Marion Woolfson, Honorary President of Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign until her death two years ago today, was the author of several important books. Prophets in Babylon: Jews in the Arab World refuted the oft-asserted Zionist myth that the ancient Jewish communities in Arab countries were extinguished by anti-semitic ethnic cleansing and that this in turn justified the mass expulsion of Palestinians from Palestine to make way for the setting up of the Jewish State in 1948. Once labelled "the most dangerous anti-Zionist in Britain" by an Israeli daily, Marion publicly denounced Israeli barbarity towards the Palestinian people when doing so incurred a personal cost; national newspapers whose columns had previously been open to her, increasingly refused to answer her letters or return her calls. She was beaten at the door of her London home by an unknown asssailant, almost certainly an act of Zionist thuggery of a type becoming familiar.
29 September 2014
A number of her Palestinian friends were assassinated by the Israelis, including the novelist Ghassan Kanafani.
Once she became aware of the virulent racism visited upon the Palestinians under Israeli control, Marion was not someone to take half measures. She was a consistent supporter of human rights for all, including the Palestinian people, and was prepared to follow that commitment wherever it took her. She was shunned by most of her Jewish family solely on the grounds of her support for the rights of the Palestinian people and her opposition to the ethnic cleansing of a foreign state, Israel. I delivered a eulogy at her funeral in Edinburgh two years ago to a handful of mourners - one of her two daughters stayed away and only three family members attended. Many who had admired her work over the years had lost contact as she became increasingly frail and then housebound.
Marion rejected with contempt the all too frequent dishonest accusations of 'anti-semitism from Zionists: "Anyone who stands up for Palestinians is automatically accused of being 'anti-Semitic'. I am Jewish and proud to be Honorary President of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, an anti-racist group that opposes Israeli apartheid."
Prophets in Babylon recognises the limitations and harshness of all medieval societies and takes a nunanced approach to the status of Jews in the pre-modern Arab and Muslim world. Her refutation of Zionist claims of timeless Muslim-Jewish emnity has been vindicated by the research of scholars working with the treasure trove of documents found in a medieval Old Cairo synagogue, the Geniza. Her depiction of Jewish life in medieval Muslim societies is supported by the Geniza materials. Marc Cohen sees in them "a Jewish population-at-large [who] suffered little of the discrimination...bore Arabic honorific names...dressed any way they liked with impunity...read the Qur'an (in Hebrew transcription)...maintained synagogues [that] functioned without unwanted government interference." According to Cohen, Jews "received fair treatment before Muslim judges, who honored their testimony under oath...Jewish merchants operated freely in the Islamic marketplace, traveling between places as far from each other as Spain and India, enduring no greater risk or danger than the average Muslim trader. They formed bonds of trust and friendship with Muslim colleagues and even established business partnerships with Muslims, circumventing restrictions on mixed partnerships inscribed in Islamic law."
Covering both ancient and modern developments, the book is full of gems, the fruit of assiduous research. A document from the British Embassy in Washington reports the secret deliberations of the governing body of the American-Jewish Committee in December 1942: "A large post-war immigration of Central European Jews in to Palestine is unanimously urged...since it offers an alternative to...Jewish immigration in to the USA which is viewed by most US Jews with apprehension."
Woolfson's work remains essential reading at a time when Scottish Zionists are trying to exploit the post-1948 exodus of Jews from Arab countries, which Zionism successfully worked to achieve, in order to deny the rights of Palestinians driven from their homes and lands by Zionist militias. When Scottish Government Minister Humza Yousaf spoke to a meeting in Glasgow in May of this year, the Jewish Telegraph reported that Zionists in the audience disingenuously 'informed' the Minister of External Affairs that "Israel's War of Independence had created around 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries" and that "Mr Yousaf...admitted that he had been unaware that there were so many Jewish refugees in 1948". Many others are also unaware of the history of what Ben Gurion called "cruel Zionism", the often violent effort by the Zionist underground in Iraq and Egypt to force the exodus of Jews who were proving resistant to the lure of Zionism. Thirty five years after Marion Woolfson treated this subject, Zionists still make strenuous efforts to keep the history inaccessible.
Amidst the copious references supporting this key point, Marion didn't deploy the testimony of Iraqi Jew Naeim Giladi, one among many Jewish Arab voices that support her contention, admitted freely in Israel itself, that the exodus of Jews from Arab countries was helped along by Zionist violence against Jews slow to leave:
"I write this article...to tell the American people, and especially American Jews, that Jews from Islamic lands did not emigrate willingly to Israel; that, to force them to leave, Jews killed Jews; and that, to buy time to confiscate ever more Arab lands, Jews on numerous occasions rejected genuine peace initiatives from their Arab neighbors. I write about what the first prime minister of Israel called 'cruel Zionism'. I write about it because I was part of it."
Zionism is violent and even genocidal in its commitment to remove the native Palestinians and replace them with Jewish immigrants. The colonial logic, however brutal and callous, is clear and as easily grasped as the colonisation of the Americas and the extermination of many native peoples there. Even this logic evaporates, however, unless we accept the Zionist claim that Jews everywhere have always lived in fear and insecurity, under the perpetual threat of massacre. Prophets in Babylon: Jews in the Arab World gives the lie to such claims (as, incidentally, does the entire history of Scotland, "a place traditionally seen as a tolerant and welcoming place for Jews").
A farcical but revealing example of the ludicrous Zionist claims of anti-semitism comes in the
example of the cartoon we reproduced on the SPSC website following the election of Israeli whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu as Rector of Glasgow University in 2004. Vanunu's family went to Israel from Morocco, and Marion Woolfson's work shows the racism that Arab Jews encountered in European-dominated Israel as well as the absence of anti-semitism in Arab and Muslim countries up until the dark shadow of Zionism fell over the whole region.
Coincidentally, a Moroccan cartoonist whose work Scottish PSC promoted and which came in for the same accusations reminded us of how ill-founded are the smears of Zionists concerning the record of Arab countries and their Jewish communities when he responded to the Zionist attacks:
"As a citizen of Morocco it is my deepest conviction that Jews are my brothers; Jews have lived with us in peace and tolerance as fellow citizens in Morocco for 2000 years. I remember that in World War II, Morocco did not cooperate with the Vichy government of France when the King of Morocco stood up to the German demands and refused to send thousands of Moroccan Jews to the German concentration camps. I am proud of Morocco for taking this noble stand."
Zionism stands on an ideological structure that is easily challenged when people acquaint themselves with history. Marion Woolfson provided materials that contribute richly to such an understanding, grounded in a commitment to equal rights for all, the dismantling of Israeli apartheid, and an end to ethnic cleansing.
29 September 2014
See also video of interview with Iraqi Jew Naeim Giladi
It is with great sadness that we hear of the death of Babar Saleem. Babar was a true inspiration, who continued, as long as he was able, to actively support the Palestinian freedom struggle. He joined street leafleting events to support the Palestinian appeal for BDS, the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions against the State of Israel. His disease wasted away a brawny man’s muscles, but some of us were privileged to campaign alongside someone who retained a big, strong heart. We were inspired by the moral strength of the quiet man sitting in a wheelchair outside Waitrose on Byres Road, Glasgow, leafleting passers-by on a Saturday morning on the supermarket’s ‘ethical policy’ that sourced produce from a criminal association, Zionist Jewish settlers dispossessing Palestinians.
Most people today are deeply suspicious of Israel and feel that the Palestinian struggle for freedom is legitimate and just. Emotions, however, are not enough; the Palestinians are asking for action and Babar gave some of what was left of his energy even as it was ebbing away. His nobility and dedication to the cause of Palestine should and will inspire others to emulate him.
There are many who grieve the loss of a fine husband, father, brother, and friend. We in Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign extend our heartfelt sympathy to all of them and mourn the loss of a member who inspired us by his courage, dignity and commitment to the cause we share. We were honoured to have known Babar Saleem.
(9 December 2011)
John Bennett & Mick Napier
Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign