Tag: Jewish refugees/ Palestinians

Why are Jews so quick to defend our enemies?

If we talk about the Arab nakba, we should, as a matter of law and equity, also talk about the Jewish nakba of 870,000 refugees from Arab countries, writes Lyn Julius in the Jewish Chronicle in response to a plea by a young Jew for schools to teach Palestinian views.

Infographic by Elder of Ziyon

Writing here last month, Sabrina Miller made a plea: Jewish schools should teach Palestinian views. Her argument was that this would help woefully ill-informed young Jews better to argue Zionism’s case once they arrive on campus. Although the plea came with the best of intentions, it risks falling into a trap. The nakba (an Arabic term for the ‘catastrophic’ exodus of 710,000 Palestinian refugees) is the self-inflicted consequence of the Arab decision to go to war in 1948 — a war which their side instigated and lost. To talk of the nakba without balance or context would be to promote a one-sided narrative of Palestinian victimhood.

If we mention the Arab nakba, we are compelled as a matter of law and equity to talk about the Jewish nakba (I use the expression for convenience). As many as 870,000 Jews (persecuted by the Arab League as the “Jewish minority of Palestine”) were driven from, or fled, the Arab world at around the same time as the Palestinian refugees — and as a consequence of the same conflict, merely because Jews in Arab lands shared the same religion and ethnicity as Israelis.

Why should we take only the Palestinian refugee cause seriously, while dismissing the Jewish refugees? Why are Jews so quick to empathise with our enemies, while failing to defend our own rights? Furthermore, no credible and lasting peace settlement could be reached if the grievances of more than half the Jews of Israel — refugees from Muslim lands or their descendants — are ignored.

Recognising the Jewish nakba, the mass displacement and dispossession of ancient Middle Eastern Jewish communities, is central to achieving reconciliation. It would mean acknowledging that an irreversible exchange of refugees took place, similar to exchanges which occurred as a result of other 20th Century nationalist conflicts.

One cannot teach about the Arab nakba without also teaching about its root cause: Arab rejectionism. Today, such rejectionism has religious overtones. The Israel-Palestine conflict cannot be divorced from the eliminationist intentions of Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iranian ayatollahs and Islamist groups generally. These do not even bother to camouflage their genocidal aims in terms acceptable to western ears, such as “occupation”, “settlements” and “Palestinian human rights”.

Diaspora Jews do not make the right counter-arguments because our approach to Israel is frustratingly “Ashkenormative”. The tragedy of the Mizrahi (eastern) communities is not known to the majority of Ashkenazi Jews. Consequently, we don’t adequately make the case for Jews in general.

Israel is the vindication of an aboriginal Middle Eastern people’s aspirations for self-determination. Over half its Jewish population — Mizrahim from the Muslim world — never left the region and pre-dated the Arab conquest by 1,000 years or more. (The long sojourn of Ashkenazim in Europe does not make them any less Middle Eastern in origin, culture and identity.) Why should Arabs have 22 states, while other indigenous victims of Arab imperialism such as the Amazigh (Berbers) or the Kurds — 99 per cent of whom have voted for an independent state — have no political rights? To the latter, Israel is an inspiration.

Moreover, far from being a “white colonial settler” state, Israel is the native response to a long history of subjugation to Muslim antisemitism. The creation of Israel marked the final deliverance of Jews from a form of historic, but resurgent, Muslim colonialism towards non-Muslims which gave them “dhimmi” status. Like women, whose purpose is to serve Muslim men — witness their treatment today by the Taliban — dhimmi Jews and Christians under sharia law occupied the penultimate rung on the social ladder, just above slaves. They lived in the Muslim world under sufferance, not as of right.

Our children ought to see the Jews of Israel as a “people of colour” who have thrown off the yoke of submission.

Israel’s supporters could indeed deploy ironclad arguments, if only they are given the right facts.

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The other Nakba: New film will tell Jewish refugees ‘ story

Coming soon – a new documentary about Jews from Arab Countries. The makers are South-African based Pulp Films. This punchy trailer is not shy to use the expression ‘Jewish Nakba’ to describe the forced exodus of 870,000 Jews.


The title ‘Quiet Triumph’ was chosen to show the refugees’ determination not to dwell on the past. They quietly got on with lives  after their uprooting – and did well in their new countries.  In spite of all the trials and tribulations, they triumphed.

If you would like to contribute towards the funding of this film, please write to Jason Hoff at [email protected]

Columbia professor : Israel ‘fabricated’ Jewish refugees

To mark the 30 November Day of Commemoration of the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s UN ambassador, pledged to press for a UN resolution for the recognition and compensation of Jewish refugees.

Joseph Massad

Enter Joseph Massad into the fray to call out ‘Israel’s outrageous fabrications’. Massad is Associate Professor of Arab Politics at Columbia University. Erdan’s campaign, he alleges in Middle East Eye,is designed to exonerate Israel from the ‘original sin’  of expelling the Palestinians and other ‘criminal actions’.

Dismissing all  the ”push’ factors, he argues that Jews coming to the Jewish homeland  cannot possibly be refugees. They can’t be said to have been expelled either, because Yemen defied an Arab League ban  and ‘allowed’ the Jews to leave.  Israel ‘removed’  ‘Arab Jews’, as he calls them, to face institutionalised Ashkenazi discrimination in Israel’ and the abduction of hundreds of children’. Massad obviously knows better than three Israeli Commissions of Inquiry, who could find no evidence of an abduction racket.

Ignoring the mass violence and state-sanctioned persecution confronting ‘Arab Jews’,  Massad resurrects the old chestnuts favoured by Palestinian propagandists of the 1950 ‘Mossad’ bombs in Iraq and the 1954 Lavon Affair bombings in Egypt to infer that Jews had to be made to leave ‘the  paradise ‘of Arab countries by the Zionists. Then comes a curious inference : because most Jews in Egypt  did not have Egyptian nationality, one could not blame Egypt for expelling them as foreigners. In other words, Jews in Egypt were a mini-settler colony. It does not cross Massad’s mind that Jews in Egypt could have been denied Egyptian nationality by racist laws. Of 1,000 Jews detained by Nasser after the Suez crisis of 1956, only half were of Egyptian nationality. (A negligible number, so that’s alright then.)

Calling mainly on sources such as Tom Segev’s The First Israelis, articles in Haaretz, Joel Beinin’s The dispersion of tEgyptian Jewry and writings by Ella Shohat,  Massad passes over massive evidence that Jews were stripped of their rights as Jews . He claims that there was no population swap between Jewish refugees and Palestinians, as Israel argues : while Jews were given Palestinian homes and land, Palestinians were not given Jewish property in return  (Not true: some Palestinians in Lebanon,Syriaand Iraq were housed in Jewish property, and it was Arab League policy neither  to complete the exchange, nor resettle the refugees – ed). Massad inflates Palestinian losses to $300 bn, so that they dwarf Jewish losses.

According to Massad  the PLO got wise to Israel’s trickery and all the Arab countries issued invitations for the’Arab Jews’ to return in the 1970s. Massad does not provide any explanation for why they did not go back, choosing to stay and ‘face  Ashkenazi discrimination’.

Curiously,  Arab governments can dodge their responsibility for what happened to their Jews because they are no longer in power, whereas an Israeli government which expelled the Palestinians is still in power. Hmmm.

Nice try, Joseph Massad, but no cigar.

Israel ambassador challenges Nakba lies

The UK’s official commemoration of ‘Jewish Refugee Day’, arranged by the Board of Deputies, the Israel Embassy and Harif, was introduced by Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s new ambassador. Sandy Rashty reports in Jewish News:

Israel’s Ambassador to the UK challenged the “lies” spread by the Nakba Day movement and called for more recognition of the plight of Arab Jewish refugees.peaking at an event to mark the persecution of Jews from Arab countries and Iran on Tuesday evening,

Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely (pictured) said: “Here in this country, the perception about Israel is: ‘Some European colonialists came to the Middle East and found shelter for the Jewish people’

She added: “It’s important to remember Jews were always part of the Middle East and we are natives like our Arab neighbours. We are not colonialists who came from Europe.

She also condemned the ‘Nakba Day’ movement – a so-called ‘disaster’ day designated by Palestinians after the state of Israel was founded in 1948.

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The inexorable triumph of ‘ethnic simplification’

In the week in which the flight of Jews from Arab countries is being remembered, the term ‘ethnic simplification’ springs to mind. It’s an ongoing process that has included massacres, discrimination and national homogenisation following the dissolution of empires. Lyn Julius writes in JNS News: 

Jewish refugees from Yemen in a ma’abara in Israel

Earlier this year, a Jewish man, Saad al-Nati, his disabled mother and three daughters were forced to leave their home in Amran province, Yemen. The family had been harassed by the fundamentalist, Iranian-backed Houthis whose slogan is ‘convert or die’.  Saeed was jailed  but was released after promising to sell his home. He was offered asylum by the United Arab Emirates, which was about to sign a peace deal with Israel.

The departure of the Al-Nati family leaves just five Jews  – an old woman, her crazed brother and three others – in Amran province. There are 33 Jews still living in the capital San’aa. 

The  cleansing of Yemen of its Jews is almost complete, from a population of 55,000 we now have 38. This pattern has been repeated across the Middle East and North Africa . Of almost one million Jews  in the Arab world in 1948, barely 4,000 remain.

This month has been declared Mizrahi Remembrance Month. The initiative comes not a minute too soon to recall the exodus of 850,000 Jewish refugees from the Arab world in barely a generation. The expulsion of the Jews is seen increasingly in the context of the plight of other MENA minorities – Copts, Assyrian and Palestinian Christians, Bahai’s and Yazidis, persecuted or driven from the region.

What is the solution?  Greater education? Enshrining minority rights into a country’s constitution? 

Even if the comparison is not made as often as it shoud be, the Arab-Israeli conflict produced an exchange of populations between Jews and Palestinians not dissimilar to the exchanges produced by other 20th century conflicts.The Indo-Pakistan conflict displaced 14 million Muslim and Hindus.  In the post -WWI Greek-Turkish conflict one-and a half million Greeks and half a million Muslims swapped places.

These exchanges were part of a process that the American social and political theorist Jeff Weintraub calls ‘ethnic simplification’. 

This a hugely euphemistic term for what has included massacre (eg Armenians and Assyrians by Turks)  discrimination (Christians and other religious minorities are ground down to the extent that they have no choice but to flee), the redrawing of boundaries and a process of national homogenisation following the dissolution of empires:  the Austro-Hungarian empire no less than the Ottoman empire. Thus Poland has divested itself of 30 percent of its non-Poles – Germans, Jews, Russians. Now  97 percent of the country is Polish and Catholic.

In 1900 the Ottoman port of Smyrna (Izmir) hosted a motley population of Turks, Arabs, Greeks, Armenians and Jews. Today the city is 100 percent Turkish.

Nowhere is ‘ethnic simplification’ more pervasive than in the Middle East. The Christian population continues to shrink, while tribal and religious strife has ravaged countries like Syria and Iraq.

Some people look wistfully back to the ‘coexistence’ prevalent in the Ottoman empire. Weintraub calls  Ottoman coexistence  ‘despotic multiculturalism’.

But the system, says Weintraub, is built on a protection racket: minorities are forced to pay for protection, while the ruler holds the ring between different sects. Sometimes the ruler throws a minority to the wolves.The system is difficult to maintain in the face of mass mobilisation movements.When it breaks down, a minority finds itself without rights and vulnerable to other groups, usually motivated by fear,  who act violently towards it. 

Ethnic nationalism, ironically founded in the Arab world by Christians, was a movement intended to cut across religious and sectarian lines and build loyalty to an over-arching identity. But it failed and has been replaced by forms of theocracy.

To protect minorities it is not enough to enshrine their rights in a constitution. It is not enough to educate succeeding generations. Both of these are important, but not as important as what Weintraub terms ‘a culture of democratic pluralism’. 

It is difficult to see how such a culture might emerge in the Middle East in the near future. The UAE is taking baby steps towards liberalisation and de-Islamisation. But for the Jews of Yemen, it will be too late.

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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.