The Brindisi memorial erected to mark the arrival by ship of hundreds of Egyptian Jewish refugees of Italian nationality in 1956
In a private exchange with Jewish friends, an Egyptian who describes himself as an atheist of Muslim origin takes issue with Andre Aciman’s piece (above). He argues that Nasser did not expel Jews in 1956 – he expelled French and British passport holders, and would have expelled Israelis if there had been any living in Egypt.
He argued that others, including Muslims and Jews, followed them into exile in 1965 because successive nationalisations had dried up business opportunities in Egypt – his own family among them. Their property was sequestered, and the emigrants did not have the benefit of Jewish transit centres.
Nasser was not antisemitic, he was ‘anti-everything’.
In response, Levana Zamir, president of the Israel-Egypt Friendship Association, argues that all Jews were targeted in 1956. Those of Italian, Czech and Greek nationality were also expelled at a moment’s notice. For instance, hundreds of Jewish families of Italian nationality still have Italian government documents dated November 1956, proving that they were expelled within days of the outbreak of the Suez war. These documents are also to be found in the Brindisiarchives, the southern Italian port to which thousands of Jewish refugees from Egypt were headed.
It it true that Egyptian bourgeois families of all backgrounds were forced into exile after 1965; in Levana’s experience, some of the Muslims received compensation, while the Jews did not.