By popular demand I have tried to explode some of the more common myths about Jews from Arab countries.
1.While some Jews were expelled from Arab countries, many left of their own free will and were fervent Zionists.
Although Jews in Muslim lands have a long tradition of Zionism, – and Israeli politicians such as Ran Cohen(who arrived in 1950 as a 13-year old refugee), Yisrael Yeshayahu and Shlomo Hillel, who arrived before Israel was born, are on record as saying they came as Zionists, not refugees – this myth, supported by radical Marxist academics such as Yehouda Shenhav, conveniently whitewashes all the push factors that together made life uncomfortable for the great mass of Jews living under Arab regimes after 1948 – murderous riots, anti-Jewish incitement, discriminatory laws and restrictions. As early as November 1947, the Arab League contemplated passing a law that would have treated all Jews of Arab countries as enemy aliens. Although this law was never passed, aspects were adopted by individual regimes. Once Zionism had been outlawed it was easy for Arab governments to scapegoat their Jewish citizens as spies or traitors.
The myth that these were Zionist immigrants has been fuelled inadvertently by the Israeli government. For ethnocentric reasons, Israel discouraged the Jews from seeing themselves as ‘refugees’, but rather as immigrants returning to their ancestral homeland.
2. Zionist agents set off bombs to scare Iraqi and Egyptian Jews into leaving.
In his book The Gun & the Olive Branch, David Hirst describes in detail covert Israeli operations to scare Iraqi and Egyptian Jews into fleeing their homes for the “sanctuary” of Israel. Wilbur Crane Eveland, a former CIA operative, wrote about the ‘Zionist crimes’ against Arab Jews in Iraq (Feuerlicht, The Fate of the Jews, 231).The writings of the disaffected Iraqi Jew Naeem Giladiare frequently invoked to support this myth.
The Egyptian bombs of 1954 were indeed the work of a pro-Zionist group, but there is no causal link with the exodus of 25,000 Jews two years later. In the Iraqi case no one will ever know for certain who planted bombs in 1950 -51, but three of the five episodes occurred after the vast majority of the Jews had already left or were leaving – and caused no casualties. The Israeli ‘new’ historian Tom Segev has produced evidence blaming the only fatal bombing on Iraqi nationalists. In his book Une si longue presence, Nathan Weinstock makes the point that only the Iraqi police possessed the no. 36 high potential grenades used in the bombings. Besides, the two Zionist ‘culprits’ executed in January 1952, whose confessions were extracted under torture, were never accused of the fatal bombing of 14 January 1951.
Moshe Gat (The Jewish exodus from Iraq, p 18) points out that the beginning of the Arab revolt in 1936 marks the onset of physical attacks on Jews. Nobody has suggested that the 10 Jews murdered and the eight instances of bombs thrown at places where Jews congregated was the work of ‘Zionists’.
In any case undue focus on the ‘bombs’ distracts from the overwhelming evidence of official antisemitism in Arab countries, and does not explain the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Jews from Yemen, Syria, Libya and other countries.
3. In any case, the Palestinian refugees did not expel Jews from their homes in Arab countries.This argument is often brought up to refute the idea that the Palestinian refugees and Jewish refugees constitute ‘an exchange of refugee populations.’ It is often forgotten that the ‘Palestinian cause ‘ began life as a pan-Arab cause. Five Arab armies fought an aggressive war in the name of the Palestinian Arabs. The Palestinians who fled their homes, no less than Jewish refugees, have good reason to hold Arab governments responsible for their plight. (An Arab League law passed in the 1950s even ensured no country except Jordan would give citizenship to Palestinians.)The main difference is that one set of refugees fled as a result of war, the other persecution. Both sets of refugees deserve justice as part of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace settlement.
Nonetheless, the Palestinians were far from hapless victims. Palestinian Arabs fought against the Jews between November 1947 and May 1948. From the 1920s onwards, the Mufti of Jerusalem was agitating against the Jews of Palestine and in the Arab world, inciting terrorist attacks and riots. An ally of the Nazis, he was responsible for a great deal of the anti-Semitism that cost Jewish lives (he helped plan the Rashi Ali coup which led to the Iraqi Farhoud in 1941) and ultimately caused the Jews to flee from the Arab world.
4. The governments of Morocco, Egypt, Iraq and Yemen (unlike Israel) have always stated that those Jews who left are welcome to return.A cynical propaganda exercise: Jews have not exactly been falling over themselves to return to the tyrannies which persecuted them. The one Jew who returned to Iraq in 1971 (see comment 17) vanished, presumed killed.
5.The expulsion of some Jews was a natural reaction to the ‘stealing of Palestinian land and establishment of the Zionist entity’.
The idea that Arab states were justified in taking revenge against their peaceful Jewish citizens is bizarre. Would it have been understandable if Americans had gone on the rampage against Muslims after 9-11?
Even if one assumes the whole of the land now constituting Israel to be ‘stolen’ the Jews of Arab countries are reckoned to have lost far more in land and assets.
This myth also whitewashes the fact that Arab antisemitism, xenophobic nationalism and Islamism predated the establishment of Israel.
6. The creation of Israel is expiation for European antisemitism and the Holocaust. The Jews are a European question and Israel is a colonialist European implant.This popular leftwing myth ignores the fact that half the Jewish population of Israel are Jews indigenous to the Middle East. In many cases Jewish communities in Arab countries go back to Biblical times and predate Islam by 1,000 years. This myth posits that Arab antisemitism began in 1948 and that relations between Jews and Muslims before the creation of Israel were harmonious or even idyllic.
The truth is that Jews are an Arab questionas much as a European. Relations between Jews and Muslims were unequal and historically precarious. Even the Andalusian Golden Age in medieval times may not have been the idyll it is often described.
The Jews were not the only victims of modern Arab Muslim nationalism. Other minorities have suffered persecution and ethnic cleansing. Indeed, non-Muslims constitute a useful distraction from their domestic failures for the failed and dysfunctional autocracies of the Arab world.
7. Israel’s Ashkenazi ruling class caused the exodus of Jews from Arab countries in order to exploit them as immigrant labour.
A corollary of myth no. 2: the Jews were made to leave by the Zionists and on arrival in Israel became second class citizens. Their natural allies and fellow victims of racism are Arab Israelis/ Palestinians. This myth has been thoroughly debunked here.
The scandal of the ‘ringworm’ children, irradiated by the Ashkenazi establishment in the 1950s, turns out largely to be just another conspiracy theory (with thanks: Franck).