Monday, September 12, 2011
Come And Be An Israeli!
Muammar Qaddafi has sympathisers in an unexpected place
IF HE needs a refuge, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi might consider the Israeli town of Netanya. An Israeli family of Libyan origin has recently surfaced saying they are the colonel’s relatives and that he should think of making aliyah (the Jewish voyage of return) and claim Israeli citizenship as any Jew may do under Israeli law. Gita Boaron told Israeli television she shares a great-grandmother with the colonel. “She fled her Jewish husband for a Muslim sheikh,” she says. “Her daughter was the colonel’s mother, making him Jewish under rabbinic law.”
Some jokers suggest that Mrs Boaron’s family want a share of the gold the colonel is said to be carrying. But others say there may be a more solid claim. “Jews from Tripoli remember he attended a Jewish wedding in the 1960s, long before he became leader,” says Pedazur Benattia, founder of Or Shalom, a centre that promotes Libyan-Jewish culture in Israel.
In Netanya, a resort north of Tel Aviv, where many of the 100,000-odd Israeli Jews of Libyan origin have settled, a square has been called Qaddafi Plaza in anticipation of his arrival. “Whatever he’s done, Israel’s his home,” says Rachel, a widow sipping her macchiato, Libya’s beverage of choice, and nibbling abambara, a Libyan-Jewish pastry in one of the square’s Libyan-owned cafés. “After all, he’s a Jew.” With his curls, she says, he would fit into many a Libyan synagogue.
The colonel’s popularity is odd since he chased non-Muslims, Italian Catholics and Jews alike out of Libya and took their property. But Israel’s Libyan Jews say he has sought to atone for his youthful Arab radicalism. In the New York Times in 2009 the Great Leader noted that “Jews and Muslims are cousins descended from Abraham. The Jewish people,” he added understandingly, “want and deserve their homeland.”
Other family members are said to have kept up the tradition. Israeli tabloids make much of reports that Saif al-Islam, the colonel’s son and oft-presumed heir, used to date Orly Weinermann, a sometime scantily clad Israeli soap-opera actress. Quite a few of the colonel’s Libyan foes believe such gossip. Graffiti with Stars of David superimposed on swastikas have spattered the walls of Benghazi, the rebels’ eastern base. “Qaddafi Mossad agent,” reads one of the banners.
This article was published in The ECONOMIST on 10/09/2011