Don’t compound the injustice done to Jewish refugees from Arab countries

Important article by journalist Fern Sidman and David van Hooren, editor of the Jewish Voice, calling for Jewish schools to teach the history of Jews from Arab countries and for the story not to be forgotten. To ignore the injustice done to them would be to commit a second injustice. (With thanks: Imre, David B)

Yemenite Jews at the Ein Shemer tent camp

In 1947, the Political Committee of the Arab League (League of Arab States) drafted a law that was to govern the legal status of Jewish residents in all of its member states. This Draft Law of the Arab League provided that “…all Jews – with the exception of citizens of non-Arab countries – were to be considered members of the Jewish ‘minority state of Palestine’; that their bank accounts would be frozen and used to finance resistance to ‘Zionist ambitions in Palestine; Jews believed to be active Zionists would be interned as political prisoners and their assets confiscated; only Jews who accept active service in Arab armies or place themselves at the disposal of these armies would be considered ‘Arabs.”

In the international arena, Arab diplomats pretended to ignore the Arab League’s collusion in encouraging state-sanctioned discrimination against Jews in all its member states, seeking publicly to attribute blame to the Arab “masses” – and even the United Nations itself – for any danger facing the Jews across the region. This covert move was part of the Arab states’ attempt to divert attention from the official discriminatory practices of their governments against the Jewish citizens.

Two hundred and sixty thousand Jews from Arab countries immigrated to Israel between 1948 and 1951, accounting for 56% of the total immigration to the newly founded state. The Israeli government’s policy to accommodate 600,000 immigrants over four years, doubling the existing Jewish population, encountered mixed reactions in the Knesset as there were those within the Jewish Agency and government who opposed promoting a large-scale emigration movement among Jews from Arab lands.

Currently, it is estimated that only around 15,000 Jews remain in Arab countries. (By our estimates, there are 4,000 – ed). This mass expulsion and exodus is part of modern history, but inexplicably, it’s neither taught in schools nor remembered within the context of the conflicts in the Middle East. But more on that later in this editorial.

Edwin Black, the award-winning, New York Times bestselling international investigative writer of 200 editions in 20 languages in 190 countries and the author of the 2016 book, “The Farhud” wrote in December 2021, “Today, we speak of a largely forgotten ethnic cleansing largely unparalleled in the history of humanitarian abuses. Recall the coordinated international expulsion of some 850,000 Jews from Arab and Muslim lands, where they had lived peaceably for as long as 27 centuries. As some know, in 2014, the Israeli government set aside November 30th as a commemoration of this mass atrocity. It has had no real identity or name like “Kristallnacht.” But today, from this day forward, the day will be known as Yom HaGirush: “Expulsion Day.” It has been a years-long road to identify and solidify this identity.”

On September 21, 2012, a special event was held at the United Nations to highlight the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. Then Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor asked the United Nations to “establish a center of documentation and research” that would document the “850,000 untold stories” and “collect the evidence to preserve their history”, which he said was ignored for too long. In Israel alone, there are approximately 4 million descendants of these Jews from Arab lands and a few million around the world. Then Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said that “We are 64 years late, but we are not too late.” Diplomats from approximately two dozen countries and organizations, including the United States, the European Union, Germany, Canada, Spain, and Hungary attended the event. In addition, Jews from Arab countries attended and spoke at the event.

In 2019, Rabbi Eli Abadie, MD, formerly of the Edmond J. Safra synagogue in New York City said in his eloquent address at a day-long seminar held at the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan and entitled, “The End of Jewish Communal Life in Arab Lands” that:

“The issues surrounding the Palestinian refugees are frequently addressed at the UN, in the news media and in legal journals. Very little has been written about the Jews displaced from Arab lands. Out of almost 1120 UN resolutions on Israel and the so-called Palestinians, almost 200 resolutions deal specifically with Palestinian refugees, by contrast, not a single one deals exclusively with Jewish refugees displaced from Arab lands.

“Jews constituted a stable and historic community in these countries dating back at least 3,000 years, centuries before Muhammad. The Aleppo Syrian Community dates back to King David 3,000 years ago, the Yemenite community to King Solomon 2,900 years ago, the Iraqi and Iranian community date back to the first Babylonian exile 2,500 years ago, and the Egyptian Community over 1,000 years ago.”

“Jews were known as believers and as such were not given the choice to either adopt Islam or death, but they were given the third choice–that of submission. Therefore, coexistence between Jews and Muslims required that the Jews be submissive to the Muslims. This coexistence dated back from the time of Caliph Omar.

People subjected to Muslim rule were given protection from death and conversion as the Dhimmis. This protection required that the Dhimmis pay a poll tax known as Jiziya or fine. The Dhimmis were forbidden from testifying against Muslims, owning a home, holding office, bearing arms or drinking wine in public, they could not build their houses higher than Muslim houses, they could not ride on saddles, they could not display their Torah except in their synagogues, neither could they raise their voice when reading or blowing the Shofar, and were required to wear a special emblem on their clothes, yellow for Jews (the yellow star was not a Nazi invention). It was their duty to recognize the superiority of the Muslim and accord him honor.”

Rabbi Abadie also offered a multi-faceted plan for concretely addressing the crimes that were committed against Jews from Arab lands.

He said: “Asserting rights and redress for Jewish refugees is a legitimate call to recognize that Jewish refugees from Arab countries, as a matter of law and equity, possess the same rights as all other refugees.

The first injustice was the mass violation of the human and civil rights of Jews in Arab countries.

Today, we must not allow a second injustice – for the international community to continue to recognize rights for one victim population – Arab refugees–without recognizing equal rights for other victims of that very same Middle East conflict – Jewish refugees from Arab countries.”

Rabbi Abadie concluded his captivating and informative address by sparking the collective conscience of all humanity: “Let there be no mistake about it. Where there is no remembrance, there is no truth; where there is no truth, there will be no justice; where there is no justice, there will be no reconciliation; and where there is no reconciliation, there will be no peace.”

In a December 4, 2021 interview with the Institute of Jewish Experience, Professor Tarek Heggy, an Egyptian thinker and author of 35 books on the MENA politics & cultures, spoke of Egypt’s relationship with its Jewish population. “At one time, Egypt had 100,000 Jews, among other ethnic groups living all over the country. This cosmopolitan, Mediterranean Egypt started to come to an end at the same time that the Jews were forced to leave Egypt.”

In a March 2020 article by Sarina Roffe, an expert genealogist, historian, and founder of Sephardic Heritage Project that appeared in Brooklyn’s Community Magazine, she speaks of students from Yeshivah of Flatbush who shared stories of what happened as their families left Syria, some of them with their passports stamped: “Never to Return.”

Joshua Zebak spoke of his father’s life in Damascus, as well as family members who tried to escape. “Mazal, Lulu, and Fara Zebak, and their cousin Eva Saad planned an escape. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it. They were brutally killed and their remains were left in a cave. They did not see Israel but Israel sees them. Mazal, Fara, Lulu, and Eva did not reach the border, but they have reached our hearts and our history forever.’’

Danielle Tawil spoke of her mother’s family, the Antebys, and their escape from Syria. It was 1980 and people who tried to revolt were killed. Jews were not allowed to keep their customs or study Torah. Arab kids threw stones at Jews. Even so, the Jewish children were still able to get an education. Born in 1971, Danielle’s mother had no birth certificate, so even to this day she is not sure of her birthday. Danielle’s grandfather was arrested and thrown into jail and was accused of being Russian spy; her grandmother was also arrested a few times.

At a certain point, half of the family was allowed to leave the country, so Danielle’s two uncles and grandmother left in 1980. Her grandfather and mother were left behind. They obtained false passports with fake Arab names. Danielle’s mother’s Arab name was Mahah Dakak. They managed to get to Paris, but they had to leave everything behind. Eventually they got visas and were able to enter the United States. Danielle says it is important to appreciate and “take advantage of religious freedom we have today.”

It has been nearly a decade since the Israeli government has accepted culpability for neglecting the nightmarish plight of Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Arab lands, yet no official curriculum has been established in Israeli schools to teach a new generation about the history of this vital segment of the population.

Even after two commissions were established which concluded that the need exists to incorporate this history into their curriculum and most recently, the Bitton commission, nothing has been done to ensure that such an educational curriculum will become a reality. Nor are there any official museums, seminars, memorials or media centered productions that spotlight the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands. Why is this so?

As was mentioned previously, when Jews from Arab lands began streaming into Israel after the United Nations officially declared it a Jewish state in 1948, there were those in the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency who went on record as opposing this wave of emigration to the newly founded state.

The reality is that those who comprised the leadership of Israel in its infancy were secular, left-wing Jews of European ancestry. They were buoyed by the socialist doctrine that they imbibed from the Zionist youth movements that they grew up with in Europe. Their ultimate objective was to create a socialist haven for Jews “of their own kind” that was predicated on the political theories of Ber Borochov and his ilk.

As such, these Jews from Arab lands represented a dangerous threat to their political agenda. These Ashkenazi Jews in leadership positions were totally cognizant of the fact that these Jews from Arab clung tenaciously to the dictums of their faith and were deeply religious. The notion of hundreds of thousands of them reproducing at record numbers was something that the secular leadership could not swallow.

In order to forcibly secularize these Jews from Arab lands, the Histradrut (Israel’s national trade union, which became one of the most powerful institutions in Israel) would interview newly arrived Sephardic Jews. They would ask them if they were planning to send their children to a religious school. If they responded in the affirmative, then they were told that they would not be given a job and would remain in poverty for their entire lives.

Because of the vehemently anti-religious doctrine that the leadership of Israel was wedded to, they were hell bent on ripping away the “Simanim” (signs of their commitment to Torah) of the Sephardic Jews that emigrated to Israel. And that meant their kashrut, their peyot, their manner of dress and religious observance.

During the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s, the jails in Israel were brimming over with young Sephardic Jewish boys and men. They were the tragic byproducts of an Israeli culture created by the European Jews who founded the state. These socialist-zionists crafted a scheme to destroy every last vestige of Sephardic religious life and to isolate these Jews from Arab lands. This left them with no choice but to become outcasts in a state that clearly resented their presence.

While this is the cold, hard truth, the government of Israel has made negligible contributions in terms of rectifying the misdeeds of their original leadership by making sure the story is not forgotten..

So many decades later, we are collectively raising our voices and calling for the government of Israel to broadcast the plight of Jews from Arab lands with a concrete education in the school system. And this means a curriculum that is developed by experts in Sephardic Jewish history.

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Jewish-owned land in Abu Dis reverts to the state

A hilltop east of Jerusalem in Abu Dis has been proven to have been owned by Jews, expelled by the 1929 riots. The land  has now reverted to the state, JNS News reports: 

Civil researchers hired by the ministry’s Custodian of Absentee Properties Department secured proof that the land was purchased by Jews in the early twentieth century, and a court ruling has confirmed those findings.

In 1924, rents in Jerusalem jumped, making life difficult for the city’s Jewish residents. A group named “Vaad Haschenim” (The Neighbors’ Committee) was set up to purchase land and build a new neighborhood where more affordable housing would be built. They reached out to the Abu Dis town authorities and inquired about purchasing some 400 dunams of land (approximately 100 acres).

The head of the purchase association, which was known as Agudat Hadayarim (Tenants’ Association), was chaired by Yehoshua Avizohar Singalovski (the brother of the founder of the Ort chain of technical schools).

In 1927, the association completed the purchase of 453 dunams (112 acres) of land. Construction was supposed to begin in 1930, but in 1929 a spate of anti-Jewish riots erupted. The plans for a Jewish neighborhood were shelved and building never began.

After the riots, Yishuv authorities decided not to build in any of areas of land surrounded by Palestinian areas because of the difficulty of defending them, and rather concentrate building efforts in contiguous areas. After the Great Arab Rebellion and various irregularities discovered in the building association, the group stopped all its activities in April 1936.

Of the 453 dunams acquired, the association managed to register only 371 dunams (91.5 acres) in Abu Dis, leaving 82 dunams legally unregistered, even though they had been paid for.

In 1948, when the city of Jerusalem was divided following the War of Independence, Abu Dis remained under Jordanian control. It grew and new construction started on some of the land the Jews had purchased, even though they were registered with Jordanian authorities.

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BBC ignores Jewish claims in Abu Dis

Far-left groups push Palestinian ‘return’ while ignoring Jewish refugees

Extremist groups are already discussing the practical aspects of bringing Palestinian refugees back, not only to Judea and Samaria, but to all territory abandoned in 1948, reports Nadav Shragai in JNS News. Not only is ‘return’ counter-intuitive but it is unjust, because it privileges the claims of one set of refugees (Arab)  over those of the greater number of Jewish  refugees from Arab countries:

Israeli diplomats across the globe have recently been reporting that what, until now, has been limited to a discourse of accepting “the other’s tragedy”—namely, the story of the 750,000 Arabs who were forced to leave their homes in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence—is turning into a discussion of the practical aspects of how the so-called Palestinian “right of return” to Israel within the 1967 borders will be implemented. This includes mass “return” to cities like Jaffa, Lod, Akko, Ramle and Haifa, among others, and the reestablishment and repopulation of hundreds of villages that were abandoned and/or destroyed during the war.

For a while, it was mainly various BDS groups, Palestinians living abroad, Arabs in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, and some Arab Israelis—particularly in mixed cities—who were focused on the issue. Now, a probe by Israel Hayom reveals that some left-wing Israeli groups (Jewish, Arab and Jewish-Arab) have been laying the groundwork, both in terms of public opinion and practicalities, for “the return.” They are preparing lesson plans about the possibility as well as documents designed to help people “imagine the return” so it can be “implemented.” The groups are busy allocating lands to the refugees or their descendants and trying to sell the idea to the Jewish public.

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Point of No Return has been following the antics of such groups as Zochrot for almost 10 years. Jewish refugees from Arab countries have attempted to push back on their ‘return’ campaign with demonstrations and press articles  such as ‘Return will not solve the refugee problem ‘(Times of Israel) by Lyn Julius:

Edy Cohen, a Jewish refugee from Lebanon, demonstrates outside a Zochrot ‘return’ conference in 2016 in order to draw attention to the greater Jewish Nakba

Apart from the fact that it would soon turn Israel into a majority-Arab state, little thought is given to the mayhem that such a return would produce. Refugee questions after such a long lapse of time have not been solved by return. The great majority of Palestinian
refugees today never lived in the homes that they are programmed to ‘return’ to. Most might no longer exist. In 2010 the European Court of Human Rights ruled against Greek Cypriots who demanded to return to their properties in the northern part of the island now under
Turkish-Cypriot control. As so much time had elapsed since 1974 when the Turks invaded the island, the Court ruled, in the words of Tel Aviv professor Asher Susser, that ‘it was necessary to ensure that the redress offered for these old injuries did not create disproportionate
new wrongs’. If this was true for Cyprus since 1974 it is all the more true for Palestine since 1948. But the issue of the Palestinian refugees needs to be seen alongside the parallel plight of the Jewish refugees, who fled Arab countries for Israel in roughly equal numbers at about the same time. A permanent exchange of refugee populations occurred. The last thing the Jews want is a ‘right of return’ to countries which remain as hostile and antisemitic as the day the refugees fled.

As long as the Right of Return is the cornerstone of the Palestinians’ strategy, the 650,000 Jewish refugees who fled from Arab lands to Israel remain its antidote. Yet the issue of the Jewish refugees is either denied or ignored. When Jewish and Palestinian
‘narratives’ are juxtaposed, the Jewish refugees remain invisible. When  Fisk goes hunting for original Palestinian homes and the locks which fit the Palestinian keys, invariably he finds a Jew from Poland or Romania now occupying the Arab home, never a Jew from Yemen or Iraq. In other words, Jews did not come to Israel because they were fleeing Arab and Muslim antisemitism.The innocent Palestinian is ‘paying the price of the Nazi Holocaust’ – a European crime.

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More about Zochrot


Nazis influenced Egyptian oppression, torture and deportation of Jews

According to a recent book, Nazis on the Nile: The German Military Advisers in Egypt,1949-1967 by Vyvyan Kinross (Nomad), some 6,000 Nazis may have moved to Egypt after WWII. They incited the 1948 pogrom against Egyptian Jews, and helped subject Egypt’s Jews to torture and deportation, Kinross argues. Their legacy may even persist today. Review by Justin Marozzi in The Spectator:

Aribert Heim, known as ‘Dr Death’ and the ‘Butcher of Mauthausen’, escaped justice. He lived quietly in Cairo as the Muslim convert Tarek Hussein Farid until his death in 1992. [Bridgeman Images]

As the government communications specialist and Middle East watcher Vyvyan Kinross reveals in this darkly gripping story, this wasn’t a question of a handful of advisers. At its height, the colony of German experts in Cairo – working across the entire spectrum of the military and security portfolio, from rocket and missile programmes, arms manufacturing and internal security to foreign service, intelligence and propaganda – may have numbered around 6,000.

The author admits that these characters were ‘sometimes unsavoury but always compelling’. This seems an understatement when it comes to Johann von Leers, a key Nazi propagandist and ideologue, honorary Sturmbannführer in the Waffen-SS and a baby-faced anti-hero of Nazis on the Nile. An acolyte of Joseph Goebbels, this was a man who dashed off 27 hate-filled books, including Jewry and KnaveryBlood and Race and Jews are Looking at You, between 1933 and the end of the war.

Having spent several years spewing out anti-Semitic propaganda in Juan Perón’s regime in Argentina, in 1956 von Leers relocated to Cairo, where he served as a political adviser and anti-Israel propagandist for Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s firebrand president, until 1965. When a Toronto Star journalist ferreted him out in his office in the ministry of national guidance in 1956, after a few nervous moments the unrepentant Nazi revealed his true self, launching into tirades against American Jews, Zionist-driven press attacks on Nasser and his uncompromising position on the new Jewish state. ‘Israel is abnormal,’ he told the newspaperman. ‘It must go. It causes trouble.’ Like several of his compatriots, he later converted to Islam, and changed his name to Omar Amin.

Kinross’s timeline is carefully chosen. It encompasses the trio of humiliating Egyptian military defeats: the Arab-Israeli War of 1948-9, Suez in 1956 and the Six-Day War of 1967. By the time Egypt suffered its fourth military loss in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the German military, scientific and intelligence advisers at the heart of this engrossing narrative had long gone.

Humour is a scarce commodity here, but there is something bleakly comic about the clash of Teutonic efficiency with the rather more relaxed Egyptian approach to work and the inability of former Nazi and Wehrmacht officers to bend the world around them to their will.

At the centre of the hub of military advisers was Dr Wilhelm Voss, a hyper-efficient man who combined a flair for big-picture thinking with an impressive command of detail – ‘a skillset with which Egyptian management culture at the time was not widely blessed’, Kinross writes. General major Oskar Munzel, a highly decorated Wehrmacht tank officer, shared his frustrations with the Israeli spy Paul Frank: ‘A thousand times I’ve tried to beat into their dead heads that pretty paint and big identification numbers do not a fighting panzer force make.’

In 1952, the German war hero Baron Theodor von Bechtolsheim, a senior naval officer-turned-military adviser, complained that ‘the oriental sloppiness irritates me again and again, while here they just shake their heads about it. Malaish!’ This will sound an echo for anyone familiar with Egypt in the 1980s when the old expatriate joke was that the country was run by IBM – Inshallah (God willing), Bukra (tomorrow) and Maalesh (never mind).

Notwithstanding their many talents, the Germans often struggled to adapt to the different professional challenges in Egypt, not least being their strictly advisory roles. This meant, for example, that they could advise on the persecution and deportation of Jews rather than eliminating them directly, as the Nazis had done in Europe.

One of the darkest chapters in the book surrounds the persecution of Egypt’s embattled Jews who, with the arrival of cold-blooded German know-how, were subjected to oppressive legislation, economic strangulation, dispossession, detention, torture and deportation. The FBI claimed that the 1948 pogrom against Egyptian Jews in the wake of the Arab-Israeli War had been instigated by Adolf Eichmann, one of the key architects of the Holocaust, who was in Cairo at the time. Mass expulsions of Jews began with the Suez invasion of 1956 and within three months around 10,000 had left. ‘The methods used are so similar to what Hitler did before the war as to be frightening,’ the New York Times reported.

The similarity was no mystery. The leading light of Egypt’s new state security cadre was Leopold Gleim, an SS Standarten-führer and former head of the Gestapo’s Jewish affairs department in Poland. Serving under him was the former SS Gruppen-führer Alois Moser, then wanted in the USSR for crimes against Jews, and Bernhardt Bender, a former SS Sturmbannführer, who ran an interrogation centre in a disused cargo ship nicknamed ‘The Floating Hell’ by Jewish victims. Bender was alleged to have been the brains behind five camps for Jews, one of which was supposedly modelled on Dachau’s Block 10 sterilisation unit. Kinross acknowledges that if there is uncertainty here and over-reliance on western, especially American and CIA, sources, this is because ‘Egyptian records still remain inaccessible’.

Although the competition for most disgusting Nazi exile in Cairo was stiff, the Waffen-SS Untersturmführer Aribert Heim, known as ‘Dr Death’, arguably made it to the podium. As a doctor at Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, one of his party tricks, according to the testimony of a survivor, was to kill a prisoner selected for his impeccable teeth by injecting him with poison, cut off his head, cook it in the crematorium until the flesh had been burnt off and then give the skull to a friend as a desk ornament. To evade an international arrest warrant issued in 1962, he fled to Cairo, where he successfully dodged justice until his death in 1992, having lived quietly as the Muslim convert Tarek Hussein Farid.



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Algerian-born singer Daniel Lévi dies

French Jews are mourning the passing of singer-songwriter Daniel Lévi from colon cancer aged 60. (With thanks: Véronique)

Daniel Lévi z”l

Daniel Lévi starred in several musicals. His most famous role was in 2000 as Moses in Les Dix Commandements, written by Elie Chouraqui and Pascal Obispo. There he sang the song which made his name, L’Envie d’amour’ (The Great Reward) – a song he performed in a duet with the Canadian singer Céline Dion. He also worked with Gloria Gaynor and Michel Legrand.

Born in Constantine, Algeria, in 1961, Lévi was the youngest of seven. He represented a strand of traditional Judaism, refusing to perform on Friday nights and Shabbat.

Lévi had three children from a first marriage. Barely three weeks before his death, he popped up on Instagram to announce the birth of his fourth child.


This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

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Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

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