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Blinded by Hatred of Ashkenazim, Some in Israel Want to Rewrite History

Naama Riba
Naama Riba
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The Rosh Ha'ayin nursery, where 10 nurses and one doctor took care of children who had arrived from Yemen on Operation Magic Carpet.Credit: Teddy Brauner/GPO
Naama Riba
Naama Riba

In recent years, it has become fashionable among intellectuals to inflate and distort history or reinvent it to assail Israel’s founders, most of whom were, heaven forbid, Ashkenazim.

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It’s not clear why these sometimes overlapping groups do not address the actual crimes and injustices that left a long archival trail. Instead, they tell new stories based on oral testimony given decades after the actual events, distorting data and using violent language against researchers who rely on documents and facts.

Sometimes, these intellectuals tell a different kind of story, claiming the education system and academia are silencing some dramatic, important event in Jewish history, while completely ignoring the facts.

Three prominent cases highlight this new trend. The first, rooted in the 1960s, is the affair of the Yemenite children who disappeared during the state’s early years and the claim they were kidnapped and handed over for adoption. The second is the portrayal of the North African Jewish Holocaust as if were a forgotten, obscured historical event. The third is the recently renewed debate over the massacre at Tantura during the 1948 War of Independence.

The commonality between all three recounting these distorted historical stories is the people’s enemy: the state-founding Ashkenazi elite. The storytellers claim that David Ben-Gurion and his spiritual heirs (especially) killed Arabs during the war just like the Nazis killed Jews, then kidnapped the Yemenites and concealed information, and of course neglected to tell the story of the Holocaust of North African Jews in the school system. They did all this because they were racists.

I’ll start with the kidnapped Yemenite children affair. Not one child who disappeared and was reported as dead has yet been found alive and belonging to an adoptive family.

Three-and-a half inquiry commissions also failed to find any evidence of kidnapping. Yet, activists in various organizations, journalists and amateur historians nevertheless keep pushing the kidnapping narrative, basing themselves on testimony given years after the incident, backed by little to no real-time evidence.

Even specific documents explaining where an “abducted” child went – in most cases, sadly, the children died and were buried without their parents being informed – haven’t convinced supporters of the kidnapping narrative. They continue on their merry way.

For instance, the Amram organization’s website contains testimony by Shlomo Hatucha’s brother (who was 4 years old when Shlomo disappeared; it’s unclear what his testimony is based on). In it, he says his brother was hospitalized at Beilinson Hospital because of a scratch. When the family visited him, he seemed to be in good shape. But later, they were told that he had died. The family claims he was kidnapped.

According to the mother’s 1994 testimony to one of the inquiry commissions, the Shalgi Committee, Shlomo injured the sole of his foot during a hike. When he returned, she took him for treatment, but two days later, he was in a lot of pain and was hospitalized at Beilinson.

She visited him there for two days. She was told on the third day that he had died. She didn’t see his body (which was also true then for Ashkenazi children who died) and was told the state would see to his burial.

It turned out his name was registered in the death rolls; both a burial license and burial confirmation were issued. Moreover, the hospital records stated he died of tetanus on July 8, 1952 and was buried the following day at the cemetery in Petah Tikva.

Protesters demonstrating over the Yemenite children affair in March.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The next inflated narrative.

I was shocked to read the interview with writer and fashion researcher Rachel Getz Salomon, in which she claimed, she couldn’t find any information about the Holocaust of Tunisian Jewry in order to write about her Tunisian grandmother. “I bought all the books there are, beginning with Dr. Haim Saadon. There were a few things that I could learn, but there was no meat, There were numbers, how many murdered, a number of a few thousands,” she told Haaretz. “Through a historian friend I got to the book ‘The Jews of North Africa During the Second World War,’ which was published and disappeared. We had to embark on a journey to find a copy.”

I don’t get at all this Holocaust envy, what she is talking about and what books she read. The Holocaust Encyclopedia contains a long article about Tunisian Jewry during the Holocaust, written in 1990. It refers to earlier literature on the subject, such as Michel Abitbol’s “The Jews of North Africa During the Second World War,” – the same book Solomon claims had disappeared and was so hard to find.

It’s not clear why she had to embark on a journey. I found the book in three public libraries (Beit Ariela, Jezreel Valley College and the University of Haifa) via the internet in under a minute. Apparently, Getz Salomon preferred not to find information about the subject before declaring that nothing was written about it.

The Holocaust Encyclopedia, one of the most authoritative and official sources on the Holocaust, tells of thousands of Tunisian Jews who were pressed into forced labor and some 20 politically active Tunisian Jews who were taken and murdered. It also recounts the Jewish leaders who were ordered by the Nazis to assemble workers for forced labor, similar to the Judenrat system in Europe, but on a far smaller scale.

Getz Salomon also ignores the fact that the subject has been taught in the schools since 1999(!). Proof of that is my mother, a former Haifa regional adviser for history studies, and the high school history texts that she still keeps on the bookshelf at home. Furthermore, the Holocaust of the North African Jews was on a small scale. It was not discussed at the Wannsee Conference in early 1942.

Libyan Jews during World War II.Credit: Nir Keidar

The Jews in Tunisia suffered during the war, especially after the British-American plan to occupy Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria within a few days in November 1942 failed. The German army became entrenched in Tunisia and fought there against the allied forces for several months.

But a Holocaust, which means mass and industrialized murder of entire communities and concentrating them in ghettoes – fortunately didn’t exist in North Africa. Even in the case of Libyan Jews, who suffered more than any other Jews in Africa during the Holocaust, hundreds but not thousands were murdered. The Nazis didn’t invest efforts in the logistical task of transporting the Jews overseas.

Just for comparison’s sake, there is barely any reference to the Holocaust of Norwegian Jews, of whom 800 were murdered. The Holocaust is an event of vast proportions; as such, the way it is studied and reported has changed over the years. The Jews of Tunisia during the Holocaust have been written about and discussed for decades, both in schools and in scholarly texts.

The most recent case is the Tantura affair, reawakened by Alon Schwarz’s film. It claims Jews perpetrated a large-scale massacre against Arabs in a coastal village. This case is more complex than the previous two, because there is in fact evidence that Arabs in Tantura were murdered. However, the evidence does not support the narrative of those maintaining that a major massacre happened there.

The narrative portrays the Alexandroni Brigade soldiers as the perpetrators of the greatest massacre in the War of Independence. It doesn’t cast them as part of an army fighting a war of survival, shortly after the state’s founding, while Arab armies surrounding it were threatening to destroy it.

Tantura residents, 1948.Credit: Beno Rothenberg collection/State Archives

The narrative describing the Tantura affair portrays the state’s founders as criminals rather than as leaders trying to establish a state for a nation that had escaped an attempt to exterminate it. Recently, Prof. Benny Morris wrote here, “[Tantura researcher Benny] Katz and Schwarz are basing the theory of the ‘great massacre’ solely on interviews with Arabs and Jews who ‘recalled’ it 40 years after the act.” Again, we witness a historiosophical practice of stories being passed orally between generations. Those who hear it want to turn it into the story itself and make it the new truth in its entirety.

It’s not clear to me why the narratives’ purveyors are sticking to inventing facts and stories when the reality in the 1940s and early 1950s was already harsh. Why not tell about the massacres in Deir Yassin and Kafr Qasem and about the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Arabs who became refugees? Why not tell about the Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s Sharon Plan, which aimed to disperse the population of new immigrants throughout Israel and created social disparities that persist to this day?

Why not tell about the Farhud (pogrom) in Iraq in which some 180 Jews were murdered, and about the Aden riots in which dozens of Yemenite Jews were murdered? Apparently in the name of hatred of the state’s founders and a general hatred of Ashkenazim, seasoned with applause from a local and foreign audience that doesn’t delve into facts, it is easier and nicer to distort history and garner likes, awards and embraces along the way.

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