Jemima Goldsmith is only a quarter Jewish on her father’s side – but antisemitic mud sticks. From the time of her marriage in 1995 to Pakistani cricketer-turned-PM Imran Khan, Jemima has been dogged by antisemitic attacks. To call someone a Jew is a popular tactic in Muslim countries to discredit politicians – and Maryam Nawaz, who leads her father’s political party, is no exception. This article in the Times contextualises the current spat between Nawaz and Goldsmith by drawing attention to the persecution of Pakistan’s Jews, but wildly exaggerates the remaining numbers. Of 3,000 in 1948, today there are perhaps 10 ‘secret’ Jews, not 800. (With thanks: Lily, Laurence)
Nawaz, who leads her father’s political party, launched into an antisemitic tirade at the prime minister and Goldsmith, the daughter of the late business tycoon, Sir James Goldsmith.
“My son is the polo team captain and is bringing honour to Pakistan. I didn’t want to bring children into it, but the way you’re talking, you’re going to get a fitting reply,” Nawaz said. “He is Nawaz Sharif’s grandson, not Goldsmith’s. He is not being raised in the lap of Jews.”
The comments provoked a horrified response from Goldsmith, who married Khan, the World Cup-winning cricketer, in 1995. The couple, who divorced in 2004, have two sons, Sulaiman Isa, 24, and Kasim, 22.
“I left Pakistan in 2004 after a decade of antisemitic attacks by the media and politicians (and weekly death threats and protests outside my house). But it still continues,” Goldsmith tweeted.
The row has provoked uproar in Pakistan, with partisan supporters leaping to the defence of Khan or Nawaz. Unflattering paparazzi shots of Goldsmith began circulating on Pakistani Twitter, along with references to “Jew kids”.
Like other religious minorities, Jews in Pakistan have faced discrimination and violence over the past century. Hundreds emigrated to Israel when it was founded in 1948, a year after the partition of India created Pakistan.
Islamabad does not have formal relations with Israel in protest at its occupation of Palestinian land. Local media estimate the number of Jews still living in Pakistan at about 800, but the few who openly admit their faith place that number at fewer than 200.
“Pakistani politics at its finest,” lamented a column in the newspaper Dawn. “Our politicians have regressed and instead of attacking their opponents, they’re going after their children.”
Nawaz has refused to back down, responding to Goldsmith’s remarks with another attack on Khan. “You have only your ex to blame,” she said on Twitter.
If you visit the Israeli town of Ramleh, you will find a synagogue built by Pakistani Jews. It is named Magen Shalom, after the synagogue in Karachi which no longer exists. The Jews of Pakistan once numbered about 3,000, but the violent repercussions to the Arab-Israeli conflict have driven the community away. (In addition, as the case of Asia Bibi has shown, Pakistan is hardly today a beacon of religious freedom.) The following story is based on real events and centres around the Jews of Karachi, who were desperate to cross the closed border with India in the 1970s. Wayne Croning has recreated the story in his own words…names are made up.
Hannah made the driver cover the number plates of the Mercedes, even made him remove the flag
from the bonnet. She got in front and gave him the address. Jamila Street, in the
Her husband David was posted to Karachi a few months previously, as the Australian Consul-General. Hanna and
their children arrived a few weeks later. They had been to several countries, including some in
South America. The city reminded her of Bombay, where she and her family once lived.
Crowded, bustling, hot and
humid. But she loved it. She loved the food, the people and the culture. The first thing she did on
arriving at any new country was to look up the Jewish
population; being Jewish herself.
After a short search with help through a high ranking local official, she found to her amazement, that there was indeed a small but thriving Jewish community with a decent-sized synagogue in the commercial hub of the city.
As they drove from Clifton to Saddar, they eventually got onto Bunder Road (M.A.Jinnah
Road), and took a turn off this busy street.The street they were on now was narrow, but crowded with people, cars,
rickshaws, motorcycles. The synagogue was not hard to find. A large stone and brick building soon
appeared on their right. Above the steel gate, and on the building itself was a sign: ‘Magain Shalome Synagogue’.
An early picture of the Magain Shalome synagogue, Karachi (Photo: Haroun Haidar blog)
They pulled up to the side of the street and parked. Hannah got out, walked to the gate and was stopped by the chowkidar or watchman.
“Who is it you wish to see?” he asked, in Urdu. Hannah had
picked up a bit of Hindi after spending a few years in Bombay.“Rabbi sahib say milna chatha hoo.” (I would like to
meet the Rabbi).
He replied that this was Saturday and to come back in one hour. She waited in the car, and soon observed a
number of people entering the premises. Men, women and children, families, all dressed for Shabbat, in their finest. They all appeared to be East Indian, but some of their features were a little different.
were fully open now and she decided to walk in. The main door of the synagogue was made up of
solid oak. She entered and was greeted by a high-ceilinged, cathedral-like room.and
spacious, wooden benches flanked each side of a narrow aisle. Women on the left, men on the rght. Men wore kippot, women wore shawls around
An elderly, bearded man stood to the side of the entrance on the inside, greeting everyone. He looked surprised when he saw Hannah.
Smiling, he introduced himself.“Hello and Shalom. I am Rabbi Simone Isaac. And you
Hannah smiled back. “I am Hannah. She had covered her head with a silk scarf. After
guiding her to a seat, the Rabbi went to
the back of the building. Large chandeliers hung down, brightening
up the space.
The Ark stood on a raised wooden pedestal in the middle of the wooden prayer platform. Torah scrolls were stored here. The Rabbi climbed the two stairs,
removed one of the large scrolls, holding it high above his head with both hands. He walked around the prayer platform, reciting prayers in Hebrew.
After the service ended, Hannah managed to meet the Rabbi again. She learned
a lot after their hour -long conversation. Most of the Jews here were from the Bene Israel
community, that originated on the South West coast of India, just South of
Bombay. Some were Baghdadi Jews and a few had Afghani connections. Most of them spoke Marathi, Urdu and of course
English. Many had left in 1948, one year after the Partition of India and the birth of a new nation: Israel.
By the mid 1960’s the population had further dwindled. Most left for the UK, Israel and even India.
This was now 1972, India and Pakistan had just gotten over a major war. The border was closed between the two countries.
Hannah was seen regularly at the synagogue; attending Shabbat prayers, weddings and social events. She had even attended two funerals, where the dead were laid to rest at the Jewish cemetery not too far from the synagogue. She got
to know most of the families, made close friends
with some of the women, hosting many parties and get-togethers at her home. Her own children
also attended prayers at the synagogue every Saturday. She would supply the community with Kosher
wine, grape juice, etc., even medical supplies.
As she grew closer to the community, and came to know several of them wanted to make
‘Aliyah’ to Israel, especially the younger generation, she devised a plan: Travel to Israel for
Pakistanis was not allowed (passports were stamped as such).But many had immigrated to Israel via
Iran and India.
The bizarre idea came into her head one day. She would drive
with two or three Jews to Lahore and then drive across the border at Wagh, hiding them in the
trunk of the same consular car.
insane?” her husband asked as she prepared for the trip. “What if you are
caught? What if they are caught? Even if you do, what
will happen to them in India? They could
be arrested there!”
Hannah smiled but said with confidence .“They will not stop a foreign consular car. I have made
arrangements with the British Embassy in Delhi. They will be given British passports.
who want to immigrate to Israel can do so as well.
There is a representative from Tel Aviv who will be in Bombay at the end of the year. They
are inviting Indian Jews to immigrate to Israel.
When the day arrived, Hannah and two young women and one man, got into the Mercedes and bid tearful
goodbyes to relatives.
The long drive to Lahore took about two days, with stops along the
way. Hannah also took the family pet dog
along for the trip. The morning before crossing the border, she
hid the two young women in the trunk of the car. The rear middle armrest was removed and a plastic
pipe fitted to allow cool air from the air conditioner to reach them in the
trunk. The young man was given a consular uniform with a badge and would act as the chauffeur.
to the border. It was heavily guarded with signs posted along the fence. Guard dogs
began barking at the car. The guards
took a walk around and noticed Hannah’s dog in the back
seat. in Delhi.” she told them, holding out her
passport.“This is my chauffeur and these are his papers”, she added, handing them his passport.
After informing her that she would be allowed to cross, they refused to let the
chauffeur through. She looked up at the guard, half annoyed.
“I cannot drive! Do you want me to walk to
”He appeared confused for a second. After consulting with a senior official, he came back.“You can
both go through, but at your own risk. We cannot be responsible for your safety, or the safety of
the driver.” With that he handed back
the papers, opened the gate and let them through.
On the other side, she encountered similar problems. “I can’t walk to Delhi!” and an
annoyed look finally got her through.
“I have to
make this trip two or three times a year. Make a note of my name and my number plate,”she said,
as they slowly drove away from the border.
The two young women made it to the UK. The
chauffeur had to return with her to Karachi, so as not to raise
suspicion. She made several such trips
back and forth. Things became more
relaxed at the border
crossing.The chauffeur made it out to
Israel after the third border crossing.
Hardly any Jews
Many of them married into other
communities, changed their religion or just left for
Many years later, a journalist
interviewed the Karachi Jewish community who had settled in Israel
in a place called Ramleh. They had set
up a new synagogue and named it Magen Shalom after the one in
When one elderly man was
interviewed he had tears in his eyes.“I miss
Karachi. I was born there, I miss the
place dearly.What really hurts is that
I can never go back for a
Pakistan’s only self-identifying Jew has been granted permission to visit Israel on a Pakistani passport, despite an official ban. Cynics would say that the move has to do with prime minister Imran Khan’s wish to improve relations with the Americans; but for Fishel it represents success after a long campaign for recognition. Pakistan Today reports: (with thanks: Lily)
Fishel Benkhald, a Pakistani Jew, said on Wednesday that he has been allowed to visit Israel on his Pakistani passport by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Fishel Benkhald: bureaucratic struggle
Taking to Twitter, Benkhald said, “Dear @ImranKhanPTI on 2-Jan Ministry of Foreign Affairs called to informing that I can visit Jerusalem Isreal on Pakistani passport. I’m applying visa from Isreali embassy. Thank u Dr Faisal @ForeignOfficePk.”
He said he will now apply for a visa and wait for Israel’s approval. “I will be coming to Jerusalem Israel in April,” he added.
Dubbed as “Pakistan’s last Jew,” Benkhald, a resident of the southern Pakistani city of Karachi, was originally registered as a Muslim and was named Faisal Khalid. After several months of bureaucratic struggle and paperwork, he was finally recognised by the Islamic country’s authorities as a Jew in March, 2018.
Last year, Benkhald requested the government to allow him to visit Jerusalem, Israel, on his Pakistani passport.
Pakistan does not recognise Israel and, therefore, doesn’t have diplomatic relations with it.
The Foreign Office is yet to comment on the matter.
The name Fishel Benkhald (Khalid) is familiar to those who have been following his campaign to have his identity as a Jew recognised by Pakistan. Now, writing in the Daily Times, he has set himself another challenge: to get the law changed so that he can visit Jerusalem. His Pakistani passport bans him from visiting the country. However, Israel would not consider his visit illegal, as long as he obtains a visa. Point of No Return’s advice to Fishel is to break his journey in one of the following countries with an Israeli diplomatic mission:
Baku, Azerbaijan; Nairobi, Kenya; Yangon, Myanmar; Accra,
Ghana, and Kathmandu, Nepal.
I am stuck in a real life conundrum. Being a practicing Jewish man, I
want the freedom to perform my religious duties, a right granted to me
and other minorities in the country by the constitution. However, the
reality is that my Pakistani passport states that ‘this passport is
valid for all countries of the world, except Israel’. As per the
constitution, every citizen has the right to practice their religion,
including religious pilgrimages. How then, can the state be justified in
prohibiting not only Jews, but Pakistani Christians, Messianic Jews,
and even Muslims from travelling to Jerusalem? This self-conflicting
sentence on our passports is flawed and inconsistent with our
constitution, and it is time to challenge this archaic law.
simply want is to invoke my given constitutional right to perform a
religious pilgrimage without having the threat of criminal persecution
from the state of Pakistan hanging over my head. This is a flaw in the
laws that govern the state of minorities in the country and it
specifically discriminates against the small community of Jews,
Christians and Muslims that want to observe their rights.
to observe the Passover (Pesach) Seder in Jerusalem next year in April,
and as the situation stands at the moment, I am unable to do so. But we
need to realize that even though laws are not meant to be broken, they
are supposed to evolve, so that any flaws can be ironed out over time.
If the lawmakers today realize how the law banning Pakistanis from
travelling to Israel, despite their desire to just perform a religious
pilgrimage, is contradictory to the rights highlighted in the
constitution, then I implore them to amend the laws accordingly.
A chance encounter with a Pakistani Jew in Israel leads Ibrahim Rashid to conclude that Israelis and Palestinians can never reconcile unless Muslim states come to terms with the disgraceful treatment of their Jews. Story in the Daily Times of Pakistan (But sadly, the comments show that many readers are still in denial):
On my first day in Jerusalem, I woke up, performed wudu (ablution)
and donned a new shalwar kameez that my grandmother had sent from
I thought to myself, “Today, I am representing my culture, religion, and family – and I will do it with pride.”
As I boarded the bus for the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, my driver asked, “Where are you from?”
“Pakistan!” I responded, to which he replied, “I’m from Pakistan, too!”
I was stunned to know that there were Pakistanis in Israel.
“What’s your name?” I asked in Urdu.
“Shimshon!” “Shimshon?” That’s an odd-sounding Pakistani name, I thought.
“How long have you been in Israel for?”
“Since 1957.” “Wow, that’s a while. When were you last in Pakistan?”“1957.” Confused, I asked him, “Why haven’t you gone back since?”
“Because I can’t – it’s not safe for me.”
In that moment it hit me. Shimshon is Jewish! I was shocked. I never imagined there could be Pakistani-Jews.
With Shimshon, Ibrahim Rashid’s Pakistani-Jewish bus driver on the way to the Western Wall
spoke about growing up in Karachi – the city my family is from – and
fearing for his life during his stay. He was harassed in the street, his
synagogue was targeted and along with the rest of Karachi’s Jews, he
had to flee to the only country that would take him, Israel.
parted ways and I made my way for the Wall, he was all I could think
about. We come from the same land, speak the same language, and he could
even pass for one of my relatives but because of his religion, our
country failed him and now he’s in Israel, the only place where he feels
feeling pride in my heritage, I was overcome with shame. How can I be
proud of my country when this is how we treat our minorities?
you enter the Wall, you’re taken aback by its beauty. People are
dancing, children are singing, and everyone, irrespective of faith or
nationality, is vibrating as one. And that’s when I got it.
matter how I feel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, upon
witnessing the wall, I realised that Israel is a place where people like
Shimshon can feel safe.
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.