Seven myths about Jews from Arab countries

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).


  • Sorry to be so after the fact on this since it is quite an old post. People were learning the limits of x-Rays in the 1950's and a lot of practices were starting to be questioned. One of the more famous cases involved a UK woman doctor who found a suspiciously high incidence of juvenile cancers and after quite a bit of investigation found the common thread was fetal x-rays. She presented the evidence to the British medical establishment and absolutely nothing was done for another decade. The practice continued. Children here in Canada received very high doses of radiation during a childhood lung x-Rays which were part of a campaign to combat a feared TB epidemic. No conspiracy, no malicious intent, just an ignorance of the limits of the technology. A pity, but it happened unfortunately.

  • One word: ma'abarot

    Part of my family left Egypt to Israel in the early 50's. They weren't even allowed to wait in line together with ashkenazim to buy bread…

    Some Jewish communities lived in constant fear in Arab countries, but others were part of the elite (well, maybe not only in Yemen and few others).
    In Israel we became second class citizens (the ashkenazic government had/has a huge – much greater than anyone aknowlodge – responsability for that).

    Post-Zionism is not the answer, but whitewash or sugarcoat Zionism's ugly past and crimes isn't any better.

  • As I mention in the article, very few Moroccan Jews were in Israel in 1950. The majority came after 1956. The majority of Jews treated for ringworm were certainly Sephardic but few Moroccan.

    The fact that anonymous has relatives living today, 60 years later, albeit with cancer, shows that the radiation treatments, although high, were not so dangerously high as to kill everyone with cancer within a month of the treatment as would have have been the case if they had been purposely overdosed as Chamish alleges.

    Sadly, people who do not understand xray medicine put their ignorant two cents in. They might as well be discussing the mathematics of quantum mechanics.

  • From what I gather Israel could not afford such public health programmes when the European Jews came in after the war, that's why you only hear of Moroccan Jews being affected.

  • The thing is: Why the majority (if not all) of the jews of the ringworm affair were of sephardi/morrocan origin? European jews didn't need treatment against ringworm in Israel?

    Ben Gurion/Golda Meir/Levi Eshkol's racist slurs can also make it easier to believe in this accusations…

  • my mother-in-law was treated in the 1920s with x-rays for acne in the United States. She died of cancer at the age of 68. She was Ashkenazi. Apparently, the doctors ought to do some soul searching generally. This mistake was not especially an Israeli problem.

  • Anonymous Moroccan Jew: the conspiracy theory I refer to has been spread by Barry Chamish, who concocted the lie that the Israeli establishment tried to mass-poison Sephardi youth and exposed them to 35,000 times the legal radiation dose.
    I am not denying that the ringworm treatment was dangerous, and we now now it was. Sadly your generation is now suffering the effects. But the dose given at that time was considered safe. The medical world in the 50s, even outside Israel, was as yet unaware of the future damage involved in these radiation treatments; the connection between such treatments and cancer and other illnesses was discovered only years later. Xray treatment of the scalp for ringworm in the early 50s was considered by everyone to be safe. It was only in the 1970s that medical researchers in the US during the 1970s found an increased incidence of thyroid cancer among people who had been treated early in life with X rays for such conditions as acne, ringworm, and tonsillitis.
    But to claim that Sephardi Jews were singled out for high-dose radiation is absurd and malicious.

  • “The scandal of the ‘ringworm’ children, irradiated by the Ashkenazi establishment in the 1950s, turns out largely to be just another conspiracy theory”

    I am a Moroccan Jew. All of my cousins in their 50s are dying left and right from brain cancer. They all remember being irradiated as schoolchildren in Israel.

    How can you call this a “conspiracy theory” when we have people who remember this firsthand.

    Did you see the film?

    Have you spoken with any of the victims personally? I have.

  • Most noteworthy is that Yosef Beit-Halahmi (aka Khabaza) was not even in Baghdad at the time. He had already left the country by the time the last two ‘bombs’ exploded on May and June 1951. The Iraqi authorities were reduced to pinning the blame by proxy on Beit-Halahmi’s family. The evidence was so thin that even they were eventually released.

  • Concerning myth #2 and the Segev thread:

    “However, at least one activist from the Zionist underground, Yosef Beit-Halahmi, did apparently carry out several terror attacks after the arrest of his comrades, in the hope of proving to the Iraqi authorities that the detainees were not involved in these actions.”

    This is entirely without evidence – or, rather, the so-called “evidence” is quintuple-hearsay of an inference:

    Segev says Nelsen (or Ein-Gil) says Tager says Beit-Halahmi’s widow says Beit-Halahmi said a hypothetical bomb would exonerate those in prison.

    Calling this “evidence” is as absurd as calling “evidence” a toddler’s assertion that the world is flat.

    The other “evidence” – a time given upon a leaflet – is just as weak.

    The Jews prosecuted by the Iraqi authorities were tortured in order to procure (false) confessions.

    Gat/Mendes believe that “the most likely perpetrators were members of the anti-Jewish Istiqlal Party.”

    Finally, the “bombs” set by Aman Unit 131 in Egypt in 1954 under Operation Suzannah were not truly bombs but tiny incendiary devices placed after closing (of the libraries), caused no injuries, and caused little damage. I thus question even the term “bomb”; the obvious intent was to create an incident without actual harm.

    The Muslim attempt to evade responsibility for the flight of one million Mizrahim remains repulsive – as well as the attempt to deny 1,400 years of mis-treatment of Jews. When will even a single Muslim historian have the courage to acknowledge the truth?


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