Month: November 2008

Indian Jews are scared for first time in 2,500 years

The death toll from the shocking events in Mumbai stands at 174 people. Until 20 years ago, cosmopolitan Mumbai (Bombay) was a shining example of Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Christians and Parsees living side by side. Hindus and Muslims even prayed together at Sufi shrines. But the Bombay killings can only exacerbate sectarian tensions. As for the Jews, a 2,500 year-old sense of security and confidence seems to have been shattered overnight.

Now it is clear that Islamist terrorists went out of their way to target foreign businessmen and tourists – British and Americans – and Jews, six of whom were murdered in cold blood, some after beingtortured. For contrary to media reports that the terrorists showed a “wanton disregard for race or creed”, in the words of Charles Moore, “they deliberately attacked people and places where such disregard for creed and race is, in a friendly sense, a way of life”.

The city owes its best-known landmarks to Jewish philanthropists, most notably the Sassoon family who arrived from Iraq in the 19th century. Four schools, two synagogues, a magnificent library and a dockyard all bear the Sassoon name. A lesser known fact is that Sir Jacob Sassoon was the largest individual donor to the famous Gateway Of India, just a few steps away from the Taj Mahal hotel.

India prides itself on the tolerance it has shown towards its 2,500 year old Jewish community. If the numbers of Jews have dwindled in the last sixty years to some 5,000, it is not because of antisemitism, but because many of India’s Bene Israel Jews have sought a better life in the Jewish state, where 60,000 emigrated.

But with jihadists shamelessly murdering Jews just for being Jews on Wednesday night, all this has changed.

As Naresh Fernandes writes in The New Republic:“When I spoke to (Indian Jew) Robin David on the phone on Friday, he was still trying to make sense of it all. “The Indian Jewish identity is the only one that hasn’t been created by persecution,” he said. “We’ve never felt scared. This is the first time we’ve been made to feel like Jews.”

“That, to me, has been among the most tragic casualties of this terrorist attack. In a barrage of grenades and bullets, a part of the Indian dream that’s 2,500 years old has now been buried in a pile of bloody concrete shards.”

Israel refugees conference marks a turning point

There will be no peace between Israel and Arab states unless Jews forced out of Arab lands are compensated, a government minister told a ground-breaking conference at Bar Ilan University in Israel on 24 November. The conference marks a turning point in the campaign for the rights of Jews from Arab Countries, assembling for the first time academics, four associations (Iraq, Egypt, Libya and North Africa) and the Israeli ministries of Justice, Culture Religious Affairs and Pensions. Levana Zamir sent us this report:

This conference, the first of its kind and well attended by Israelis from all Arab countries, dealt with two subjects: firstly, persecution of Jews in Arab Countries during the first half of the 20th century, long before the creation of the State of Israel and before the Balfour declaration; secondly, the rights of the Jews from all Arab countries, and their right to financial restitution and compensation. Academic presentations were given by Dr. Shimon Ohayon, Dr. Yehudit Ronen, Dr. Moshe Zafarani, Dr. Orly Rahmyan and others.

Expert Dr. Haim Sadoun, detailed the persecutions of Jews country by country – bombings, riots and murders. He stressed that the life of Jews in Arab countries was never the symbiosis and utopian coexistence some would like us to believe. Before colonialism in those Arab countries, the Jews were always under Dhimmi status, paying the jiziah tax for their protection. They had their ups and downs, but were always second-class citizens. There was a respite under colonialism, and violence was directed at foreign rule.

Dr. Haim Sadoun gave a partial list of those persecutions, which killed any number from a few to several hundred Jews each time, and left many wounded. In Morocco, riots already began in 1907 in Fez, and continued in 1912, 1942, 1948, 1955 and 1967. Tunisia – 1917, 1967. Algeria – 1930 and 1932 (Constantine). Aden – 1935 and again 1947. Iraq – 1941 with the Farhoud, where more than 130 Jews were killed. Libya, the massacre of 1945 in Tripoli, and again in 1967. Syria – 1947, 1948, 1949, 1967. Egypt – 1945, with synagogue burnt, in 1948 with 50 Jews killed and many wounded, in 1952, in 1956 – with mass expulsion and confiscations, etc. The Jews from Arab lands, where they lived for more then two millennia before the Arabs conquered those countries, were thus ‘ethnicially cleansed’.

All these riots caused damage and looting to businesses, homes and shops, leaving often thousands of families without homes and livelihood. “The life of one million Jews in Muslim countries would be endangered by partition”,declared Hussein Heykal in November 1947 and so it proved. But those massacres became rare after the creation of the State of Israel, concluded Dr. Sadoun, and the animosity turned towards the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Stanley Urman, Executive director of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), gave a presentation about the perennial refugee status of the Palestinians, whose numbers have grown hugely, in contrast to the 900,000 Jews from Arab countries, none of whom are still refugees.

The topic of sequestration and financial restitution was presented by the presidents of each Association of Jews from Arab countries (Egypt, Iraq, Libya and North Africa). They made the point that non-sequestrated businesses were abandoned or ‘sold for peanuts’. Lawyer Jean- Claude Niddam from the Ministry of Justice confirmed that he already collected 20,000 claims of Jews from Arab countries.

David Nawi, a lawyer at the Jews of Iraq Association, then declared that as long as the state of Israel fails to present claims against Arab countries, the Association will sue the state of Israel in the Israeli High Court. If this does not work, they will present their claims to the International Court in The Hague. Mordechai Ben-Porat, head of the Jews of Iraq Association reminded the audience that President Clinton had already declared in July 2000 that an international Fund will be established to cover compensation for Palestinian refugees as well as Jewish refugees from Arab Countries. Levana Zamir, President of the International Association of the Jews from Egypt said that the state of Israel had declared long ago that compensation for Palestinian refugees will be offset against that of the Jews from Arab lands. Now that all the associations are working together, we will not let this happen.

At the Bar Ilan Conference, Itzhak Cohen,Minister of Religious Affairs, said “that no peace agreement will be implemented without solving the problem of the Jews from Middle Eastern states”. This is of course the kind of declaration politicians make before elections, but now that the subject is becoming hot, it will only get bigger. The next JJAC International meeting promises to be even hotter.

Picture caption: Left to right: lawyer Jean-Claude Niddam, Levana Zamir of the International Association of Jews from Egypt and Meir Kahlon of the Association of Jews from Libya (photo Joe Cohen)

Iraqi Jews: LRB letter and Shatz rebuttal

Following Adam Shatz’s piece in the London Review of Books (fisked here),the LRB (4 December) have published the letter below in response. But Adam Shatz could not resist having the last word, which I have again ‘fisked’. If you can, please write a letter to the LRB yourself([email protected]).

Iraq’s Jews

Adam Shatz casts a spotlight on the destruction of one of the oldest Jewish diasporas, but his article contains errors and subtle distortions whose effect is to minimise the proximate cause of the Jewish exodus from Iraq: anti-semitism (LRB, 6 November). The rich man’s paradise Shatz evokes only really existed towards the end of the 19th century. Before the Ottomans were forced by the Western powers to emancipate their Jews and Christians, the Jews were despised, persecuted and never really secure; the Sassoons, Ezras and Kedouries fled the tyrannical rule of Daoud Pasha to make their fortunes outside Meso-potamia in India and the Far East. The Jews of Iraq petitioned for British citizenship not out of an ‘instant connection’ with Britain, but out of fear that Arab rule would be ‘politically irresponsible . . . fanatic and intolerant’, to quote Elie Kedourie. And so it proved.

The Jews did not leave because they were pushed by Zionist rumours or bombs. Bombs and murders in 1936 had not led to a mass exodus, and sixty thousand Jews had registered to leave before the only fatal bombing in January 1951. Until Iraq permitted legal emigration, Jews were being smuggled out at a rate of a thousand a month – because they were banned from higher education, could not travel abroad, were denied work and suffered restrictions in business. ‘But for these severe handicaps, Iraqi Jews would not have gone so far as to attempt large-scale flight from the country,’ the Jewish senator Ezra Daniel said, making his last futile appeal against the Denaturalisation Bill in March 1950.

Shatz implies that Israel encouraged the Jewish exodus, but already in 1949 the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Said, had floated the idea of a population exchange and threatened to expel the Jews as revenge for the Iraqi army’s defeat in Palestine. He schemed to bring Israel to its knees by dumping thousands of stateless and destitute Jews on Israel’s borders. The Jewish Agency could not cope with the influx and told the Zionist movement in Baghdad not to rush. It was only when Iraq passed a law in March 1951 freezing Jewish assets that Israel said it would be forced to confiscate the property of Palestinian refugees. Iraq reneged on its part of the exchange, accepting only fourteen thousand Palestinian Arabs, while Israel took in 120,000 Iraqi Jews.

The Iraqi Jews had every right to be bitter when they arrived in Israel, having lost everything. They were housed in dusty refugee camps for up to 12 years. At the time, they did experience prejudice, but so did Holocaust survivors, taunted on arrival as ‘sabon’ (soap). Today the Iraqi community is one of the most successfully integrated in Israel. Iraq-born Palestinians, meanwhile, have been denied citizenship and expelled from Iraq.

Incidentally, the airlift to Israel was named Operation Ezra (not Ezekiel) and Nehemiah. It ended in 1951, not 1952.

Lyn Julius
London SW5

Here is Adam Shatz’s rebuttal, with my comments in italics:

Adam Shatz writes:: The evocation of Mesopotamia as a lost paradise can be found not only in Violette Shamash’s book but in countless memoirs by Iraqi Jews.

And I bet none of these ‘countless memoirs’ predate the colonial era, when the Jews ‘never had it so good’.

Like all non-Muslim minorities, Jews experienced periods of difficulty and injustice, but if they had been persecuted to the degree Lyn Julius suggests, it’s not likely so many would have continued to describe themselves as ‘Ottomans’ long after the empire’s collapse.

A non-sequitur, in my humble opinion.

It was Shamash who said that Iraq’s Jews petitioned for British citizenship out of an ‘instant connection’ with their new rulers. And while Elie Kedourie cited the concern of Jewish notables that the Arabs would be fanatical and intolerant, he went on to deride the petition for British citizenship for its ‘pathetic caution’ and ‘anxiety to pay lip-service to the shibboleths of the age’.

Elie Kedourie proves my point. The petition must have pussyfooted around the subject, using euphemisms instead of words like ‘fanatical’ and ‘intolerant’.

Julius cites Ezra Daniel’s protest against the Denaturalisation Bill, but she doesn’t quote his plea to ‘restore to Iraqi Jews their sense of security, confidence and stability’,

I don’t see any contradiction… Alright then, the Iraqi government removed the Iraqi Jews’ sense of security as well as their basic rights.

and while Daniel was speaking out against the bill, the Israeli government and Mossad were doing everything in their power to speed its passage.

With 1,000 Jews fleeing illegally every month, even the Iraqi government could see that it had a serious problem on its hands, with law and order breaking down in the South. Something had to be done. Both the Iraqi government and the Israeli government and Mossad( to which Shatz attributes disproportionate influence) never imagined that more than 10,000 Jews would leave after the Denaturalisation Bill was passed.

Shlomo Hillel, Mossad’s man in Baghdad, makes no secret of the fact that in setting up Zionist cells, he had only one objective: to promote mass emigration.

So what? The Zionist Federation in the UK would also like to promote mass emigration to Israel. The crucial difference is that in Iraq in 1949 Jews felt insecure, were denied work, travel and the means to earn a living. All they were missing previously was a country willing to take them in.

He collaborated covertly with the Iraqi government to co-ordinate Operation Ezra and Nehemiah (as Julius rightly calls it). ‘We are carrying on our usual activity in order to push the law through faster and faster,’ the Mossad office in Baghdad reported to Tel Aviv before the Denaturalisation Act was passed, according to Tom Segev in 1949: The First Israelis. Israel wanted to populate the land with Jews, and their emigration from Arab countries had the advantage of supplying a further alibi for denying Palestinians their right of return.

Writers often contrast Israel’s generous absorption of more than a hundred thousand Iraqi Jewish refugees with Iraq’s paltry acceptance of ‘only’ fourteen thousand Palestinian Arabs. But the situations are not symmetrical: Israel was determined to settle the Iraqi Jews in the Jewish state, while Iraq had no interest in settling Palestinian refugees (who for their part wanted to return home).

So Iraq was perfectly justified in not resettling Palestinian refugees – instead it politically exploited people with whom they shared a common language, religion and culture, denying them and their children citizenship, and eventually summarily expelling them.

And though Nuri al-Said flirted in 1949 with the idea of a population exchange, an idea that had been circulating in Zionist circles for two decades, the Iraqi government’s position was that Palestinians should return home or be compensated by Israel. It could not ‘renege’ on an agreement it had never reached with Israel.

More feeble excuses from Adam Shatz.

Restrictions on movement and employment, and the rise in anti-Jewish incitement and violence, certainly encouraged Jews to emigrate. But these developments were not unrelated to the British presence and the war in Palestine – or to the pressures exerted by Israel and its intelligence services.

Well Adam – you’ve read Tom Segev’s book so you must know best. However, some of us had parents and relatives actually living in Baghdadat the time. The British government had precious little to do with the Jews’ pitiful situation – the restrictions were pretty serious if you wanted to earn a living, pursue your higher education or travel abroad.

We may never know whether the bombs were laid by Zionist agents, but we do know that Mossad’s responsibility is taken for granted by many Iraqi Jews: Morad Qazzaz, a leader of the Iraqi-Jewish underground, was known as Morad Abu al-Knabel, or ‘Morad, Father of the Bombs’. Folklore or not, it’s an indication that Iraq’s Jews have long believed that Israel had a hand in their exodus.

Why suggest that the Iraqi government might have had a hand in the Jewish exodus when it can all be blamed on the Zionists? Could not Iraq have deliberately intended the massive despoliation of its Jews? Of course Iraq was responsible for the official theft of Jewish land and property on a massive scale when it passed the Nationalisation Act in March 1951 – a fact barely mentioned by Shatz. And never mind that three of the five bombing incidents happened after the legal emigration window had closed. Never mind that Morad Qazzaz, aka Mordechai ben Porat, went to court to fight the ‘bombs’ libel, and won.

Shas calls for restitution for Jews from Arab lands

Arutz Sheva reports: ( The Sephardic Haredi-religious Shas party is including a plank in its platform calling for financial restitution for Jews who were forced to flee Arab and Muslim lands. Religious Affairs Minister Yitzchak Cohen of Shas said Monday that no peace with Arab countries should be concluded without compensation for Jewish refugees.

“With Jewish groups estimating that at least 900,000 Jews have been forced to leave their homes in Arab or Muslim countries since 1948, Cohen says that the issue does not get the same attention as that of the Arabs who fled Israeli territory as a result of the War of Independence. However, the issue is officially on the government’s agenda, under the aegis of Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan.

“Israel must state that no peace agreement will be implemented without solving the problem of the Jews from Middle Eastern states,” Minister Cohen told a gathering at Bar Ilan University. Shas will condition approval for any compensation to Arab refugees on approval of a similar scheme for Jewish refugees.

Jewish property left behind and confiscated by Muslim authorities “is estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars,” Cohen said. Shas intends to generate a database of property left behind by Jewish owners who fled the Arab states.

Of the Jewish refugees from Arab states, at least 600,000 came to Israel. Currently, roughly half of Israel’s Jewish citizens are descendants of Jews who immigrated from Muslim countries. Unlike the Arab refugees from Israel, who have an entire United Nations apparatus dedicated to supporting them, Middle Eastern Jews have never received refugee aid from the UN.(…)

“Unlike the UN, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC) of the US legislature held a first-of-its-kind hearing on the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands in July. Three months earlier, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution conditioning any compensation for Arab refugees on compensation to Jewish refugees.

In 2004, Saif Al-Islam, a son of Libyan leader Moammar Kaddafi, said that his nation is prepared to compensate Jews who left Libya and whose assets were seized. However, the compensation would be conditional on the Jews returning to Libya. “It is a responsibility to invite Libyan Jews, including from Israel,” Al-Islam said. They are welcome to return to “their ancestral land, and to abandon the land they acquired from the Palestinians.”

“In August of this year, the king of Bahrain, King Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, called for the Jews who emigrated from the Gulf nation to return.

Even more curiously, in the 1970s the late dictator Saddam Hussein officially and publicly invited the Jews who fled Iraq to return. Under the new Iraqi government, however, Jews are excluded from the list of exiles offered the right to return or to reclaim assets lost during the Hussein regime. (not true – Jews who left after 1968 are entitled to claim restitution, but those who left in 1950 are not – ed)

Another Ba’ath dictator, Bashar Al-Assad of Syria, reportedly told a delegation of Syrian expatriate Jews who visited his country in 2004 that there was no need to “invite” them back. According to a one-time Syrian ambassador to the United States, Imad Mustapha, Assad said, “I can’t invite you back. I can’t invite Syrians back to Syria. You are always welcome.”

Read article in full

Shas to make Jewish refugees an electoral issue

At long last, the issue of Jewish refugees looks set to attract the attention it deserves, as the ‘Sephardi’ political party Shas vows to make it an electoral issue. Report, Shas seeks payout for Jews deported from Arab countries, in Haaretz: (with thanks: Iraqijews)

“Shas is launching a campaign to seek compensation for Jewish refugees who came to Israel from Arab states. The campaign, part of the ultra-Orthodox party’s election platform, counters Palestinian demands for the right of return of their refugees.

“Israel must state that no peace agreement would be implemented without solving the problem of the Jews from Middle Eastern states, with an emphasis on restituting their property, which is estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars,” Religious Affairs Minister Yitzhak Cohen, of Shas, said Monday at Bar-Ilan University.

“Part of Shas’ plan consists of tracking down and registering Jewish property in Arab states, as a basis for future negotiations or agreements regarding the compensation for the Jewish refugees.

“Cohen told Haaretz Monday that there are some 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab states, most of whom are living in Israel.

“It must be proclaimed that any system of compensating Palestinian refugees as part of a peace agreement will include a parallel one to compensate the Jewish refugees,” he said.

“The issue was raised in Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinian Authority during Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s term, including at the Camp David conference in July 2000. Today Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan (Pensioners Party) is in charge of the issue.

“Cohen’s move is meant to appeal to Shas’ voters, most of whom have their origins or ancestry in Muslim lands, ahead of the elections. He outlined the party’s plan in his address yesterday, beginning with the need to define the refugee problem as a multi-national issue, one that affected hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from North Africa and the Persian Gulf.

“The uprooted Jews’ problem is equal to, if not greater than, the Palestinian refugees’ problem,” Cohen said.

“Israel will make it clear in negotiations with the Palestinians and in international forums that “a just solution to the refugee problem,” as defined in UN Security Council Resolution 194, includes the Jewish refugees as well, he said.

“Cohen suggests that the Foreign Ministry start a public campaign in the UN and European countries.”

Read article in full


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.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.