikes in Gaza, which followed rocket fire by Hamas on Israel.
He works for a minister in the government of one of the three autonomous regions that make up the federal kingdom of Belgium.
Bart de Wever, the mayor of Antwerp, which is the capital of Belgium’s Flemish Region, in July told the Joods Actueel Jewish monthly he finds Kobo’s appointment “troubling” also because Kobo, according to de Wever, recently published a tweet about the shooting of police officers in the United States in which he wrote “a shot for a shot.”
De Wever said it means Kobo justifies the shootings as retribution for perceived police brutality, especially against blacks.
Joel Rubinfeld, the president of the Belgian League Against Anti-Semitism, said Kobo’s statements make him unfit to advise on tolerance and especially on anti-Semitism.
“He can’t be both fireman and fire starter,” Rubinfeld told La Capitale.
Rubinfeld noted that Israel is connected to the phenomenon often called “new anti-Semitism,” in which anti-Israel sentiment becomes a veil for anti-Semitism. In France, Belgium and the Netherlands, most anti-Semitic assaults are by people with a Muslim background, watchdogs in those countries have said.
Echoing the position of French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, Rubinfeld said “anti-Zionism is but modern anti-Semitism, where hatred for the Jewish state substitutes hatred of the Jew.”
How Israel Ignored Its Most Valuable Spy
By Bruce Riedel
The National Interest
September 5, 2016
He was the best spy ever recruited by the Mossad. Too bad the Israelis didn’t listen to him. Even worse, the quarrel over why the spy was ignored inside Israel led to his death. But the Israelis were not his only clients; this asset also sold his services to Saudi Arabia.
Ashraf Marwan was the son-in-law of Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser. He became a crucial adviser to Nasser’s successor Anwar el-Sadat. In 1970 he called the Israeli embassy in London and offered to work for the Israeli intelligence service. The Mossad ran him as its best asset ever, with then head of the service Zvi Zamir often meeting him face-to-face to debrief him.
A new book by veteran Israeli intelligence expert Uri Bar-Joseph tells the story of the Angel, Marwan’s code name, in detail. This is a tale of espionage at the highest level. The Angel provided Israel with Egypt’s entire order of battle for its armed forces and Egypt’s war plans for attacking Israel across the Suez Canal. He provided details of Sadat’s meetings with the Soviet leaders and up-to-the-minute reports on Soviet arms deliveries to Cairo.
But the Israeli military intelligence experts in the Directorate of Military Intelligence, which was solely responsible for producing the national intelligence estimates on whether Egypt would go to war, were convinced Sadat would not take the risk. The DMI had a concept of war planning. In the concept, Egypt could not beat Israel because of Israel’s overwhelming air superiority, which Egypt’s leaders knew made war suicidal. Thus Sadat wouldn’t attack.
But the Angel reported in 1972 that Sadat believed he had no choice but to go to war because Israel was blocking every avenue for diplomacy. Moreover, Sadat was planning a limited war to break the stalemate, not a full scale conflict. The concept was irrelevant.
Then, in August 1973, Marwan told Zamir that Sadat had traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Faisal. Sadat told Faisal, in a meeting with only Sadat, Faisal and Marwan in the room, that he would attack Israel with Syria that fall. Faisal promised Sadat that the kingdom would impose an oil embargo on America if it resupplied Israel. The oil embargo was the Arabs’ ultimate weapon.
It was also America’s nightmare. According to this account, the Israelis shared the substance of the Angel’s reports with the Nixon administration. Apparently Secretary of State Henry Kissinger ignored the warning that the oil weapon was being readied for use. Other reports have shown it wasn’t the only warning Kissinger ignored.
Meanwhile, the Israeli generals refused to abandon their concept. When war clouds gathered in October 1973, the DMI insisted that there was nothing to worry about. They convinced Defense Minister Moshe Dayan that war was not imminent. Even when the Russians began an urgent mass evacuation of their civilian advisers from Egypt and Syria, DMI chief Eli Zeira said that there was no reason to expect war.
The day before Sadat attacked, the Angel urgently summoned Zamir to London, to tell him the attack was coming on October 6, 1973, Yom Kippur in Israel. Only the next morning did Israel begin to mobilize. If the army had listened to Marwan in the months before October, it would have been far better prepared. As it was the last minute, the warning from London probably saved Israel from losing the Golan Heights and an even worse disaster than what actually happened to the country.
Why did he do it? Why would a twenty-nine-year-old Egyptian in 1973, married to the daughter of his country’s greatest hero, betray his country to its great foe? Money was part of the story. The Mossad paid him over a million dollars, helping Marwan become a very rich man. Ego was a part, too. As the Angel, Marwan was the central player in the world’s most dangerous conflict. And he enjoyed the thrill of it all.
Bar-Joseph’s captivating account also makes clear that the Mossad was not alone in paying Marwan. The Saudi intelligence service saw him as a useful agent of influence in Cairo. Faisal’s intelligence chief and son-in-law, Kamal Adham, probably paid Marwan even more than the Mossad in lucrative contracts and other deals. His presence at the crucial August summit was a reflection of Saudi Arabia’s confidence in Ashraf Marwan. They, of course, had no idea he was an Israeli agent. But the Israelis had an asset with access to the royal family, a significant coup.
After the war, the Israeli spy agencies engaged in another war over who should be blamed for the debacle of the warning failure in October 1973. If wars between spies are deadly, the wars between ex-spies over the blame game are even more deadly. Zeira desperately tried to smear the Angel as a clever double agent in his retirement, to absolve the DMI of its gross negligence. Gradually, he released details about the Mossad’s greatest agent to the media, which would point the finger at Ashraf Marwan. Zamir even tried to stop him from going to court.
By 2007 it was too late. Marwan fell, or was pushed, to his death from the balcony of his London home. The investigation by Scotland Yard was perfunctory. They concluded it was either suicide or murder by sources unknown.
For the Mossad, the unveiling of the organization’s best-ever source by a fellow Israeli intelligence officer is a disaster that won’t go away. Any future potential walk-in will have to think long and hard about whether the Mossad can keep a secret.
For another recent dispatch relating to the Yom Kippur war please see:
“DISENTANGLE THEM FROM FOREIGN AID AND THE TIES WILL BE EVEN STRONGER”
I support Israel, which is why I don’t support US aid to Israel
By Jeff Jacoby
The Boston Globe
September 4, 2016
A Longtime Reader, unabashedly Zionist, chastises me. “I can’t believe you’re going to vote for Gary Johnson for president,” she writes. “You’ve always been a great supporter of Israel. How can you be with a candidate who wants to eliminate US aid to Israel?”
I replied that Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee, has a number of positions I strongly disagree with. But this isn’t one of them. I want to eliminate US aid to Israel too.
Johnson has said that he “advocate[s] ending all foreign aid” and has criticized the federal government for “spending us deeper and deeper into debt while we shell out billions in foreign aid we can no longer afford.” The Libertarian platform endorses a policy of no foreign intervention, “including military and economic aid.”
At the same time, Johnson has said unequivocally that “Israel has been and will remain an important ally.” Both he and his running mate, Bill Weld, are former Republican governors; both appear to hold Israel in the same esteem that most Americans do – particularly Americans with Republican or conservative leanings.
But is it possible to support Israel and uphold the importance of the US-Israeli relationship while simultaneously opposing the annual subsidy Congress provides to Israel’s military? Of course it is. The Jewish state, with its booming economy, doesn’t need American charity. If only out of national self-respect, Israel should want to wean itself off the US dole – and America shouldn’t want its friendship for its stalwart Middle East ally to be tainted by financial dependence.
Admittedly, this is not the traditional pro-Israel view. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) characterizes US military aid to Israel as “the most tangible manifestation of American support.” That aid currently amounts to $3.1 billion a year, and will likely rise to $3.8 billion if a proposed 10-year aid package – which AIPAC vigorously supports – is approved. For decades, pro-Israel groups like AIPAC have stressed that US aid represents “the immutability of the US-Israel alliance.” And Israel-bashers agree: Many of them venomously denounce US aid precisely because they detest the close ties between Washington and Jerusalem that the aid reflects.
But the US-Israel alliance would be stronger, not weaker, if the financial largesse were removed from the picture. That money comes with strings attached – strings that by definition limit Israel’s freedom to make choices.
For example, Israel is required to spend 75 percent of each year’s assistance in the United States. That money may not be used to pursue military R&D or acquire weapons in Israel itself, even though the country has a domestic arms industry with a global reputation. (Under the new package being negotiated, Israel would have to spend all US aid in the United States.) Military aid to Israel thus amounts to a significant subsidy for the US defense industry. That may be great for Lockheed Martin, but it has inevitably distorted Israel’s military decision-making.
In an interview with Defense News last month, the former commander of the Israel Defense Force’s Northern Corps, and one-time commander of its military colleges, argued that US defense assistance “harms and corrupts” his country’s national security interests.
“Israel is so addicted to advanced US platforms and the US weaponry they deliver that we’ve stopping thinking creatively in terms of operational concepts,” said Major General Gershon Hacohen, who is now a reservist in the IDF. Dependence on US aid, he contends, has institutionalized Israeli reliance on air power and ever-more-advanced technology, at the expense of focusing more intensively on ground maneuvers and the unique threat posed by enemies waging asymmetric warfare.
Hacohen thinks Israel should break its addiction to US aid, and he’s not alone in saying so. Naftali Bennett, an Israeli cabinet minister who made a fortune in software engineering before entering politics, also wants to cut the cord. US military aid, he points out, amounts to only 1 percent of Israel’s nearly $300 billion GDP. A generation ago, American aid might have been indispensable. But the country today, he says, “is much stronger, much wealthier, and we need to be independent.” Support for winding down the military handouts comes as well from elder statesman Moshe Arens, a former Israeli defense minister and ambassador to Washington. “We love to get it . . . but we could get along without it,” Arens told a parliamentary conference in 2013.
Besides military aid, the United States for many years supplied Israel with economic assistance funds. By the 1990s, the notion that Israel’s surging high-tech economy needed to be propped up by American taxpayers had become embarrassing. The subsidies were phased out. By 2007 they were gone, and no one regrets their disappearance.
What happened with economic aid should now happen with military aid. Israel is healthy enough to stand on its own two feet, and it should be a matter of pride for it to do so. The ties that bind Americans and Israelis are among the strongest in the world. Disentangle them from foreign aid and they’ll be even stronger.
“JEWISH ANTIQUITIES HAVE ALWAYS BEEN PART OF EGYPT’S CULTURAL HERITAGE”
Egypt documenting Jewish artifacts
By Khalid Hassan
September 4, 2016
Egypt has begun registering Jewish antiquities in an attempt to protect them from theft and neglect – an important step forward in preserving history. However, the government still faces criticism for not making good on promises to renovate the country’s synagogues – or, for that matter, Egyptian historical and archaeological sites in general.
Jewish antiquities have always been part of Egypt’s cultural heritage, and government officials have said they are also part of the world’s heritage and the property of all mankind, not only Egypt. And so, Saeed Helmy, the head of the Islamic and Coptic Monuments Department at theMinistry of Antiquities, is calling on countries around the world to financially support Egypt in restoring and preserving the antiquities.
Helmy, who is in charge of the Jewish monuments in Egypt, told Al-Monitor in mid-August that the country has been unable to finance such projects because of its financial state. Egypt’s economy has suffered since the January 25 Revolution in 2011, and tourism has been decimated.
“I know very well that the Egyptian monuments – including the Jewish antiquities – capture the attention of people all around the world. Therefore, I’d like to make it clear that Egypt pays considerable attention to its monuments whether they are Islamic, Coptic or Christian, and that is what I asserted during my meeting with the [US] cultural attache at the US Embassy [in Egypt] on Aug. 2. However, we need the support of the countries that are interested in cultural heritage in order to protect these great antiquities.”
The Jews built 11 synagogues in Egypt – 10 in Cairo and one in Alexandria – which contain thousands of manuscripts that document their community in the country, along with birth and marriage records of Egyptian Jews.
Many synagogues in the heart of Cairo were frequently visited tourist attractions, especially Ben Ezra, Ashkenazi and Sha’ar Hashamayim. Ben Ezra in Old Cairo is one of the oldest synagogues in Egypt and houses thousands of ancient Jewish books. Old Cairo is also where the first mosque in Egypt, Amr ibn al-As Mosque, was built in 642, and is home to a number of Coptic churches, most notably the so-called Hanging Church.
The Ashkenazi Synagogue in Ataba, built in 1887, is in need of complete maintenance in addition to renovation work of its floors and walls.
Despite their small number, members of the Jewish community in Egypt – which is down to six individuals – have always cared for and attended to the Jewish antiquities in Egypt.
On March 26, Magda Haroun, the president of Egypt’s Jewish community, said in an interview with the privately owned Al-Youm Al-Sabeh newspaper that she had received several promises from Egyptian officials who are responsible for documenting and repairing buildings of Jewish origin, but none of these promises were actually fulfilled.
Therefore, Haroun said, she called on President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to help preserve this cultural heritage, especially after water leaked through the walls of some synagogues.
“I don’t want to place on him [Sisi] a burden greater than what he can bear. He is a true human being who bears a great responsibility. Yet I had to look for a higher authority to preserve this great heritage,” Haroun said.
Sisi indeed may have responded to Haroun’s message, as the Ministry of Antiquities announced June 11 that it was forming a special committee to take stock of Jewish antiquities in synagogues and register them in the ministry’s records. This was the first time that the Ministry of Antiquities has offered to register the artifacts, after many years of neglect.
Ahmad Abd al-Majid Hammad, a member of the committee assigned to register the artifacts, said 60 pieces have been registered to date at the Moussa al-Dar’I synagogue, which was built in 1925. The antiquities included 32 boxes containing Torah scrolls, in addition to a few curtains that display drawings, decorations and the Star of David. Moreover, the antiquities included a metal frame and wooden artifacts.
Helmy, who heads the registration committee, told Al-Monitor that the ministry looks equally at Islamic, Coptic and Jewish antiquities. Helmy said he does not allow any discrimination against any of these monuments, and that he often reminds antiquities students of this.
“The best proof that the Ministry of Antiquities cares about the Jewish heritage is that we have finished [in 2010] repairing the Maimonides synagogue in Jamaliyyah Street in midtown Cairo at a total cost of 8.5 million Egyptian pounds [roughly $950,000]. We have restored the synagogue’s entrances, floors and all the antiquities inside it. For the first time, the synagogue has been placed on the list of tourist attractions in Egypt,” he said.
Helmy added, “Therefore, anyone can come and freely visit this great archaeological site. It is an unprecedented achievement and it shows that the ministry gives great attention to the Jewish monuments in Egypt and seeks to preserve them, [even] making them touristic attractions that visitors can enjoy.”
He acknowledged the deteriorated condition of Jewish antiquities in Egypt, saying, “The situation of the Jewish antiquities in Egypt is no different than the situation of the Egyptian monuments as a whole. They need considerable support to restore and repair them, especially after the security chaos that broke out in Egypt after the  revolution that had a [negative] impact on tourism and the economy.
“Therefore, the Ministry of Antiquities paid a heavy price, given that its resources are based on the revitalization of tourism.”