Refugees are much in the news, but people are apt to
forget that the Jews were one of the first minorities to be
ethnically cleansed from the Arab and Muslim world. The
exodus of Jewish refugees was a symptom of a deep
psychosis – an inability to tolerate difference.
So declared Lyn Julius, founder of Harif, the UK
Association of Jews from the Middle East and North
Africa at an annual commemorative event in London for the 850,000
Jewish refugees driven from the Arab world and Iran, one of dozens being held around the world.
Scenes from the Bevis Marks commemoration of 30 November show the 200 guests, the Rivers of Babylon Quartet, Rabbi Joseph Dweck and the Harif organising team. (All photos by Nizza Fluss)
Panel from the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs exhibition conceived by Ashley Perry and Akiva Tor, on display at the London event. If you
have a suitable UK venue for this nine-panel travelling exhibition please contact
“Totalitarian ideological forces which arose in the
Middle East in the first half of the 20th century have
bequeathed a legacy of genocidal bigotry and violence.
That legacy is with us today,” said Mrs Julius, “in the
atrocities in Paris, in Mali, and in the stabbings on
She asked for the Jewish refugees to be restored to
history and memory from whence they had been expunged.
No peace agreement could be signed between Israel and
the Arab states unless it was based on truth and justice
for the Jewish refugees, including compensation for
Video of the full 30 November proceedings at Bevis Marks synagogue, London
Two hundred guests, Jews as well as Christians, attended
the event in the candlelit splendour of Bevis Marks,
Britain’s oldest synagogue. Speeches were interspersed
with oriental music played by Rivers of Babylon.
On 23 June 2014, the Israeli Knesset passed a law
designating 30 November as an official date in the
calendar to remember the uprooting of almost one million
Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran in the last
The date chosen was 30 November to recall the day after
the UN passed the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine.
Murderous riots, coupled with state-sanctioned
discrimination, soon resulted in the mass exodus of Jews
from the Arab world, the seizure of their property and
assets and the destruction of their millennarian,
pre-Islamic communities. In 1979, the Islamic revolution
led to the exodus of four-fifths of the Iranian-Jewish
community. The majority of refugees resettled in Israel,
where they now comprise over 50 percent percent of the Jewish
The event was co-hosted by the S&P Sephardi
community and supported by the Israeli embassy.
Rabbi Joseph Dweck, senior rabbi of the S&P Sephardi
Community, said it was fitting that the Commemoration
should take place at Bevis Marks, which was built by
Jewish refugees fleeing the Spanish inquisition.
Rony Yedidia-Clein, director of Public Diplomacy at the
Israeli embassy, said it was not too late to tell the stories of
the forgotten refugees. The commemoration
in Israel and at the UN was being spearheaded by the minister of
Social Equality, Gila Gamliel.
Niran Bassoon-Timan recalled how escaping from Iraq in
1973 had split her family. She remembered feeling angry
that her best friend Joyce Kashkoush had not come to say
goodbye on the eve of Niran’s departure. Later, she
discovered that Joyce and her entire family had been
butchered and their mutilated bodies shoved into the
suitcases they had planned to leave with a few days
Richard Smouhadrew attention to the immense
contribution, now erased from memory, that Jews had made
to Egypt. His grandfather Joseph had built an entire
town called Smouha City, sequestrated by the Egyptian
government. An Egyptian had remarked to Richard’s brother Brian, “you’re
named after a city in Egypt. “No,” Brian replied,” the
city is named after my family.”