The curious episode of the failed Kurdish aliya

This excellent piece by the Assyrian Christian writer Mardean Isaac, focusing on the Aramaic-speaking Jews of Kurdistan until their mass exodus in 1950-1, somehow escaped my notice when it was published in Tablet in November 2018. Here is an extract detailing the curious episode of the failed aliyah of over 1,000 Kurdish Muslims claiming Jewish ancestry in 1991. 

The establishment of the KRG (Kurdish Regional Government) allowed Israel to resume direct, though
still clandestine, engagement with Iraqi Kurds, which had been put into
abeyance since 1975. After the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan were opened to
Israelis, Muslim Kurds began to contact members of the Israeli
intelligence who were present on the ground in the KRG, claiming Jewish

 A Kurdish Jew

Yona Mordechai was a member of the committee vetting these potential
Jews. “I knew that almost every Kurdistani Jew had left by 1951-2—I was
part of that migration,” he told me, “so it was hard for us to believe
there were any Jews remaining there.”

Their families in Israel, however, pressed firmly for their relatives
to make aliyah. The intelligence services and the Jewish Agency finally
agreed to bring into Israel around 1,700 Muslim Kurds with Jewish
ancestry, mainly through secret air operations. “When I asked them for
evidence of their Jewishness—a ketubah, for instance—they could produce
nothing. They instead named people in their family, citing a Mordechai
or Moshe. I told them I had a neighbor named Ibrahim: Does that mean I’m

All of these prospective Jews were practicing Muslims, and most had
likely fabricated their Jewish ancestry, which was usually claimed
through a grandmother. Measures were taken to help them “become Jewish”
as Mordechai put it, including translating instruction books into
Kurmanji, to no avail. “There is an absorption center, and nearby a
Muslim village named Abu Ghosh,” said Zaken. “They would go from the
absorption center to pray in the mosque.” It soon became clear that the
vast majority, if not all, of the emigrants were seeking to secure state
benefits—including significant payments their families gave them in
order to settle in Israel—and an Israeli passport. Once these were
secured, almost all left for Europe or returned to Kurdistan.

Read article in full

One Comment

  • I REMEMBER when those Muslim Kurds returned to Israel. From what I understand, they are the offspring (3rd generation) of KIDNAPPED Kurdish Jewish women forced to marry Kurdish MUSLIMS. They'd been raised as Muslims for 3 generations. I remember reports of them praying as MUSLIMS in the Absorption Center in Mevasereth Tziyon. I also remember the EXCITEMENT of some Kurdish Jews on the radio, thinking it to be a MIRACLE that those lost Jews had returned. I understand that the vast majority returned to Kurdistan & now mix some Hebrew & Jewish customs in their daily life. I remember one such family that had arrived in Israel as new immigrants IMMEDIATELY book tickets to Holland, never even leaving Ben Gurion Airport. Everyone gets a chance to return, sooner or later, even generations later!


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