Grapevine November 27, 2022: Out of Babylon

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 EZER MIZION patients and staff in Dubai. (photo credit: COURTESY / EZER MIZION)
EZER MIZION patients and staff in Dubai.
(photo credit: COURTESY / EZER MIZION)

Anyone who listens to the reruns of sessions from Yossi Alfi’s storytelling festivals knows that he was born in Iraq, is very proud of his Iraqi heritage which in one way or another he introduces into many of his programs regardless of the theme, and most important that Jews who emigrated from Iraq are the backbone of Israel’s intelligence services.

Because of their appearance and the fact that Arabic is their native language, they were able to easily integrate into society throughout the Arab world.

More than 70 years later, many of their exploits are still classified, but some that are not will be discussed at the Babylon Museum in Or Yehuda on Tuesday, December 6.

Iraqi immigrants contributed to many spheres of Israel’s development but most markedly in the intelligence services of the Israel Defense Forces, in the Israel Security Agency (Shabak) and in the Mossad, where they excelled in special operations.

Many had previously been engaged in clandestine Zionist activities in Iraq, a very strong ideological attachment and loyalty to Israel and were among the founders of the IDF’s prestige 8200 intelligence unit.

 THE BABYLONIAN Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda (credit: Wikimedia Commons) THE BABYLONIAN Jewry Heritage Center in Or Yehuda (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Despite their impressive contribution to Israel’s safety and security and the courage they displayed in the field, little is known about them outside of the intelligence community.

Once anyone entered the intelligence services, they became anonymous with regard to the general public explains Prof. Esther Meir Glitzenstein, the CEO of the Babylon Museum and a specialist in the history of Jews from Arab countries, particularly those from Iraq, at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Even after leaving the service, she says, they cannot speak about what they had done because they might put other people at risk.

However, the stories of some of those no longer living will be related at the event – albeit not in full. The story of one such person, Shmuel (Sami) Moriah who was born in Basra and was involved in espionage and in facilitating illegal emigration of Iraqi Jews to Israel will be among those revealed.

There were also women of Iraqi background in the intelligence services, among them Shosh Amit, who worked in the Mossad and held several important positions. Her story runs counter to stereotyped concepts of the status of women in general, and those from North Africa in particular.

Another interesting story will be that of an Iraqi pilot, who defected and arrived in Israel in a MIG 21.

The program begins at 3:30 p.m. with a lecture by General (Ret) Aharon Zeevi Farkash, chairman of the Shazar Center and former head of the directorate of Israeli military intelligence.

The event will continue till at least 9 p.m. and will include discussions on the nucleus of Israeli intelligence; the contribution of the Jews of Iraq to intelligence in Iraq and in Israel; Israeli intelligence in Iraq; the role of Iraqi immigrants in the establishment of Israeli intelligence services; the integration of Iraqi immigrants into Israel’s intelligence network and much more. Participants will include academics from several universities, as well as former high-ranking intelligence officers.

For further details, telephone Yehuda Koren at 052-335 0928. The event is a joint venture by the Babylon Museum and the Shazar Center.

Another museum for Israel?

■ DOES ISRAEL need another museum.? Former activist on behalf of Soviet Jewry Aaron Braunstein believes that the answer is yes and that it should be in Jerusalem.

A co-founder in 1968 of the Washington Committee for Soviet Jewry and a member of a clandestine mission to the USSR in 1976, Braunstein believes that after the Holocaust and the creation of Israel, this was the most important chapter in 20th-century Jewish history.

Freedom is something that should never be taken for granted and a museum that shows what happens to people when they face deprivation, discrimination and persecution, would be a permanent reminder for people who value freedom and human rights to be on the alert against any system that puts freedom and human rights in jeopardy.

Moreover, when stories are written about the fall of Communism in Russia and how it came about, the story of Soviet Jewry and those from outside Russia who worked to bring about their freedom is often omitted. Braunstein cites Marilyn Berger of The New York Times, who in her obituary for Mikhail Gorbachev this past September, did not mention the struggle for Soviet Jewry.

Braunstein objects to the struggle being a mere footnote in history, and relates to a Washington Summit meeting in 1987 between Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan, who said to the Soviet leader, “Yesterday, I had 250,000 people in my backyard saying ‘let my people go.’ Until you do what they want, nothing will happen.”

Braunstein has been pushing the museum idea for some time and already has the signatures of more than 120 prominent figures from around the world who support the concept. For the time being, he would be content with a virtual museum, but because Jews are not the only people in the world who suffer persecution, discrimination and racism, he believes that a proper museum to be known as The International Struggle and Freedom Museum will take into account Jews and non-Jews who were involved in the struggle for Soviet Jewry as well as national and religious communities still struggling for their own freedom.

Ezer Mizion kids go on a trip to Dubai

■ FOR THE first time since the Corona crisis, Ezer Mizion took 36 children – all of them cancer patients – abroad.

In light of the Abraham Accords, the youngsters, together with oncologists and other medical staff, were taken on a very special tour to Dubai, where they were thrilled by the many attractions. They were escorted by former army officer Maor Cohen who has become an inseparable part of their lives. They were excited to meet with Israel’s Consul General in Dubai Liron Zaslansky and her deputy Dana Filber, who had heard that the youngsters were in town and decided to meet them and talk to them about the work of the consulate. They also gave the youngsters souvenir pins of Israel and Dubai, and told them that they were now Israel’s 36 new ambassadors.

These journeys have special significance said Dr. Bracha Zisser, the founding head of Ezer Mizion’s bone marrow bank. In Israel, they are treated in different hospitals, and they are somewhat alone. When they go abroad, they are all together as one large, happy group having fun, and facing exciting new challenges which are not like those at home. This strengthens their resolve in the face of ongoing therapy when they return to Israel.

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