The denial of Jewish heritage in the Arab world

Scene from the Book of Esther from the frescos of the Synagogue of Dura-Europa in Syria (mid-3rd Century CE)

The Arab world is busy denying its ancient Jewish history, but eagle-eyed tourists may stumble across some real gems. This exchange between two commenters is from a recent thread on Harry’s Place:


I was in Libya two years ago visiting the archeological site Leptis Magna. In the archeological museum there was a section labelled Christian artifacts. We spotted an object with a menorah carved on it. The guide had a prestigious degree in archeology from a Libyan university, and told me the BBC was in the process of making a programme about Libya’s archeological wonders which he was fronting.

I asked him if he could tell me anything about the menorah. No, he said blankly. I gave him a clue; It looks exactly like the one on Titus arch in Rome, you know the one depicting the Jewish exile from Jerusalem, one of the spoils from the Temple being carried to Rome?

No, sorry I don’t know anything about it, he shrugged.

Abu Faris:

When last I travelled to Syria, I had to fill in a visa application form which asked whether I had ever visited “occupied Palestine” – the Syrian state being constitutionally unable to even print the word “Israel” on its visa application forms.

Until recently all Sudanese passports carried on the first page a large comment in red ink: “For travel to all countries EXCEPT Israel” – at least the Sudanese could bring themselves to mention the name of the country. Sudanese passports no longer carry this caveat – however, you are still not allowed to visit the country if you are a Sudanese, or (for what ever bizarre reason may possess you) wish to visit Sudan after getting Israeli border stamps in your passport (personally, I would not bother – Sudan is grim, dusty, as hot as hell and is most certainly *not* the party capital of sub-Saharan Africa).

Amie, when I was last in Syria I was wandering about the National Archaeological Museum in Damascus (as one does) and I bumped into a very nice French couple, who turned out to be archaeology post-grads with a specialism in the ancient Near East. They told me that beyond courtyard yonder was one of the great treasures of the museum – but that the local authorities never made a big deal of it and would only open up the room on request. I located the nearest lounging Syrian museum guard, who was happily flicking his cigarette ash into some ancient pot and asked for entry to said room. He was somewhat reluctant, but I managed to corral in some other tourists and eventually he shuffled off in the direction of the room, crossing the courtyard and unlocking the door to the exhibit.

Inside was a complete reconstruction of the synagogue of the ancient city of Dura-Europa. It’s wall frescos dating from the Third Century C.E., carefully extracted from site and rehung on the walls of this little room in the National Museum in Damascus. This treasure has no signs leading to it – and the guard, Jihad was his name, is clearly under instructions not to encourage visits. I think they find it all a bit embarrassing actually – what *Jews* in the Middle East? Shurely shome mishtake.

Read thread in full


  • Bataween is correct to draw attention to the Arab campaign of "cultural cleansing" of Jewish identity.

    The campaign combines
    – denial of Jewish identity ("Mizrahim are just Arabs of the Jewish faith")
    – denial of Jewish accomplishments ("Rambam was Muslim")
    – destruction of physical evidence (most obviously below the Temple Mount)
    – long-standing denial of the Jewish right to self-determination, including an unwillingness to even admit the existence of a Jewish state.

    This campaign bears an eeerie and horrific echo of the Soviet and Nazi attempts to remove the Jews from history.

    And — like the Soviet and the Nazis — the Arab campaign recognises Jewish identity only in the specific cases in which "the Jews" or "the Zionist" or "cosmopolitan capitalists" can be blamed for all the ills of the world.

  • The Israel Genealogical Society is proud to announce the launching of
    the online Beta website of the 19th Century Montefiore Censuses of the
    Jewish Population of Eretz Israel, Alexandria, Beirut and Sidon (Saida).
    The details recorded include personal and family particulars, occupations
    and countries of origin, The censuses are unusually comprehensive as it is
    estimated that fewer than 1% of the Jewish inhabitants of Eretz Israel
    refused to participate because of religious scruples. Some others may not be
    included for personal or political reasons

    The manuscripts belong to the Montefiore Endowment and are held in its
    library in London, where they can be seen by appointment. They are written
    in Hebrew, in a variety of scripts. Many of the pages are difficult to read
    and, lacking any index, the tracing of individuals is time-consuming.

    Beginning in 2008, the Israel Genealogical Society, under the auspices of
    the Montefiore Endowment, has been working on transcribing the censuses
    into a modern Hebrew font, transliterate the names, and translate the data
    into English. This immense labour is being undertaken by teams of dedicated
    volunteers; and the censuses are now in the process of being published
    on-line for the first time, together with a search engine in Hebrew and in
    English to facilitate the finding of individual names and families.
    Extended families are linked together, and there is a link to the digitized
    manuscript page.

    In all, there are 5 censuses of Eretz Israel (including Beirut and Sidon),
    and one of Alexandria. At present, the census of 1839, 1840 (Alexandria)
    and 1855 are on line at The census of 1849 rowill follow in the next few months.



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