One of the most persistent slurs against Israel among progressives is that it is a ‘settler colonial state’. The truth is that the only empire has been Arab and Muslim, and Israel is an example of ‘decolonisation’ . James Sinkinson pens this punchy piece in JNS News:
Ironically, Jews are the only people in history since the brutal Arab conquest, occupation and colonization of the region who have risen up to reclaim their land. This has been considered an affront to Islam, and it is no coincidence that Hebrew, the indigenous language of the Jewish people, and Zionism, the national movement to return the people to their land, were violently repressed and banned in Arab countries.
There’s no doubt who is the colonizer and who the colonized. There is only one empire in this conflict, and it is not Jewish, a people who have never conquered any territory on the planet not their own, as opposed to the Arab world, which currently encompasses 5,070,419 square miles of land mass.
Rather than condemning Israel, progressives in the West who recoil at “settler colonial projects” should embrace the Jewish state as an example of decolonization—indigenous return and restored sovereignty. If they were honest, they would stand by the side of tiny Israel—with a population of nine million, surrounded by hundreds of millions who seek its destruction and its return to the huge Arab empire.
Just ask the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa who lived under Arab repression, discrimination and constant fear of violence for almost 13 centuries—who have finally returned home and make up the majority of the Jewish citizens of the State of Israel. Their recent history and experience of Arab imperialism, conquest and oppression reflects a sad, violent tale of Arab Muslim privilege. These Jews truly understand colonialism and what it is like to live under its yoke.
The new Israeli cabinet under the leadership of Naftali Bennett has nine women ministers, two with Iraqi roots, two with Moroccan roots, and one with mixed Iraqi-Moroccan roots.
Morocco World News reports:
Meir Cohen has taken up the post of Israel’s new Minister of Labor, Welfare, Social Affairs and Social Services. Cohen was born in the Moroccan coastal town of Essaouira in 1955, migrating to Israel with his family when he was seven years old. The minister started a career in politics by successfully running for mayor of Dimona in 2003. Since then he has worked with several parties, most notably Yesh Atid, a centrist party under which he served as Minister of Welfare & Social Services between 20134 and 2014.
Yifat Shasha-Biton, born to a Moroccan-Jewish mother and Iraqi father in 1973, will now be heading the Ministry of Education. Shasha-Biton received her doctorate in education in 2002, from the University of Haifa. She previously served as Minister of Construction and Housing under the Likud party between 2019 and 2020.
Meirav Cohen, for her part, will continue working as the Minister of Social Equality, a post she’s held since 2020. Continuing her post, she has changed the party under which she works, migrating from the Blue and White party to Yesh Atid. Cohen was born in Jerusalem to two Sephardic Jewish immigrants from Morocco.
Karine Elharrar-Hartstein, an Israeli lawyer and a politician, has taken up the post of Minister of National Infrastructures, Energy and Water Resources. Elharrar was born in 1977 to Moti and Colette Elharrar, two Moroccan Jewish immigrants. She currently serves under the Yesh Atid party.
The new Israeli government, headed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, is keen to further enhance the relationship between Tel Aviv and Rabat. “Israel views Morocco as an important friend and partner in the efforts to advance peace and security in the region,” Bennett said.
Are there still Jews in Bangladesh? There was a liberating military commander (General Jacob), there may be a few business people and expatriates, but these a community do not make, writes Shalva Weil (of the School of Education, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Visiting Scholar, Faculty of History, University of Cambridge) in Asian Jewish Life:
The Jews in East Pakistan (before it became Bangladesh) were in no way numerous and kept a very low profile in this Muslim country. Apparently today, a few Jews still remain, but they are quite assimilated.
There is no synagogue today in Bangladesh, although a few expatriates do meet up on the eve of the Jewish New Year and on the Day of Atonement. Getting a portrait of this elusive community requires patience, a few of the right contacts and quite a bit of ‘digging’. A posting on Trip Advisor by a tourist asking where the synagogue is in Dhaka for Yom Kippur received no serious response and a few months later, the blog was closed “due to inactivity”.
Another Jewish blogger shared that he went through a full orthodox conversion, is himself of mixed ancestry, his father being Yemenite Jewish and his mother Bangladeshi. Other people have written into the same blog saying they do business with Bangladesh, visit there and a few even reside there. As one person wrote: “The only Jews you will find in Bangladesh are those merchants with extensive business reasons to stay in Bangladesh.”
But liberating military commanders, the monuments of great architects, intrepid travelers and fortune seeking businessmen do not make a community. The question still remains, who are the Jews of Bangladesh? Joseph Edward of Ontario, Canada, explained the history of his family and their unique ties to the region. Joseph’s father Rahamim David Barook and his older brother Ezra Barook, were born in Calcutta, and moved to what was then East Pakistan. They adopted the surname Edward; his brother Ezra was known as Eddy Edward. Rahamim David Edward, Joseph’s father, married a Catholic of Portuguese descent. His uncle married a tribal king’s daughter from the Chittagong Hill Tracts, and she gave birth to a son. However, his wife died during childbirth and Joseph Edward’s uncle gave the baby up to a Muslim family for adoption. Edward has been in contact with cousins living in Arad and Beersheba, Israel. Other members of the family live in Sydney, Australia, in the UK and in Toronto, Canada.
Two other families of Jewish descent do in fact still live in Dhaka, but they have converted to Catholicism. Priscilla nee Jacob was married to Alfie D’Costa, who died some years back. Priscilla had her own private school in Dhaka. Her brother Henry also married locally and still resides in Dhaka as a Catholic. Likewise, there were two other Jewish brothers in East Pakistan, whom Joseph Edward knew: Enoch and Zebulon Daniels. Enoch lived in Chittagong and Zebulon lived in Dhaka. Their children now live in Canada and the UK.
While the Jews in West Bengal managed to create a full community, the Jews of East Bengal largely lived there for commercial reasons. They were never numerous. Nevertheless, documentation of the Jews of Asia and specifically Pakistan is incomplete without information on the Jews of East Pakistan, or what is today Bangladesh. The full story of this elusive community remains to be written.
Dr Nimrod Raphaeli, emeritus senior analyst with MEMRI, was a witness to the Farhud, the deadly anti-Jewish pogrom in Iraq of 1 and 2 June 1941. In this fascinating MEMRI report, he sketches out pen portraits of the main actors in the massacre. While the Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini, is considered to have played a major part, the role of Younis Bahri, who broadcast virulent anti-Jewish radio propaganda to Arabs congregating in cafes, must not be underestimated: (with thanks: Lily)
Iraq’s port city of Basra, where I was born and grew up, suffered less than Baghdad, but from the windows of our house I witnessed looters running through the streets carrying whatever they could grab from Jewish stores.
There was always the uncertainty of whether the mob of looters was going to turn into a mob of murderers.
Even though we were spared the fate of the Baghdadi Jews, the terror of our experience remains indelible in my mind.
The word farhud itself needs some explanation. It describes both an action and a cultural value.
According to Nabil Abdul-Amir Al-Rubayi, who wrote two important volumes on the history of Jews in Iraq, the word is uncommon in the Arabic language; rather, it is adopted from Bedouin dialect and refers to looting and plundering.
Quoting the well-known Iraqi sociologist Ali Al-Wardi, Al-Rubayi notes that the concept of farhud is part of Bedouin culture, in which looting and plundering are activities signaling “courage and daring.” The events of the Farhud are well documented in numerous publications, and there is no need to dwell on them in detail in this report.
Instead, this report will focus on a number of individuals who played critical roles in the policies of the country which led to violence against a peaceful community and planted the seeds for the Farhud.
Eyes glaze over when David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, whose wife escaped Libya in 1967, tries to raise the issue of the forgotten Jewish refugees from Arab countries. But the main reason for the general amnesia is that Jews driven from Arab countries have been able to pick up the pieces of their lives. Here’s his eloquent re-working of an earlier article for the Times of Israel (with thanks: Roger, Edna, Dhia):
I am a forgotten Jew. My experience — the good and the bad — lives on in my memory, and I’ll do my best to transmit it to my children and grandchildren, but how much can they absorb? How much can they identify with a culture that seems like a relic of a past that appears increasingly remote and intangible?
True, a few books and articles on my history have been written, but— and here I’m being generous — they are far from best-sellers.
In any case, can these books compete with the systematic attempt by Libyan leaders to expunge any trace of my presence over two millennia? I repeat, can they vie with a world that paid virtually no attention to the end of my existence?
Take a look at The New York Times index for 1967, and you’ll see for yourself how the newspaper of record covered the tragic demise of an ancient community. I can save you the trouble of looking — just a few paltry lines were all the story got.
I am a forgotten Jew.
I am one of hundreds of thousands of Jews who once lived in countries like Iraq and Libya. All told, we numbered close to 900,000 in 1948. Today, we are fewer than 4,000, mostly concentrated in two countries—Morocco and Tunisia. We were once vibrant communities in Aden, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, and other nations, with roots dating back literally 2,000 years and more. Now we are next to none.
Why does no one speak of us and our story? Why does the world relentlessly, obsessively speak of the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars in the Middle East — who, not unimportantly, were displaced by wars launched by their own Arab brethren — but totally ignore the Jewish refugees from the 1948 and 1967 wars?
Why is the world left with the impression that there’s only one refugee population from the Arab-Israeli conflict, when, in fact, there are two refugee populations, and our numbers were somewhat larger than the Palestinians?
I’ve spent many sleepless nights trying to understand this injustice. Should I blame myself? Perhaps we Jews from Arab countries accepted our fate too passively.
Maybe we failed to seize the opportunity to tell our story.
Look at the Jews of Europe. They turned to articles, books, poems, plays, paintings, and film to recount their story. They depicted the periods of joy and the periods of tragedy, and they did it in a way that also captured the imagination of many non-Jews.
Perhaps I was too fatalistic, too shell-shocked, or just too uncertain of my artistic or literary talents. But that can’t be the only reason for my unsought status as a forgotten Jew.
It’s not that I haven’t tried to make at least some noise. I have. I’ve organized gatherings and petitions, arranged exhibitions, appealed to the United Nations, and met with officials from just about every Western government. But somehow it all seems to add up to less than the sum of its parts. No, that’s still being too kind.
The truth is, it has pretty much fallen on deaf ears. You know that acronym — MEGO? It means “My eyes glazed over.”
That’s the impression I often have when I’ve tried raising the subject of the Jews from Arab lands with diplomats, elected officials, and journalists — their eyes glaze over (TEGO).
No, I shouldn’t be blaming myself, though I could always be doing more for the sake of history and justice. There’s actually a far more important explanatory factor, I believe.
We Jews from the Arab world picked up the pieces of our shattered lives after our hurried departures — in the wake of intimidation, violence, and discrimination — and moved on. We didn’t stand still, wallow in self-pity, or pass on our victim status to our children and children’s children.
Most of us went to Israel, where we were given a new start. The years following our arrival weren’t always easy — we began at the bottom and had to work our way up. We came with varying levels of education and little in the way of tangible assets.
But we had something more to sustain us through the difficult process of adjustment and acculturation: our immeasurable pride as Jews, our deeply rooted faith, our cherished rabbis and customs, and our commitment to Israel’s survival and well-being.
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.