My house is your house: Jewish rights denied

Lately, the Egyptian authorities have been fighting a build-up of adverse publicity with a media blitzof their own. But over at Harry’s Place, Lyn Julius keeps up the pressure with this post about the mass dispossession of Jews from Egypt:

A daughter of the wealthy Jewish Castro family from Egypt once attended a lecture by Anwar Sadat’s widow Jehan in New York City. Congratulating her afterwards on her excellent speech, the Egyptian Jewess exchanged pleasantries with Mrs Sadat. “But you must come back to visit (Egypt) and to show it to your children”, Mrs Sadat said, adding the traditional Egyptian courtesy, beti betak – ” My house is your house”.

Little did she appreciate the irony, but the presidential villa Jehan Sadat lived in had literally belonged to the Castro family expelled by Nasser in 1956. Observers of the Middle East conflict frequently talk of trampled Palestinian rights, but suffer a blindspot when it comes to the mass dispossession of a greater number of Jews across 10 Arab countries. Few Jews lived as opulently as the Castros, but all over the Middle East and North Africa, Jewish homes, shops and businesses were seized or sold for well under market value as fearful Jews left in haste. Schools, synagogues and hospitals were abandoned as some 850,000 Jews were scapegoated as Zionists after 1948. A ghostly Jewish presence, a reminder of a more pluralistic, tolerant age, still haunts the Arab world today like a severed limb.

So reports last week that President Mubarak, paying his first visit to Washington since 2004, might have discussed with President Obama a plan for Palestinian refugees to be compensated, in exchange for a waiver of their ‘right of return’, has left Jews exiled from the Arab world gasping: “what about us?”

The US-based Historical Society of Jews from Egypt fired off an open letter to President Mubarak seething with indignation:

“If Nasser had not persecuted us, stolen all our property, and expelled us ignominiously with only the shirts on our backs, we would still be living in Egypt and contributing to its greatness as we always have. Indeed, we care about our heritage and cherish it openly. It will be a good day when Egypt finally recognizes our many positive contributions to its history. Sadly, it does not appear this day is near. We wish to bring to your attention, again, as we have many times in the past, a number of grievances. So far, not only have they not been satisfied, but they have not even been addressed.The Egyptian establishment believes that if they just ignore us, we will simply go away.”

Clauses in the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty allowing for the settlement of Jewish claims have never been implemented, perhaps because the Israeli government did not want to be blamed for sinking an already-floundering Egyptian economy. But Egypt is haunted that some day the Jews – once a community of 80,000 – will demand their property back. In May 2008 a group of elderly Jews from Israel had their planned ‘roots’ visit to Cairo and Alexandria cancelled after just such scaremongering.

The fate of Egypt’s priceless Jewish heritage is effectively being determined by some few dozen elderly Jewish ladies, mostly widowed or married to non-Jews. Decisions are postponed as the tiny and timorous local community and the authorities engage in endless buck-passing. Most recently, Jews outside Egypt were alarmed by reports in the Egyptian press that developers were fighting over the extremely valuable site of a derelict synagogue-cum-religious school in the old Jewish quarter of Cairo. Although some 10 synagogues and a mausoleum in Cairo and Alexandria are under preservation order and the Egyptian government is paying for the restoration of major Jewish tourist sites such as the Rambam synagogue, images in the press of a mural of the great 12th century rabbi Maimonides and prayer books strewn amid the rubble have suggested that the Egyptian Jewish community’s decaying heritage may not be in such safe hands. The Egyptians, however, have been quick to deny such charges of neglect.

On the other hand, documents, treasures and Torah scrolls are classified as antiquities as ‘Egyptian’ as the Sphinx or the Pyramids. They are being left to deteriorate in storage, and may not be restored to their rightful Jewish owners.

A major grievance is that Egyptian Jews in exile are denied access to their communal archives. Jews of Egyptian descent in Israel, Europe, the Americas and Australia requiring their ancestors’ certificates of birth, marriage or death cannot even obtain photocopies. Appeals by associations of Egyptian Jews abroad for UNESCO to take over these precious records have so far gone unheeded.

To add insult to injury, the next UNESCO director-general, to be elected in September, is likely to be the Egyptian culture minister Farouk Hosni. Although he has since apologised and retracted his statement as ‘hyperbole’, Mr Hosni is on record as saying that ‘Israeli’ books in Egyptian libraries should be burned. In 1997, at the height of the Oslo accords, he told the newspaper Ruz Al Yusef:

“the Jews steal our history and our civilisation ; they haven’t any civilisation of their own; they haven’t a country of their own and don’t deserve to have one. So they tried to create one by force.”

No compensation in sight for seized property, no access to their history, and the prospect of a known antisemite in charge of their heritage: for the Jews from Egypt, these grievances compound the original injustice of their uprooting. The rights of Jews forced out from Arab countries continue to be denied.

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  • I am sorry to hear that your husband has had cancer and do hope that he is recovering.
    I'm afraid your Jewish friends have confused you. Regrettably there are a number who are embarrassed to be Jewish,especially in California, and many think it's cool to be anti-Israel. This is a minority view.
    But while Jews are a not a race, they are a people, with a common culture and shared history, and to deny them their right to be a nation, is like me saying to you, you are not a Lebanese Maronite, you are a Middle Eastern Christian and Lebanon has no right to exist – it should belong to the Arab Muslims who are the majority, or it should be part of Syria. I'm sure you would feel offended if I said that.

  • i do feel that the native americans are being denised important rights. this si there land. they should have some type of vote deciding weather or not they want there country to go to war.
    about the race thing with jewish people…
    there are jewish people who are black, asian and other nationalities, so i dont see jewish as a race…i see it as a relgion.
    i see the jewish relgion as the begening….and when jesus came, some people converted…some didnt. there race stayed the same even though the belifes changed. and some of those christians eventually converted to islam. but still there relgion is the same. im not against jewish people. i have some close friends who are jewish. in fact my jewish friends are the ones who let me know it was ok to be against isreal as a jewish only state.
    …personally living half my life in the states, i belive freedom of relgion is one of the best freedons we have. i would hate for the holy land to be a jewish only state, because it is special to all relgions.
    i'm lebanese maronite catholic. i dont feel that any relgion should have the right to claim citizenship based on relgion.
    …i feel blessed to have been born in usa…and moved back to lebanon because i was ready to just be wife and mother…i figured someone else could have my space in the states. but came back because of the 2006 situation. my husband was diagnosed with cancer 2 months before the war…unfotuantly his hospital was bombed, and we thought that the only way to ensure his treatment continued was to come back to the states. were very grateful that we were able to come back and get treatment for him.
    even when i was in lebanon….i was a proud lebanese american. even durring the world cup i did have my american flag handing on my balcony 🙂

  • sorry, Angie. I looked at your profile again and I see that you were born in California although your ancestors were not. You seem to be the child of immigrants. Everything else that I said remains as it was.

  • Angie, maybe you are simply a victim of your own ignorance. Do you think that the Jews who lived in Poland or Germany belonged to the same race as the majority of Poles or Germans or Lithuanians or Croatians or whatever?? Do you believe that the Poles, Germans, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, etc believed that the Jews belonged to the same race? If you do believe those false notions, where did you get them from? Not from Jews or from Poles, Germans, etc.

    by the way, the German philosopher Kant, surely a representative of the best in German culture, called the Jews living in Germany in his day: "The palestinians who live among us."

    by the way, do you think that you have a right to live in America? You weren't born there [I read your
    profile]. Nor were your ancestors born there. What right do you have to live there? When are going to start calling for giving the USA back to the Indians?

    On the other hand, you know that the Bishara that you believe in [you are a Christian, aren't you?] shows that Jesus was a Jew living in a country that the New Testament calls "the Land of Israel" [Matthew, chap 2] and Judea. Don't you think that Jews have a right to live in Judea? The New Testament and its Bishara have no mention of any such place named "palestine." Did you know that?

  • will the jewish people return and give up their israli citizenship? and will the israli people who are poish or german or other races be going back to their place of heritage as well?


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