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A few days ago, FBI agents arrested 44 people, many of whom were Jewish Rabbis belonging to the Sephardic sect (a term given to Jews who lived in Islamic states or fled to these countries because of European persecution), Syrian Jews in particular.

The story came as a shock to the Americans as the detainees, according to the charges, were involved in money-laundering and the selling of kidneys and fake women’s designer bags.

The majority of the Syrian Jewish sect living in the United States, in New York and New Jersey specifically, originate from Damascus and Aleppo, and some from Al Qamishli in Syria although those who originate from Aleppo a more distinguished by the historical legacy of the city in Jewish history, and the existence of an old synagogue that goes back to King David (according to them) in addition to one of the most important readings and interpretations of the Torah, the Aleppo Code.

The community, which is focused in the well-known Brooklyn neighborhood in New York, numbers around 75,000. The most famous of its members is the late banker Edmond Safra who came from a family that worked in the gold trade (which is where the name Safra comes from) and left behind the Safra Bank and the Republic National Bank.

But the story gets more and more interesting. There are reports that claim that there is a link between detainees and the extremist Shas party in Israel and its ultra-extremist spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef who his known for his offensive comments against Arabs and Palestinians. His son has been linked to Rabbi Eliyahu Ben Haim, one of those arrested by the FBI, and during his visit to America he was collecting donations for a “new party” in Israel that included some of the most prominent names of the Sephardic sect. Even the fraudulent businessman Bernard Madoff, who was found guilty of squandering 50 billion dollars and is now behind bars, “donated” 19 million dollars a while ago to one of the detainees.

Israel and its security apparatus, in particular the branch concerned with money-laundering, will begin investigations into the Shas party. The investigation will not be confined to that party alone but it is likely to extend to an unlimited number of institutions and charities affiliated to the Sephardic sect, and to some banks that helped transfer “donated” funds in the interest of the Shas party. Of course, there are some traditional voices in Israel that consider this recent security operation a blatant example of “anti-Semitism” whilst there are other Jews who approve of such a campaign considering it an opportunity to purify distrustful financial sources.

The selling of kidneys that was going on for many years reached such a degree that one kidney would be sold for $160,000 and it would be taken from the Philippines in the interest of wealthy Jews. The misuse of money in the name of religion is nothing new; we still have fresh memories of what some financial companies in Egypt did as well as what the Catholic Church did in the 1970s. But there were many obscure and suspicious operations in this recent one that are yet to be revealed. One day soon after the investigation has been completed more details will come to light (that is if they are allowed to be).

The person who brought the story to light is a stock trader and someone who deals in real estate who comes from the very same sect. His name is Joey Antar (the cousin of Eddy Antar who was known for selling furniture in New York at low prices in the 1980s and owner of Crazy Eddy’s). The story is far from over.

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi is a businessman and prominent columnist. Mr. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al-Takreer on Al-Arabiya, and in 1995 he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his BA in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa.

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