July 19, 2007
Recognition for the Silent Jewish RefugeesBy Andrew G. Bostom
The bicameral Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC) will hold a landmark hearing on Thursday July 19th regarding the hundreds of thousands of Jews forced to flee their communities in the Arab Muslim nations as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Oriental Jews suffered profound violations of their basic human rights under the Islamic regimes throughout North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf Region.
This persecution -- including pogroms and expropriations -- caused their subsequent flight despite longtime residences in these countries. The two decades following World War II witnessed a rapid dissolution of the major Jewish communities in the Arab Muslim world (and beyond, including Afghanistan, as well as the significant attrition of the Jewish population in Turkey). Even the first decade after World War II saw a reduction by half in the overall Jewish population of the Arab countries.
The July 19, 2007 congressional hearing on Jewish refugees has an immediate, practical goal of providing US legislators with preliminary information before voting on House Resolution 185 and Senate Resolution 85. Under the proposed legislation, the US president would be required to instruct all official representatives of the United States that "explicit reference to Palestinian refugees be matched by a similar explicit reference to Jewish and other refugees, as a matter of law and equity." The historical legacy of this mass Jewish exodus elucidates the bare minimum equity provided in these resolutions. This Thursday's CHRC hearings provide a unique window on the legacy of dhimmitude and Islamic antisemitism which caused the tragic exodus of some 900,000 Jews from the Arab (and non-Arab Muslim) nations, liquidating most of these ancient communities.
But the occasion of these hearings should also serve as a clarion reminder that this is a living legacy for those vestigial remnant Jewish populations still living within the Arab Muslim world, as well as the larger populations of Jews in both non-Arab Iran (in particular), and even Turkey. Finally, it must be acknowledged that this same animus-born of general anti-dhimmi attitudes and specific Islamic antisemitism-has reached genocidal proportions when directed at the Jews of Israel, nearly half of whom are Oriental Jewish refugees and their descendants.
The bicameral Congressional Human Rights Caucus (CHRC) will hold a landmark hearing on Thursday July 19th regarding the hundreds of thousands of Jews forced to flee their communities in the Arab Muslim nations as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Oriental Jews suffered profound violations of their basic human rights under the Islamic regimes throughout North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf Region. This persecution -- including pogroms and expropriations -- caused their subsequent flight despite longtime residences in these countries. The Congressional Human Rights Caucus, under the auspices of its Chairman, Congressman Tom Lantos, will hear testimony from legal experts on the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries as well as from "living witnesses'" -- Oriental Jews who will testify as to their plight in, and flight from, the Arab countries where they were born.
The July 19, 2007 congressional hearing on Jewish refugees has an immediate, practical goal of providing US legislators with preliminary information before voting on House Resolution 185 and Senate Resolution 85. Under the proposed legislation, the US president would be required to instruct all official representatives of the United States that "explicit reference to Palestinian refugees be matched by a similar explicit reference to Jewish and other refugees, as a matter of law and equity." The historical legacy of this mass Jewish exodus elucidates the bare minimum equity provided in these resolutions.
From Minority Protection to Minority Sacrifice
The two decades following World War II witnessed a rapid dissolution of the major Jewish communities in the Arab Muslim world (and beyond, including Afghanistan, as well as the significant attrition of the Jewish population in Turkey). Even the first decade after World War II saw a reduction by half in the overall Jewish population of the Arab countries. The decline was far greater in several countries. Iraq, Yemen, and Libya had lost over 90 percent of their Jews, and Syria 75 percent, by the end of 1953. At this time, the French-ruled Maghreb contained most of the Jews who remained in the Arab world. Not long afterward, however, the three countries of that region (i.e., Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria) achieved their independence. And within little more than two decades after the end of World War II, most of the North African Jews were gone as well.
Although the Arab-Israeli conflict, combined with the end of French colonial rule in North Africa, may have served as catalysts for this mass exodus, these phenomena were antedated by a more powerful underlying dynamic set in motion during the 19th century era of Western colonization. Historians Bat Ye'or and Norman Stillman have highlighted the profound political and psychosocial impact of the West's penetration into the Islamic world through the 19th and 20th centuries, which undermined (at least temporarily, and in part) the prevailing system of dhimmitude:
Jewish and Christian dhimmi populations availed themselves eagerly of the modern educational programs provided by an array of Western religious and cultural representatives inundating the Middle East and North Africa. From the 1860s onward, the Alliance Israelite Universelle, for Jews, specifically, was the chief provider of modern education in the major cities and towns of most Arab countries. Concomitantly, French, rather than Arabic or Turkish, became the primary language of high culture for tens of thousands of Jews. The Alliance also instilled in its Jewish pupils an improved self-image, which fostered new expectations within them.
Jews (and Christians, who benefited from missionary schools) took advantage of these educational opportunities, which produced cadres of westernized native non-Muslims who now had a distinct advantage over the largely uneducated Muslim masses, arousing the ire of the latter. The Western acculturation and economic success of the Jewish and Christian minorities, as well as their foreign ties, were deeply resented by the Muslim Arab majority. Conspicuous overachievement by some Jews and Christians would contribute to their undoing in the twentieth century, as decolonization lead to the recrudescence of dhimmitude -- an inevitable consequence when the aroused jihadist forces (whether traditional, or thinly veiled under the guise of "secular Arab nationalism") helped end Western colonial rule.
For Jews, traditional Islamic antisemitism accompanied this dhimmitude, intensified by a furious anti-Zionism, seamlessly interwoven with both Islamic and modern European antisemitism, especially Nazism. This predictable course of events was foreshadowed during the waning years of European colonialism when the policy of protecting non-Muslim minority rights was sacrificed in order to appease the restive majority Muslim populations. The unleashing of this powerful tide through appeasing, or at least not offending the sensibilities of the Muslim majorities, eventually engulfed and destroyed the Jewish, and some of the Christian communities, in the Arab world.
Pogroms, Persecutions, Expropriations, and Mass Exodus: 1941-1973
Addressing the Political Committee of the U.N. General Assembly with regard to the proposed Partition Plan for Palestine (Resolution 181), on November 24, 1947, Egyptian delegate Heykal Pasha, a "well-known liberal" threatened,
Five days later on November 29, 1947 the U.N. General Assembly adopted Resolution 181, known as the "Partition Plan." David Littman has summarized Resolution 181, its relationship to the 1922 League of Nations Mandate, and reception by the Arab League:
Heykal Pasha's speech provides a useful benchmark for delineating three phases of pogroms and persecutions which caused the exodus of Jews from Arab Muslim nations: the decade prior to his speech; in the immediate aftermath of the speech and the U.N. Partition vote on November 29, 1947; and, the Arab-Israeli War of May-June 1948, and ensuing two decades.
The Baghdad pogrom (the "Farhud") of June,1941-- fomented by Hajj Amin el-Husseini, during his WW II sojourn in Iraq -- was followed by three outbursts of anti-Jewish violence in November, 1945 in Egypt, Libya, and Syria. Baghdad (1941) and Libya (Tripolitania, 1945) experienced major pogroms: hundreds of Jews were killed and thousands wounded, accompanied by widespread devastation to Jewish homes, synagogues, and businesses. During the Farhud, Stillman maintains 179 Jews (including women and children) were murdered, 242 children orphaned, 586 businesses looted, and 911 buildings housing 12,000 individuals were pillaged. Estimates for property damage ranged from 680,000 to 2,700,000 pounds. Naim Kattan, an Iraqi Jew, described the Farhud in this eyewitness account from his autobiographical Farewell Babylon:
Elie Kedourie has written that 600 Jews were murdered during the May, 1941 Baghdad Farhud, (in support of Kattan's implication that many more than 300 had been killed), noting, the figure of 600 "...is the official figure which was kept confidential at the time."
Recurrent anti-Zionist/Antisemitic incitement from 1943 to 1945 culminated in a series of anti-Jewish riots during November of 1945. Egypt was the sight of the first of these riots -- in both Cairo and Alexandra -- fomented by Islamic groups including the Muslim Brotherhood and the Young Men's Muslim Association. Hundreds were injured during the rioting and looting of some 110 Jewish businesses in Cairo, while the disturbances in Alexandria claimed the lives of 5 Jews. Thomas Mayer has observed, "the critics of the riots did nothing to prevent the distribution of anti-Jewish propaganda in Egypt," and "the Egyptian Jews continued to be harassed by Pan-Arab and Islamic societies, as well as by Government officials, and pressed to make anti-Zionist declarations." Thus in the aftermath of the riots, neither the Egyptian Chief Rabbi's protestations of loyalty, nor the expressions of regret and sympathy by Egyptian government officials could restore Egyptian Jewry's sense of security, as the general atmosphere of hostility towards Jews remained unchanged.
One day after the rioting in Egypt subsided much more extensive and devastating anti-Jewish violence erupted in Libya. A minor altercation between Arabs and Jews near the electric power station outside the Jewish quarter of Tripoli was followed the next day (November 5th) by an anti-Jewish pogrom, as characterized by Norman Stillman,
Zachino Habib, Tripoli's Jewish community president, provided this eyewitness account of what transpired in Tripoli, Zanzur, Zawia, Qusabat, and Zitlin on November 4-5, 1945:
Stillman assessed the toll of the pogrom in lives and property, as well as its psychosocial impact:
Minor anti-Jewish violence also occurred on November 18, 1945 in Syria (coinciding with the Muslim holiday al-Id al-Kabir, the culmination of the hajj (pilgrimage) rites at Mina, Saudi Arabia), when "...a mob broke into the Great Synagogue of Aleppo, smashed votive objects, burned prayer books, and beat up two elderly men who were studying there."
Shortly after Heykal Pasha's November 24, 1947 speech and the November 29, 1947 U.N. vote which adopted the "Partition Plan" for Palestine, demonstrations were held (December 2nd to 5th) throughout the Arab Muslim world to protest the U.N. decision. These demonstrations sparked anti-Jewish violence in Bahrain, Aleppo, and the British protectorate of Aden. The riots in Aleppo and Aden were severe -- many Jews were killed, significant physical devastation occurred, and roughly half of Aleppo's Jewish population fled.
Such violent anti-Jewish outbursts following the November 1947 U.N. vote to partition Palestine further demoralized Jews living in eastern Arab countries whose confidence had already been shaken by the 1941 Baghdad Farhud, and the 1945 riots in Libya, Egypt, and Syria. The steady re-emergence of Islamic (or its corollary "Arab") national identity in these countries also subjected the Jews to chronic discrimination in employment.
The ongoing isolation and alienation of Jews from the larger Arab Muslim societies in which they lived accelerated considerably after the establishment of Israel on May 15, 1948, and the immediate war on the nascent Jewish state declared and waged by members of the Arab League. A rapid annihilation of Israel and its Jewish population was predicted and savored by Arab leaders such as Azzam Pasha, the secretary of the Arab League, who declared:
Such widely held expectations may have subdued violent mob reactions of the Arab masses against Middle Eastern and North African Jews at the outset of the war. However, once the Arab offensive in Palestine experienced setbacks, several weeks after the war began, anti-Jewish violence erupted in Morocco and Libya. On June 7 and 8 in the northeastern Moroccan towns of Oujda and Jerada, 42 Jews were killed and roughly 150 injured, many of them seriously, while scores of homes and shops were sacked. One day after the first truce was declared between the Israeli and Arab forces in Palestine, on June 12th, Muslim mobs attacked the Jewish Quarter in Tripoli, Libya, and upon being repelled by Jewish self-defense units-which had been organized there as in other cities that had suffered pogroms in recent years-turned upon undefended neighborhoods outside Hara, murdering thirteen or fourteen Jews, seriously injuring 22, causing extensive property damage, and leaving approximately 300 families destitute. Jews in the surrounding countryside and in Benghazi were subjected to additional attacks.
These events were followed by a series of violent disturbances in Egypt, despite a second truce in Palestine declared on July 18, 1948. During the next three month period Egyptian Jewry was under siege, as bombs destroyed Jewish-owned movie theaters and large retail businesses, including the Adès, Gategno, and Benzion establishments. Overall, these attacks on the Jews of Egypt claimed approximately 50 lives in the summer of 1948, accompanied by enormous property losses. Hundred were left injured, homeless, and unemployed.
The signing of Arab-Israeli armistice agreements in the spring and summer of 1949 rekindled a cautious optimism among many upper, and some middle class Egyptian, Iraqi, and Syrian Jews. This optimism quickly faded for the Jews of Syria and Iraq, lasted perhaps until the 1956 Suez War among Egyptian Jews, and never existed for Libyan or Yemenite Jewry. French disengagement from colonial rule in North Africa between 1954 and 1962 created anxiety in the Jewish populations of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria.
These tensions and fears are mirrored in the waves of mass exodus of Jews: almost immediately and completely for the Jews of Libya and Yemen (between 1949 and 1951); a slightly delayed mass exodus of Iraqi Jews by the end of 1951 (after which only 6,000 remained out of ~ 140,000, circa 1945); the rapid attrition of Syria's population, "...of mass proportions in relation to the smallness of the community", by 1953; the flight of 60% of Egyptian Jewry within 12 months after the 1956 war, despite being required to abandon almost all their assets except for some items of clothing; a dramatic rise in Jewish emigration from Morocco and Tunisia in anticipation of their independence from France, which continued steadily once independence was achieved; and a precipitous and nearly complete exodus of Algerian Jewry in anticipation of Algerian independence, July 1962.
The "best case" scenarios of Morocco and Tunisia may be most instructive. Muhammad V (of Morocco) and Habib Bourguiba (of Tunisia) -- relatively progressive leaders -- each initially appointed a Jew to their respective cabinets, and allotted Jews positions within their government bureaucracies. A Muslim-Jewish group promoting interfaith understanding named al-Wifaq (Entente) was even created in Morocco within the (nationalist) Istiqlal party. Despite these "goodwill gestures", no sustained policies were implemented to combat anti-Jewish discrimination, and the exodus of Jews continued apace. Stillman summarizes these failed efforts:
The ongoing steady departure of Jews from Tunisia picked up momentum following violent clashes between the French and Tunisian governments in 1961 (during which "Jews" were accused of disloyalty in the Tunisian press) over the naval base at Bizerte. Widespread anti-Jewish riots in Tunis on June 5, 1967 during the Six-Day War reduced Tunisian Jewry to a small remnant population within a year.
Despite the prohibition of mass legal emigration from Morocco in 1956, organized clandestine efforts by the Israeli Mossad continued throughout the remainder of the decade and into the early 1960s. Even during the four years following the dissolution of Cadima [the local Moroccan Zionist organization ordered to "dissolve itself" in 1956] and the imposition of the ban on aliya activities, almost 18,000 Moroccan Jews were spirited out of the country, as Moroccan officials frequently ignored this underground exodus. However during the premiership of Abd Allah Ibrahim (December 1958 to May 1960), who represented the radical wing of the Istiqlal party, there was a serious effort to clamp down on illegal movement, and a special emigration section was established in the police department that made numerous arrests of Jews attempting or even suspected of planning illegal emigration.
Muhammad V reversed the ban on Jewish emigration just prior to his sudden death in February 1961, motivated by pragmatic considerations, including the negative international publicity generated by the drowning of 44 Jews, whose small boat, the Pisces, foundered off the northern Moroccan coast on the night of January 10, 1961, while the passengers were attempting to flee the country.
Once mass emigration was allowed to resume, within three years 70,000 Jews left Morocco. In 1965, Moroccan writer Said Ghallab described the attitude of his fellow Muslims toward their Jewish neighbors:
Moroccan Muslim attitudes such as these, likely exacerbated by the Arab-Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973, may have contributed to the steady decline of Morocco's Jewish population throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Nearly a quarter million Jews lived in Morocco (almost 300,000 including Tangier) after World War II. By the early 1970s that number had dropped dramatically to 25,000. With continued attrition, less than 4,000 Jews remain in Morocco at present.
David Littman recently summarized the remarkable demographic decline of all the populations of Jews living in Muslim countries, especially the Arab nations, since 1945:
Denial of the Past-and the Present
The Jews of Arab Muslim lands have been reduced to (an exceedingly) "small, vestigial and moribund remnant.", as Stillman has observed. Devoid of political and economic power (or even aspirations) -- unseen, unheard, and certainly unarmed -- they are the ideal dhimmis, worthy of the benevolent and tolerant treatment ostensibly afforded them in the idyllic era before European colonization, as described in this October 1991 address to the U.N. General Assembly by then Syrian Foreign Minister, Farouk Shara:
Saul S. Friedman examined contemporary "respectful" Muslim treatment of Jews in Mr. Shara's own Syria, in a 1989 study. His sobering analysis reveals the living legacy of Antisemitic, anti-dhimmi Islamic attitudes exploited by a pseudo-secular totalitarian government, further enamored of European Antisemitic motifs -- from "historical proofs" of the Jews responsibility for ritual murder in the 1840 Damascus blood libel, published (and re-published) by the Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass, to Nazi Antisemitism expressed by unrepentant Nazis such as Alois Brunner, who stated, "All of them [Jews] deserved to die because they were the devil's agents and human garbage...I have no regret and would do it again...", while being granted safe haven in Syria.
And current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in a speech welcoming Pope John Paul to Damascus on May 5, 2001, put the "torture" of Jesus (Isa) in an Islamic context consistent with Qur'an 2:61/3:112 which accuses the Jews of murdering the prophets:
Bashar further demonstrated how the Islamic motif of Jews as prophet killers and torturers is "updated" with flawless logic by his reference to the canonical hadith -- wherein Muhammad is poisoned by a Khaybar Jewess, and ultimately suffers a protracted, painful death traced to this incident -- to vilify both Jews, and the Jewish State of Israel.
At the outset of Hafez al-Assad's accession to power in the early 1970s, these were the conditions under which Syrian Jews lived:
Jews could not serve in the Syrian armed forces, but had to pay $600 to secure exemption certificates. Jews could not sell property. In the event of death or illegal emigration, property was transferred to the state, which disposed of it either through sale or grant to Palestinians. Mmebers of saiqa, a Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) faction favored by the Syrians, openly strutted through the streets of Damascus ghetto, intimidating people with arms and beatings. Al Fatah also maintained an office in this ghetto where in one week in 1971 seven Jewish homes were torched.
The overall situation was so critical that the Jewish Telegraphic Agency of November 19, 1971 reported: For the first time since the Russian Revolution of 1917, Soviet Jews have petitioned their government to aid Jews of another country. Russian Jewish sources reported that a group of Muscovite Jews wrote to the Kremlin's Big Three-Communist Party Chief Leonid I. Brezhnev, Premier Aleksei N. Kosygin, and President Nikolai V. Podgorny-to intervene with the Damascus government for a cessation of restrictions on Syrian Jews. The names of the petitioners were not disclosed, but the sources said they were all activist Jews, many of whom have applied for migration to Israel. The petitioners based their appeal on humanitarian grounds and on the fact of good Russian-Syrian relations.
Saul Friedman also describes how gullible, high profile U.S. journalists -- Seymour Topping of the New York Times and Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes, as well as the National Geographic -- were manipulated by Assad's government during a mid-1970s Syrian campaign to whitewash the brutally oppressive conditions under which Syrian Jews lived.
One other prestigious institution would fall victim to Syruian propaganda. The National Geographic devoted part of its April, 1974 issue to Syria. An article written by freelance journalist Robert Azzi told of the "freedom of worship and freedom of opportunity" enjoyed by Syrian Jews, especially in Damascus, "the city still tolerantly (embracing) [sic] significant numbers of Jews." Seven months later, the editors of The National Geographic, noting the difficulty of obtaining "reliable nonpartisan information," tried to swallow Azzi's words.
For the first time in its eighty-six years of publication, the National Geographic retracted a major article. The evidence that Jews in Syria were not being treated fairly was compelling. Although the Assad government attempted to befog the issue, persecution of Jews continued through the remainder of the decade.
Friedman concluded his 1989 assessment with these observations, despite the putative 1980s "thaw" in overt Syrian government persecution of Jews:
The plight of Syrian Jewry notwithstanding, vestigial Jewish populations in Muslim countries far removed from the battlegrounds of the Arab-Israeli conflict continue to be targeted with attacks -- recent examples being the jihadist bombings of the ancient al-Ghariba synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia on April 11, 2002 (which killed 21, and seriously wounded many others, most being elderly German tourists), as well as the simultaneous jihadist bombings of two Istanbul synagogues in November 2003. And during January 2007, even the infinitesimal remnant population of Yemenite Jews (some 200 or less) living in the province of Sa'ada, was under duress. Reports indicated that these Jews were being forced to make apparent jizya payments, had been falsely accused of selling wine to Muslims, and were threatened with killings, abductions, and lootings. A letter delivered to the Jewish communal leader, believed to have been composed by disciples of the Yemenite Shi'ite cleric Hossein Bader a-Din al Khouty, stated:
Georges Vajda's 1937 analysis of the portrayal of the Jews in the hadith remains the definitive treatment of this subject matter. Vajda (d. 1981) made these sadly prescient observations in 1968 regarding Islamic doctrines which continue to shape the behaviors of Muslim governments and societies towards any Jewish communities remaining in their midst, no matter how small or unobtrusive.
Today's (7/19/07) CHRC hearings provide a unique window on the legacy of dhimmitude and Islamic antisemitism which caused the tragic exodus of some 900,000 Jews from the Arab (and non-Arab Muslim) nations, liquidating most of these ancient communities. But the occasion of these hearings should also serve as a clarion reminder that this is a living legacy for those vestigial remnant Jewish populations still living within the Arab Muslim world, as well as the larger populations of Jews in both non-Arab Iran (in particular), and even Turkey. Finally, it must be acknowledged that this same animus -- born of general anti-dhimmi attitudes and specific Islamic antisemitism -- has reached genocidal proportions when directed at the Jews of Israel, nearly half of whom are Oriental Jewish refugees and their descendants.