Friday, July 21, 2006

Spotlight on the Jews of Lebanon

With the conflict raging between Israel and Hezbollah the moment is perhaps opportune to investigate the situation of the Jews of Lebanon.

Estimates of the current population range from one to 60. At its height the community numbered more than 10,000. Between 1948 and 1967 the Jewish community of Lebanon was the only one in an Arab country to increase in size, swollen by Jews from Syria and Iraq fleeing persecution. But many fled after the 1967 war; most of the remainder left in 1976 fearing the increasing influence of Syria during the civil war. Several Jews were abducted and murdered in the 1980s. Here's a potted history.

Unlike Jews in other Arab countries the rights of the Jews of Lebanon were constitutionally safeguarded by a confessional system where each religious community's 'inalienable rights' were acknowledged under Le Reglement - a set of rules written after the 1860 Civil War. This established a system of power-sharing in which all the major religious communities were represented. The Lebanese Jews were one of 17, the largest of six minor religious communities. Although the Jewish community is on the verge of extinction, some non-Jewish Lebanese* still aim to exploit the Jews to project the illusion that the multi-confessional system still exists, although the influx of Palestinian Arab refugees in 1970 and the 1975 civil war upset its delicate political and population balance between Maronite and Greek Orthodox Christians, Shi'a, Sunni and Druze.

For anyone wishing to find out more, The Jews of Lebanon by Kirsten E Schulze (Sussex Academic Press, 2001) is a well-researched and detailed book. But it suffers from a common disease among comtemporary academic studies - a tendency to blame Israel for the demise of the Jewish community. Thus, while it is true that the Jews of Lebanon did not suffer from overt institutional antisemitism and persecution, social and religious antisemitism was rife. Schulze challenges the Jews' dhimmi status, ignores religious Islamic antisemitism and anti-Zionism, and minimises a rampant Greek Orthodox Christian antisemitism which still holds the Jews responsible for the death of Jesus.

In her zeal to promote a pluralist, interconfessional Lebanese ideal, Schulze cannot adequately explain how come the Jewish community was the only Lebanese minority to have been wiped out. Her claims that Lebanese Jews were anti-Zionist and did not emigrate to Israel are simply untrue.

*Warning: According to Lebanese Jewish contacts, this website purports to be by and about the Jews of Lebanon but is in fact a hoax and an exercise in disinformation. At least one picture is incorrectly captioned. The list of synagogues is not a list of Lebanese, but Sephardi synagogues. It also makes an extravagant (and unverifiable) claim that 250 Jews have actually returned to Lebanon.

(With thanks to Isaac K and Albert)

1 comment:

Albert said...

New law favoring Muslims angers Bosnian Jews:

http://www.jta.org/page_view_story.asp?intarticleid=16853&intcategoryid=2