Gerbi, the Arab Spring and the Jews

A protester outside Libya’s main synagogue demonstrates against David Gerbi’s presence (Photo: NBC)

As David Gerbi’s hopes for a new beginning for Libyan Jewry aredashed, here are some pessimistic thoughts for the weekend from Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi writing in The Middle East Forum:

Throughout the ongoing unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, endless streams of ink have been poured over the issue of what is to come in countries like Libya, which has recently witnessed the ousting of Qaddafi. Will Libya be another Iraq, an Islamist-dominated nation, or a stable liberal democracy?

So these questions have been asked innumerable times. Perhaps now we should be wondering: What might be a good indicator or litmus test of the direction in which Libya is going?

Luckily, a useful answer lies in the recent case of David Gerbi, a Libyan Jew who has spent most of his life in exile in Italy but returned to his native land in the summer to assist the rebels in overthrowing Qaddafi’s regime. As numerous outlets have reported, he was initially enthralled at the prospect of building a new post-Gaddafi Libya, yet his hopes were quickly dashed once he was subject to death threats on account of his attempts to restore the crumbling synagogue in Tripoli.

He was further told by a man claiming to represent the new Libyan authorities that a mass anti-Semitic demonstration was being planned for that Friday in Tripoli’s Martyrs’ Square, formerly known as “Green Square” when Qaddafi was in power.

Gerbi appealed to the National Transitional Council (NTC), urging them to convey the message to the people that “we are pluralistic,” yet the NTC did not respond kindly to Gerbi’s reasoned pleas, ostensibly dismissing the matter as “premature,” in the words of NTC leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil.

Like other nations in the Middle East and North Africa, the exodus of Libya’s Jewish population was in great part due to attacks by Muslim mobs and government-sponsored persecution.

As Alex Joffe reports, in the case of Libya, in 1945 (at that point under British occupation) pogroms organized by Muslims killed hundreds of Jews and destroyed many Jewish-owned shops and synagogues, leading to the departure of some 30,000 Libyan Jews for Israel between 1949 and 1951.

Just before Libya became independent in 1951, the Prime Minister Mahmoud Muntasser affirmed that there could be “no future” for Jews in Libya, and the 8,000 who remained suffered numerous restrictions, including a ban on having passports and serving in public office.

After the Six Day War, a series of pogroms led to the expulsion of all remaining Jews in Libya.

For many Mizrahim [Jews from North Africa, Iraq, etc. ed.] now living in Israel and the West, it has been their dream to return to or at least visit their countries of origin without restrictions.

If the new emerging governments from the “Arab Spring” in the Middle East and North Africa- along with the populations at large- have a problem with Jews who desire to return to their homelands, on what basis should it be presumed that these nations will adopt the values of appreciation of tolerance and diversity that are the hallmarks of a liberal democracy?

Another case in point is that of post-Saddam Iraq. Following the American-led invasion in 2003, many Iraqi Jews longed to return, reclaim their property or at least receive compensation from the government for confiscation by the Iraqi authorities. However, to this day, the Iraqi government refuses even to provide compensation, claiming that the exodus of Jews from Iraq was entirely a matter of free choice and willingly selling property, a claim that is far from the truth.

Far from seeing even a marginal influx of Jews into the country, Iraq has witnessed a decline in its already tiny Jewish remnant community since 2003, with at least one kidnapped and killed by al-Qa’ida militants.

There are now just seven Jews remaining in Baghdad, and the Meir Taweig synagogue in the capital has been closed, while in Basra, the last synagogue was ransacked and converted into a warehouse after the city’s only Jew left following the invasion. A proposal was raised among a few residents of the city to restore the synagogue, but did not come to fruition.

Despite an American expenditure of well over $1 trillion on the war effort (including some $53 billion allocated for reconstruction projects), Iraq today cannot be classified as a true electoral democracy.

Read article in full


  • To the anonymous poster who stated that much of the problems facing Jews in Arab countrues is because of the Israeli Palestinian dynamic, WRONG.

    The Zionist endeavour began in 1882.

    What caused the Denmat Pogrom in Morocco in 1875?

    What caused the Tunis Pogrom and Dejerba Island Pogrom of 1869?

    What caused the Marrakesh and Fez Pogroms of 1864?

    What caused the 1834 Pogroms in Jerusalem, Hebron, Jaffa, Safed and Tiberias?

    The 1840 Pogrom in Damascus?

    This is only a tiny portion of the genocidal violence committed by Arabs against Jews in just the 19th Century. Since at least the 620s Arabs have tried to exterminate Jews. At best Jews were allowed to exhist in Dhimmitude, in a servile sub-human existence that was the epitome of bigoted racism. To blame Arab hatred of Jews on anything having to do with Jews is non-sensical at best.

    As for the Jews not wishing to leave Iraq, there have been, since 2003, a grand total of 4 elderly men estranged from their families and basically friendless who hope to cling to the only life they know. That isnt saying much in favour if life under Arabs. There are always people who refuse to leave their homes no matter hell or high water- people who have never really had a connection to anything Jews above and beyond their heritage. It is a non issue.

    Rachamim Slonim Dwek, Sussiya, Israel.

  • Sorry Anonymous
    "This back to early days when Jews came in Palestine from Eastern Europe grouped forcing Arab to leave their home first by peace but then by force with militia type structure lead by some who became a leader for state of Israeli although they have blood in their hand. This was the Zionist idea."
    This is nonsense. The Zionist idea was to have a homeland for the Jews. Land was bought, not seized from Ottoman landowners. Much of the land was and still is desert and uncultivable (the Negev desert is 60 percent of Israel)
    The arly settlers were not all from Europe – there were waves of Yemeni Jews in the late 19th century escaping terrible conditions. Some of the Jews already living in Palestine had been there for generations and Jerusalem had a Jewish majority in 1840.
    The problem has been Muslim fundamentalists like the Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini who made compromise with the Jews impossible and dragged the other Arab countries to war in 1948.

  • Let not forgot the Arab Israeli problem and Israelis behaviour in Palestine sadly have the most factor that make this happen in ME; some regimes used this matter for their self-necessities. This back to early days when Jews came in Palestine from Eastern Europe grouped forcing Arab to leave their home first by peace but then by force with militia type structure lead by some who became a leader for state of Israeli although they have blood in their hand. This was the Zionist idea.

    All above that ignited the hatred and greave between the ME. Israeli for last 60 years fail to get to the table with good will to have peace process although you may disagree and this common story keep hearing again and again

    But let put form very important turn off from Arab in regard of peace:
    – Jamal AbulNasser and Rogers peace plane.
    – Oslo Peace Agreement
    – Saudi King Abdullah offer in 2001 of peace plane
    And many other offers and talk none of them that make Israelis let go and get thing rolling we knew its difficult for both but give a chance let talk and finish this old standing problem.

  • The problem is always the same whether there are seven or 70,000- the inability of the government and authorities to protect Jews in the face of vicious antisemitism.
    It is particularly sad to see a 2,600-year-old community about to disappear in Iraq. It has already disappeared in Libya.

  • If the new emerging governments from the "Arab Spring" in the Middle East and North Africa- along with the populations at large- have a problem with Jews who desire to return to their homelands,

    Let discuss few point in regards to above statement without escalating or been cynical about what happing talking the big picture in full context.

    When Iraq collapsed due to chaos and power vacuum things went wild , things detoured fast reach to what was some call it “Civil War”, in that circumstances not just Iraqi’s Jews suffer all Iraqis regardless of their believe or ethnics or sec. So the status of lawlessness made things goes in this direction, you don’t know some criminals what they things they kill for hatred, for theft and other clams.

    As for Libya or other place although the lawlessness may be less what happen in Iraq but you need to take what we saw in Iraq in mind what talking about Jews there.

    I bring your attentions to this story which from Iraq and please let read it with hearts full of understanding moving people who born and lived for generation on land they are part of that land and that society and they spoke they are not willing to move and like to die on the land they born:
    "Most want to stay," White said.

    "The older ones are refusing to leave. They say: 'We're Iraqis. Why should we go? If they kill us, we will die here.'"
    Read more:
    Iraq's tiny Jewish community

    “Like most Iraqis, Mr Yussuf and Miss Salih are struggling to cope with the tide of lawlessness and the breakdown of virtually every essential service in Baghdad in the aftermath of the war.”
    Why Jews of Baghdad shun the Passover

    Please also refer to the article early 2003 by Granta Magazin about Iraqi Jews

  • Thank you Suzy – gmar hatima tova to you too.
    I hope I don't have too many sins either, but it won't be up to me to judge!

  • As my French teacher used to tell us
    "C'est arrivé à la centrale"
    and our Chemistry professor at AUC:

    3) put that in your pipe and smoke it.

    I think that if Gerbi follows this advice, he will gain peace of mind!
    And now allow me to wish you a good Kippur.
    Hope you do not have too many sins!
    suzy vidal


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