Monday, December 10, 2018

'My refugee grandparents never played victim'

Moving reflections by Philippe Assouline, a Canadian Jew, on the trials and  tribulations endured by his Moroccan-born grandparents. Never once did they complain as they rebuilt their lives from discomfort and destitution.

My parents and amazing grand parents never even told me they FLED Morocco out of fear (how serious the danger was in Morocco is another matter, but it was serious enough, with Nasserist fascism rising) to exile -  an entire, large, 2,600 year-old community within 20 years). They never complained or informed us -- not even once amid thousands of often nostalgic, always very talkative and boisterous shabbat and holiday meals -- that they had to suddenly leave all of their friends, memories, culture, references and belongings behind -- to save their lives and families.

I found out only at the age of 24 that they came to Canada destitute, supported by charity and optimism, and had to start over with many kids in tow.

 To see video by Hen Mazzig, click here.

My grandfather z""l, a light unto mankind, lost a coffee making business and became a door to door salesman in the great Canadian north (imagine an African in -30 degree weather, smiling door to door while carrying encyclopedias). My grandmother -- a legend of a woman who made her home feel like the Temple in Jerusalem, z"l - became a seamstress, gathering what she could in extreme elegance. My other grandfather z"l, with his consummate warmth and charm, a heart on each of his sleeves to go with his endless smile, worked into the late night as a tailor, while my dad and others shared a living room as a bedroom, supported by the endless courage of my grandmother z"l, a pillar of knowledge and values, who pushed the entire family to focus on education, self -improvement and dignity.

Never did they whine, play victim or complain. It was unimaginable to even resort to social services in times of need, let alone make the world carry us. Never was I raised to believe that my misfortunes were caused by others or that the world owed me anything. I was raised to believe that I had no misfortunes, BH and that I owed the world to be good and happy. To look forward, be a good CITIZEN, be a good person, and enjoy life and family.

That blessed attitude is why we, ACTUAL refugees, entirely blameless and exiled by Arab regimes and a war we had no hand in starting or contact to, never got redress. This, while the people who chose to wage genocidal war and lost, have appropriated the "refugee" mantle while fitting neither its moral nor legal definition.

It is high time that our story be recognized, and even more than that, the incredible dignity and honor and class of our elders who suffered and kept moving forward with a smile.

And we're just getting started.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Egypt marks Laila Mourad's 100th birthday



 Has Egypt found new pride in the cultural contributions made by its Jews?  It is a measure of how far the Egyptian-Jewish iconic star, Laila Mourad, has been rehabilitated that the Egyptian media is celebrating the 100th anniversary of her birth this year. (Mourad ended her career amid accusations of being a spy for Israel. )Tomorrow, the National Center for Theater, Music and Folklore will mark the occasion at Cairo Opera House's Hanager Theatre. Egypt Today reports (with thanks Boruch):

CAIRO – 6 December 2018:

Held under the auspices of Minister of Culture Inas Abdel Dayem and Head of the Cultural Production sector Khaled Galal, the ceremony will present a documentary film about the late actress. The documentary will be followed by a concert presented by the National Center for Theater, Music and Folklore’s band.

Laila was born in a Jewish family in Cairo in 1918 to a Syrian father, Zaki Mourad, and a Polish mother, Gamilah Salmon. Her father was a composer and a singer who encouraged Laila to sing in the radio in the 1930s. Being the eldest daughter, she later had to financially support her family.

Her debut as a singer in the cinema was in “The Victims”, six years before starting her acting career with "Long Live Love", starring singer Mohamed Abdel Wahab, who also made her sign a contract for ten musical records.

Producer, director, scriptwriter and actor Togo Mizraahy gave her roles in seven films, including “Laila Bent El-Reef” (Laila From the Countryside), “Laila Bent Madares” (Laila: The School Student), and “Laila”. Out of the 28 films of her career, 17 carried her real name.

Mizraahy was able to work on Laila’s shyness, which was her main obstacle to leading a great acting career. He taught her how to boldly face the camera and trained her on how to control her facial expressions and voice.

The marriage of Anwar Wagdi and Mourad in 1945 significantly contributed to the immortal booming success of this artistic duo, increasing both their credibility and popularity among the audience, especially that Mourad and Wagdy were the only artistic couple at the time.


Read article in full

Saturday, December 08, 2018

The West denies ethnic cleasing from the Muslim world

 Jews who fled Arab and Muslim countries are the refugee fall-out of a clash of civilisations.  They are invisible to a world which never passed a resolution on them, never published a mainstream newspaper column on them and has never broadcast a documentary on a national network about them. Giulio Meotti writes in Israel National News:

Every year, on 30 November, Israel and the Jewish world remember the 850,000 Jews expelled from Arab-Islamic countries. Many of them live among us in Europe, in Rome as in Paris, in Milan as in Brussels.

Together with the Christians who have fled in the last five years under Islamic persecution, these Jews are the migrants of the clash of civilizations which the Western conscience, the UN, the EU, did not even want to hear about.

I have never seen a docufilm on them on the networks that matter. I have never heard of an international resolution on them.

Jews in France, the sons and grandsons of refugees from the Arab world, are now being targeted by Islamists.
 I have never read an article about them in the big newspapers. I have never seen a docufilm on them on the networks that matter. I have never heard of an international resolution on them.

Where are the Jews of Algeria?
Where are the Jews of Egypt?
Where are the Jews of Lebanon?
Where are the Jews of Iraq?
Where are the Jews of Syria?
Where are the Jews of Libya?

Italian Jewish communities, for example, would have been dead after the Holocaust if it was not for the Jewish emigration from Libya or Iran.
Islam decolonized itself with an anti-Semitic ethnic cleansing whose very existence has been denied by the West. These Jews had been confiscated of everything: wealth totalling hundreds of billions of dollars. they were prevented from practising religion, they were kicked out of their homes, they were massacred in the streets, they were robbed also of their own history.
And they became invisible.

But their sufferings didn't come to an end with their flight. In France it continues today. Most French Jews, in fact, are the sons and the grandsons of those who fled the Arab world: Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt. And these Jews are targeted again by the Islamists.

Read article in full

Friday, December 07, 2018

Dubai Jewish community goes public

A synagogue has existed since 2008, but it is only now that the small Jewish expatriate community of Dubai has felt confident enough, in the wake of a warming relationship between Israel and the Gulf States,  to expose itself to publicity. It is a win-win situation for Dubai, too, since it can boast minority rights and religious tolerance. (With thanks: Lily, Violet)

The Times of Israel reports:

DUBAI — One Saturday last month, the handful of worshippers were waiting, chatting amiably to kill time. They had recited Sabbath morning preliminary prayers, but the tenth man was yet to arrive, and services could not proceed without the necessary quorum. Waiting for a minyan was an inconvenience as ancient and familiar as Jewish prayer itself. But the location was extraordinary: a barely-known synagogue in a residential neighborhood in the Emirate of Dubai.

The Dubai Synagogue is a welcoming haven for Jews in the Middle East business powerhouse — whether they are veteran residents, temporary sojourners or the few visitors lucky enough to learn of its existence. Established 10 years ago, it is the flagship, and, for now, sole, operating institution of The Jewish Community of the Emirates.

 Decorative lanterns separate the men's and women's sections in the Dubai synagogue

One of the community’s leaders, Ross Kriel, walks a fine line between the cardinal concern of insuring security, while also nurturing a vision of a sustainable, and, eventually, thriving organized Jewish life in Dubai. Kriel, an Orthodox Jew from South Africa, moved to Dubai with his wife and two young children to work as a lawyer at an energy company six years ago. He’s an adventurous sort of Jew who relishes finding creative solutions to the challenge of adhering to Halacha, Jewish law, in the remote locale.

 Read article in full

Bloomberg Businessweek reports:

For centuries, Jews did business and mixed socially—if warily—with Arab neighbors from Baghdad to Beirut, but most were expelled or emigrated when Israel was founded in 1948. Today, as the region’s economy grows and attitudes toward Israel soften, a fledgling Jewish community in Dubai has founded that city’s first synagogue.

After meeting for years in one another’s homes, Dubai’s Jews—expatriates in fields such as finance, law, energy, and diamonds—three years ago rented a villa in a quiet residential neighborhood for services. The unmarked building features a sanctuary for prayers, a kosher kitchen, and a few bedrooms for visitors or community members who don’t drive on the Sabbath.

“We’ve come a long way since I first started going to Dubai 30 years ago,” says Eli Epstein, a New Yorker who helped found the synagogue and donated a Torah. “Back then, people actually told me that I should avoid using my last name because it sounds too Jewish.”

Read article in full

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Lack of concern for Jewish plight 'extraordinary and an outrage' (updated)

 As part of the 30 November commemorations,   Jewish organisations and parliamentarians in the West ( both Jewish and non-Jewish) have been speaking out on the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab lands and Iran:

 *In the USA, the Zionist Organisation of America echoed recent calls for the UN to recognise the plight of the 800,000 Jews of Arab lands (with thanks: Gina):

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is supporting recent calls for the United Nations to recognize the plight of the 800,000 Jews of Arab lands who were variously attacked, intimidated, dispossessed, expelled and pressured to leave their ancient homes in Arab lands in the wake of the 1948-49 Arab war against Israel.

ZOA National President Morton A Klein: lack of international concern for Jewish refugees 'an outrage'

The international community has long fixated on the 350,000 to 650,000 Palestinian Arabs who left the territories of what became Israel during the 1948-49 war to destroy Israel, which they and neighboring Arab armies initiated in 1948, but have been largely silent about the plight of the 800,000 or more Jews that were forced to leave their homes and dismantle their often ancient communities under threat of death, massacre, persecution and intimidation.

Now, the head of Jewish communities that left Arab countries are demanding UN recognition of their plight, which includes lack of compensation for the loss of homes, businesses and all other assets seized from the departing Jews, most of whom were unable to take virtually any of their possessions with them. In a letter to UN Secretary General António Guterres, community leaders, among them Dr. Shimon Ohayon, Director of Bar-Ilan University’s Dahan Center and Chairman of the Alliance of Moroccan Immigrants wrote, “While the UN organizes events to mark the departure of 450,000 Palestinians from Israel upon the establishment of the state, following a war imposed on Israel, we do not see recognition of the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries … We believe the UN strives for justice for all refugees around the world, including Jewish refugees who were expelled from Arab lands. We therefore seek to establish a memorial day for the Jews’ expulsion from Arab lands.”

 ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “It its truly extraordinary and an outrage that the plight of Jews from Arab lands has never been a point of international concern and action, unlike the Palestinian Arabs who fled Israel largely on their own mainly as a result of a war to destroy Israel which they had initiated in defiance of the UN General Assembly resolution of November 29, 1947 calling for the partition of the British Mandate of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states.

 Read article in full 


* On the US West Coast, Miss Iraq, Sarah Idan (pictured in white), affirmed her support for Jews driven out of Muslim lands at an event hosted by JIMENA.

* In Canada, parliamentarian David Sweet was one of the few to pay tribute to the 850,000 expelled Jews (with thanks: Rona).
Liberal parliamentarian Marco Mendicino referred to 'devastated families, forced into exile and suffering injustice and human rights violations, violence and even genocide'.




* In the UK, MPs and member of the House of Lords attended a cross-party briefing by the Israel ambassador Mark Regev and Iraq-born refugee Edwin Shuker. (With thanks: Sandra)

Conservative Lord McInnes chaired the event, and Conservative parliamentarians in attendance included Zac Goldsmith MP, CFI Vice-Chair Rt. Hon. Theresa Villiers MP, CFI Honorary President Lord Polak CBE, CFI Officer Baroness Altmann CBE. Deputy Ambassador Sharon Bar-li was also in attendance, alongside parliamentarians from the Labour Party.

*In Norway, Hans-Frederik Grøvan (pictured), head of the parliamentary Friends of Israel, spoke at the first commemorative event ever held in Oslo for Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran.


*In Australia, The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies organised a commemoration at the Sydney Jewish Museum. “This is the hardest conversation I’ve ever had – but the harder a conversation is to have, the more important it is to have it,” said David Tsor, 21, the descendant of Libyan Jews, as he began addressing the 250 guests. (With thanks: Vernon)

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Montreal consul : time to address Jewish refugees

There will be no just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict without addressing the Jewish refugee issue, said the Israeli Consul-General to Montreal, David Levy. CJN News reports on Montreal’s Commemoration of the Exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab  countries and Iran. 

Vivianne Schinasi-Silver calls herself “the last of the Mohicans,” the final generation to remember “the golden age” of the Jewish community of Egypt. The retired college teacher and her family were among the tens of thousands of Jews who were forced to leave the country in the aftermath of the 1956 Suez Crisis. They arrived in Montreal the following year.

 Schinasi-Silver recounted her story at an observance of the annual Day to Mark the Departure and Expulsion of Jews From the Arab Countries and Iran, an event organized by the Israeli Consulate. The family of five – Schinasi-Silver, who was 15 at the time, was the eldest of three children – left behind a comfortable life in Cairo and nearly all their considerable assets, never to fully recover materially. Her parents and younger brothers also never completely adjusted, as she recounted in her candid 2007 memoir, 42 Keys to the Second Exodus. Five years ago, the Knesset designated Nov. 30 as a day to remember this neglected chapter in Jewish history.

 The date was chosen because it is the day after the United Nations adopted a plan to partition Palestine in 1947. Nov. 29 is also the UN-designated International Day of Solidarity With the Palestinian People.

 “Today, after decades of ethnic cleansing, there are perhaps no more than 2,000 to 5,000 Jews in all of the Arab countries combined, the majority of whom live in just one country, Morocco,” said Israeli Consul General David Levy, whose father was from Morocco. “Everyone speaks of the Palestinian refugees, yet nearly no one ever addresses the forgotten 800,000-plus Jewish refugees from Arab lands.”

 Israel continues to try to find peace with all its neighbours, including the Palestinians, Levy said, but “we know that no solution to our impasse will be considered just, unless it addresses the long-forgotten issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands.”

 
Consul-general in Montreal David Levy with Vivianne Schinasi-Silver, Joshua Silver and Deputy Consul General Rotem Segev (Photo: Janice Arnold)

He said the day should also be a celebration of the rich Jewish history in the Middle East and North Africa, in cities as diverse as Tripoli, Aden, Damascus and Baghdad. “Established for centuries, these communities contributed enormously to the economic and cultural development and flourishing of these lands,” he said. But, as of 1947, it became “state policy to persecute, pillage and murder Jews. “This is why it is incumbent upon us all to remember, not only the plight of these refugees, but their presence and legacy in their native lands, which have since become devoid of any living Jewish presence.”

Read article in full

Monday, December 03, 2018

The little-known cause of the Syrian-Jewish refugees

Liat Collins was involved in campaigns for distressed Jewish communities and Soviet refuseniks at  the end of the 1960s. Writing in the Jerusalem Post, she examines the reasons why the Jewish refugees from Arab countries are so overlooked:


Percy Gourgey z"l, campaigner for Jews from Arab lands 

The work on behalf of Sephardi Jewry was much more low-key. I discovered a group called The Jews in Arab Lands Committee headed by the late Percy Gourgey MBE. Gourgey, born in India to an Iraqi-Jewish family, eagerly harnessed my youthful enthusiasm and together with a band of teenage friends I founded a student branch of the committee to help draw attention to the plight of our brethren and interest politicians and opinion makers in this little-known cause.

In many ways the fate of the remaining Jews in Arab lands was worse than that of Soviet Jewry. Drawing attention to a refusenik made the Soviet authorities realize there were international eyes following what they were doing and conditions might be improved as a result; drawing attention to a specific member of the Jewish community in Damascus was more likely to result in that person’s disappearance.

Still, with a huge amount of dedication and daring, many of the Jewish community were ultimately able to escape to freedom. When a couple of years ago I met a man who had fled from Syria as a teen I felt the same sort of satisfaction as I had meeting Sharansky and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.
Today, I live in an area of Jerusalem’s Katamonim neighborhood fondly referred to as the “Kurdish enclave” thanks to the Kurdish and Iraqi Jews who compose the bulk of the local population. Further down the road there is a large pocket of Moroccan and Tunisian Jewish families, with more French-speakers moving in.

Anyone who thinks that Israel is some kind of Woody Allen-style, Yiddish-dominated culture planted in the Middle East is in for a surprise on their first visit. The descendants of Jews from Arab lands now make up more than 50% of the Jewish Israeli population and when Israelis talk of “mixed marriages” they are usually (jokingly) referring to Ashkenazi-Sephardi ties.
There are plenty of Sephardi (and Yemenite) families who have lived in the Land of Israel for centuries, but the majority of Sephardim arrived after the creation of the state in 1948 – the non-Palestinian refugees who are largely overlooked.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Belated and banal BBC reply to refugee bias

 The BBC consistently ignores Jewish refugees although claiming to have reported on them. War ‘breaks out ‘ to cause the refugee problem although it is never clear who started it. Other pertinent facts are a ‘matter of opinion’.  Here is how the BBC replied to one complaint. It does not allow the complainant to take the case further:
Thank you for getting in touch about our video article entitled ‘After 70 years, who are the Palestinian refugees?’  and please accept our apologies for the long and regrettable delay in our response.

To take your points in order:

1: The Palestinian refugee is a consequence of the Arab decision to reject the 1947 Partition plan and declare war on the fledgling state of Israel. 

The article doesn’t purport to be a history of the refugee problem and is only a brief video – it does though say early on that the refugees were created “as a result of war in the Holy Land”, which is true.

2: The Palestinians are the only 'refugees' in the world permitted to pass on their refugee status to succeeding generations ad infinitum. 
All the rest come under the remit of UNHCR whose mandate is resettlement, not return. (This sentence was in fact part of the complaint-above- ed) Thank you for getting in touch about our video article entitled ‘After 70 years, who are the Palestinian refugees?’  and please accept our apologies for the long and regrettable delay in our response.

3: An even greater number of Jewish refugees (850,000) fled Arab states at about the same time in the opposite direction, most resettling in Israel, in a 'de facto' exchange of refugee populations.  They were resettled with minimal international aid. Yet the BBC has never devoted much coverage to them, even though some spent years in Israeli refugee camps. (The BBC would not dream of covering the 1947 India-Pakistan war without mentioning that refugees fled in both directions, so why does it deliberately omit mention of the Jewish refugees?)
 We have on several occasions reported the issue of Jews who fled or were expelled from Arab lands in 1948, but because these communities have long been absorbed by Israel, their fate is not undetermined in the same way as that of the Palestinian refugees, who continue to live by-and-large in refugee camps. Hence the issue of Palestinian refugees arises much more often than that of the Jewish refugees who found a home in Israel.
4: Lebanon denies Palestinians the right to citizenship, to own property, and to do certain jobs.
The report includes a sociology professor saying: “Take the case of Palestinians in Lebanon. This is the fourth generation; they don’t have the right to work, or to own properties.”
It also includes a refugee saying “I don’t have a passport, I don’t have anything.”
5: Palestinian insistence on 'the right of return' (a right unrecognised in international law for people who were not citizens of the country they left) perpetuates the conflict by giving the Palestinians unrealistic expectations. 
This is a matter of opinion, and as such we would not give such a view without attributing it to a voice from one side or another.
6: UNWRA must bear responsibility for encouraging terrorism and incitement among Palestinians in the camps.
 The point above is also applicable here.
7: This is the context in which Trump's decision to cease funding UNWRA must be seen. 
Again, this is an opinion, and we have reported numerous times on President Trump’s decision to stop funding UNWRA and the reasons given why.
Best wishes, 
Sean Moss
BBC News website
NB: This is sent from an outgoing email account which is not monitored. You cannot reply to this address. If you need to contact us please do so via our formatted webform quoting any case number we may have provided.) Again, this is not the purpose of the video, though we have reported this point previously. (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-42857434)


Friday, November 30, 2018

30 November events spread worldwide

Today is 30 November, designated as the Day to remember Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran. Commemorations have taken place in Jerusalem, New York, San Francisco, Montreal, Paris, Geneva, Dublin, Sydney, London, Birmingham, Miami, Oslo; there are more events to come. This article by Lyn Julius tells the story of just one refugee - in the Huffington Post.

 Linda Hakim left Iraq for London in 1970. But she has never been able to shake off the fear she had felt growing up as a Jew.

She heard mobs in Baghdad, after Israel’s Six Day War victory, screaming ‘death to Israel, death to the Jews.” She escaped a lynch mob only when her fast-thinking headmaster bundled her and a group of Jewish students into his VW Beetle.

 She will never forget the TV spectacle of nine innocent Jews — some only teenagers — swinging from the gallows in Baghdad’s main square in 1969 as hundreds of thousands sang and danced under the bodies.


Even when her family had boarded the plane bound for London having abandoned their home and possessions, they could not let down their guard. The Iraqi police arrested a classmate of Linda’s and escorted him off the plane.

Even today, every time she sees a police uniform, Linda’s heart races. Linda found a haven in England, and her children have grown up in freedom, tolerance and acceptance.

But in its obsession with Palestinian refugees, the world has never recognised the trauma that a greater number of Jewish refugees from 10 Arab lands and post-1979 Iran went through — human rights violations, wholesale robbery, seizure of property, internment, even execution.

The ethnic cleansing of the Arab world’s Jews preceded the persecution of its Christians, its Yazidis and others. On 23 June 2014, the Israeli Knesset passed a law designating 30 November as an official date in the calendar to remember the uprooting of almost one million Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran in the last 60 years.

Read article in full

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Jews from Arab countries demand UN recognition

Seventy years after the exodus and expulsion of some 850,000 Jews from Arab states and Iran, the heads of communities of Jews from Arab countries are demanding the United Nations officially recognize the suffering they were forced to endure. Arieh Kahana writes in Israel Hayom (with thanks: Lily)


United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres‏. – Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In a letter to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, community leaders, among them Dr. Shimon Ohayon, director of Bar-Ilan University’s Dahan Center and chairman of the Alliance of Moroccan Immigrants wrote, “While the U.N. organizes events to mark the departure of 450,000 Palestinians from Israel upon the establishment of the state, following a war imposed on Israel, we do not see recognition of the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries.”

They said, “We believe the U.N. strives for justice for all refugees around the world, including Jewish refugees who were expelled from Arab lands. We therefore seek to establish a memorial day for the Jews’ expulsion from Arab lands.”


Read article in full

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Why are Jewish refugees so little known?

 The question of Arab and Islamist Jew-hatred goes to the heart of the conflict with Israel. So why have Jewish refugees from Arab countries been so neglected, Lyn Julius asks in the Jerusalem Post (with thanks: Jean-Loup)

Seventy years ago, the newly-established State of Israel opened the floodgates to hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees. Many were Holocaust survivors from the displaced persons camps or remnant communities of Eastern Europe, but the biggest contingent seeking refuge in Israel came from Arab and Muslim countries.

Yemenite Jews in a Ma'abara camp in 1950

The official day to remember the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran is November 30, but Jewish institutions and organizations around the world, in association with Israeli embassies,  are holding commemorative conferences, film screenings and lectures throughout November and into December.

More Jews (850,000) fled Arab countries than Palestinian refugees (approximately 711,000), and their exodus was one of the largest movements of non-Muslims from the region until the mass flight of Iraqi Christians. Although they were non-combatants, Jews had to run for their lives from persecution, arrests on false charges, mob violence and executions. Their property was seized and they were left destitute. The Arab and Muslim world has neither recognized, nor compensated them.

Yet the issue and its implications for peace has barely penetrated the Israel-Arab debate within Jewish communities, let alone trickled into mainstream consciousness.

The question of Arab and Islamist anti-Jewish hatred goes to the heart of the conflict with Israel. So  why have Jewish refugees been so neglected?
Israel treated the refugees as Zionists returning to their homeland. Mizrahi Jews were encouraged not to look back at the past, but to build new lives for themselves in Israel and the West.

Paying political lip service to a “settlement of the refugee problem,” Israel failed to spell out clearly in official texts that there were Jewish as well as Arab refugees. It feared that raising the Jewish refugee issue would only prompt the Arab side to raise their “refugee” issue. The Arab side did not cease doing so, while Israel remained silent. It is only in the last decade that the Israeli government has regretted what the late Tommy Lapid termed its “greatest public diplomacy blunder.”

The damage may seem irreversible. The failure to frame the refugee issue as an exchange of roughly equal populations has led to a lopsided view among academics and opinion-formers: the Palestinians are seen as the principal victims, the Israelis as interlopers from Europe, aggressors and dispossessors.
Mizrahi Jews, whose communities predate Islam by 1,000 years, have been written out of history. Even the Diaspora Jewish leadership and international Jewish groups fighting antisemitism and Israel’s cause project a eurocentric worldview. Their frame of reference is the Holocaust, not the destruction of the indigenous Jewish communities of the greater Middle East. Jews in general are seen to enjoy power, despite their history as a vulnerable minority, and enjoy “white privilege,” despite their ethnic origins in the Middle East. The new vogue for “intersectionality” pointedly excludes Jews.

Even where there is awareness of the mass expulsion of Jews from Arab lands, they are not generally seen as victims: their plight was apparently successfully resolved. In the fashionable “hierarchy of oppression” of marginalized groups, Jews rank well down the list.

When the press and media do focus on Mizrahi Jews, it is to promote the folklore that passes for Mizrahi history – the nostalgic celebration of tradition, costume, music and food. Desperate to show that the conflict is soluble, the media loves examples of commonality and interfaith collaboration between Jews and Arabs.
In other respects Mizrahi Jews are invisible, despite comprising over half of Israel’s Jewish population today. One journalist found it impossible to interest the US Jewish press in an article on Mizrahi poverty in Israel: “While poverty may be a Jewish concern abroad, wrapped up in such concepts as tikkun olam [repairing the world], it isn’t a sexy issue. African refugees in Israel are interesting, Jews from Africa less interesting,” he wrote.

n the decades while nothing was said about Jews from Arab countries, the myth took hold that Jews and Arabs lived in peace and harmony before the creation of Israel. Arab and Muslim anti-Jewish prejudice, like antisemitism generally, is often ignored, derided or downplayed. Academics or public figures who draw attention to Arab or Muslim antisemitism lay themselves open to charges of ‘islamophobia’.

Compounding the problem, Mizrahi Jews themselves have played down their sufferings (which paled, compared to that of Holocaust survivors). Following centuries of ingrained insecurity and dehumanization in the Arab world, minority “dhimmi” Christians and Jews did not ask for their rights, only favors. Jews from Arab countries are often themselves to blame for distorting their own history “to flatter” their enemies. The author Robert Saltoff found some North African Jews so anxious to put a positive spin on their treatment, they even claimed that “the Nazis were not so bad.”

Mordechai, the owner of a prosperous factory in Marrakesh, abandoned his business, house, and motherland to come to Israel with nothing because his daughter Rachel, diagnosed with a rare disease, was refused treatment in Morocco because she was Jewish. She eventually became blind because she was not treated in time. Yet Mordechai told his Israeli-born children and grandchildren that his motive was “Zionist.”

The Israeli government has finally woken up to the importance of the Jewish refugees for peace-making. In the five years since Jewish Refugee Day was added to the calendar by Knesset law, public awareness of the story of these Jews has slowly grown. But there is still a long, long way to go.

Read article in full

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Exiled Jews were prominent in the arts

With thanks: Ruth
 The Jamal sisters

In the run-up to 30 November, the official Day to Commemorate Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran, the World Jewish Congress has produced a short video on famous Jews in philosophy and the arts.

Among  others, the video tells the story of the Jamal sisters from Egypt, King Farouk's favourite belly dancers. They were on tour abroad when they received a message from their father not to return to Nasser's Egypt - 25,000 Jews were expelled after 1956.

Belly dancers admired by the Egyptian king

Monday, November 26, 2018

Festival of music and dance launches 30 November events


The first ever Festival of Oriental Ethnic Music and Dance captured an authentic Mizrahi spirit and joie de vivre in Tel Aviv earlier this week. The Festival was part of a series of events planned in Israel for the 30 November commemoration of the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran. 

For the first time ever, all the organisations of Jews from Arab and Muslim countries in Israel gathered to put on a Festival of Music and Folk Dance under the umbrella of the Coalition they established in Tel Aviv a few years ago. 
The festival featured dances from their respective Arab countries of birth such as Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, and Muslim countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Kurdistan. 

The Festival, presided by Levana Zamir,  head of the Coalition,  and attended by some 300 members, took place  in the great Wizo Ballroom in Tel Aviv, under the auspices of the Ben-Zvi Institute for Mizrahi Studies founded in 1947 in Jerusalem, and its new President Professor Ofra Tirosh-Baker from the Hebrew University. 
The festival was one of the Coalition's commemorative events for 30 November. These will culminate on 27 December 2018 with an academic conference at Tel Aviv University, titled "Light and Shadow in the absorption of the Great Aliya of Jews from Arab Countries – 70 years on". It will be the first time  that this topic will be explored in an academic setting by a joint initiative of academics and members of the Coalition of organisations representing Jews from Arab countries. 



Levana Zamir ( left) and Prof. Ofra Tirosh-Baker ( right) presenting the Coalition's Ot-Kavod to Dr. Stanley Urman.  Prof. Tirosh-Baker, is the first woman to head the Ben-Zvi Institute, founded in 1947 in Jerusalem.


Launching the Festival, the "Ot Kavod" (the Coalition's badge of honor) for 2018 was given this year to Dr. Stanley Urman, co-founder and Vice President of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries, for his long and devoted dedication and  work to the cause in Israel and all over the world, leading to the US Congress Resolution  in 2008 affirming the rights of Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries. Israel's recognition followed, with a first law passed in the Knesset in 2010, and a second law in 2014. Mr. Edwin Shuker, a former JJAC President, came especially from London to attend this special and moving ceremony.


There followed an academic panel discussion on Jewish stars in music and dance in Arab countries, featuring  outstanding artists such as Layla Murad, Daoud Hosni, Elias Mohaddeb, Ya'acoub Sanua and others ( Egypt), Sheikh Raymond (murdered in 1961 in Algeria) and the Philharmonic Mallouf Orchestra (Tunisia), to name but a few.

After a rich buffet supper boasting the best of Mizrahi delicacies - koubeh, kebab, baba ghanoush  and other salads with Iraqi laffa and pita, ma'amoul, ka'ak, kourabieh, etc.. the second half featured brilliant dancing by groups of 20 professionals  on stage, wearing original and colourful dress from their respective countries. They performed Yemenite and Kurdish folk dances and ethnic songs in all dialects of Arabic. The audience took to the floor when the Egyptian songs were played. The evening closed with a joyful Horah from the Fifties.




Sunday, November 25, 2018

Historian Schama: Jews from Arab lands 'so important'


Prominent historian Simon Schama on Friday tweeted a call for commemorating the expulsion of over 800,000 Jews from Arab countries that followed the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. (with thanks: Avril)

“This is so important — 800,000 Jewish refugees — When exactly next week is the day of commemoration of THEIR naqba?” Schama asked, using the Arabic word for “catastrophe” commonly used to describe the experience of Arab refugees during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.

Schama’s acclaimed recent book and TV series, “A History of the Jews,” includes a detailed account of the uprooting of Jewish communities from North Africa to Yemen, in which he contrasts the silence around this question with the attention given to the Palestinian issue. November 30 — a week from today — is marked in Israel as an official commemoration of the expulsion of the Jews from the Arab countries and, later, from Iran.

Read article in full

Saturday, November 24, 2018

19 synagogues pray for Jewish dead in Arab lands

Prayers were recited in 19 synagogues across the world in remembrance of Jews buried in inaccessible cemeteries in Arab lands.

Among the synagogues who took part  in a mass Kaddish and Hashkaba on Shabbat 24 November were congregations in  Canada, the US, the UK, Mexico and Germany.

The mass Kaddish was the initiative of  a Montreal resident of Iraqi origin, Sass Peress.   For decades, families have been prevented from reciting prayers at the gravestones of their loved ones buried in Arab lands. 

Over a year ago, Peress embarked on a project to locate and clean up his grandfather's grave in the Sadr City Jewish cemetery in Baghdad, Iraq. This was done in secrecy in case of official interference.  Before long the clean-up was extended to 150 graves. Their inscriptions were photographed and translated into English by Sami Sourani, a historian of the Iraqi-Jewish community based in Montreal. The catalogue of cleaned-up graves  has beenuploaded to the Spanish synagogue's website.

Painting by Sass Peress' cousin Sol of their grandfather's gravestone.

Encouraged by the response, Peress hopes that the prayers will be recited annually. He has learned of similar clean-up and cataloguing initiatives in other Arab lands, and  has set himself a target of l00 participating synagogues for next year. He also intends to obtain a photographic record of all 3,000 graves in the Sadr City cemetery.

Jewish cemeteries across the Arab world have been vandalised or destroyed by Arab governments. The Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein reportedly planted grenades among the gravestones in Sadr City Cemetery. The government under General Kassem (1958 - 61) refused to revoke an order to bulldoze the old Baghdad Jewish cemetery so that a highway could be built. Most of the tombs were destroyed, including the mass grave containing the remains of the victims of the 1941 Farhud.

 However, Sass Peress has been heartened by the acts of kindness which made his project possible:

"An important message  is that while there were and remain people who do bad things of all faiths and nationalities, none of this initiative would have happened without the kindness of two Iraqi Muslims.  We must grow the opportunities for goodness between people. Hopefully these kind acts are the seeds to many more."

If your synagogue or community centre would like to join this initiative in 2019  please email Sass Peress at sass@peress.me.

Mass kaddish planned for Jews buried in Arab lands
 


Friday, November 23, 2018

'Right of return' cry is muted by full story

In the run-up to 30 November, the Day to commemorate the exodus of Jewish refugees from Arab Countries, Lyn Julius of Harif reminds readers at Jewish News that Jewish refugees are still an unresolved injustice in spite of their absorption into Israel and West. She reveals that US money for Palestinian refugee resettlement was diverted in the 1950s.



 The Iraqi-Jewish 'war rug' from Carol Isaacs' (aka The Surreal McCoy) Wolf of Baghdad. War rugs had woven into them objects and memories from the life of the community.

Every November since 2014, my organisation Harif  – the UK Association for Jews from the Middle East and North Africa  - has been observing a Day to remember the exodus of almost a million Jews from Arab countries and Iran. Our official commemoration was on 21 November : the JW3 premiere  of The Wolf of Baghdad, an audio-visual memoir with live music, telling one Iraqi-Jewish family’s story.



From the 1940s on, Iraq was a deadly place to be a Jew. It was the only country to execute Jews as ‘Zionist’ spies. The 2,600-year-old Jewish community, which wrote the Babylonian Talmud, endured vicious persecution. Most were airlifted to Israel.


No Jews who fled Arab countries still  consider themselves refugees. They rebuilt their lives and were granted full civil rights in Israel and the West.
Yet our TV screens are alive with stories of Palestinian ‘refugees’ ( who still claim a ‘right of return’ to what is now Israel. This demand, although non-existent in international law, is not simply a matter of rhetoric. 


The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA,  keeps the refugee issue alive by confining Palestinians to camps. It funds schools and welfare. Donald Trump raised a storm when he recently cut off UNWRA funding.

 
  Even the Israel security establishment objected, fearing that dismantling UNWRA would endanger Israel. But education and healthcare could be turned over to the Palestinian Authority, the Jordanian government, or UNHCR, the agency which deals with all refugees globally.


 Recent research notes that the United States actually discharged its obligations to Palestinian refugees in the early 1950s.


 In addition to the Marshall Plan to rehabilitate Europe after World War II, the US gave money to Arab states and Israel to solve the refugee problem created by the 1948 War of Independence. The American aid was to have been split evenly between Israel and the Arab states, with each side receiving $50 million to build infrastructure to absorb refugees. The money to resettle the Arab refugees was handed over to the UN,  and the Americans gave Arab countries another $53 million for “technical cooperation.” In effect, the Arab side received double the money given to Israel even though Israel took in more refugees, including Jews from Arab lands.


But none of this aid went into resettling Arab refugees. Instead UNRWA gives successive generations permanent refugee status, even those with other nationalities.  The original 700, 000 (no more than 30,000 are still alive)  have burgeoned into 5 million. The great “March of Return” on Israel’s 1967 border with Gaza demonstrates that the marchers’ objective is not a two-state solution, but to overrun the Jewish state with “returning” Arabs.


As long as the “right of return” is the cornerstone of the Palestinians’ strategy, the Jewish refugees from Arab lands remain its antidote. All but 4,500 Jews have been forced out by state-sanctioned terror, abandoning billions of dollars’ worth of land and property —equivalent to four times the size of Israel itself. 


A grave, unresolved injustice was done to the Jews. But they are a living reminder that  two sets of refugees exchanged places in the Middle East in roughly equal numbers.  Recognising this fact can help achieve an equitable solution and be a step to peace.


Harif founder Lyn Julius is the author of  Uprooted: How 3,000 Years of Jewish Civilisation in the Arab World Vanished Overnight (Vallentine Mitchell). details of Harif events at www.harif.org


Read article in full

 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Mass kaddish planned for Jews buried in Arab lands

For the first time, prayers will be recited remotely for Jews buried in Arab lands on Shabbat 24 November at synagogues in North and central America and the UK.
The Baghdad Jewish cemetery in 2003
 The following synagogues will take part in the mass Kaddish and Hashkaba
 The Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue, Montreal.
 Shaare Zedek, Montreal.
 Or Hahayim, Montreal.
 Montreal Open Shul & Shir Chadash, Montreal.
 Chabad NDG, Montreal.
 Temple Israel,  Ottawa.
 Temple Rodef Shalom,Virginia.
  Bene Neharayim, Iraqi Synagogue,  New York.
 Babylonian Jewish Center, Great Neck, New York.
  Magen David Sephardic Congregation, San Francisco.
  Kahal Joseph Congregation, Los Angeles.
Beit Moshe, Mexico City.
 Bevis Marks S&P Sephardi Synagogue, London.
 Lauderdale Road S&P Sephardi Synagogue, London.
 Wembley S&P Sephardi Synagogue, London.
 S&P Synagogue, Holland Park, London. 

The global initiative comes from Sass Peress of Montreal. Over a year ago, Peress embarked on a project to locate and clean up his grandfather's grave in the Sadr City Jewish Cemetery in Baghdad, Iraq. This was done in secrecy in case of official interference.  Before long the clean-up was extended to 150 graves. Their inscriptions were photographed and translated into English by Sami Sourani, a historian of the Iraqi-Jewish community based in Montreal. The catalogue was then uploaded to the Spanish synagogue's website.

The grave of Abraham Selim Reuven Dangoor
Peress is hoping to get all 3,000 graves in the Sadr City Cemetery photographed. He will give an account of the clean-up project at the Spanish synagogue on Shabbat.

The former Jewish cemetery dating back to 1642 was destroyed after 1958 under the rule of General Kassem. The community was able to exhume only some graves of dignitaries and rebury them on the new site in Sadr City.  Sass Peress notes 'a lack of respect' for the graves on the part of the authorities.

It is customary for Jewish families to visit the graves of their loved ones at least once a year, but the vast majority of Jewish cemeteries in Arab countries remain inaccessible. 

It is hoped that the initiative to recite the prayers for the dead will be repeated in the future, with more and more synagogues joining in.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Exodus is not yet on the global Jewish agenda

We are approaching the 30 November, the date to commemorate the exodus of Jews from Arab countries and Iran. Ashley Perry is one of the architects of the law designating Jewish Refugee Day. Writing in JNS News,  he understood that the more he pressed the issue, which by international, U.S. and Israeli law must be part of any resolution to the conflict, the more he realised that Jews in Israel and abroad are not even aware of it.

Growing up in a thriving Jewish community, attending a Jewish school, and being involved in the Jewish community and Zionist organizations, I am astounded now, thinking back, how little was taught about the long and illustrious history of the Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa, and their subsequent expulsion.

How many are taught about the Jewish communities of Algeria, Egypt, Syria and Yemen—to name but a few of many nations now completely without a Jewish presence?

While in government, we often raised this issue on the international stage and at the foreign ministry under the leadership of then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and even initiated a now annual event at the United Nations solely devoted to the issue of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries with our partners in the World Jewish Congress and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.


However, the more we pressed the issue, which by international, U.S. and Israeli law must be part of any resolution to our conflict, the more I understood that Jews in Israel and abroad are not even aware of it.

Dr. Ohayon created for the first time ever a Knesset caucus for Jewish refugees from Arab countries, and although the meetings were well-attended and frequent, the attendees were mostly the survivors of pogroms in the Arab world and the expellees themselves, and few from the following generations.

To spread greater understanding of the issue abroad, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bureau for World Jewish Affairs and World Religions, headed by Akiva Tor, we created a traveling exhibition that would be sent to embassies, consulates, Jewish communities and organizations around the world to print out locally and display at relevant events surrounding the date. (The exhibition is still available for anyone who wants to receive the PDF slides.)

Every year, more events are held around the world, organized with the assistance of Israel’s embassies and consulates, and the local Jewish communities. But it is still not enough. We can still see that the history of the Jews from the Middle East and North Africa is not even close to the global Jewish agenda.

It is rarely part of any high-level Jewish or pro-Israel conference, barely touched in any pedagogic or educational syllabi, or addressed by any mainstream Jewish or pro-Israel organizations.

Before we ask the world to recognize and address their moral, legal and historic rights, we should inform ourselves about the history of the communities, as well as their cleansing and extinction during the 20th century.

For many around the world, Jewish history and culture is largely defined by the Jews of Eastern and Central Europe. Still, the Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa bestowed great scholarship, cultural and economic successes on many occasions without parallel anywhere in the world.

It is an uphill battle and one our opponents do not want to become widely known because it flips on its head all standard notions about the conflict, including conquest, oppression and indigeneity. I know of an academic who tried to hold a purely historical conference on the history of the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa, and was turned away by dozens of American universities, even Jewish-studies departments, because the subject matter was considered “too controversial.”

Read article in full

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Yemenite hennas are all the rage

 The pre-wedding Henna ceremony is experiencing a revival in Israel.  None is more elaborate than the Yemenite, where the bride wears a heavy head piece decorated with flowers and jewels. Fascinating article and pictures in the New York Times (With thanks: Michelle)
In a town that in the 1950s served as an immigrant transit camp for Jewish Yemenites, members gathered in an elaborately decorated venue outfit to echo traditional life in Yemen, complete with a fake well and photographs of the new Yemeni immigrants in Israel. The town was over 1,000 miles from Yemen’s capital city of Sana’a, which influenced the most striking look of the night: a tall cone-shaped headpiece, the tashbuk, traditionally made of pearls and flowers, accessorized with silver and gold jewelry. 


At a recent henna celebration at the Yemeni Heritage Center in Rosh Ha’Ayin, Israel, the bride had three ensemble changes, each representing a city or region in Yemen. Although both the bride and groom were raised in Israel, honoring their Yemeni heritage was something important to them.

“I am Yemenite on both sides, and it’s a celebration of my wedding,” the bride, Meyrav Yehud, 24, said. “These are my roots.”

The henna ceremony, a pre-wedding event which has been a tradition in Asian, North African and Middle Eastern cultures, where women paint designs, or in this case place dye onto the skin of the bride and her guests, was held about a week before the wedding. In Yemen, the henna dye was believed to symbolize fertility; the deeper the color of the dye, the better it was for the woman. In some cases, they would apply it for days.

The tradition of henna ceremonies was popular in Yemeni society, with Jews and Muslims sharing a common custom. In 1949, Jews from all over Yemen were airlifted to Israel in a yearlong effort known as Operation Magic Carpet. (Smaller numbers came earlier, pre-state, from the end of the 19th century, and in subsequent migrations.) Many tried to bring traditional bridal garments and jewelry, but because of their heavy weight, the majority of the items were left behind. During early years after the founding of the state, Jews emigrated from over 80 countries and from several ethnic groups, forging a new Israeli identity that was often favored over the languages and other aspects of diaspora identities. Mizrahi Jews from North African and Middle Eastern countries were often looked down upon by the Ashkenazi establishment and pressured to leave their diaspora culture behind, and thus, henna ceremonies became smaller and more discreet among the Jewish Yemenite community.

That changed somewhat in 1965 when the Israel Museum in Jerusalem featured an exhibit of a Jewish bride from Sana’a, Yemen. Showcasing the garment was significant because it honored a part of the diaspora culture. But it wasn’t until the late 1970s, as a result of a political shift in Israel, that people started talking about ethnic pride in Israel.

Dr. Carmella Abdar, a professor in Folk Culture at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Achva Academic College, said that in contemporary Israel, the headpiece is made in advance for the bride. But traditionally in Yemen, artisans would assemble the headpiece by hand on the bride herself, who couldn’t move for hours. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Minister's Israel links cause firestorm

It was bound to happen. The appointment of the Jew Rene Trabelsi as Tourism Minister in the Tunisian cabinet has unleashed a storm of criticism. Trabelsi is accused of being too sympathetic to Israel, which he has visited several times. YNet News reports:

 Rene Trabelsi in Parliament

The appointment of a Jewish businessman, Rene Trabelsi, as Tunisia’s tourism minister is causing a firestorm in the country, Hadashot TV reported on Sunday.
The Tunisian parliament last week approved Trabelsi’s appointment as part of a cabinet reshuffle proposed by Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.

Trabelsi, in becoming minister of tourism in the Muslim Arab country, became only the third member of the small minority of 2,000 Jews to enter a cabinet since Tunisia's independence in 1956.

Trabelsi is considered pro-Israel. Over the past few years he has visited Israel several times and even believes that Tunisia should maintain diplomatic relations with Israel.

This fact, according to Hadashot TV, has resulted in many demanding his dismissal.

"The appointment of Tunisian Jew Rene Trabelsi as minister of tourism is one of the main issues that sparked controversy and debate among public opinion," said Ziad al-Hani, an expert on Tunisian politics who resides in Tunis who was quoted in the report.

"Many claim that he is unable to head the ministry because of conflicts of interest. He was the owner of tourism agencies and airlines. This contradicts his role as minister. He is also accused of supporting normalization with Israel. He makes repeated visits to Israel and brings from there Tunisian Jews to visit the synagogue in Ghriba,” he added.

Mohamed Abu, who heads the Tunisian Democratic Movement, was quoted in the report as saying that there is no connection between the religion of the new minister and the opposition to his appointment.

Read article in full

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Airlifted refugees are successful social climbers

 Seventy years ago, Israel pioneered airlifts and sealifts to bring hundreds of thousands of  poor Middle Eastern and North African Jews to its shores. Despite the social and economic challenges, these Jews have reached the summit in politics and the military and several are self-made business tycoons. Fascinating article by Amos Atsa-El in the Jerusalem Post:

 Iraqi Jews arriving in Israel in 1950

IT STARTED in Yemen, whence it later proceeded north, to Iraq, then west, to Morocco, and finally back east, to Ethiopia, opposite the Yemeni shores where it began.

Back in Yemen, having just learned of the United Nations’ Partition Resolution, a mob gathered in Aden and stormed its 5,000 Jews.

The pogrom began December 2, 1947 and lasted three days, after which 78 Jews lay dead, more than 100 stores stood looted, and four synagogues had been burned to dust.

The embryonic Jewish state’s leaders therefore sought ways to salvage Yemen’s 50,000 Jews. The community’s consequent relocation would prove seminal, both logistically and socially.

Though still fighting its War of Independence, Israel decided to airlift Yemen’s Jews.

Deploying Alaska Airlines’ handful of pilots and small fleet of C-46s and DC-4s, Israeli agents organized Yemen’s Jews in a transit camp in Aden, from which they dispatched in less than two years some 80 flights. By 1950 they had carried to Israel 48,875 Yemenite Jews.

“Did you ever fly before this?” then-Labor Minister Golda Meir asked an old man as he emerged from the airplane. He hadn’t, but in reply to Meir’s next question said he was not afraid to fly. “How come?” she asked, and the man replied by reciting, in its entirety, Isaiah 40, including the verse “they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings, as eagles.”

THE LOGISTICAL task seemed beyond the abilities of a small and penniless state, yet it was carried out fully, making organized exodus a recurring theme in Israel’s first 43 years.

In Iraq, more than 110,000 Jews were airlifted in some 900 flights between 1951 and 1952, with many of the passengers initially smuggled to Iran.

The following decade the spectacle moved from Asia to Africa, and from air to sea, as 80,000 Jews were shipped from Morocco to Israel in 1961-1964.

Finally, and most dramatically, 14,325 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted within 36 hours in 1991 by 35 Israeli jets.

Seventy years after these operations began, they underscore the titanic effort to reunite the previously disjointed Jewish nation.

The geographic success is self-evident, as Middle Eastern Jewry ended up mostly in Israel. Diplomatically, too, there was some priceless windfall from this effort, as Iraqi Jewry’s airlift led Israeli agents to establish ties with the Iranian government, and at one point fly Iraqi Jews to Israel with Air Iran’s predecessor, Iranian Airways.

“That’s how we paved the way for Iran’s de facto recognition of Israel in March 1950, and that’s how we created the beginning of Israel’s diplomatic mission in Iran,” recalled in his book, “Operation Babylon” (1985) Shlomo Hillel, the Baghdadi-born Jew who oversaw this operation at age 25 and later served as Israel’s ambassador to Nigeria, minister of police, and speaker of the Knesset.

Socially, however, the exodus operations’ aftermath was daunting, as many Middle Eastern Jews – unlike Hillel, who was born to a family of Westernized tea importers – were challenged by Israel’s Western culture, much the way current-day Europe challenges its Muslim immigrants.

Having usually arrived with meager resources, thousands of the new immigrants were at an economic disadvantage. Moreover, veteran Israelis had mostly European roots, and as such were products of the enlightenment movement and industrial revolution. The airlift’s arrivals, by contrast, were mostly traditional and poor, and often less formally educated.

Some therefore doubted the young state’s ability to glue together its new and veteran populations. They were proven wrong.

FOR DECADES, social gaps between Israel’s European and Middle Eastern Jews were a major national challenge, which in one memorable case – in 1959 – also resulted in several days of statewide riots. More recently, Ethiopian Israelis demonstrated in Tel Aviv in protest of what they feel is their discrimination by police.

Even so, Israeli Jews’ shared religious background provided sufficient national glue to build a new society that is coalescing faster than Israel’s founders predicted.

The Yemenite man whom Golda Meir met on the tarmac was accepted by everyone as a Jew. His biblical knowledge and Judaic observance made it obvious. The same went for other Middle Eastern communities.

Iraqi Jews were descended from the scholars who wrote the Babylonian Talmud. Syrian Jews preserved for centuries the world’s most ancient Torah scroll. Egyptian Jewry yielded Maimonides, the greatest Jewish philosopher. Tunisian Jewry prided on its antiquity, reflected by the community of Djerba, a Mediterranean island whose Jews were all Kohanim, meaning offspring of biblical Jerusalem’s priests.

Like Yemen’s Jews, who believed their forebears arrived in Arabia following Babylonia’s conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, and like Ethiopia’s Jews, who believe they arrived in Africa in the wake of King Solomon’s alliance with the Queen of Sheba, Djerba’s Jews believed their ancestors arrived in Africa centuries before Jewish communities emerged in Europe.

Still, Mideastern Jewry shrank from 50% of world Jewry in the 17th century to 10% by the 19th century, due to the growing gap in development during those years between Europe and the Ottoman Empire. That is how European Jews came to see their Middle Eastern brethren as exotic Jews.

Today, with more than one in three Israelis at least partly Mideastern, that sense of exoticism is itself an anachronism. The air- and sealifted Jews’ social climb has been altogether dramatic.

As noted here recently in a different context (“Unsung heroism,” May 14, 2018), since 1982 5 of 10 IDF chiefs of staff hailed from the Middle Eastern immigrations, as did 4 of 9 ministers of defense, 3 of 10 foreign ministers, 5 of 15 finance ministers, and 2 of the Israel Police’s last 3 chiefs, including the incumbent, Roni Alsheikh, whose father, Avraham, was among the droves flown from Yemen in Operation Magic Carpet. Among mayors and lawmakers the share of Mideastern Israelis is even higher.

In the private sector, Israel’s list of self-made billionaires is studded with names like Yitzhak Teshuva, who arrived from Libya as a baby with his family of ten, started off as a construction worker and became a developer worth some $3 billion; or Tzadik Bino, who arrived from Iraq in 1950 at age six, started off as a bank teller, and became CEO of the First International Bank, which he now owns; or Shlomo Eliyahu, who also arrived in 1950 as a child from Iraq and started off as a messenger boy in Migdal Insurance before becoming an independent insurer and eventually buying Migdal for more than 4.2 billion shekels.

While these are extreme cases, they reflect intense social mobility in a society that admires achievement more than lineage. That may explain why the number of Israelis of joint European-Mideastern ancestry is rising steadily and, among the generation of thirty-somethings, already stands at 25 percent.

That trend also goes for Israel’s most recent non-European immigration, and the last to board its multiple airlifts.

More than a tenth of Ethiopian Israelis are already married to white Israelis. That is not even half the “intermarriage” rate between the rest of Israel’s non-European and European Jews. It is, however, more than twice the rate of black-white marriages in the US.

Read article in full