Jewish actor and producer Togo Mizrahi played a key role in pre-1948 Egyptian cinema
While western media and politicians have been transfixed by the issue of Jewish settlements on the West Bank, the Arab world has had bigger fish to fry during the current peace talks. There have been several discussions on the topic of Jews from Arab countries, especially on Al-Jazeera TV. The Qatar-based satellite channel has been broadcasting a Saturday morning programmecalled Melaf ( Le Dossier, or Factfile).The turning point has been the February 2010 Knesset Lawon the rights of Jews from Arab countries equating both groups of refugees. Interviewees now fear that the ‘right of return’ will not happen, and Palestinians will get nothing. Levana Zamir has summarised the Al-Jazeera programme of 9 September:
The programme began with a discussion with two experts on the Knesset law on rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries: Dr.Khayreya Ma’amour and Mr Mamoun Kayawer. They concluded that the Israeli law was not good news for Palestinian refugees: they thought it might be used to offset the property of both parties and affirm the exchange of populations. When asked the question: ‘Why has Israel just woken up now, after 62 years?’ the interviewees’ answer was that Israel wants an equation between Arab and Jewish Refugees.
Jews from Arab countries playing backgammon were filmed and interviewed in the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem. Some said they left Iraq voluntarily, some complained about the discrimination they suffered on arrival to Israel. Although it was much reduced in their opinion, it still existed.
The interviewer responded by asserting the Jews of Yemen, for instance, were a source of cheap manual labour, etc.. He stressed that Zionism was a European movement that marginalised Oriental Jews.
Mr Moise Rahmani, a Jew from Egypt who today lives in Belgium and is a board member of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), stated explicitly that Jews were deported from Egypt in 1956. Nasser’s government passed laws dispossessing the Jews of Egypt and stripping them of citizenship. Many Jews were forced to leave.
Dr Ma’amour replied that she was not aware of such laws (!) and added that the cause was Israel’s 1956 invasion of Sinai.
An Israeli originally from Aleppo in Syria said that many Jews fled from Syria in 1947 after the UN Partition plan was passed. The Syrians torched synagogues, shops and homes. He was not allowed to leave Syria, fled to Beirut and from there went to Israel. He missed Syrian popular culture and Middle Eastern warmth.
The programme discussed various books on the Jews of Arab countries by non-Jewish authors.
Hassan II – et ses juifs by the French researcher Agnes Ben-Simon described how 100,000 Jews living in Morocco were allowed to leave for Israel after King Hassan II received
$ 1,200 per head. This book wanted to ‘prove’ that these Jews left of their own free will and that the King did not ransom the Jews, he just received financial help for his country.
A book in Arabic, Al – Yehud Phil Watan Al-Arabi, (the Jews in the Arab homeland) by Ali Ibrahim, described a number of persecutions, including the Farhud in Iraq.
In a lighter vein, the contribution of Jews from Arab countries to the Arab world was discussed. The experts mentioned that Egypt and Iraq had a Jewish finance minister. Dr Ma’amour added that the Jews of Egypt played a great part in the establishment of the Communist movement, whose newspaper was edited by Joseph Dwek and the politically-influential lawyer and writer Henry Curiel Raymond Dwek. Leila Murad and Togo Mizrahi played a key role in developing Egyptian cinema. All this came to an end in 1948.
Jewish refugees from Arab countries: is it an issue 60 years on? This event, at a London synagogue on Tuesday 12 October, will show The Forgotten refugees, a film made by the David Project. A Q&A will follow. Details on the Harif website.