Jews were targets before Israel’s creation

 Charred and damaged remains of the Great synagogue in Aleppo, Syria,
one of 18 synagogues attacked by rioters in late 1947, causing half the
city’s Jewish community to flee. It is not known if the site has been
further damaged in the Syrian civil war.

Sixty-six years ago to the day, on the eve of the UN vote on the Partition of Palestine, Heykal Pasha, the UN Egyptian delegate, made bloodcurdling threats of violence against the one million Jews of the Arab world – more proof that Jews were being targeted for violence before the establishment of Israel. Lyn Julius blogs in the Jerusalem Post:

To paraphrase TS Eliot, November was always a cruel month for Jewish
citizens of Arab states – and never more so than in the 1940s.

Three popular myths surround the 870,000 Jews who left Arab countries
after Israel was born. The first is that they departed of their own
free will. Second, if they did flee as refugees, it was because Arab
states lashed out spontaneously against their Jewish citizens like a
bull to a red rag (and who could blame them?). Third, the Arab states
took revenge on their Jews for the plight of Arabs driven out of

There are several things wrong with this reading of history. First,
the pressures on Jews were shared with other non-Muslim and ethnic
minorities. Secondly, Arab leaders were making threats against their own
Jewish citizens, and devised a coordinated plan to persecute them,
before the 1947 UN Partition Plan was passed. Thirdly, violent riots
against defenseless Jews in Arab countries preceded the outbreak of war
in Palestine and the resulting flight of several hundred thousand Arab

Sixty-six years ago this week, the Political Committee of the UN
General Assembly sat down to debate the proposed Partition of Palestine.
The Egyptian delegate, Heykal Pasha, made the following remarks:

“The United Nations…should not lose sight of the fact that
the proposed solution might endanger a million Jews living in the
Muslim countries. Partition of Palestine might create antisemitism in
those countries even more difficult to root out than the antisemitism
which the Allies tried to eradicate in Germany…If a Jewish state is
established, nobody could prevent disorders. Riots would break out in
Palestine, would spread through all the Arab states and might lead to a
war between two races.”

Sure enough, a wave of violence spread in Egyptfollowing
the vote in favor of Partition on 29 November 1947. Demonstrations were
called for 2 – 5 December. It was only because the police prevented the
mob from attacking the Cairo Jewish quarter that lives were spared.

In Bahrain, beginning on 5 December, crowds began looting Jewish
homes and shops and destroyed the synagogue. Two elderly ladies were

In Aleppo,
Syria, the Jewish community was devastated by a mob led by the Muslim
Brotherhood. At least 150 homes, 50 shops, all 18 synagogues, five
schools, an orphanage and a youth club were destroyed. Many people were
killed, but the exact figure is not known. Over half the city’s 10,000
Jews fled into Turkey, Lebanon and Palestine.

In Aden,
the police could not contain the rioting. By the time order was
restored on 4 December, 82 Jews had been killed. Of 170 Jewish-owned
shops, 106 were destroyed. The synagogue and two schools were among the
Jewish institutions burnt down.

Arab statesmen were making threats against their Jewish citizens six months before Ben Gurion declared Israel established.

More alarming still, Jews had been targeted for violence years
earlier. In Iraq, 179 Jews were murdered in a Nazi-inspired pogrom, the Farhud, seven years before Israel was created.

In November 1945, two years before Israel was declared, and before
the UN Partition Plan vote, a series of anti-Jewish riots broke out in
several Arab countries on the anniversary of the 1917 Balfour

In Egypt, anti-Zionist demonstrations were called by the Muslim
Brotherhood, Misr al-Fatat and the Young Men’s Muslim Association. Mass
demonstrations took place on Balfour Day (2 November) in Cairo,
Alexandria and other cities.

Jewish businesses in Cairo and in the Jewish Quarter were looted and
the Ashkenazi synagogue ransacked. The disturbances soon spilled over
into anti-dhimmi violence, with Coptic, Greek Orthodox and Catholic institutions also attacked. Of 500 businesses looted, 109 belonged to Jews.

Amazingly, only one policeman was killed in Cairo. Five Jews were among six killed in Alexandria.

Far worse was the pogrom in Libya which began on 4 November 1945
in Tripoli. Thousands went on the rampage in the Jewish quarter and
bazaar. Jewish homes and businesses had been marked out beforehand for
exclusive attack.

The violence spread to other towns. Over three days of rioting, the
police stood by and British and US servicemen on the outskirts waited
until three days later to impose a curfew. By then 130 Jews were dead
including 36 children. Women were raped, some 4,000 Jews were left
homeless and nine synagogues destroyed.

In Syria a mob broke into the great synagogue in Aleppo and beat up
two elderly men. In Iraq, the government avoided a repeat of the 1941
Farhud by banning public demonstrations.

But in November 1947, the blood-curdling threats coming from Arab officials were none other than state-sanctioned incitement.

The Palestine Post ran an editorial entitled “Unwilling hostages” on 11 December 1947. It quoted an editorial in the Manchester Guardian
the day before, entitled ‘Hostages’. This article deplored inflammatory
statements made by Arab leaders which could be interpreted as threats
against the Jewish minorities.

Both in Syria and Iraq “pressure has been put on the Jews to denounce
Zionism and support the Arab cause. One cannot help wonder what threats
have been made to bring this about.”

The riots of the previous week had been attributed by Arab
governments to the ‘fury of the people’. The editorial charged that ”
the governments concerned, if they do not activate or instigate them,
look upon them with a benevolent eye.”

As well as approving or instigating violence against their Jewish
minorities, the member states of the Arab League drafted a plan to
victimize their Jewish citizens ‘as the Jewish minority of Palestine.’

The Palestine Post of 22 December 1947 carried a report about harsh measures that the Arab League was considering takingagainst
Jews in Arab lands. They would first be denaturalized, their property
confiscated, their bank accounts frozen, and they would be treated as
enemy aliens.

‘While there is no news of the acceptance of this resolution by the
Arab League, it is significant and tragic that such a document should
have been drafted,” the editorial lamented.

“It is easy for them to play the bully and to keep a sword hanging over
the heads of many hundreds of thousands of Jews who are at their mercy.”

The Lebanese government issued orders of expulsion against Palestinian Jews in Lebanon.

Although it was not passed, aspects of the Arab League draft
resolution were adopted by individual Arab governments. The human rights
lawyer and Canadian ex-Justice minister Irwin Cotler has called them ‘Nuremberg-style measures.’

Jews were liable to be arrested and sometimes executedfor the crime of ‘Zionism’, but the boundaries between Judaism and Zionism were always blurred.

By the time Israel was established on 15 May 1948, the Jewish
communities in Arab countries had been rocked to their very foundations.
As the historian Norman Stillman writes, the Palestine issue was a
major contributing factor, but it was not the only one – it was more of a

Arab and Islamic nationalism could find no room for ethnic and
religious groups that deviated from the norm, and Jews found themselves
alienated and isolated from society at large.

Read blogpost in full 

Crossposted at the Huffington Post


  • Zionism wasn't even a twinkle in Theo Herzl's eye when the pogroms in Damascus and Safed occurred in the early 19th century, and it was the former that led Moses Montefiore to make the first land purchase in Palestine to assist Syrian Jews seeking safety.

  • Yes of course, I jumped the gun (literally!) – the Jewish soldiers, not their commanders. The death toll one assumes would have been even higher otherwise, I would assume.

  • That is very interesting, Eliyahu. At least the Allies gave the Jews the means to defend themselves – more than what happened in the Farhud.

  • concerning the pogrom in Tripoli, Libya, apparently the Allied military commanders in the area knew that it was coming. When I was in Rome, I spoke with a young Jew of a Libyan family. He said that before the pogrom, Jewish American soldiers came to the Libyan Jews with a carload of weapons and told them that a pogrom and that they were forbidden to come get involved and come to the aid of the Libyan Jews, by their commanders. But they were giving the local Jews weapons to defend themselves with.

    I have not verified this story in any sources but it seems credible although some details may be inexact.


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