The Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo
Sixty-five years ago this summer a series of bomb attacks shook Cairo, claiming the lives of up to 200 Jews and setting off a wave of emigration towards Israel.The culprits were the Muslim Brotherhood, who would later assassinate the Egyptian prime minister. David B Green continues his excellent ‘On this day’ series in Haaretz (with thanks: Levana):
June 20, 1948, a bomb detonated in the Karaite Quarter of Cairo killed
22 Jews and wounded another 41. As part of a series of attacks on the
city’s Jewish population, the event gave a significant push to an
ongoing wave of emigration of Jews from Egypt.
had begun to depart Egypt in 1945, after the so-called Cairo pogrom of
November 2 (the anniversary of the issuing of Balfour Declaration), when
violent demonstrations by Islamists – including the Muslim Brotherhood
— and nationalists against British policy in Palestine turned their
anti-Zionist rage on the city’s Jewish population. The Ashkenazi
synagogue, in the Muski Quarter, and several other Jewish institutions
were burned down, and a number of shops were looted. The next day,
rioting spread to Alexandria. A total of six people were killed, with
more than 100 wounded.
Jews thought they could distance themselves from the Zionist movement.
Community leaders, including the chief rabbi and the presidents of both
the Cairo and Alexandria Jewish communities, publicly repudiated
Zionism, and those who were active in the movement went underground.
1947, the government, which until then had at least nominally protested
anti-Semitic actions, began to take official measures against Egypt’s
Jews. Foremost of these were the Company Laws, which set quotas on the
percentage of non-citizens, the country’s Jews included, that could be
employed by incorporated businesses.
Israel’s declaration of statehood, on May 15, 1948, matters
deteriorated further. Jews were rounded up for Zionist activity, which
was now illegal, martial law was declared, and the assets of many Jewish
firms were confiscated. These official measures were accompanied by
more attacks by Islamists on Jews and their property.
the bomb went off on June 20 in the Karaite Quarter, the authorities
initially claimed that it had been set off by Rabbanite Jews, who
constituted the majority of Egypt’s Jewish population. They also blamed
it on the accidental detonation of fireworks that had been housed in
Jewish homes. But details of the crime were censored in the press, and
even the local Jewish newspaper did not fully cover the event.
terror attack was followed by five more attacks on Jewish sites in
Cairo during the summer and fall of 1948: the July 19 bombing of two
Jewish-owned department stores, and similar attacks on two additional
stores on July 28 and August 1; the September 22 blast in the
(Rabbanite) Jewish Quarter, which killed 19 people; the destruction of a
large Jewish-owned publishing firm, Societe Orientale de Publicite, on
November 12. One source puts the number of Jewish deaths to bombings and
other murderous attacks, in July 1948 alone, at 200.
had it wanted to, the government was not strong enough to stand up to
the Muslim Brotherhood, especially not while war was being fought
between Arabs and Israelis to the east. And after Prime Minister
al-Nuqrashi did finally dissolve the organization, on December 8, 20
days later, he was assassinated by a member of the Brotherhood.
1948, Egypt’s Jewish population stood at about 75, 000. According to the
Jewish Agency, the number of Egyptian Jews who emigrated to Israel
between 1948 and 1951 was 16, 514. Another 6,000 Jews departed Egypt for
other destinations during the same period. By 1957, the number of Jews
remaining in the country stood about 15,000.