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Tuesday, June 9 2009

Spotlight On The Jewish Refugees


The plight of Jewish refugees from Arab countries has largely been off the world's radar. Pogroms, discriminatory laws and expulsions that hit Jews living in Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, Tunisia, Algeria and Lebanon have raised scant media interest over the years. But in recent days, there's been an interesting spike of noteworthy developments and commentary.

Libya: Dictator Muammar Gaddafi wants to meet with Jews of Libyan descent now living in Rome during a trip to Italy this week. According to YNet News, the Libyan Jews are interested in restitution for lost property, but are wary that Gaddafi wants the meeting more for propaganda than for reconciliation.

The meeting appears to be a non-starter for another reason: Gadaffi wants it scheduled during the Sabbath.

Background reading: The Final Exodus of the Libyan Jews in 1967


Yemen: The dramatic Operation Magic Carpet of 1949 didn't close the chapter on Yemen's Jewish long-suffering community, which dates back to Biblical times. But last year's murder of Rabbi Moshe al-Nahari (pictured) appears to be the final straw. Lyn Julius notes the quiet exodus of Yemenite Jewry:

Jews, tribal sheikhs, rights activists and lawyers all concur that harassment has reached an all-time high. After al-Nahari's murder, the Jews were besieged in their own homes and petrol bombs lobbed at them. Moshe's brother, rabbi Yahia Ya'ish, appealed to the government: "protect or deport us". . . .

The lesson one draws from the final exodus of the Jews of Yemen is that the Arab world does not even tolerate non-Zionist Jews. There can be no future for the pitiful remnant in Arab lands if their safety cannot be guaranteed.

According to the Yemen Observer, there are no more than 380 Jews left in the country all of whom are expected to be relocated to the US or Israel.

Background reading: The Jews of Yemen


Mideast in general:The Point of No Return blog raises a very important point about President Obama's Cairo address and what it calls the speech's "equivalence between Jewish and Palestinian 'narratives.'"

In reality the plight of the Palestinians is the unintended by-product of an antisemitic genocidal project-gone-wrong. This genocidal project was originally Hitlerian and the Palestinian leadership was its driving force. Radicalised Arabs connived in it and sympathised with it. They have never been called to account for their part in it.

To be frank, the 1948 Arab genocidal project ("This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades" - Azzam Pasha, sec-gen of the Arab League) was carried out on two fronts - it was a war against the Jews of the Arab world, and it was a war against the Jews of Palestine. The struggle to 'ethnically cleanse' Jews from the Arab world was a resounding success; but in Palestine the Jews miraculously defeated the Arab campaign to destroy them in the only corner of the Middle East they can call their own.

How many refugees are we talking about? According to an excellent 2003 NY Times report:

While 856,000 Jews lived in Arab nations in 1948, only 7,800 were there in 2001, the American Sephardi Federation reports. About 600,000 went to Israel, the remainder to the United States and Western Europe.

Why is all this happening now? With peace talks being placed on the front burner, Jewish refugees may finally come to the fore, bringing to the table issues of compensation, de-facto population exchange and a narrative of their own suffering and resettlement to counter international sympathy for Palestinian refugees.

For very comprehensive background reading, see The Forgotten Narrative: Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries.

UPDATE June 6: An excellent commentary by Andre Aciman in today's NY Times makes a similar point about the president's Cairo speech:

With all his references to the history of Islam and to its (questionable) “proud tradition of tolerance” of other faiths, Mr. Obama never said anything about those Jews whose ancestors had been living in Arab lands long before the advent of Islam but were its first victims once rampant nationalism swept over the Arab world.

Nor did he bother to mention that with this flight and expulsion, Jewish assets were — let’s call it by its proper name — looted. Mr. Obama never mentioned the belongings I still own in Egypt and will never recover. My mother’s house, my father’s factory, our life in Egypt, our friends, our books, our cars, my bicycle . . . .

But for him to speak in Cairo of a shared effort “to find common ground . . . and to respect the dignity of all human beings” without mentioning people in my position would be like his speaking to the residents of Berlin about the future of Germany and forgetting to mention a small detail called World War II.

UPDATE June 10: Reuters picks up on Gadaffi and the Libyan Jews. Good to see the frank background in a wire report:

The Jewish community in the former Italian colony, which traces its origins to Roman times, numbered about 38,000 at the end of World War Two. But it declined steadily after anti-Jewish pogroms in 1945 and 1948 . . . .

After he came to power in 1969, the vehemently anti-Israel Gaddafi confiscated all Jewish property and canceled all debts to Jews. The Jewish community in Libya is now virtually non-existent.



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