Bennett Muraskin's article on the Meretz USA blog, adapted from a piece published in Humanistic Judaism (Summer 2008), is to be welcomed for two main reasons: first, it is evidence of a growing interest on the Left in the subject of Jews in Arab lands. The second is that, on the whole, it is a fair representation of their fate.
On the other hand, Muraskin displays a post-modern tendency common on the Left to give credibility to Arab claims - to see 'both sides' of the story, to see the Jews not as bona fide refugees, but the Jewish exodus as a mixture of 'push' and 'pull' factors. No such scepticism operates towards Palestinian refugees.
"These (anti-Jewish) trends were well under way before Jewish settlement in Palestine under the 1917 British mandate became a major issue and well before the Zionist movement gained a foothold among Jews in Arab lands. With the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, Arab attitudes toward Jews worsened as German anti-Semitic propaganda flooded the Arab world. It is perhaps understandable that many Arab nationalists, suffering under the British and French colonial yoke, looked to Germany as an ally, but their adoption of Nazi-style anti-Semitism made it impossible for Jews to cooperate with Arab nationalists against colonialism.
"Between 1937 and 1939, a rash of bombings against Jewish targets occurred in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. These acts of violence were not the doing of the Arab governments, but neither were the perpetrators caught and punished. In 1941, in Iraq, the most prosperous Jewish community in the Middle East, a massive pogrom broke out during an anti-British, pro-German coup. Arab soldiers, paramilitary groups, and urban mobs killed 180 Jews, destroyed many homes and businesses, and left twelve thousand homeless. When order was restored, the pro-British Iraqi government condemned the violence, but Iraqi Jews had good reason to fear for their future. During the German occupation of Tunisia during World War Two, five thousand Jews were sent to labor camps, where half died. Jewish property was confiscated and Jews were subjected to periodic mob attacks. Many Arabs served the Germans as prison guards and police, informed on Jews to Nazi officials, and participated in pogroms. There were righteous Arabs as well who protected and saved Jews, but most Arabs were indifferent to their fate.
"After World War Two, but before the United Nations resolution for the partitioning of Palestine in November 1947, riots broke out in Egypt against Jews, Christians, and foreigners. The government apologized but took no steps to curb antisemitic propaganda emanating from Muslim clerics and Egyptian nationalists. In Libya, massive rioting killed 130 Jews, injured hundreds more, destroyed synagogues, and left four thousand Jews homeless. Opposition to the Jewish presence in Palestine was not the root cause of these outbursts.
"Jews in Arab lands who survived these persecutions lost faith in Europe and became ardent Zionists. When Israel was created, the long-suffering 44,000 Jews of Yemen departed for the new Jewish state en masse between 1948 and 1950, and 31,000 out of 36,000 Libyan Jews left in a stampede between 1949 and 1951. No amount of Zionist propaganda could have caused such a sudden evacuation.
"The situation in Iraq was more complicated. There, Zionist emissaries worked feverishly to speed the departure of the Jewish population, and the Iraqi government did little to reassure Jews that they could safely remain. By this time, Jews in North Africa (Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco) were better treated, yet they departed nonetheless during the 1950s and early ‘60s due both to their fear of Arab nationalism and the encouragement of Israeli agents. Many chose France or Canada over Israel as their destination, so it could not have been Israeli propaganda alone that caused them to emigrate. There was no ambiguity in Egypt, however, when in 1956, it expelled its entire Jewish population.
"In sum, the Arab-Israeli conflict was but one cause of the disappearance of Jews from Arab lands. Jews and Arabs experienced European colonialism differently – the former, as an opportunity to improve their status; the latter, as a threat to theirs. Jewish foreign ties and economic success angered the Arab Muslim majority, and this anger reinforced the tendency among Jews to seek the protection of the colonial power or the patronage of friendly but corrupt pro-colonial Arab leaders. Arab nationalists correctly perceived Jews as pro-European but failed to launch any serious effort to win them over. Instead some adopted anti-Semitic rhetoric imported from Nazi Germany. After the creation of Israel, Arab hostility to Jews in their midst increased. Jews in Arab lands, whether pushed out by Arab pressure or pulled in by the lure of Israel or the West, left their ancestral homelands forever."
Read post in full
But Muraskin 's opening and closing paragraphs are at odds with the main thrust of the article. He begins:
After the establishment of Israel in 1948, a massive exodus of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab lands took place, extending into the mid-1960s. Whether Jews were driven out in reprisal for the Israeli victory in its War of Independence, which resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians or left voluntarily, encouraged or even prodded by Zionist organizations seeking immigrants to increase the Jewish population of Israel, is in dispute. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.
Why should the truth lie somewhere in between? The stark fact is that people do not leave their homes in large numbers unless they are compelled to do so. There are 25,000 Jews still living in Turkey. Before the 1979 Islamic revolution there were 80-100,000 Jews in Iran. There are only 4,500 Jews living in Arab countries today. Over 50 percent left Arab lands within five years of the start of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This can only mean one thing - that Turkey and pre-1979 Iran did not 'ethnically cleanse" their Jews, while the Arab states did.
Having disposed of the myth that only the creation of Israel provoked Arab hostility towards the Jews in their midst, and described the age-old tribulations of the dhimmi and how Jews sought protection and rights via the European powers, Muraskin's conclusion can only be construed as muddled thinking:
Is it fair, however, to equate the exodus of Jews from Arab lands with that of Palestinians from Israel in 1947-1949? If "they" did it to "us" does that justify what "we" did to "them?" Two wrongs never made a right, but beyond that basic moral principle, the circumstances were different. Palestinians did not want to leave. Jews did.
Muraskin is saying that the Palestinian exodus was revenge for the Jewish exodus. This is nonsense. Arabs left Palestine before Jews left Arab lands. There was no Jewish design to make Arabs leave. Muraskin himself admits: "Outright expulsion, as suffered by the Palestinians, was the exception rather than the rule."
These are the facts:
The Arab League drew up a blueprint to exploit and persecute their Jews as early as November 1947, before hostilities broke out in earnest in Palestine.
The Palestinians may not have wanted to leave, but their leaders colluded with Arab states to start a war whose effect was to make them leave.
Jews did not want to leave. But they had to.
Muraskin writes: Israel and the Zionist movement encouraged the "ingathering of exiles." Nothing justifies the harsh treatment meted out to Jews in Arab lands, but most left voluntarily.
Here Muraskin contradicts everything he has said before. Jews did not leave voluntarily, but after 1948 had somewhere to go to - Israel. There is a difference.