Monday, October 09, 2017

Were Egypt’s Jews expelled? Bonan rebuts Bisawe

Israel Bonan 's plans to leave Egypt were disrupted when he became  one of 400 Jews jailed for up to three years after the 1967 war. Haaretz has published his long rebuttal to an earlier piece by Eyal Sagui Bisawe  which argued that Egyptian Jews were not singled out for expulsion: their exit was not as dramatic nor as  systematic as they claim, but a result of decolonisation targeting all minorities. (Bisawe’s claim that Jews from Arab countries exaggerated their persecution to gain legitimacy with Ashkenazi Jews is commonly heard on the left.) Bonan argues that Jews were targeted over and above other minorities and for their religion, not nationality (with thanks: Pablo, Eliyahu, Imre and Lily):


Israel Bonan and his family, Alexandria, 1950s

"We can imagine rows of hooded soldiers gathering Egyptian Jews in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and giving them two options: convert to Islam or be expelled. Or even not giving them the choice but expelling them all. But such an event simply never occurred." 

Putting aside the vulgar and unworthy lack of empathy, the ridicule and venom, what is the definition of the word expulsion? A common definition would be: “The process of forcing someone to leave a place, especially a country.”

A process usually entails more than one step to accomplish a purpose.

So, what was the process used to expel the Jews and other minorities from Egypt? These steps spanned many years, promoted by successive governments all marching to the same tune: "Egypt for the Egyptians". 

The process follows the same template of Nazi Germany, and of all forms of fascism. Loss of citizenship rights and protection, loss of jobs in the private and public sectors, no prospect for future employment, dispossession of assets, death, and expatriation/expulsion. 


In 1929 Egypt enacted a nationality law that stripped the great majority of Egyptian Jews, who’d lived in Egypt for centuries, of their nationality and their citizenship rights and protection. This law forced the Jews of Egypt to outright seek such protection from foreign governments by proving plausible lineage to those countries, or to remain stateless.

In case Mr. Bizawe misses the significance of that law, it implied that the majority of the Jews were not to be considered Egyptians, because of their religion.

In 1947 Egypt enacted the Company Law, which mandated Egyptian citizenship for 90% of employees and 70% of management in any private or public company. The Company Law, in one fell swoop, denied most Jews, as well as Armenians, Greeks, and other ethnic minorities, of their livelihood.

This one-two punch is a true example of economic ethnic cleansing; first you declare they are non-Egyptians, and then you restrict work in the public and private sectors to Egyptians only. After that, Jews quickly learned they would never find a job. 

Once again, in case Mr. Bizawe misses the significance of that law: Greeks and Armenians were targeted for their nationality, but Jews for their religion.

In 1954 Egypt enacted the Nationalization Law, stripping Jews and even well-to-do Egyptians of their businesses, and nationalizing their assets. 

With the rise of Arab nationalism and the onset of the UN partition debate over Palestine, the political environment in Egypt grew progressively more hostile toward the Jewish community. Mr. Bizawe ignores the significance of the final incarceration and expulsion of Jewish adult males in 1967.

Did the Mizrahi Jews "leave of their own volition"? My sister left Egypt first, to be betrothed; my brother followed a year later, after he finished his engineering studies; and I had one month left before I could earn my own engineering degree and, together with my elderly parents, join my siblings. 

What is "of our own volition?” History is about cause and effect: the laws and measures taken left us with no option but to leave. 

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