Month: November 2016

Remembering 850,000 invisible Jewish refugees

 Nasser: expelled Jews

 Today is 30 November, the remembrance day for Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Events are being organised all over the world, and articles are appearing in the Jewish press to mark the day. Lyn Julius writes in The Times of Israel:

One autumn day in 1956 Lilian Abda was swimming
leisurely in the Suez Canal when Egyptian soldiers  arrested her. “I
was brought in my bathing suit to the police station,” she recalls. “The
next day they expelled me and my entire family from the country.”

Abda, who now lives in Haifa, was one of 25,000 Egyptian Jews caught up
in the brutal aftermath of the Suez crisis 60 years ago. 

Fearful that Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s
military dictator, would nationalise the Suez Canal, Britain and France
colluded with Israel to attack Egypt. The Israelis were responding to
Nasser’s act of war  – the closure of the Straits of Tiran –  and to
years of terrorist raids.

Nasser’s revenge against the Jews was not long
in coming. Lilian Abda was accused of passing intelligence to Israel.
“They called me the Mata Hari of the canal,” she says. British and
French passport-holders were given days to leave. Another 500 Jews were
also expelled and their property seized, including stateless Jews or
those  who held Egyptian nationality.

Jenny Stewart, née Sitton, who resettled in
England, recalls:  “We were allowed to take out only 20 pounds each.  I
sewed a £10 note in the hem of my dress. My mother’s jewellery was
confiscated by the immigration officers when we arrived at the airport.”

The plight of Egypt’s Jews has been replicated
all over the Arab world, as Jews were deprived of their civil rights
and forced to leave. The majority of Jewish refugees found a haven in

Two years ago, the Israeli Knesset passed a
law designating 30 November as an official date to remember the
uprooting of almost one million Jewish refugees from Arab countries and
Iran in the last 60 years.

The date chosen was 30 November –
the day after the UN passed the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine.
Violence, followed bloodcurdling threats by Arab leaders, led to the
destruction of millennarian, pre-Islamic communities. After 1979,
four-fifths of the Iranian-Jewish community fled.

Today, Muslim sects and non-Muslim minorities
are being persecuted, but people forget that the Jews were one of the
first. As the saying goes, ‘First the Saturday people, then the Sunday

Harif is holding several events in November
and December to remember the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab lands.
From Amsterdam to Sydney, Toronto to Bologna, Birmingham to New York,
San Francisco to London, Jewish organisations worldwide, many in
partnership with Israeli embassies, are organising lectures, film
screening and discussions.

Refugees are much in the news. But until the
mass population displacement caused by wars in Iraq and Syria, the world
thought that ‘Middle Eastern refugee’ was synonymous with ‘Palestinian
refugee.’ Yet there were more Jews displaced from Arab countries than
Palestinians (850,000, as against 711, 000 according to UN figures). For
the sake of peace, it is important that all bona fide refugees be treated equally, yet Jewish refugee rights have never adequately been addressed.

There are less than 13 Jews in Egypt today out
of 80, 000. Jewish refugees like Lilian Abda  have rebuilt their lives
without fuss. They don’t expect much in the way of compensation. But
they do demand their place in memory and history.

Read article in  full

Also published in Jewish News

Forgotten refugees must be part of the equation

 South Florida has a growing community of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews fleeing antisemitism, some for the second or third time. Lior Haiat and Henry Green explain in the Miami Herald why the forgotten refugees from the Middle East and North Africa must be part of the equation in any peace negotiations (with thanks:Michelle):

 Miami beach has a growing Mizrahi community


For centuries Jews co-existed for
the most part peacefully with their various neighbors across North
Africa and the Middle East. Jewish communities thrived from the Atlantic
Ocean to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, from Casablanca to Alexandria
and Baghdad.

Today, they all
have been virtually driven to extinction. Within one generation, from
1948 to 1973, nearly 1 million people were displaced, many becoming

In the wake of the
Holocaust, the establishment of the state of Israel and the rise of Arab
nationalism, the Sephardi/Mizrahi Jews in North Africa and the Middle
East were increasingly subjected to pogroms, riots, arrest and
detention. They were caught between the colonizers and the colonized.
But unlike other ethnic groups, the Jews was viewed as a “fifth column.” 

 Jews were stripped of their citizenship, belongings and livelihoods.
Communal life was restricted, schools and synagogues confiscated and
cemeteries destroyed for urban renewal. In 1969, during the regime of
Saddam Hussein, innocent Jews were scapegoated as Israeli spies and
hanged in a public square.

half of those displaced migrated to Israel, about a quarter to Europe
and the rest to the Americas. Many experienced several exiles. For
example, the Garazi family, fearing rising anti-Jewish sympathies in the
wake of the fall of the Ottoman Empire, traveled from Aleppo to Havana
and then to Miami post-Castro in 1961. When Solomon was asked if his
roots still played a significant role in his life he said: “It is who I
am: a proud Jew from Aleppo who left his heart in Havana to go into
exile again to be free so I could continue to cultivate my Sephardi

The Diaine family
fled Algiers in the face of the Algerian Revolution in 1962 and migrated
to Paris, only to leave for Miami in fear of the growing anti-Semitism
before the Charlie Hebdo massacre. “The feeling is there’s something
wrong going on in Europe,” Elisa Diaine said. “The extreme right is
rising and, unfortunately, the first to be scapegoats are always the

Today, South Florida is
home to thousands of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews of Middle Eastern and
North African heritage. It is a melting pot of communities and
multiculturalism, a haven for refugees of all nations and ethnicities. 

story of the “forgotten exodus,” Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim
countries, has never been part of the discussion regarding
Palestinian-Israeli and Arab-Israeli encounters for peace. With each
attempt to rewrite history, the voices of these Jewish refugees grow
weaker, as witnesses pass on and human-rights agencies exclude them from
the equation of justice. 

Read article in full

Events kick off to mark exodus from Arab lands

Jewish organisations around the world  are getting ready to hold special events to mark the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran in the last 70 years. The centrepiece of the commemoration in Israel will be a musical extravaganza attended by 2,700 people at Binyanei Ha’uma in Jerusalem on 30 November.

At Bar Ilan university today, minister Gila Gamliel will open a conference attended by all the organisations representing Jews from Arab countries in Israel. The conference has been arranged by Dr
Shimon Ohayon, ex-MK, who shepherded the law designating 30 November as Jewish Refugee Day through the Knesset.

 The commemoration kicked off on 24 November when Levana Zamir, president of the Coalition of Associations of Jews from Arab countries, presented an award  to minister Gila Gamliel before an audience of 250 guests.

 The award was in recognition  of minister Gamliel’s remarkable contribution to raising awareness of the expulsion and plight of Jews from Arab countries.

Miriam Avigal-Guez, representing Jews of Tunisia, looks on as minister Gila Gamliel (centre) poses with the award presented to her by Levana Zamir right).

The program  on the “Jewish Nakba“(
arrests, progroms, properties confiscated, persecution and expulsion of
Jews from Arab countries) included documentaries and a lecture by Professor Uzi Arad, initiator and head of the famous Herzliya Conference, and professor at the Interdisciplinary Center, who served during 2009 -2011 as National Security advisor to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Arad made the issue  of Jewish refugees a strategic imperative. MK Ksenia Svetlova made the opening remarks.

 Gamliel, who was on her way to the north of Israel, could not avoid mentioning the criminal fires devastating Haifa and its suburbs.

With reference to the Jewish ‘Nakba‘, minister Gamliel stressed how important it is to record testimonies. She is working on getting a special budget for this task.


Harif, the UK Association of Jews  from the Middle East and North Africa, will be screening ‘Rock in the Red Zone’ jointly with the Israeli embassy on 30 November, while JIMENA in California has a full month’s programme planned. 

Jewish organisations, many in partnership with Israeli embassies, will be holding talks, film screenings and discussions from
Amsterdam to Sydney, Toronto to Bologna, Birmingham to New
York, Washington to Montreal. 

Nadia Haroun’s son ‘comes out’ as a Jew

Shock horror! The Egyptian film star Karim Kassem has revealed that his mother was Jewish. Although this press report in The Algemeiner does not say so, a little digging reveals that Kassem’s mother was the late Nadia Haroun, sister of Magda, the leader of Cairo’s tiny Jewish community, who continues their father Shehata’s tradition of militant anti-Zionism. Kassem’s ‘coming out’ seems to indicate two things: one, that it is more acceptable to vaunt one’s Jewish connections in Egypt today. But it also shows that, in spite of his family’s vehement protestations of patriotism (to the extent that Shehata let another daughter dierather than forfeit his Egyptian nationality) ‘Jew’ is still a source of shame and guilt, and Egyptians still conflate ‘Jew’ and ‘Zionist’. (With thanks: Lily, Michelle)


 The film star Karim Kassem revealed that his mother was Jewish on an Egyptian TV show last week.


An Egyptian movie star revealed his Jewish ancestry on a live television talk show last week, much to the surprise of the program’s host and viewers, the London-based, English-language pan-Arab publication The New Arab reported on Tuesday.

 According to the report, Karim Kassem said that though his father is a Muslim, his mother is a Jew, and one of his paternal grandparents was a Christian. As such, Kassem said, he learned from a young age to embrace all three monotheistic religions.

“I feel as if I am lucky that I come from a mixed background,” he said, adding that growing up in an interfaith family has taught him about “accepting others.”

 However, Kassem explained, this wasn’t always an easy feat. Indeed, he recounted, even the way he learned of his mother’s origin was shocking. It happened one day upon his return home from school, when he told his sister of certain negative stereotypes attributed to Jews.

“Karim!” she shouted. “You don’t know? Your mom is Jewish!”

It was not only his surprise that prompted him to keep the discovery to himself, he said. It was also his shame.

The 30-year-old was growing up in a country with rampant antisemitism and, in spite of its peace treaty with Israel, which did not view the Jewish state favorably.

In fact, he said during the talk show interview, the reason his mother was among the few Jewish families in Egypt that did not immigrate to Israel after its establishment in 1948 was because of his maternal grandfather’s virulent anti-Zionism.

 He even opposed the Camp David Accords, signed in 1978 between the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

(According to the online magazine Cairoscene, realizing that he had caught the show’s host off guard, Kassem made a point of stressing that he is a true Egyptian patriot who continues to reject Zionism.)

Read  article in full

Iraqi Jews visit Abbas in Ramallah

It is hard to know exactly what this visit by Iraqi Israelis to the Palestinian seat of power in Ramallah will accomplish. Instead of talking peace and  brotherhood, speaking Arabic and reciting verses from the Koran, this delegation should have asked Mahmoud Abbas some tough questions. Instead they have bolstered his image as a peace-maker.   The Jerusalem Post reports (with thanks: Lily)

MK Yossi Yonah meets Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah

On the bus ride over, Tamar Tzaliach, a retired businesswoman from
Jerusalem who loves Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, says she is not
sure if Abbas is ready to make the compromises necessary for peace.

am skeptical; it is possible that he wants to make peace, but he needs
to overcome the pressures around him and take a courageous step,” says
Tzaliach, whose family comes from Baghdad and Basra.

Bracha, who operates a website dedicated to preserving Iraqi Arabic
among Israeli Jews, says she has not come to make a political statement.

am not political, but I believe in peace between both peoples, and that
starts with a conversation,” Bracha remarks. “I came to start that

As the visitors descend the bus in the Mukata’s
parking lot, the PA presidential guard forces welcome and direct them to
a medium-sized room, where a number of Abbas’s top advisers are
awaiting their arrival.

the advisers is Muhammad Madani, the chairman of the Palestinian
Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, a Palestinian government

Since early 2013, Madani has frequently traveled around
Israel, meeting with Israelis from all walks of life, but Defense
Minister Avigdor Liberman withdrew Madani’s VIP entry permit in April,
making it impossible for Madani to meet Israelis on the other side of
the Green Line.

Liberman said that Madani had attempted “to
establish a political party” and wanted “to undermine Israel’s political
stability,” all claims that the latter vehemently denies.

together with Zionist Union MK Yossi Yonah, organized Tuesday’s
meeting, which comes at a time when there is little discussion of the
peace process between the two sides.

Yonah, whose family comes
from Nehardea, an ancient Iraqi city, says he met Abbas approximately
two months ago and agreed to help arrange for a delegation of Israeli
Jews of Iraqi descent to come to Ramallah.

After everyone is seated, Abbas emerges from the doorway and individually shakes each of his guests’ hands.

guest on the far side of the room recites a verse of the Koran that
mentions both Jacob and Ishmael, and Abbas yells in jubilation, “God is

Yonah then takes the floor and delivers remarks in
Arabic, while Taleb al-Sana, a former Arab-Israeli member of Knesset,
translates into Hebrew.

“Our culture has deep roots and is part
and parcel of the region. We also believe that it is still possible to
achieve a peace agreement that serves both of our interests,” Yonah
says, adding that he “calls on Abbas and Netanyahu to renew talks
without preconditions.”

Read article in full


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.