To A New Culture Of Remembrance

Joseph Sassoon Semah – Architectural model based on a mass grave of Jews in Baghdad – “Farhud” – the progrom against the Jews of Iraq on June 1-2 1941 – Kunstmuseum Den Haag

A new Nationaal Holocaust Museum is being built in Amsterdam to remember the history of the Holocaust. The opening is planned for 2022. An interesting initiative.

This is what the initiators said over their plan: ‘Most people know about the meaning of the Holocaust: the assassination of 6 million European Jews, of which 104.000 came from the Netherlands. With your  support we want to make the National Holocaust museum the place where we show future generations that this must never be forgotten. A place like this is still very necessary in the Netherlands’. This can be read on the Jewish Cultural Quarter website.

It doesn’t happen often that a new historical museum is opened. The most recent Dutch attempt to establish a Nationaal Historisch Museum initiated by Jan Marijnissen failed miserably.

Especially in this day and age, a discussion is inevitable about the objectives and context of such an initiative. Issues of identity and inclusion play an even more important role. With such a sensitive issue as that of the Holocaust, it will certainly not be limited to voices from the Netherlands or Europe.

Just recently the first Holocaust exhibition was opened in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Dubai at the Crossroads of Civilisation Museum. Using personal testimonies the story of the Holocaust is told. A small part of the exhibition is dedicated to Arabs and Muslims who helped Jews survive the Holocaust. If they have devoted any attention to the Holocaust (Farhud) in the Middle East is currently unclear.

It will be inevitable for a museum that proposes to focus on future generations to be clear from the outset about the context of their museum-related activities. For example, you could add to the name Holocaust Museum: ‘The history of the Holocaust in the culture of the time and the worldwide meaning for the present’, or words with an equivalent meaning.

The Holocaust cannot be understood to be an exclusive definition of the assassination of 6 million European Jews. Hitler’s interest went beyond that of Europe. The Holocaust, albeit on a smaller scale, also took place in the Middle East. Jews in Iraq, Tunisia and Libya were persecuted and killed. In Bagdad during the Farhud on June 1st and 2nd 1941 there were around 200 victims and Jewish stores and houses were looted, destroyed and set fire to. The general presumption is, because of the later discovered mass graves, that the number of casualties was very much higher. The persecution of Jews increased after the founding of Israel in 1948. From 1950 until the seventies a huge exodus took place, mostly forced, from Arabic and South-African countries, often described as a Babylonian exile, meaning for so many the loss of a homeland, culture, traditions and stories.
Certainly in Europe, but also in the Middle-East there is a lack of knowledge and awareness of the injustice done to the Jews in the Middle-East, partly as a result of the Holocaust, after previously living harmoniously with Muslim communities in their residential and working environment.

Joseph Sassoon Semah – On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) III – The Third GaLUT: Baghdad, Jerusalem, Amsterdam

If the future Nationaal Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam, a city with many cultures, wants to be interesting for future generations, then it is necessary to place the exhibitions in the context of diversity within Jewish culture of the time and the meaningfulness for the present. The National Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam has the unique possibility of taking the initiative for a new future-proof Culture of Remembrance. This means that in programming and permanent exhibitions there should be a focus on Jews from all over the world and certainly those in the Middle East; their rich culture after the first exile from Jerusalem, with among others the Talmud Bavli, the centuries of peaceful and productive living with Muslims, the ‘Kristallnacht’ there, the second exile after the founding of Israel and the emerging Mizrahi Hebrew voice in the public domain, must not be forgotten, after being marginalized for so long.
Only then will justice be done to ‘diversity and inclusivity of the Jews’ and can the question ‘Are Jews white?’ perhaps be provided with a more balanced answer.

At the Kunstmuseum Den Haag there is the exhibition ‘On Friendship …..’ until the 29th of August 2021 of work by Joseph Sassoon Semah, the grandson of the last Chief Rabbi of Baghdad, Sassoon Kadoori (1886-1971). Metaphorically speaking it is a tribute to the lost culture in Iraq, and at the same time an invitation to a dialogue about different cultures. 36 architectural models of houses, synagogues and the mass grave of Farhud, and 86 drawings bring back to life the lost, integrated Jewish culture of Baghdad.

Linda Bouws, former director Felix Meritis Amsterdam, curator exhibition

Originally published (in Dutch) in Het Parool, July 15, 2021:

Translation: Jean Cameron – Amsterdam

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The IHRA’s Careless Conflations On Antisemitism (And Few Alternatives)

Contending Modernities, 2021. In this essay Moshe Behar critiques the recent letter sent by English Secretary of State Gavin Williamson to university chancellors instructing them to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliances’ (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.
Behar contends that the definition of antisemitism that the IHRA has put forward is meant to squash legitimate democratic forms of criticism of the state of Israel much more than to help identify and stamp out antisemitism.

I am a non-white Mizrahi Jewish academic who has been studying Israel/Palestine and the history of Jews in the Middle East for two decades. My family hails from Ottoman Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia, and the Greek islands of Zakynthos and Corfu. All too many of us were murdered by Nazi Génocidaires (and rest assured that we will not forget or forgive).
Precisely because of this scholarly and biographic background I was embarrassed to read the letter sent by England’s Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, to all university vice chancellors. Utilizing an authoritarian tone devoid of understatement, Williamson demanded that all universities in England adopt formally what is called “the working definition of antisemitism” drafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

Photo from the Synagogue in Kerkyra/Corfu. Fingers pointing out to families associated with Behar’s maternal lineage, Mother’s maiden name included.

Born in 1976, Williamson has been a Tory politician for 25 years. He and his party have not been noteworthy for their passionate activism against racism, antisemitism included. Nor did Williamson find it problematic to serve under Boris Johnson, author of Seventy-Two Virgins (HarperCollins, 2004), a novel that disappointingly recycled antisemitic tropes and stereotypical portrayals of Jews and other British minority ethnic groups.

The letter Williamson authored is littered with antisemitic tropes. A non-Jew himself, Williamson first chooses to single out Jews from non-Jews and, in so doing, officially mark Jews as “other.” Embracing the “divide and conquer” colonial approach, he proceeds to divorce antisemitic racism from similar manifestations of racism with which he is less concerned, including Islamophobia, Afrophobia/anti-Black racism, misogyny, anti Roma/Gypsy racism, homophobia, and xenophobia vis-à-vis Asians and Arabs.

Most disturbingly, Williamson’s letter upgrades the quintessential stereotype of money and Jews to a new level by linking Jews to monetary penalties and potential state sanctions on universities if their managements exercise what is otherwise a simple academic and democratic right to adopt a view and definition of antisemitism that differ from his. The irony of setting Christmas as the deadline for his pseudo-philosemitic mobilization has apparently escaped Williamson altogether.

The IHRA definition that Williamson labors to impose unilaterally defines antisemitism as “a perception that may be expressed as hatred.” This reading is vague, restrictive, minimalist, and in the main emotionalist. It bypasses manifestations of antisemitism that are equally, and possibly even more, important than “perception,” including oppression, discrimination, exclusion, prejudice, bigotry or other tangible actions. Moreover, a wall-to-wall agreement prevails among the rainbow of scholars of antisemitism that one singular definition of the abhorrent phenomenon does not exist. That is the case precisely as there is no one and only definition for racism, feminism, islamophobia, Judaism, Zionism, Islamism, English nationalism, communitarianism, and forms of bigotry.

There are at least four additional definitions of antisemitism that can guide the work of scholars or activists and that are analytically superior to that of the IHRA: the definition of the Canadian Independent Jewish Voices; that of the British Board of Deputies and the Community Security Trust; and that of the British Jewish Voice for Labour. However, the most scholarly rigorous definition is “The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism” (JDA) that was made public today (disclosure: some serious reservations notwithstanding, I’m one of its 200 academic signatories). To be sure, Williamson’s top-down state decree of a single definition upon academia let alone one deemed deficient by hundreds of scholars runs the risk of echoing Soviet Stalinism and American McCarthyism.

And Then There Is Israel
As many as seven of the eleven illustrations that the IHRA definition marshals to exemplify antisemitism relate to post-1948 Israel (of which I happen to be a citizen). The Zionist/Arab matrix dominates the definition and as a result it often comes across as concerned more with the protection of Israel than the protection of Jews, let alone non-Israeli Jews. As early as 2016 the British Government’s own “Home Affairs Committee” found the IHRA’s definition wanting; cross-party committee members insisted on formally affixing two stipulations: (1) “It is not anti-Semitic to criticise the Government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest anti-Semitic intent” and (2) “It is not anti-Semitic to hold the Israeli Government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli Government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest anti-Semitic intent ” (italics added).

While it is unclear how precisely such “intent” is to be established or proven let alone by what body or individual/s it is clear that Williamson opted consciously to exclude these two surgical qualifications. That seems an additional testament to his instrumentalization of antisemitism for sectarian conservative ends. The Governing Bodies and Presidents/Vice Chancellors of at least 48 universities were unable to withstand the ongoing governmental pressure and effectively all endorsed the IHRA definition top-down without staff consultation. For example, my university’s management endorsed the definition with the Home Affairs Committee’s stipulations; Cambridge and Oxford did the same. While this too remains unsatisfactory, it is somewhat less misguided than adopting the IHRA definition as is.

The definition Williamson insists on imposing carelessly conflates “Jews” with “the state of Israel” and “Judaism” with “modern political Zionism.” The original conflation between these identities and phenomena was and remains an inherent organizing pillar of Zionist ideology. Self-proclaimed pro-Israel bodies and individuals exercise this conflation regularly in texts, actions, and advocacy. It comes as no surprise that this conflation has often been reproduced by Israel’s anti-Zionist critics, at times consciously and at other times as a consequence of inexcusable ignorance.

Recent example of irresponsible conflation between British Jews, Zionism, and Israel’s belligerent occupation.

The symbiosis between these opposing, yet mutually-empowering, Zionist/anti-Zionist tides yields the most toxic ground for unambiguous manifestations of antisemitism. This is in contrast to cases where straightforward criticisms of Israel including by such organizations as Amnesty International, Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, and the Open Society Institute (established in 1993 by George Soros) have been fancifully labelled as “antisemitic” to delegitimize pro-democratic activism on behalf of Palestinian human and political rights. Three facts that the IHRA definition fails to acknowledge should neither be forgotten nor blurred conceptually: that many Jews are not Zionist; that the majority of Zionists worldwide are not Jewish (including Christian fundamentalists); and that over 20% of Israeli citizens are not Jewish.

Read more

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Carsten Dippel – Das vergessene Pogrom von Bagdad

Jüdische Gemeinde mit langen historischen Wurzeln: In Bagdad war rund ein Fünftel der Bewohner in den 1920er-Jahren jüdisch. (akg-images / Collection Dupondt) Source: Deutschlandfunk Kultur

Deutschlandfunk Kultur – Seit sechs Jahren gibt es einen internationalen Gedenktag an den Farhud. Doch nur wenige kennen das Pogrom von Bagdad, das die mehr als 2500-jährige Geschichte jüdischen Lebens im Irak beendete.

Salima Murads Stimme war in der arabischen Welt bekannt. Salima Murad war Jüdin, verheiratet mit einem Muslim. Im alten Irak war das möglich. Noch in den 1920er-Jahren machte die jüdische Bevölkerung Bagdads gut ein Fünftel der Bewohner aus. Tür an Tür lebten seit Jahrhunderten Juden und Muslime zusammen.

Doch dann brach im Kriegsjahr 1941 etwas über die jüdische Gemeinde herein, das niemand kommen sah: der Farhud. Am 1. und 2. Juni tobte binnen 30 Stunden ein Mob im jüdischen Viertel Bagdads. Muslime schlugen auf ihre jüdischen Nachbarn ein. Sie plünderten Geschäfte, vergewaltigten Frauen, töteten mindestens 130 Menschen, manche sprechen von mehreren Hundert.


Rabbi Sasson Kadouri war ein hoch angesehener Mann. Der langjährige Oberrabbiner von Bagdad blieb bis zu seinem Tod 1971 bei seiner Gemeinde, die er nicht im Stich lassen wollte. Sein Enkel, der Künstler Joseph Sassoon Semah, wuchs in Israel auf und hatte nie eine Chance, seinen Großvater kennenzulernen. Aber die Geschichte seiner Familie spiele für ihn als Künstler eine wichtige Rolle, sagt Semah.

Semahs Eltern haben über ihr Leben im Irak kaum gesprochen. Im zionistischen Staat habe ihr Narrativ lange Zeit keinen Platz gefunden, beklagt er. So sei es nicht erwünscht gewesen, ihr arabische Muttersprache zu hören. Eine Stimme, wie die der Sängerin Salima Murad, sucht man im israelischen Radio vergeblich.

„Es war in einem rechtlichen Sinne nicht verboten. Aber Schande über Dich, wenn Du Arabisch sprachst“, berichtet Semah. Dies zeichnet auch der Historiker Dan Diner in seinem jüngsten Buch „Der andere Krieg“ nach:
„Die babylonische, die Bagdader, die irakische Judenheit und die jüdische Heimstätte waren einander eigentlich fremd geblieben. Die zwischen ihnen liegende Syrische Wüste markierte ein sowohl faktisches wie mentales Hindernis.“

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On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) – IV How to Explain Hare Hunting to a Dead German Artist [The usefulness of continuous measurement of the distance between Nostalgia and Melancholia] (September 2021 – June 2022)

In 2021/22 the 100th anniversary of the birth of artist Joseph Beuys will be celebrated in Europe, among others with the special event ‘Beuys 2021. 100 years’. Twelve cities and twenty institutes in North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany will be organizing exhibitions, theatre and other activities to celebrate this anniversary. (see for more info

Joseph Heinrich Beuys (1921, Krefeld- 1986, Düsseldorf) is one of the most influential German post-war artists, who became particularly famous for his performances, installations, lectures and Fluxus concerts. But who was Beuys truly? Joseph Beuys mythologized his war history as a National Socialist and Germany’s problematic and post-traumatic past. After Word War ll Beuys transformed himself from perpetrator to victim. His service in the Luftwaffe did not offset his artistic practice. During this 100-years event none of these controversial aspects of Beuys’ work, values and ideas are focused upon. As part of this celebration it is high time to add a more critical eye on Beuys’ work and his relationship to Germany’s post-war history.

On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) IV -How to Explain Hare Hunting to a Dead German Artist [The usefulness of continuous measurement of the distance between Nostalgia and Melancholia] (‘Hasenjagd’ is the code word for killing Jews during World War II) centers on Joseph Beuys and Joseph Sassoon Semah takes us on a journey of critical analysis of Beuys. Linda Bouws is the curator.

Art cannot be seen disengaged from society – which political, social and cultural implications does Joseph Beuys’ work show us?
How do work and politics relate in Beuys’ work, what is myth and what is reality? Did Beuys free art of power and financial gain or did he use his art with the purpose to forget or idealize his own war history and that of Germany? Does his transformation from perpetrator to victim fit into post-war Germany? How did Beuys use his ‘visual codes’, that have disappeared, and secret symbols? How must we interpret Beuys in this celebratory year 2021?

Joseph Sassoon Semah has done extensive research into Joseph Beuys’ work, values and ideas and based on this research and texts he will analyse the deeper meaning of the (secret) symbols used by Joseph Beuys for ‘On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) IV- How to Explain Hare Hunting to a Dead German Artist [The usefulness of continuous measurement of the distance between Nostalgia and Melancholia]’. He will react to them using new monumental sculptures and a series of old and new drawings, performances, texts and meetings.

This project wants to raise public awareness about the missing information on Joseph Beuys. Information that has been disregarded during this celebratory year or has been evaded to avoid uncomfortable confrontations. A new project about the reading of Beuys’ ‘shrouded’ art by the Jewish-Babylonian artist Joseph Sassoon Semah.

We will cooperate with among others with Gerard-Marcks-Haus Bremen, Goethe-Institut Amsterdam, Duitsland Instituut Amsterdam, Lumen Travo Gallery, Redstone Natuursteen & Projects, the Jewish Historical Museum and The Maastricht Institute for the Arts. After completion of the manifestation a complementary publication will be compiled.

Metropool International Art Projects
Contact: Linda Bouws
Mob +31(0) 620132195

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1 June 2021 – International Farhud Day

Kunstmuseum Den Haag, Joseph Sassoon Semah, exhibition Over Vriendschap…. (29 August 2021) Architectoral model based on the mass grave of Jews in Baghdad – Farhud 1941

Sarah, was  an 11-year-old nanny from Kurdistan living in Baghdad who witnessed the Farhud.

“ Eventually, the Farhud broke out, on the Eve of the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost). They went out and started killing people. They would break into houses at night to rob and kill.
(…) In Baghdad, there were also Muslims who loved the Jews. Such Muslims would help their Jewish neighbour’s by writing on their neighbours’ doors ‘this house is Muslim’.
If a house had this sign, the rioters wouldn’t touch it. But if a house didn’t have such a sign, they would break in and kill those who were inside.” (Blog Dorota Molin, in Times of Israel, 5 May 2021)

And see


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The Art Of Cooking – Bamia With Rice

Bamia (Okra Stew) is an important dish in Iraqi cuisine, it is a simple dish and yet a delicious dish that can be made with or without meat.
Bamia (Okra) itself is not the most popular vegetable out there, but once you can look past its slimy structure it is actually really tasty.
Bamia has a rich sweet and earthy flavor which is well contrasted with the acidity of tomato.
Bamia as well as other stew are great to eat with rice – in this recipe, I will teach you how to make your rice a little bit more exciting!

Okra 500 gram (you can find Okra at your local Mediterranean shop, It should be fine for both fresh or frozen)
Lamb meat 500 gram (it could be made with either meat or chicken)
Can of peeled tomatoes
Tomato paste
2 onions
White rice (I myself prefer Basmati rice, but any white rice will do)
Can of chickpeas
Salt & Pepper
Dried bay Leaf
Cooking oil

Bamia (Okra Stew):
Start with heating up a layer of oil in a big pot.
Season the meat with salt and pepper and add it to the hot oil.
Make sure all sides of the meat get cooked do not worry about the pot getting too sticky.
Next add some cumin, diced garlic, and diced onion.
When the onion turns translucent, add some tomato paste together with the can of peeled tomatoes.
Use the liquid to clean the bottom of the pan and mix the flavor into the sauce.
Rinse the okra and add it to the pan, add enough water to cover all ingredients, and let it simmer for an hour or more (the more the better).
Make sure it does not get too dry while simmering on the stove.
When the meat is soft enough (prick the meat with a fork to check if it is ready).
Taste for salt before serving.

Let’s try to make exciting rice, for the extra pleasure of eating the Bamia.
First of all, measure the rice into a cup and level the top, and then rinse it in cold water – make sure to remove all the dirt – prepare a measured amount of water equal to 1 and a half cup that you used for the rice.
In a deep frying pan add a layer of cooking oil, when the oil is hot add a dried bay leaf and chopped onions, and some cumin.
When the onion turns translucent, add some tomato paste and be sure to stir frequently.
As the mixture starts to dry up add the water you have already measured and mixed all together.
After mixing the water with the paste add the rice and chickpeas (make sure to rinse the chickpeas in cold water) and add a pinch of salt.
Now put the lid on the frying pan, and make sure the water simmers – once the water starts boiling turn the heat down.
When the water is no longer visible in the pot, the rice is ready.

It is nice to serve the Bamia and the rice, with some fresh cucumber, tomato, and with some chopped parsley leaves on top.
Please try to make Bamia, even if you never had Okra before – it is after all a unique vegetable.
So finally, I hope you like it as much as I do.

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