The Jewish refugees ‘were lucky to be alive’

Concern over antisemitism in the British Labour party  is leading to some surprising revelations and articles, such as this one in The Times by convert to Judaism Stephen King, whose usual beat is Economics. (With thanks: Lily, Annie, Avril)

Stephen King

My
mother-in-law was born in Baghdad to a Jewish mother who had grown up
in Egypt. My mother-in-law moved to the British Mandate in Palestine in
the early 1930s. My father-in-law was also born in Iraq — in his case,
Basra — but spent his formative years at an English school in Mumbai. He
then came to England before heading to Israel, where he met and married
my mother-in-law. A few years later he returned to England with wife
and first child in tow.

The specific reasons behind
my mother-in-law’s family’s journey to the Mandate have been lost in the
sands of time, but their departure from Iraq was ultimately repeated by
thousands upon thousands of other Arab Jews. In the 1920s, the decade
in which my in-laws were born, the population of Baghdad was about
one-third Jewish. There were, remarkably, well over 800,000 Jews living
across the Arab world as a whole.


They upped sticks for a
variety of reasons. Some were enthusiastic Zionists. Others were
fearful of rising support in the Arab world for Hitler and his henchmen.
Many left because local attitudes towards Jews had considerably
worsened.

The collapse of the Ottoman Empire led to
violent pogroms, partly a response to the growing clash between Arabs
and Jews over Palestine. Things became much worse, however, after
Israeli independence in 1948, an event that — too often forgotten — led
to tragedies on both sides of the conflict: Jewish enclaves all over the
Middle East and north Africa, often hundreds, sometimes thousands of
years old, vanished almost overnight. Of the Arab Jews who headed to
Israel, many did so as reluctant refugees. The rulers of the lands they
had fled had confiscated their possessions. Often, the refugees were
lucky to be alive.

My mother-in-law was Iraqi, of
Egyptian parentage, but also a Jew, a Palestinian, an Israeli and,
finally, an Englishwoman. Born in Baghdad, she’s buried in Bushey,
Hertfordshire. In theory, she could have been attacked by European
racists for hailing from Iraq; criticised by English nationalists for
having a Middle Eastern accent; called out by antisemites because she
was Jewish; treated as a second-class citizen by Ashkenazi Jews from
Europe who frowned upon Sephardim from Arab lands; and condemned by
Palestinian Arabs for being a “settler’’. More than anything else,
however, she was a human being, someone who eventually made a home for
her family in the UK, a country she loved for its tolerance.

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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

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forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.