Friday, December 27, 2013
UK will mark Refugees Day too
A bill is going through the Knesset to make the Day law. This date has been chosen because it is the day when the Arab League drafted a plan to strip their Jews of their citizenship, freeze their bank accounts and confiscate their assets. Nearly one million Jews were expelled from Arab countries. Most went to Israel where until the large Russian Aliyah in the 90’s, they made up 75% of the Jewish population. The rest went mostly to France, Italy, the Americas and the UK.
Although there are no official statistics here, the UK community is believed to be around 25,000 and growing. Despite the lack of money and resources in the early years, Israel made great efforts to absorb these immigrants, and despite the many problems of poverty and discrimination that they faced, the country was able to successfully absorb most of them. The assets they left behind have been estimated at around $4.4 billion.
There has been an enormous gap in the Jewish education system and as Moroccan born MK Shimon Ohayon (a former schoolmaster), states “Every Israeli child learns about the Kishinev pogrom, but has anyone heard about the Farhud in Iraq? Everyone remembers the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, but hardly anyone knows about the Zionist underground activity in Arab states. The education system teaches about the first exodus from Europe, while the second exodus – the one from Islamic countries – is missing from textbooks.
“Whilst the predominantly Ashkenazi community in this country may have embraced Sephardi and Mizrahi cuisine, most are unaware of the persecution most of these Jews fled from, and know little about why they came to settle in Britain.
Most are curious to know why I, as an Ashkenazi, am busy promoting Sephardi history, but I strongly believe that what happened to Jews in Arab countries is as much our history as is the Holocaust. One cannot begin to understand the complexities of Israel and the Middle East without knowing how the Jews were treated by their Arab brethren.
There is a belief that everything was wonderful between Jews and Arabs until the State of Israel was born in 1948. However listening to the testimonies from these communities one soon grasps that this is a complete myth. In Iraq Jews were being executed for being ‘Zionists’. They could be arrested for having Hebrew books in their homes. Jews could not work, travel and pursue higher education. Above all, they feared a repeat of the 1941 Farhud pogrom, in which 180 Jews were murdered. In 1950, the Iraqi government finally consented to allow Jews to leave. Ninety percent did, but within a year their assets were seized.
Aden, a British protectorate at the tip of the Arabian peninsula, was ravaged by a pogrom in 1947 in which 82 Jews were killed and homes and businesses destroyed. British passport–holders sought sanctuary in this country. In 1956 they were joined by Egyptian Jews who were given 24 hours to leave their homes. For many, their first taste of Britain was a refugee camp in the north of England.
Other Jews arrived later from North Africa, Iraq, Bahrain, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iran. Until very recently, successive Israeli governments have been criticised by the Sephardim and their descendants for their near silence on the issue - but now thanks to groups like JJAC in America and Harif in the UK, things are about to change.
London based organisation Harif is dedicated to promoting the history, culture and heritage of the Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. We have a range of educational tools and hold regular events with guest speakers from here and abroad. We will also be commemorating with a Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries Week.
It will be kicked off on the new Memorial Day - the 17th February - with a plush Soirée Orientale (kosher Sephardi party) in a central London hotel with guest stars from Israel Yossi Alfi and acclaimed singer Sari Alfi. The evening is not just to commemorate, but also to celebrate. It will be followed the next day with a Briefing forpoliticiansandjournalists and other events during the week. More details on the Harif website.
Michelle Huberman is the Creative Director of Harif and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org