Time for Point of No Return to take stock of the main events of the Year:
Je suis juif: This past year will be remembered as a bad year for the predominantly Sephardi Jews of France. The Charlie Hebdoand Kosher supermarket attacks of January 2015 took a particularly heavy toll of Tunisian-born Jews. Record numbers of French Jews – 8,000 – are making aliya, but les Feujs are also coming to the UK.
Meanwhile, Spain granted citizenship to over 4, 000 Jews who could prove their Sephardi roots. A number have been Turkish Jews, who have been feeling the heat from President Erdogan’s antisemitism, despite a recent warming of Relations with Israel.
An effect of the Arab Spring is to cause Egyptians to go through a period of introspection and look back with sympathy and nostalgia to the time when Jews lived in and contributed to the land. In political scientist Amr Hamzawy’s vew, Egypt ought to recognise Jews’ displacement in this frank interview (via MEMRI). He idealises the Jews as integral to Egypt’s Arabic culture – not always true, some did not even speak Arabic – and says very few went to the Zionist entity – not true, about half Egypt’s Jews went to to Israel. (With thanks: Lily)
The Years Following The ‘Displacement’ Held For Them Precisely What They Had Feared When Their Ships Left The Shores Of Egypt: The Trip Was One-Way, With No Return Tickets”
“It is an odd thing, these people who were forced to leave Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s. They left it knowing no other homeland, and most of them did not know their final destination. The majority came upon safe havens in which to stay, settle down, and work, in a number of European countries and in the United States.
“The years following the ‘displacement’ held for them precisely what they had feared when their ships left the shores of Egypt: The trip was one way, with no return ticket.
“These are the Jews of Egypt, only a handful of whom knocked on Israel’s door, and about whom I am writing today as a human concern, without any connection to politics.
“The strange thing about them is that in successive generations they have preserved their Egyptian identity, defining it as an emotional connection, a cultural identity, and a constant interest in… the homeland that was… Those who left Egypt in their 20s, 30s, or 40s, and who as mothers and fathers brought their children to Western societies, still use Arabic intensively. Some have managed to pass it on to their children and grandchildren – though while some of the elderly use an Egyptian dialectic whose expressions and forms are from the 1950s and 1960s, the middle-aged and the young use literary Arabic. [This is because] their emotional connection to Egypt prompted them to gain or refine their linguistic skills, and they studied[the language] academically – as do Westerners interested in Egypt or in the Arab countries in general.”
The Egyptian Jews Remember “Human Solidarity… From [Both] Muslim And Christian Egyptians” – As Well As “Negativity, Vengefulness… And Denial Of Their Rights… From Other Egyptians”
“As for the [displaced Jews’] emotional connection to Egypt, its main source is the memories of those who left the places where they lived, studied, and worked. [These memories are] of their neighbors and the particulars of social life; of intellectual, artistic, and political activity; …of the human solidarity some [of the Jews] received from Muslim and Christian Egyptians when they were collectively punished with displacement and were unwillingly embroiled in issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict; and also of the negativity, vengefulness… greed, exploitation, and denial of their rights that they encountered from other Egyptians…
“An additional source of thisemotional connection is [their]continued fondness for Egyptian culture and its various forms of creative expression: music, song, cinema, and popular culture… and likewise the[ir] continued interest in current events in Egypt…”
The Egyptian Jews’ Culture Of Remembrance “Should Drive Us In Egypt To Frankly And Sincerely Discuss… The Displacement, Oppression, And Collective Punishment Forced On The Jews Of Egypt In The 1950s And 1960s”
“Today I am not talking about politics, and I am not concerned with the various positions of the Egyptian Jews living in Western societies regarding the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination – which some of them justly affirm and others wrongly deny. And I am not concerned with those who regularly visit Israel, or with those who refrain from doing so out of rejection of the occupation, the crime of settlement, and the violation of the Palestinians’ rights and liberties.
“Today I am not concerned with any of that. I am just taking note of this singular case of the culture of remembrance and the safeguarding of a love for the homeland that was… [It] should drive us in Egypt to frankly and sincerely discuss the facts about the displacement, oppression, and collective punishment forced on the Jews of Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s – which call for a culture of remembrance of a different sort [in Egypt].
Shmuli Boteach, blogging in the Jerusalem Post, was not surprised when the leader of Da’esh in Baghdad, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, finally came out with bloodcurdling threats against the Jews. Yes, ‘kill the Jews!’ is a rallying cry for desperate Islamists, but it is a safe bet that had there been any Jews still living in the areas controlled by Syria and Iraq, they would long ago have met the same sorry fate as the Yazidis and Christians.
Islamic State fighters (Photo: Islamic Social Media)
Something I have found so surprising throughout all these events is how
IS and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi have hardly made even the
smallest mention of Israel or the Jews. I was waiting for that
inevitable day when IS would declare its intentions to destroy Israel
and commit genocide against the Jewish people.
It’s kind of a
coming of age, a rite of passage for a terrorist group when the day
comes that they announce their intentions to wipe out the Israelites.
But the weeks and months passed and we heard not a peep.
not alone in noticing this. For the past few years a favorite rumor
among conspiracy theorists and haters of Israel alike has been that IS
is actually a Mossad organization, and Baghdadi is in reality a Jew.
else have they not done anything to harm the Jews? After all, no one
can deny that, barring immediate existential threats, the Jews pretty
much always receive the top honors on the genocide wish lists of
And now suddenly this last Saturday,
after IS had finally taken a real beating from Western forces and air
strikes, Baghdadi released a message to his demoralized fighters in
which he declares, “We are getting closer to you [Israel] day by day.
Do not think that we have forgotten about you.”
continues, “God caused the Jews of the world to gather in Israel, and
the war against them has become easy. It is the obligation of every
Muslim to carry out Jihad.” He added, “Jews, you will not enjoy
Palestine. God has gathered you in Palestine so that the Mujahedeen can
reach you soon and you will hide by the rock and the tree.
Georges Bensoussan, historian and editorial director at the Holocaust Memorial in Paris, is at the centre of a firestorm accusing him of ‘incitement to racial hatred’.
A group of left-wing intellectuals, including the controversial academic Shlomo Sand, lodged a complaint against Bensoussan with MRAP, a French anti-racist movement. Bensoussan may be called to face a tribunal.
During a TV discussion broadcast on 10 October 2015, Repliques,Bensoussan commented that France cannot hope to integrate its Maghrebi immigrants unless it recognised that these immigrants imbibe antisemitism ‘with their mother’s milk’.
Bensoussan, whose family comes from Morocco and who authored an 800-page volume on the uprooting of Jews from Arab countries Juifs en pays Arabes: le grand deracinement 1850 – 1975 in 2012 , claims that he was paraphrasing the words of a ‘brave’ Algerian sociologist, Smain Laachar.” Everyone knows it but nobody will say it,” Laachar had declared of Arab/Muslim antisemitism.
Laachar has since denied having said or written this ‘ignominy’. He said it was outrageous for Bensoussan to have claimed that antisemitism was transmitted by blood.
Bensoussan has countered that Arab antisemitism was not transmitted biologically but culturally. He accused his critics of ‘intellectual terrorism’.
“These intellectuals have trouble imagining that the ruled can be rulers, racists, antisemites and violent people,” said Bensoussan. He accused the Left of still being hung up about the ‘colonial ‘ Algerian war, 53 years later: “The war has not ended. We still think we are at war with our immigrants.”
“We affirm our support for Georges Bensoussan, salute his courage and his freedom to express himself,” the letter said. “His defamers avoid addressing the disturbing facts he refers to, preferring instead to accuse, denounce, besmirch and threaten. Jew-hatred is behind such strategies, continually renewed.”
Enjoying the Tripoli beachfront and hobnobbing with Sophia Loren and Little Tony, the wealthy Jewish elite who stayed on in Libya after the mass exodus of their co-religionists in 1949 lived in an Italianate bubble. Their charmed life was marked by constant contradiction, writes Eyal David in Haaretz – until it was rendered intolerable by the violent Libyan reaction to the Six-Day War.
June 5, when the first news of the Six Day War reached Tripoli, the riots broke
out (…) Tripoli, the clean and pleasant city has become something out of
Dante’s Inferno. The air was heavy, smoky, police and soldiers armed with
rifles and submachine guns were everywhere. The streets were littered with
broken glass, broken objects, broken wood and looted goods from shops (…) it
was clear that the rioters were going first to the Jews, but now they are after
taken from a testimony of a bank teller, reveals the ‘discordant final note’ in
the life of the small and wealthy Jewish community that remained in Tripoli in
the fifties and the sixties – its elimination in 1967 following the Six Day
War. The war exposed Jews to violent riots in which 17 people were murdered,
including two entire families that were killed by a Libyan officer: the Luzon family
and the Baranes-Raccah family, the family of my grandfather’s sister. This
pogrom was the third in two decades (previous pogroms occurred in 1945 and
1948), and came after years of political and economic restrictions that narrowed
the activity of Jews in the economic and commercial life of the city. The Jewish
community, which was for generations an integral part of the social fabric of
the country, had to hide and quickly leave the country, their homes, and all
their possessions. A small number of Jews did remain in the country until the 1969
military coup of Muammar al-Qaddafi, who, through a series of measures and
rules immediately clarified that in the ‘new Libya’ under his rule there was no
place for foreigners and Jews.
Jewish community that remained in Libya after the great wave of immigration to
Israel from 1949 to 1951 was concentrated mainly in the capital of Tripoli (a
few remained in the city of Benghazi), numbered over 4,000, and according to
some reports was one of the wealthiest Jewish communities in the world at the
time. These Jews were mainly members of the upper middle class who chose to
remain in the country under the independent Libyan regime of King Idris (starting
December 1951) and did not have their bags packed in anticipation of an
opportunity to leave, as one would think. On the contrary, they were integrated
into a narrow stratum of foreign and Muslim elites, all of whom roamed in the
same social milieu and were rooted in Tripoli by their property, assets, and
The lives of the Jews in the city were marked
by constant contradiction and it seems that they, whether consciously or
unconsciously, “walked on eggshells”. On the one hand, they were
locals; some of them even came from families with old roots in the country that
continued to play a vital and stable role in the domestic economic scene even after
the discovery of oil in the country in the late fifties and the resulting
foreign investment. But on the other hand, with their behavior and dress, they
made it clear that they were not Arabs. Like the other foreign members of the
elite, they saw the center of their identity in Europe, especially in Italy, and
thus neither in Africa nor in the Arab world. Some of them even held European
nationalities, mainly Italian but also French and British for example. Therefore,
they adopted Western cultural trappings and symbols of social status, which
separated them from the surrounding Muslim society.
they lived in an independent Muslim country, most of the time they conducted
their lives in Italian and not in Arabic. In addition, they maintained their
Jewish identity albeit with a high degree of religious flexibility, even when
their Judaism brought discriminatory laws against them. And in general, they
kept their distance from the Muslim population, which constituted the majority
of Libya. For these Muslims, the Jews, in their clear identification with the Italian
culture and language, turned their backs on Libyan Arab society. Moreover,
their high socioeconomic status completely contradicted the low status they
should have had historically as “ahl al-dhimma” (a protected
religious minority under Muslim rule). Further, anti-Jewish propaganda on the
radio and in newspapers as well as in sermons in mosques, which intensified in
view of the prolonged Arab-Israeli conflict, increased hostility against Jews.
the restrictions, prohibitions, and harassment that the Jews faced at that time
and the natural sense of fear that some of them felt, they continued to live a comfortable
and vibrant life, which was characteristic of the narrow bourgeois social
stratum in Tripoli. From interviews I conducted with members of the community
in Israel and Italy, as well as the little written documentation that exists on
the subject, it was revealed that the places of entertainment and leisure were
their escape points, in some ways “islands of sanity” in a social
reality that was changing from moment to moment against them. Furthermore, these
places gave them a stable anchor to hold on to, albeit illusory and fleeting.
Libyan Jews at the Tripoli Lido (photo courtesy Vito Raccah)
community spent its leisure time at the beach of Tripoli, or the ‘Lido’ as it
is called in Italian, in house parties, coffee shops and modern cinemas that
screened mostly Italian but also French and Hollywood movies. Besides these,
you could find the upper middle class Jews of Tripoli in the exclusive clubs of
the Italians and the British in the city. One of the most prominent clubs was The
Italian Club (Il Circolo Italia), which was located in front of the impressive
and beautiful promenade, Il Lungomare, which was built near the beach during
Italian rule. It was a prestigious member-only club that offered its patrons a
variety of activities in the fields of sports and entertainment, including
sport teams like basketball and boxing, various classes in areas like theater
and ballet, and Bridge tournaments.
The club, as its name indicates, was
designated for the Italian community in the city, but among its members were
also some wealthy Jews including a few members of the community I interviewed. They
stressed that Muslims did not frequent the club at all, only Christians and
Jews, but not only those holding Italian nationality. They said they had sent
their children to the classes held at the club and that they visited the club
when there were concerts and shows in Italian and for the Christmas and the New
Year celebrations (Capodanno in Italian). One of the interviewees talked about
how “when it was Christmas, rich Jews were taking up the tables and the
Italians were upset: ‘What is going on, this is our celebration and the Jews
are taking all the places?!”.
located on the promenade were other centers in which parties and celebrations were
held. The most glamorous one was the Uaddan hotel, which was established in
1935 and was described as the “jewel of modern African architecture”.
Daily cocktail parties were conducted at the hotel and it had a fancy entertainment
hall where different balls were held, such as the New Year’s Eve ball, Saturday
night parties that “gave a good reason to hang out until after
midnight”, costume parties, and festive events as varied as weddings of
the rich, including Jews.
Jewish guests at a dinner in honour of the film star Sophia Loren (photo courtesy of Vittorio Halfon)
The Uaddan hosted famous artists from Italy in the
fields of music, theater and cinema, such as Sophia Loren, Little Tony, Peppino
di Capri, Rita Pavone and many others and the rich echelon did not miss their
performances. It also had a large swimming pool and it was the home of the only
casino in town. The nightly entertainment in the casino was favored by more
than a few Jews who visited it on weekdays as well as on Saturdays and
holidays, and often lost a lot of money.
recreational pursuit that should be mentioned is that of brothels and
nightclubs. The interviewees mentioned names of two major nightclubs – the more
prominent was the Mokambo and the other was a nightclub that operated in Suq al-Mushir
(سوقالمشير), one of the markets within the old city. These clubs
held “deluxe” cabarets, as one interviewee described them, as it was
“something with class, not
something dirty,” and the people who came there were “people who had
some money, also Arabs”. They hosted dance performances and stripteases of
“beautiful girls, but not Arabs. They were all foreign, European. Most of
them from Italy, but there were also Yugoslavian, German, English, Spanish,
conclusion, most of the Jews who remained in Libya after the great wave of
immigration of 1949-1951 continued to live their lives, while enjoying many
comforts but struggling to maintain their fractured identity as the social
space where it existed slowly diminished. This continued until the living
conditions became intolerable and they were forced to leave. At once, they had
to abandon the rich and full life they had had and start from scratch, as
immigrants in a new country. Only about a half of the community that had moved
to Italy in the late 1960s, mainly the adults, immigrated to Israel later. A few
from the last wave immigration and the former ones reached other countries such
as the USA, France, and England.
Eyal David received his MA from the department of Middle
Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His thesis “The
Daily Life of Upper-Middle Class Jews in Tripoli, Libya: 1951-1967”
was written under the guidance of Professor Harvey Goldberg and Doctor
Liat Kozma of the Hebrew University. Contact: [email protected]
This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.
Point of No Return
Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries
One-stop blog on the Middle East's forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.