Boris Johnson ignores Jewish rights in Balfour piece (Updated)

 Update: the Telegraph has published a rebuttal letter by Lyn Julius*.

When we stated that the Jewish refugee message was getting through in the UK, we spoke too soon. The British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, sadly displayed complete ignorance of the abuse of Jewish rights in the Arab world and the Jewish refugee issue in a recent op-ed. He called only for a ‘fair, agreed  and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee question’. Lyn Julius takes him to task in a Times of Israel blog:

The Balfour Declaration of 1917 demanded that a
Jewish homeland in Palestine should not prejudice the rights and status
of non-Jewish communities in Palestine. The British government, notably
the foreign secretary Boris Johnson in a Sunday Telegraph
op-ed this week, has latched on to this proviso, claiming that it
refers to the unfulfilled political rights of the Palestinians, although
only civil and religious rights are mentioned in the Declaration

Johnson and others have ignored, however, is the tail-end of Lord
Balfour’s letter to Lord Rothschild: ‘… or of Jews in any other
country’. As we all know, the Jewish communities of Europe were
decimated by the Nazis, but the rights of Jews in Arab countries were
also thoroughly trampled upon, resulting in the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of
850,000 Jews and the destruction of their ancient, pre-Islamic

UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson

Clearly nothing was demanded of Arab states
that were created out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire: they violated
any constitutional obligation they may have had towards their own Jewish
citizens. A year or two before the declaration of the state of Israel,
and before a single Arab Palestinian refugee had fled Israel, the Arab
League agreed a Nazi-style draft plan to deprive the Jews of
citizenship, threaten them with imprisonment and expel them, having
first dispossessed them.

From the outset, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem,
Haj Amin al-Husseini, widely regarded as the leader of the Arab world,
transformed each November anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, a
symbol of British betrayal, into a rallying cry against the Jews,
whether they were in Palestine, where he incited the deadly riots of
1920 and 1929, or elsewhere in the Arab world.

Growing up in Iraq in the 1930s, my mother
recalls that every November gangs of youths armed with clubs dipped in
hot tar would ambush Jewish schoolchildren on their way home.

A kindly Jewish lady opened her door to my mother, offering her shelter until the mob had passed. Others were not so lucky.

Wherever the Mufti went in the Arab world,
persecution and mayhem followed against the local Jews. In 1921, after a
Palestinian Arab delegation had visited Yemen to demand that the Imam
stop all immigration to Palestine, the Orphans’ Decree was reinstated.
This law, forcing Jewish orphans to be converted to Islam –  argues
scholar S.D. Goiten – was the single most important reason why Jews were
desperate to flee Yemen. In the 1940s, visits of Palestinian Arabs to
Aden (then a British crown colony) became more common, and so did the
expression of anti-Jewish sentiments.

From December 1931, when he convened a World
Islamic Congress in Jerusalem, the Mufti ceased to speak of Zionists but
Jews. The congress was followed by anti-Jewish violence in Morocco – in
Casablanca in 1932, Casablanca and Rabat in 1933, Rabat and Meknes in
1937 and Meknes in 1939. In Tunisia, an entente between Tunisian nationalists and the Palestinian Arab Higher Committee sparked violence in Sfax in 1932.  The Algerian ulema declared a boycott of Jews in 1936, obeying the Mufti’s instructions.

British reports noted the intense propaganda
in Yemen. Jewish refugees tried to make for British-controlled Aden. In
1939, a crowd was incited against the British and the Jews when they
were shown fabricated photographs of Arab children hanging from
telegraph poles. Other newspapers mendaciously reported that thousands
of Arabs had been killed and bombs thrown at the Muslim holy places in

But the worst incitement, with the deadliest
consequences of all, took place in Iraq. Throughout the 1930s,
Palestinian exiles together with the Mufti, along with Syrian and
Lebanese emigrés, fanned the flames of Jew-hatred with false propaganda.

The Mufti himself, expelled to Iraq by the
British in 1939, played a leading role in plotting a pro-Nazi military
coup, led by Rashid Ali al- Gaylani, to overthrow the pro-British
government. The pro-Nazi Gaylani government was the only Arab regime to
sign a treaty with Nazi Germany and declare war against the British.
Fearful that Iraq’s vast oil reserves would fall into Nazi hands, the
British sent troops into Iraq. With the British army at the gates of
Baghdad, the Mufti was forced again into exile – but not before he had
primed the Arabs of the capital, together with defeated, returning
troops, to unleash the Farhud (an Arabic word meaning ‘forced
dispossession’) of 1941. Hundreds of Jews were murdered and their property looted and wrecked.

Other Farhuds followed – in Egypt,
Libya, Syria, Aden and Morocco. Jewish citizens of Arab states became
hostages to the conflict with Zionism, although they were loyal
citizens, thousands of miles from the battlefield in Palestine.

Today barely 4,000 Jews remain in Arab
countries of a 1948 population of almost a million – one of the worst
cases of ethnic cleansing in the 20th century. But why do senior British politicians read into the Balfour Declaration what is not there, and disregard what is?

Lyn’s book UPROOTED will be published on 9 November. To pre-order click here.

Read post in full

*Full text of Lyn’s letter published in the Telegraph: 

Legacy of Balfour

SIR – Boris
Johnson (Comment, October 30) seems to read into the Balfour Declaration
what is not there, while disregarding what is.

He imagines that
it refers to the political rights of the Palestinians, although only
civil and religious rights are mentioned. He then ignores the third
component of the Declaration: that nothing should be done to prejudice
the “rights of Jews in any other country”.

Almost one million
Jews lived in Arab countries in 1948. Today there are barely 4,000. Arab
states pursued a policy of stripping their Jews of their rights and
property, against a backdrop of threats and violence, much of it
instigated by the pro-Nazi Palestinian Mufti. Nowhere does Mr Johnson
ask for justice or compensation for these Jews.

The least one could expect from our Foreign Secretary is a reading of history free from distortion.

Lyn Julius
Harif, UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa
London SW5

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