In an important step towards preserving Mizrahi history and heritage and correcting an historical injustice, the Israeli government today approved the establishment of a database to record the testimonies of immigrants from Arab countries.
The decision is for a joint scheme between the Ministry of Social Equality and Pensions, led by Meirav Cohen, and the Ministry of Culture, headed by Chilli Tropper, but has also attracted the enthusiastic support of ten Israeli ministries.
Meirav Cohen announced ‘an exciting decision to correct an injustice and ensure that the story of immigrants from Arab countries will be documented and preserved forever for the benefit of future generations’.
“Our goal is to reach all those immigrants who were part of the building of the country and are already in the last phase of their lives, to interview them and document their story and of course to make everything accessible to the general public,” Cohen wrote on her Facebook page.
The project is to be managed by the ANU museum and will have a budget of over NIS 6 million. More funds will be raised from private sources.
Minister Cohen, who is of Moroccan origin, appears to have been shocked into action by the results of a poll carried out earlier this year. A whopping 80% said that they had not been taught anything – or very little – about Mizrahi history or heritage at school. Only 7% of respondents could identify the Farhud, an Iraqi pogrom in which hundreds of Jews were slaughtered in 1941, whereas 58% could correctly identify the Nazi pogrom of Kristallnacht.
Cohen hoped that this national project would help close up this ‘disturbing gap.’ She was touched at the ‘effortless ‘ support of ten Israeli ministries, including Foreign Affairs, Education, Welfare, Tourism, Jerusalem and Heritage, Aliya and Absorption, Transport and Religious Affairs.
Prime minister Naftali Bennett responded on his Facebook page that the initiative was continuing in the spirit of the Bitton Committee – strengthening the preservation of the Jewish heritage of Arab countries. “There is a move of very great importance here – preserving the memory and heritage of a large part of our people. As far as I’m concerned, this is my heritage. We have all been in Morocco; we have all been in Europe; we have all been in Iraq and Ethiopia. We are all Jews.”
Several projects have been undertaken in recent years to record testimonies of Jews from Arab countries in Israel – including under Cohen’s predecessor Gila Gamliel – and the diaspora. Until now there has been no substantial funding and no national institution to bring them all under one roof. It is hoped that the database will feed through into the Israeli school curriculum.
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.
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