Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Neglected suffering of Jews in Arab countries

An interesting exchange in Rosner's Blog (Haaretz US correspondent) between Salman (Jack) Hikmet and Walter Reich, psychiatry professor and former director of the Washington Holocaust Museum:

Dear Sir

I know our suffering is but a grain in the sand compared to the Holocaust, but I feel that the Jewish people both in Israel and in the Diaspora fail to recognize what was done to Arab Jewry before and after the establishment of the State of Israel.

As an Iraqi Jew, I was in Baghdad in the late 60s-early 70s, and witnessed the public hanging of several members of our community by the murderous Saddam and his cohorts, as well as torture, disappearances and confiscation of property.

Libyan, Syrian, and Egyptian Jews have a similar tale to tell, and I feel that a mention of this chapter in our history is long overdue.

Best regards and keep up the good work

Salman (Jack) Hikmet
London


Dear Salman,

You're right, of course. Jews in Arab lands, during the last century, suffered significantly and in many places. Moreover, they experienced a very great deal of discrimination under Muslim rule during previous centuries. Bernard Lewis has written valuably, as have many other historians, on the experience of Jews in Arab and Muslim lands. The reason this discrimination isn't focused on very much is that, compared with the experience of the persecution, frequent massacres and genocide of the Jews in Europe, the experience of Jews in Arab and Muslim lands was much more tolerable.

In a way, this matter is analogous to the general sense of the experience of Jews in North Africa during the Holocaust. Many of these Jews did suffer, many were confined in labor camps, and quite a few were killed by French Vichy and German authorities. But, in the end, only about 1 percent of the Jews in French North Africa were killed, while some 70 percent of the Jews in Europe were killed. While that 1 percent is a large number, it doesn't compare to the percentage or the number killed in Europe. And so, unjustifiably but inevitably, we focus hardly at all on the Holocaust in North Africa. I should mention, by the way, that an important study of the experience of Jews in North Africa during the Holocaust - In Search of Righteous Arabs: Heroes and Villains of the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands, by Robert Satloff *- will be published later this year.

Best,

Walter
*See Satloff's (abridged) article here

1 comment:

Naim S. Mahlab said...

The Jews in Moslem controlled areas did not suffer like their brethren in Europe, because, in the latter, the Catholic Church insisted that the Jews had killed Jesus and should suffer. The fact that Jesus had said that He was to die and be resurrected in order to bring salvation to the world. The Moslem religion does not have a similar accusation, although they would have prefered to see the Jews convert to the Moslem faith. The brightest spot for Jewish-Moslem
understanding was in Moslem Spain where Jews thrived. In the rest of the Moslem world, it generally depended on the whims of the local ruler. If he liked the Jews, then things went alright. If he did not,
then trouble started. The two best examples are the appointment of a Jew as Governer by the Mongols after their occupation of the Near East. A couple of years later, the Mongols had converted to Islam and that was followed by a massacre of Jews in Baghdad. The same thing happened in Granada. When Yehuda Hanagid, who was prime minister under the Berber Sultan, died, he was succeeded by his son Joseph. soon after that a massacre of the Jews of Grenada took place. It seems that the Moslems, although tolerant of Jews, find it difficult to accept a Jew as a ruler. Once the Israeli-Palestine problem surfaced, then Jews became 'persona non-grata' in the Moslem domains.