Libya’s World War ll legacy of intolerance

The David Gerbi case is reverberating around the blogosphere. He’s the Libyan-born Jew, you’ll remember, who was hurriedly deported from Tripoli after threats on his life and angry demonstrations declaring ” There is no place for Jews in Libya”. The two Michaels (Totten and Rubin) have been pondering its significance for the future of Arab-Jewish relations on Contentions, the Commentary blog.

Michael Totten writes:

It’s a depressing story, but it isn’t surprising. Anyone who believes anti-Semitism—not opposition to Israeli policies, but outright hatred of Jews—isn’t rampant in the Arab world is kidding themselves.

It wasn’t always this way. Jews lived in Libya for thousands of years. They didn’t live there without incident, but they lived there. They lived throughout what is now the Arab world for thousands of years, and they lived in these places alongside an Arab majority for more than 1,000 years. The Arab world has been more bigoted against Jews in the last hundred years than it was at any time during the previous thousand.

If relations between Jews and Arabs were better in the past, they can be better again. But they aren’t getting better right now.

Michael Rubin writes:

In Libya, it wasn’t always this way, of course. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing Maurice Roumani’s The Jews of Libya, and subsequently of meeting this brilliant scholar. Roumani explains how the Libyan crackdown on its own Jewish population accelerated through the 20th century, as well as the tensions that sometimes existed between the Libyan Jewish population and their Italian counterparts across the Mediterranean. As with the Palestinians and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem’s flirtation with the Nazis, so much in Libya dates back to the legacy of World War II. As I summarize Roumani in my review:

As anti-Semitism grew in Italy during the fascist period, anti-Jewish incidents increased in Libya, and as the Axis oriented its foreign policy toward the Arabs, Italian leaders privileged Libya’s Arabs over its Jews. As the Axis solidified in the late 1930s, Rome imposed anti-Semitic race laws on both Italy and Libya. Libyan Jews were interned in local labor camps, deported, and, in some cases, transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

The real treat of Roumani’s work is his final chapter, however:

Roumani’s final chapter, tracing the Libyan Jews who chose to remain in their country after Israel’s independence, is one of the best case studies of Arab nationalist intolerance. Tripoli closed Jewish schools, forced Jews with relatives in Israel to register, and even placed the Jewish community’s administration under Muslim trusteeship. Jews could not vote, serve in public capacities, or purchase property. Violence was commonplace. On the first day of the Six-Day War in June 1967, Libyan mobs destroyed 60 percent of Jewish communal property. The Libyan government placed Jews in protective custody in a detainment camp from which they were quickly evacuated by air and sea. With Muammar al-Qaddafi’s rise two years later, the final nail was put into the community’s coffin.

Let’s hope a new, more optimistic chapter can be written. The transitional government in Tripoli must realize tolerance should never be put off, for the longer extremism is tolerated, the more it will metathesize (sicmetastasize).

One Comment

  • so what's new under the sun? Those of us who lived in Muslim countries, side by side with Arabs know how easy is it to turn over their opinion especially against Jews.
    Once you have assimilated this hatred, you must forget any hope of coming back!

    sing this song when you are leaving :

    bye bye, it's been good to know yu,(repeat twice)
    but I got to get driftin' along!
    suzy vidal


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