Like Prego Pasta Sauce, Benny, “It’s In There!”

Benny Morris may have imbibed large quantities of Prego’s (new Extra Zinfandel) pasta sauce, just prior to writing his review of “The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism” for The New Republic, because what he claims is “omitted”—It’s In There

The conclusion to Benny Morris’ otherwise attentive and favorable review of “The Legacy Islamic Antisemitism” in The New Republic contains false claims about materials ostensibly “omitted” from the book. I have been in communication with the book editor at The New Republic and an abbreviated version (certainly minus the extracts) of my reply, below, should be appearing in the magazine soon.


Morris states: “…but there is no mention of the massacres of Jews in Aden in 1947 and Morocco in 1948.”


The 1947 Aden pogrom is discussed on pp. 158-159, with sufficient detail:


Shortly after Heykal Pasha’s November 24, 1947 speech and the November 29, 1947 U.N. vote which adopted the “Partition Plan” for Palestine, demonstrations were held (December 2nd to 5th) throughout the Arab Muslim world to protest the U.N. decision. These demonstrations sparked anti-Jewish violence in Bahrain, Aleppo, and the British protectorate of Aden. The riots in Aleppo and Aden were severe—many Jews were killed, significant physical devastation occurred, and roughly half of Aleppo’s Jewish population fled. …“Similar devastation engulfed the Jewish community in the British-controlled protectorate of Aden. As in the Tripolitanian pogroms of 1945, the police, composed mainly of natives, proved unable to contain the rioting and in some places took part in it themselves. Troops had to be called in to quell the violence. By the time order was finally restored on December 4th , 82 Jews had been killed and a similar number injured. Of the 170 Jewish-owned shops in the Crater (the main town of Aden), 106 were totally destroyed and 8 more partially sacked. Hundreds of houses and all of the Jewish communal institutions, including the synagogue and the two schools, were burned to the ground. Many people had lost everything. Four thousand Jews had to be fed by the authorities. Rioters also wrought havoc upon the small Jewish communities in the surrounding towns and in the Hashed camp housing Yemenite Jewish refugees. The Adeni Jewish community claimed that the damage it had suffered exceeded over 1 million pounds.”



And on the very top of p. 160, the left hand column, there is a mention of the murder of Jews in 1948 in northeastern Morocco, specifically this comment:


Such widely held expectations may have subdued violent mob reactions of the Arab masses against Middle Eastern and North African Jews at the outset of the war. However, once the Arab offensive in Palestine experienced setbacks, several weeks after the war began, anti-Jewish violence erupted in Morocco and Libya. “The first such incidents took place on June 7 and 8 in the northeastern Moroccan towns of Oujda and Jerada. Forty-two Jews were killed  and approximately 150 injured, many of them seriously. Scores of homes and shops were sacked. [emphasis added]”


Morris also contends, “…there is almost no material (since he [Bostom] purports to cover the medieval centuries as well) on the vast pogroms that took place in Spain and North Africa during the Middle Ages.”


This latter allegation is rather egregious, as can be readily gleaned by reading pp. 46, 48-51, 54, and 97-105 of my long introductory survey; the essays of Moshe Perlmann from pp. 335-344,  “Eleventh Century Andalusian Authors on the Jews of Granada,” and Georges Vajda from pp. 345-354 “ ‘Adversos Judaeos’:  A Treatise from Maghrib—“Ahkam ahl al-Dhimma” by Sayh Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Karim  al-Maghili”; the additional essay by Edmond Fagnan pp. 491-494, “The Distinctive Sign of the Jews in Maghreb”; and in particular the chapters extracted from H.Z. Hirschberg (a specialist on North African Jewry) on pp. 505-519—the very subtitles of the chapters demonstrate just how ludicrous Morris’ claim is: “The Destruction of Kairouan,” and “The Almoravid and Almohad Persecutions”);  or the essay by Jane Gerber on pp. 519-524, “The Pact of Umar in Morocco: A Reappraisal of Muslim-Jewish Relations.”


Contra Morris, and ignoring the entire chapters noted above, especially the materials included by Hirschberg, here are but a few brief examples of what my introductory survey contains about the anti-Jewish pogroms which took place in both Spain and North Africa, during the 11th and 12th centuries:


[pp. 46-47] Various anti-dhimmi regulations became integral to the permanent “humiliation and wretchedness” prescribed for the Jews, specifically, by the Qur’anic curse of 2:61. Breaches of this regulatory pact (or “dhimma”) by Jews—whether real or perceived—could have disastrous consequences, including fully sanctioned jihad violence directed at them. For example, the poet Abu Ishaq al-Elbiri is believed to have helped incite the Muslim masses in 1066 against the Jewish vizier of Granada, Joseph Ibn Naghrela, with a vitriolic anti-Jewish ode, emphasizing how the dhimma had been violated. Abu Ishaq wrote: “Bring them down to their place and Return them to the most abject station. They used to roam around us in tatters Covered with contempt, humiliation, and scorn. They used to rummage amongst the dungheaps for a bit of a filthy rag To serve as a shroud for a man to be buried in…Do not consider that killing them is treachery. Nay, it would be treachery to leave them scoffing.” [The translator then summarizes: ‘The Jews have broken their covenant (i.e., overstepped their station, with reference to the Covenant of Umar) and compunction would be out of place.]”


A contemporary chronicle written by Sultan cAbd Allah (who became Sultan of Granada in 1073) confirms that a breach in the system of dhimmitude precipitated the outburst of anti-Jewish violence by the Muslims of Granada: “Both the common people and the nobles were disgusted by the cunning of the Jews, the notorious changes they had brought in the order of things, and the positions they occupied in violation of their pact [i.e., the dhimma]. Allah decreed their destruction on Saturday 10 Safar 459 (December 31, 1066)…The Jew [Joseph Ibn Naghrela]fled into the interior of the palace, but the mob pursued him there, seized him, and killed him. They then put every Jew in the city to the sword and took vast quantities of their property.”


The pogrom by Granada’s Muslims resulted in the assassination of Joseph Ibn Naghrela, and the massacre of some three to four thousand Granadan Jews, along with the pillage of the Jewish community. This figure equals or exceeds the number of Jews reportedly killed by the Crusaders during their pillage of the Rhineland, some thirty years later, at the outset of the First Crusade.



[p. 100] Two major paroxysms of anti-Jewish violence occurred in Muslim Spain during the early, and then the mid-11th century. The first took place in Cordoba between 1010-1013, part of an extended period of chaotic internecine Muslim struggle at the culmination of Umayyad rule. The Berber Muslim chieftain Sulaiman attacked the Jews of Cordoba (perhaps on April 19, 1013) destroying their dwellings, pillaging their storehouses and driving them in terror (including Samuel ibn Naghrela) from the city.According to Avraham Grossman, “…many hundreds of Jews were killed (mainly in Cordoba), and there are those who think the toll was in the thousands.” Grossman also notes the relative paucity of scholarly references to these confirmed pogroms:This event is almost unmentioned in the literature”…


The second catastrophic anti-Jewish outburst transpired five decades later during 1066 in Granada. These attacks were preceded and accompanied by bitter anti-Jewish propaganda, most notably the polemical writings of Ibn Hazm, and a poem by Abu Ishaq directed against the Jewish vizier of Granada Joseph b. Samuel Naghrela.


[p. 102] The jihad depredations of the Almohads (1130-1232) wreaked enormous destruction on both the Jewish and Christian populations in Spain and North Africa. Hirschberg includes this summary of a contemporary Judeo-Arabic account by Solomon Cohen (which comports with Arab historian Ibn Baydhaq’s sequence of events), from January 1148 C.E, describing the Muslim Almohad conquests in North Africa, and Spain: “Abd al-Mumin…the leader of the Almohads after the death of Muhammad Ibn Tumart the Mahdi …captured Tlemcen [in the Maghreb] and killed all those who were in it, including the Jews, except those who embraced Islam…[In Sijilmasa] One hundred and fifty persons were killed for clinging to their [Jewish] faith…All the cities in the Almoravid [dynastic rulers of North Africa and Spain prior to the Almohads] state were conquered by the Almohads. One hundred thousand persons were killed in Fez on that occasion, and 120,000 in Marrakesh. The Jews in all [Maghreb] localities [conquered]…groaned under the heavy yoke of the Almohads; many had been killed, many others converted; none were able to appear in public as Jews…Large areas between Seville and Tortosa [in Spain] had likewise fallen into Almohad hands.”


This devastation—massacre, captivity, and forced conversion—was described by the Jewish chronicler Abraham Ibn Daud, and the poet Abraham Ibn Ezra. Suspicious of the sincerity of the Jewish converts to Islam, Muslim “inquisitors”, i.e., antedating their Christian Spanish counterparts by three centuries, removed the children from such families, placing them in the care of Muslim educators. When Sijilmasa [an oasis town southwest of Fez] was conquered by the Almohads in 1146, the Jews were given the option of conversion or death. While 150 Jews chose martyrdom, others converted to Islam, including the dayyan [rabbi, or assistant rabbi] Joseph b. Amram (who later reverted to Judaism). The town of Dar’a suffered a similar fate. Abraham Ibn Ezra’s moving elegy Ahah Yarad Al Sefarad describes the Almohad destruction of both Spanish (Seville, Cordova, Jaen, Almeria) and North African Jewish communities, including Sijilmasa and Dar’a (along with others in Marrakesh, Fez, Tlemcen, Ceuta, and Meknes).


Ibn Aqnin (d. 1220), a renowned philosopher and commentator, who was born in Barcelona in 1150, fled the Almohad persecutions with his family, escaping to Fez. Living there as a crypto-Jew, he met Maimonides and recorded his own poignant writings about the sufferings of the Jews under Almohad rule. Ibn Aqnin wrote during the reign of Abu Yusuf al-Mansur (r. 1184-1199), four decades after the onset of the Almohad persecutions in 1140. Thus the Jews forcibly converted to Islam were already third generation Muslims. Despite this, al-Mansur continued to impose restrictions upon them, which Ibn Aqnin chronicles.


I can only conclude that Morris failed to read or even peruse large swaths of the book—it is unclear how else Morris could have written his inaccurate statements.


Morris’ errors of omission appear, in my humble opinion, to have “justified” his closing ambivalence about the book, sadly negating the earlier diligent and respectful attention he gave to the initial segments of the tome. Thus it seems plausible to me that had he been more attentive to the book’s actual contents (admittedly not a trivial task given its length, and the dry, depressing materials it contains), he might have amplified upon his statement, “Bostom’s book is important and deeply discouraging…,” and  never have added the negative, inaccurate remarks “…but there is no mention of the massacres of Jews in Aden in 1947 and Morocco in 1948, and there is almost no material (since he purports to cover the medieval centuries as well) on the vast pogroms that took place in Spain and North Africa during the Middle Ages. The volume is clearly not a product of systematic research or compilation. The mixing of excerpts from medieval Islamic texts with articles by modern Western scholars of Islam is somewhat confusing (especially when these scholars abundantly quote from the earlier material); it is not always clear where the one begins and the other ends.”


A more careful reading would have revealed copious materials (my reply to The New Republic merely included a very focused synopsis which refers only to Spain and North Africa, not a host of other geographical regions also assessed) “covering the medieval centuries” just as “purported.”  Moreover, there is actually quite a clear delineation between scholars by both Islamic versus Western background, and by historical period, within, and most distinctly between, the separate chapter sections.


Hence my disappointment. But let the record stand corrected.



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