Month: November 2018

30 November events spread worldwide

Today is 30 November, designated as the Day to remember Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran. Commemorations have taken place in Jerusalem, New York, San Francisco, Montreal, Paris, Geneva, Dublin, Sydney, London, Birmingham, Miami, Oslo; there are more events to come. This article by Lyn Julius tells the story of just one refugee – in the Huffington Post.

 Linda Hakim left Iraq for London in 1970. But she has never been able to shake off the fear she had felt growing up as a Jew.

She heard mobs in Baghdad, after Israel’s Six Day War victory, screaming ‘death to Israel, death to the Jews.”

She escaped a lynch mob only when her fast-thinking headmaster bundled her and a group of Jewish students into his VW Beetle.

 She will never forget the TV spectacle of nine innocent Jews— some only teenagers — swinging from the gallows in Baghdad’s main square in 1969 as hundreds of thousands sang and danced under the bodies.

Even when her family had boarded the plane bound for London having abandoned their home and possessions, they could not let down their guard. The Iraqi police arrested a classmate of Linda’s and escorted him off the plane.

Even today, every time she sees a police uniform, Linda’s heart races.

Linda found a haven in England, and her children have grown up in freedom, tolerance and acceptance.

But in its obsession with Palestinian refugees, the world has never recognised the trauma that a greater number of Jewish refugees from 10 Arab lands and post-1979 Iran went through — human rights violations, wholesale robbery, seizure of property, internment, even execution.

The ethnic cleansing of the Arab world’s Jews preceded the persecution of its Christians, its Yazidis and others.

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 60 years.

Read article in full

Jews from Arab countries demand UN recognition

Seventy years after the exodus and expulsion of some 850,000 Jews
from Arab states and Iran, the heads of communities of Jews from Arab
countries are demanding the United Nations officially recognize the
suffering they were forced to endure. Arieh Kahana writes in Israel Hayom (with thanks: Lily)

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres‏. – Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In a letter to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, community
leaders, among them Dr. Shimon Ohayon, director of Bar-Ilan University’s
Dahan Center and chairman of the Alliance of Moroccan Immigrants wrote,
“While the U.N. organizes events to mark the departure of 450,000
Palestinians from Israel upon the establishment of the state, following a
war imposed on Israel, we do not see recognition of the expulsion of
Jews from Arab countries.”

They said, “We believe the U.N. strives for justice for all refugees
around the world, including Jewish refugees who were expelled from Arab
lands. We therefore seek to establish a memorial day for the Jews’
expulsion from Arab lands.”

Read article in full

Why are Jewish refugees so little known?

 The question of Arab and Islamist Jew-hatred goes to the heart of the conflict with Israel. So why have Jewish refugees from Arab countries been so neglected, Lyn Julius asks in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Jean-Loup)

Seventy years ago, the newly-established State of Israel opened the floodgates to hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees. Many were Holocaust survivors from the displaced persons camps or remnant communities of Eastern Europe, but the biggest contingent seeking refuge in Israel came from Arab and Muslim countries.

Yemenite Jews in a Ma’abara camp in 1950

The official day to remember the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran is November 30, but Jewish institutions and organizations around the world, in association with Israeli embassies,  are holding commemorative conferences, film screenings and lectures throughout November and into December.

More Jews (850,000) fled Arab countries than Palestinian refugees (approximately 711,000), and their exodus was one of the largest movements of non-Muslims from the region until the mass flight of Iraqi Christians. Although they were non-combatants, Jews had to run for their lives from persecution, arrests on false charges, mob violence and executions. Their property was seized and they were left destitute. The Arab and Muslim world has neither recognized, nor compensated them.

Yet the issue and its implications for peace has barely penetrated the Israel-Arab debate within Jewish communities, let alone trickled into mainstream consciousness.

The question of Arab and Islamist anti-Jewish hatred goes to the heart of the conflict with Israel. So  why have Jewish refugees been so neglected?

Israel treated the refugees as Zionists returning to their homeland. Mizrahi Jews were encouraged not to look back at the past, but to build new lives for themselves in Israel and the West.

Paying political lip service to a “settlement of the refugee problem,” Israel failed to spell out clearly in official texts that there were Jewish as well as Arab refugees. It feared that raising the Jewish refugee issue would only prompt the Arab side to raise their “refugee” issue. The Arab side did not cease doing so, while Israel remained silent. It is only in the last decade that the Israeli government has regretted what the late Tommy Lapid termed its “greatest public diplomacy blunder.”

The damage may seem irreversible. The failure to frame the refugee issue as an exchange of roughly equal populations has led to a lopsided view among academics and opinion-formers: the Palestinians are seen as the principal victims, the Israelis as interlopers from Europe, aggressors and dispossessors.

Mizrahi Jews, whose communities predate Islam by 1,000 years, have been written out of history. Even the Diaspora Jewish leadership and international Jewish groups fighting antisemitism and Israel’s cause project a eurocentric worldview. Their frame of reference is the Holocaust, not the destruction of the indigenous Jewish communities of the greater Middle East. Jews in general are seen to enjoy power, despite their history as a vulnerable minority, and enjoy “white privilege,” despite their ethnic origins in the Middle East. The new vogue for “intersectionality” pointedly excludes Jews.

Even where there is awareness of the mass expulsion of Jews from Arab lands, they are not generally seen as victims: their plight was apparently successfully resolved. In the fashionable “hierarchy of oppression” of marginalized groups, Jews rank well down the list.

When the press and media do focus on Mizrahi Jews, it is to promote the folklore that passes for Mizrahi history – the nostalgic celebration of tradition, costume, music and food. Desperate to show that the conflict is soluble, the media loves examples of commonality and interfaith collaboration between Jews and Arabs.

In other respects Mizrahi Jews are invisible, despite comprising over half of Israel’s Jewish population today. One journalist found it impossible to interest the US Jewish press in an article on Mizrahi poverty in Israel: “While poverty may be a Jewish concern abroad, wrapped up in such concepts as tikkun olam [repairing the world], it isn’t a sexy issue. African refugees in Israel are interesting, Jews from Africa less interesting,” he wrote.

n the decades while nothing was said about Jews from Arab countries, the myth took hold that Jews and Arabs lived in peace and harmony before the creation of Israel. Arab and Muslim anti-Jewish prejudice, like antisemitism generally, is often ignored, derided or downplayed. Academics or public figures who draw attention to Arab or Muslim antisemitism lay themselves open to charges of ‘islamophobia’.

Compounding the problem, Mizrahi Jews themselves have played down their sufferings (which paled, compared to that of Holocaust survivors). Following centuries of ingrained insecurity and dehumanization in the Arab world, minority “dhimmi” Christians and Jews did not ask for their rights, only favors. Jews from Arab countries are often themselves to blame for distorting their own history “to flatter” their enemies. The author Robert Saltoff found some North African Jews so anxious to put a positive spin on their treatment, they even claimed that “the Nazis were not so bad.”

Mordechai, the owner of a prosperous factory in Marrakesh, abandoned his business, house, and motherland to come to Israel with nothing because his daughter Rachel, diagnosed with a rare disease, was refused treatment in Morocco because she was Jewish. She eventually became blind because she was not treated in time. Yet Mordechai told his Israeli-born children and grandchildren that his motive was “Zionist.”

The Israeli government has finally woken up to the importance of the Jewish refugees for peace-making. In the five years since Jewish Refugee Day was added to the calendar by Knesset law, public awareness of the story of these Jews has slowly grown. But there is still a long, long way to go.

Read article in full

Exiled Jews were prominent in the arts

With thanks: Ruth

 The Jamal sisters

In the run-up to 30 November, the official Day to Commemorate Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran, the World Jewish Congress has produced a short videoon famous Jews in philosophy and the arts.

Among  others, the video tells the story of the Jamal sisters from Egypt, King Farouk’s favourite belly dancers. They were on tour abroad when they received a message from their father not to return to Nasser’s Egypt – 25,000 Jews were expelled after 1956.

Belly dancers admired by the Egyptian king

Festival of music and dance launches 30 November events

The first ever
Festival of Oriental Ethnic Music and Dance captured an authentic Mizrahi spirit and joie de vivre in Tel Aviv earlier this week. The Festival was part of a series of events planned in Israel for the 30 November commemoration of the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran. 

For
the first time ever, all the organisations of Jews from Arab and Muslim
countries in Israel gathered
to put on a
Festival of Music and Folk Dance
under the umbrella of the Coalition they
established in Tel Aviv a few years ago. 

The festival featured dances from their respective Arab countries of birth such as Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Muslim
countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Kurdistan. 

The
Festival, presided by Levana Zamir,  head of the Coalition,  and attended by some 300 members, took place  in the great Wizo Ballroom in Tel Aviv, under the auspices of the Ben-Zvi
Institute for Mizrahi Studies founded in 1947 in Jerusalem, and its new
President Professor Ofra Tirosh-Baker from the Hebrew University. 

The festival was one of
the Coalition’s commemorative events for 30 November. These will culminate on 27 December 2018 with an academic conference at Tel Aviv University, titled “Light and Shadow
in the absorption of the Great Aliya of Jews from Arab Countries – 70 years on”
. It will be the first time  that this topic will be explored in an academic setting by a joint initiative of academics and members of the Coalition of organisations representing Jews from Arab countries. 

Levana Zamir ( left) and Prof. Ofra Tirosh-Baker
( right) presenting the Coalition’s Ot-Kavod to Dr. Stanley Urman.  Prof. Tirosh-Baker, is the first woman to
head the Ben-Zvi Institute, founded in 1947 in Jerusalem
.

Launching the Festival, the “Ot Kavod” (the Coalition’s badge of
honor) for 2018 was given this year to Dr. Stanley Urman, co-founder and
Vice President of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, for his long and devoted dedication and  work to the cause in Israel and all over the
world, leading to the US Congress Resolution  in 2008 affirming the rights of
Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries. Israel’s recognition followed, with a
first law passed in the Knesset in 2010, and a second law in 2014. Mr. Edwin Shuker, a former JJAC President, came especially from London to attend this special and moving ceremony.

There followed
an academic panel discussion on Jewish stars in music and dance in Arab
countries, featuring  outstanding artists such as Layla Murad, Daoud Hosni, Elias
Mohaddeb, Ya’acoub Sanua and others ( Egypt), Sheikh Raymond (murdered in 1961 in Algeria) and the Philharmonic Mallouf Orchestra (Tunisia), to name but a few.

After
a rich buffet supper boasting the best of Mizrahi delicacies – koubeh, kebab, baba ghanoush  and other salads with Iraqi laffa and pita, ma’amoul, ka’ak,
kourabieh,
etc.. the second half featured brilliant dancing by groups of 20 professionals  on stage, wearing original and colourful dress from their respective
countries. They performed Yemenite and Kurdish folk dances and ethnic
songs in all dialects of Arabic. The audience took to the floor when the Egyptian songs were played. The evening closed with a joyful Horah from the Fifties.

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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

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.