Front cover of the French edition of Nathan Weinstock's book
In the second part of this Haaretz interview with Adi Schwartz, ex-Trotskyist Nathan Weinstock explains the about-turn in his thinking which led him to write a book on the exodus of Jews from Arab countries, now published in Hebrew. Part 1 here. (With thanks: Yoram)
He was born in Antwerp in 1939, but spent the war years in London. Soon
after, he returned with his family to Belgium, and was sent by his parents
- despite the fact that they were not Orthodox - to the School of Agudath
Israel . It was quite embarrassing for him , he says, but at least one good thing came out of it - he learned to speak and read Yiddish.When young, he wanted to study history, but Mum and Dad forced him to study law. Against
his will Weinstock registered to study Law and Criminology at the
University of Brussels and began to frequent Trotskyist groups.
Like the generation coming of age when Fidel Castro triumphantly entered Havana, he firmly believed that a world
revolution was taking shape in Cuba, Algeria and Vietnam. Years
later, in an article published in the French - Jewish journal L' Arche in 2006, Weinstock explained that
the short-sightedness of the Left in the West at that time led them to
support a Third World of the imagination, which was far from reality. "We must celebrate the worst atrocities of that time ," he wrote, because
supporting brutal dictatorship of the Third World will usher in a bright future ."
Even before the Six Day War developed, Weinstock was anti-Zionist and pro- Palestinian. With
his father, who supported Mapai, he used to conduct spirited debates,
until one day he noticed that his father drew his arguments from a Yiddish
newspaper published in Belgium which supported Ben-Gurion.
To prepare arguments to use against his father, he went to the
city and looked at the paper stands that day before the paper boy brought it to his father in the afternoon. Thanks
to his anti -Zionism, he was invited three weeks before the Six Day War
to address the Palestinian Students' Association in Paris.
At that time a writer for " Ma'ariv " in France, Uri Dan, wrote this description of the event
the next day : "The Jew Nathan Weinstock sat on the platform in a place of honour
and delivered the keynote lecture ... Weinstock was even more extreme than the
Arabs in his curses against Israel. Contrary to what Mapam preached about
revolution, you could not be a Zionist and socialist at the same time.
It was shameful to hear the cries of ' destroy Israel' , and this to
"Looking back, says Weinstock, "this event demonstrated how all those years I played the role of " useful idiot ".
I was very excited when I went to talk to the Palestinian students ,"
he says today, describing the event from his perspective, " because I wanted to
convey them a message for Matzpen ( 'Compass' - the far left-Israeli party) movement. I thought I could break down the wall of non-understanding.
I was very naive, I was convinced that the Palestinian students would
embrace the pacifist message I brought. I was convinced that they would at least
ask for the address and names of the members of Matzpen's apparent
ideological partners. Imagine my surprise when no-one - not one of the
organizers and students in the audience - was interested at all in what I said. They had better things to
do : they listened to Cairo radio in ecstasy, savoring every word and
absorbing the messages bragging about Arab armies soon throwing the
Jews into the sea."
years later, in 1969, he published the book Zionism - false Messiah
(Le Sionisme Contre Israël), an anti-Zionist pamphlet which quickly became
the Bible of anti-Israel propaganda in France. As he stood on the anti -
Israel left, he received a flood of invitations to lecture from all sides. "Everyone wanted to hear me
condemn Israel," he says , " but every time the scene in Paris was
repeated : total support of the public actions of the worst of the Palestinian
terrorists and boundless hatred of Israelis, no matter
who they were.
His anti-Israel articles continued to be published in the 70s in the Journal of Palestine Studies, but doubts began to gnaw at him. Slowly, slowly, to him the anti-Semitic nature of
the attack on the blinded Israelis became clear. Initially, they denounced the ' Zionists ' ,
then the Zionist' takeover of the media , and finally the ' Zionist
control of the banks'.
"When I was quoted the least criticism I had of the Palestinians was always omitted. My daughter finally rescued me. My
listeners had no interest in me at all. I was for them an anti-Jewish alibi Jew. When I started to examine my views critically, and find
many shades of gray, I noticed that support for me almost disappeared. As long as it came in slogans, I won sympathy."
deep into the '90s Weinstock was still torn between his agony at the major
attacks that took place in the cities of Israel, and the need to protect the
right of Palestinians to fight for their rights. The
straw that broke the camel's back for him was the failure at Camp David in 2000.
" The Palestinian leadership once again avoided taking
responsibility ," he says . " The Palestinian leadership cowardly denied telling its people to know
when to finish the fight, because the main goal has been achieved.
How do you explain this dramatic turnabout your approach - from the anti
- Zionist radical leftism of your youth to supporting Israel today ?
"In the '60s I was under strong Trotskyite influence, and I adopted a dogmatic approach, not a genuine attempt to analyze but to
adapt ideas to simplistic positions and prejudices I had. The radical left did
some soul-searching about the same period, and in many ways they still sound
"They who are shocked to the depths of their souls by the toppling of Saddam
Hussein by the Americans remained silent when Sunnis set fire to a bus
full of Shi'ite kids. When you look at who supports the Palestinians
in Europe - and it is clear that the Palestinians have indeed rights
that need to be fulfilled - you see they do not care about anyone else : not the
Armenians, not the Greek-Cypriots and what is happening in Western Sahara. They are interested in only one thing, and that I cannot accept."
had a lot of illusions about the Palestinians, I thought they had a 'case', and
through Marxism they would become universalists and learn to respect the
rights of Jews. For years I hoped the Palestinian terrorist attacks -
which shocked me greatly - are a step - an intermediate step only, which would
ultimately lead recognition of the national rights of the Israelis. These were
illusions and after a while I got rid of them, but I believed this for a
long time .
"We should also remember that at that time Israel was in the right,
and it was very difficult to criticize its conduct. Meanwhile a generation of " new historians" emerged, such as Benny Morris, who
looked at history soberly. Every country, even Israel, has dark zones to test it. But
is there a country whose history has no hidden dark corners ? In Israel
this process is taking place today - but where are the Palestinian new historians? In order to get out of the woods, the Palestinians need to
show courage and to choose the way of co-existence with Israelis. It's a task
that no one else can do for them."
1945, Weinstock recognises that nearly a million
Jews lived in Arab countries. There are currently about 4,500 ( mostly Moroccan). He
said there is no precedent for so dramatic an elimination of Jewish
communities around the world, even when compared with the flight of the
Jews from Tsarist Russia, and Germany in the 30s or massive
immigration from Eastern Europe after World War II.
"It is absolutely clear that more than 99 percent left Arab countries," he writes. "This figure is indicative of a
stifling atmosphere redolent of a reign of fear. What if it led to a massive exodus of Jews from Arab countries in the second half of the 20th century?" Weinstock weighs up the myths created over the years in this regard , and refutes them one by one. It
was not Zionism which uprooted them from their surroundings, he says - quite the contrary : In most cases, the Zionist movement had trouble
finding supporters. Jews also tried to integrate into the Arab national liberation movements. Egypt's
Chief Rabbi Haim Nahum, for example, often expressed reservations
about Zionism, and in Iraq the Communists established the " League against Zionism."
Active Communist Jews in North Africa expressed solidarity with
the peoples of the Maghreb, and led national liberation movements. Over
14 chapters, each devoted to a different Muslim country,
and based on more than 900 references, Weinstock tells of a singular dramatic
deterioration in the lives of the Jewish communities in the first half
of the 20th century. He mentions a long series of attacks and pogroms in Jewish communities that have
barely been the object of substantial historical studies in Israel. In 1912 in Shiraz,
Iran ( 12 killed) , Constantine, Algeria in 1934 ( 25 killed), and in
1912 in Fez, Morocco (51 killed). In Iraq there
took place in June 1941 the Farhud, a three-day pogrom in the Jewish
community, which killed 150 people. Thousands of shops and businesses
were looted and thousands of families were left homeless.
Seven years later, with the creation of Israel, Iraq imposed martial law and began a wave of persecution against the Jews. Many were arrested and convicted, some of them were sentenced to death and others had imprisonment and heavy fines imposed on them. Jews were dismissed from public service, Jewish institutions were
sequestered and Jews were forced to donate money for the benefit of the
military struggle against Israel. At
this time Jews were forbidden to leave the country, but in March 1950, Iraqi Jews were allowed to emigrate within a year, provided they renounced
The continuing deterioration of the Jews and the atmosphere of hatred
that surrounds them, bring about a mass flight from the state," writes
Weinstock. The vast majority of Iraqi Jews (about 90 percent of a community of 150, 000 ) left during that year, while a huge amount of
property was stolen by the authorities. The Jewish
exodus from Libya began in 1945, after a pogrom in Tripoli : 130 Jews
were killed and 266 were injured after rumors spread of
the murder of Arabs and the destruction of mosques in Israel. Tens
of thousands rioted in Jewish neighborhoods for four days, desecrated
synagogues and burned shops, and many Jewish families were left homeless. Weinstock cites a report by the Joint in August 1947, that " Jews live
in constant fear" in Tripoli and one hundred percent of the population
wished to emigrate.
June 1948, there took place a wave of pogroms against the Jews of
Tripoli, where 14 Jews were killed and at least 122 injured. At that time emigration was prohibited, but in 1949 the ban was lifted. In response, tens of thousands of Jews fled the country. Weinstock cites the testimony of one of them : "We had to leave the
country with only twenty pounds in our pocket and one suitcase per
person, to leave behind us all our possessions, homes, furniture, our
commercial business - and 2, 300 years of history ."
In Egypt there lived in the 40s about 85, 000 Jews. Some were established and some very wealthy. Anti-Jewish
riots occurred in November 1945, on the anniversary of Balfour Declaration, but the
declaration of the State of Israel gave the signal for real
persecution. Hundreds of Jews were arrested, accused of Zionism or Communism, and their assets foreclosed. As
of June 1948, successive assassinations occured: the Jewish
quarter was bombed and Jewish areas in Cairo and Alexandria set on fire. Half
of the community then leave, and others are deported after the Sinai
Campaign in 1956.
" Police came and pulled from their beds shopkeepers,
carpenters, carpenters, glaziers, even well-known lawyers," writes
Weinstock . Jews were deported without an opportunity to take their possessions and were forbidden to sell their assets. They were forced to sign declarations that they give up their property and will not return to Egypt.
Did you find a common denominator to the history of Jewish communities in different countries ?
in terms of legal status and social standing. They were shared by Jews under Islam. The status is called and means 'protected people'. It gave the
Jews, on the one hand, protection by the government, but in return became inferiors, degraded and debased. For
example, Jews were not allowed to carry weapons in those countries. To bear
arms was considered a sure sign of masculinity. Sometimes Jews were
forced to walk barefoot, as in Morocco in the early 19th century, or to wear
"In return for protection from the government, the Jews had to pay a special tax articulating their subordination. "
Nothing better describes the contempt (for the Jews)", writes Weinstock , " than the ritual humiliation that accompanied
Morocco, no later than the end of the 19th century, the annual tax payment : every year on a fixed date, the head of each of the
Jewish communities would deliver the requisite
amount to the Sultan, who in turn had to slap him or hit him with a stick to highlight the natural inequality between the giver and the receiver."
In the same spirit, Yemen required the Jewish community to do periodic cleaning of sewage pits and
removing animal carcasses blocking public roads (the law remained in
effect until 1950). Weinstock
describes a completely different reality from the myth often heard
- about the harmony that existed between Jews and Arabs under Islam. He
mentions that " the Christian West in Sicily took on the Muslim mark of shame on their clothes, the yellow star,
so they could more easily be identified."
Less than a century after the Ottoman Sultan ordered the Jews expelled
from Spain to settle throughout his empire, one of his
successors, Murat III, ordered that all Jews be eliminated. The Sultan 's Jewish doctor persuaded his mother to intervene and the order was cancelled.
" Dhimmitude gave Jews protected status, and this protection did really exist," says Weinstock. "My
friend, a member of the Jewish community in Marrakech, told me that in 1967, during the
Six Day War, the Jewish community was very frightened. A local leader sent his son to sleep in the doorway of my friend. The message was that the leader guards the family: whoever touches it entangles with
the leader. It was protection, but it meant
that a Jew could not carry weapons or protect himself, and therefore is
considered despised and humiliated. The absolute dependence of the
Jews on power meant that every time the government collapsed for any reason, the Jewish community took the rap. When the government was brought down, the Jews were left without
protection. This is precisely the meaning of dhimmi."
The situation is very
complex, intimate and aggressive at the same time. Weinstock's book attempts to clarify as much as possible the meaning of the
term dhimmi, because that is what he believes to be the key to the
understanding of their relations with the Muslim world. Therein is also
buried one of the bad seeds that eventually led to the expulsion of the
the years, a long series of laws discriminated against Jews - a
ban on horse-riding, wearing certain clothes, a prohibition on
giving evidence in court, a ban on dhimmis building tall buildings. Weinstock stresses , however, that not every place and every time the laws were enforced equally. Genizah research, for example, suggests that the rules regarding dress were observed at all.
" There were periods when Jews were very successful in the Muslim world," he says. "
Sometimes they also were part of the elite." The dhimmi regulations and
the degree of degradation changed from place to place and from time to
time. But the principle dictated the treatment of the Jews over
the years. Islam would always be dominant over the dhimmi. In the book he quotes a statement about the Jews by the Moroccan Sultan in the 19th century : " Our religion does not give them glory but signals shame and inferiority."
change in the history of relations between Jews and Muslims took place
towards the end of the 18th century, with the arrival of Napoleon 's
troops on the coast of Egypt and the beginning of European penetration of the
Middle East and North Africa. Western
powers did everything in their power, at first by economic means
and then through the occupation of territories, to expand their control
over the Middle East. One way to establish channels of influence was by granting
capitulations, meaning extending the legal protection of a Western power on the subject
of a Muslim state. Prominent leaders in the Jewish communities in the
West (for instance Sir Moses Montefiore) jumped at this possibility: they tried to improve the status of the Jews through
the capitulations. Jews in the Muslim world began to identify the West with equal rights,
and had hoped the European powers would end the oppressive
regulations imposed on them.
Read article in full (Hebrew)
Read Part 1 here