On 23 June 2014, the Government of Israel adopted a law, which designates 30th November as an annual, national day of commemoration for the one million Jewish refugees who were displaced from Arab countries and Iran in the 20th century. For the seventh year running organisations, universities, synagogues and embassies will be holding special events. Here is a listing of 2021 events we know about to-date:
Online, 18 November. The Edwin Black Show, 3 pm ET: Yom Hagirush
Online 20 November. Los Angeles Beth Am Congregation, Jews of Iraq. 3:30 PST
Six Californian Sephardi organisations, including JIMENA, have written to the State’s Governor Gavin Newsom, California Democratic Party Chair Rusty Hicks, and Assembly Member Jesse Gabriel to protest against what they say were antisemitic statements made by the leader of the Californian Democratic Party Hussam Ayloush.
We, the organizations listed below, represent Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish communities in the state of California. We are writing to express our denunciation with multiple antisemitic statements made by California Democratic Party (CDP) leader Hussam Ayloush.
As an institution whose mission is to be a “leading advocate for justice and mutual understanding” and whose Los Angeles Executive Director, Hussam Ayloush, currently serves as an Assembly District Delegate to the CDP, we are deeply concerned by CAIR LA’s role in influencing California’s Democratic Party with revisionist lies about Israel and the Jewish people, and the Middle Eastern Jewish community in particular. These lies are contributing to the rising tides of antisemitism our communities are currently experiencing, and are making the CDP an increasingly hostile place for many Jews – particularly those of North African and Middle Eastern descent.
We feel it is critical to open this letter by asserting that the vast majority of Jewish people are indigenous to Israel. As Mizrahi Jews, our ancestors lived continuously in the Middle East since the dawn of Judaism itself. In the mid to late 20th century, state-sanctioned antisemitism—frequently taken under the banner of anti-Zionism—led to the ethnic cleansing and displacement of close to one million Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews from countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa. About 650,000 of these Jews fled to Israel as stateless refugees and the remainder scattered to countries around the world, including the USA, with an estimated 200,000 residing in California. Today, Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews comprise over half of Israel’s Jewish population.
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.
How much does the average Palestinian know about the Jewish refugees from Arab countries? Very little. It would help create understanding if more Arabs were aware of the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of their Jews. Not many Americans would have heard about them either. Clifford D May tries to remedy the situation in the Washington Times:
Jewish refugees arriving by ship in Israel
Nov. 30 is the day Israel designates for commemorating the 850,000 Jews who fled from Arab countries and Iran following World War II.
This year, like every year, the governments now ruling those lands did not mark the occasion.
For what it’s worth, I’m going to do so here.About 80% of Israelis are Jews.
A significant minority of Israelis, close to 20%, are Arabs (or Palestinians — they may identify as they like). Most Israeli Jews are not from families that migrated from the Middle East to Europe centuries ago.
Most are Mizrahim, Jews who have lived for thousands of years among Arabs, Persians and other Middle Eastern and North African peoples.
The late Charles Krauthammer observed that Israel is the only nation on earth that inhabits the same land, bears the same name, speaks the same language, and worships the same God that it did 3,000 years ago.
But imperialist invasions and occupations against which the Jews fought led to the dispersal of Jews to lands across the region where they were ruled by a long list of conquerors until, in the 20th century, most became subjects of the nation-states created following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
To mark ‘Jewish refugee Day’ – the 30th November commemoration of the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries – an important discussion took place on line between Ariella Cotler-Wunch, Knesset MP, Ellie Cohanim, assistant to Elan Carr, antisemitismtTsar, Hen Mazzig, Mizrahi spokesman and advocate, Seth Frantzman, Middle East commentator and Sarah Levin, JIMENA executive director. The event concluded that Mizrahim were uniquely placed to ‘build bridges’ with the Arab world. While the Arabraham Accords do indeed mark a momentous opportunity for dialogue, the onus is equally on the Arab and Muslim world to ‘build bridges’ based on recognition of their responsibilty for the expulsion of their Jewish citizens.
Israel Kastnett in JNS News:
With just the clothes on their backs and a few belongings hurriedly thrown into a sack, thousands of Jewish families were forced to flee from their homes after the declaration of the Jewish state on May 14, 1948.
This week marks the anniversary of this demographic shift and human tragedy. In 2014, the Knesset adopted a law that designates Nov. 30 as an annual, national day of commemoration for the 850,000 Middle East and North African Jewish refugees who were expelled from Muslim and Arab countries more than 70 years ago.
Israeli parliamentarian Knesset member Michal Cotler-Wunsh of the Blue and White Party hosted an online conference on Monday that brought together a group of activists to share their experiences and thoughts on how to further the cause of these refugees and their descendants.
A common thread among all of the speakers was that Mizrahi Jews—both the refugees and their descendants—can play a particular role in furthering Israel’s relationship with Arab and Muslim countries.
Like Cotler-Wulsh, Cohanim praised the Abraham Accords and emerging opportunities for education and dialogue between Arab states and the West. In October, the State Department signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Bahrain’s King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence to “eradicate anti-Semitism and promote respect and peaceful coexistence between Arab and Jewish people through education and programs.”
Cohanim, who works with Elan Carr, Special Envoy to Combat Anti-Semitism, said she saw firsthand the power of Mizrahi Jews in Arab diplomacy during Israel’s recent outreach to Bahrain. “We have a cultural understanding,” she said. “We have so much in common; we understand each other and it’s really been like cousins getting reunited after a forced exile.”
Cotler-Wunsh also stressed the importance of people-to-people connections in the region, stating that she will soon propose a bill in Israel’s parliament that will ensure that every child in the Jewish state will learn Arabic.
The work on partnering with like-minded people in the UAE is a welcome new initiative, said Hassan-Nahoum.
“It’s a great opportunity and I think to look at a joint future for the region, it’s important to celebrate the commonalities of our past, and we have a lot of years of good relations with our Muslim cousins, ultimately I think it is coming full circle, and we need to learn how to find the things that unite us.” Mizrahi heritage a key to that. Her family came from Morocco and has origins in Spain. Her husband’s family is from Iraq.
“My philosophy is that Mizrahi Jews need to take a more active role in peace building because we have a similar culture and our stories show we are indigenous to this region and land,” she said.
The supporters of this initiative of bridge building with Mizrahi heritage as a cornerstone hope to see the first fruits of their work soon with a unique event in the UAE that will bring together Arabs and Jews with Mizrahi Jewish heritage as a part of the bridge to peace.
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.