Answers to frequently asked questions regarding Jews from Arab Countries and Iran

Are Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews People of Color?

As awareness to the needs and opportunities around issues of Jewish diversity become more visible and prioritized in mainstream Jewish life, Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews are ironically, yet unsurprisingly, left on the margins – understudied and frequently misunderstood. While recent Jewish demographic studies could have collected valuable information about Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish identity, questions directly related to Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews, have been excluded from most surveys.
The experiences and identities of of Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews are extremely diverse and can't easily be categorized into one singular expression of race. While there are certainly many Mizrahi and Sephardic jews who identify as people of color, until empirical data is collected and studied the question remains allusive and unanswered.
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What is a Dhimmi?

A Dhimmi is a historical term referring to a non-Muslim member of a Muslim society. Under Islamic (Sharia) law non-Muslims living in Muslim majority societies were given a special status of "residency in exchange for taxes." For Jews living in Muslim societies as Dhimmi, they were afforded a protected status provided they recognized the supremacy of Islam expressed in the payment both of poll taxes and obedience to  a series of restrictions.  These restrictions usually involved the clothing worn by Jews, the animals they were allowed to ride and the prohibition of their ability to bear arms. Synagogues were not permitted to be built higher than the mosques nearby. An example of a restriction put on a Jewish community due to it's Dhimmi status was the first yellow stars worn by the Jews of Baghdad in the 9th century imposed on them by a local Caliph, or Muslim ruler.

What were Maabarot?

Maabarot were temporary immigrant absorption camps composed of tents which housed Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa in Israel in the 1950s. As the State of Israel began to build permanent housing for its residents, the use of Maabarot housing declined. Often life in Maabarot was very severe. Sanitation was substandard and shelter was not always adequate. Some Maabarot became development towns such as Sderot, Beit She'an, Yokneam, Or Yehuda and Kiriyat Shmona. The last Maabara (singular for Maabarot) was closed in 1963.

What does UNHCR have to do with Jewish Refugees?

UNHCR is an abbreviation for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The UNHCR is tasked with protecting and supporting refugees at the request of either the United Nations or a member government of the United Nations. The agency assists refugees with voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country. In 1957 and again in 1967 the UN High Commissioner for Refugees determined that Jews fleeing Arab countries were refugees who fell within the UNHCR mandate. In February 1957 during the aftermath of the October 1956 Gulf of Suez Crisis between Israel and Egypt Auguste Lindt, who was then the High Commissioner for Refugees in a report to the United Nations Refugee Fund stated that “Another emergency problem is now arising: that of refugees from Egypt. There is no doubt in my mind that those refugees from Egypt who are not able, or not willing to avail themselves of the protection of the Government of their nationality fall under the mandate of my office.” The refugees from Egypt he was referring to were Jews fleeing Egypt after being persecuted during the Suez Crisis. In July, 1967 Dr. E. Jahn from UNHCR drafted a letter which confirmed that the United Nations considered Jews fleeing persecution in Arab countries as refugees who again fell under the UNHCR mandate: “I refer to our recent discussion concerning Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries in consequence of recent events. I am now able to inform you that such persons may be considered prima facie within the mandate of this Office.”    

Does UN Security Council Resolution 242 apply to Jewish Refugees?

Yes. The resolution passed unanimously by the UN Security Council on November 22nd, 1967 established principles that became a guide for future Arab-Israeli Peace agreements. The second clause of this resolution calls for a “just settlement of the refugee problem,” the generic term “refugee” rather than “Palestinian refugee” was placed intentionally in the resolution to acknowledge that two refugee populations were created as a result of the Middle East conflict: one of Jews from Arab countries and one of Palestinians. The PLO in a letter to the UN General Assembly on October 15, 1968 rejected UN Resolution 242 saying that “the implementation of said resolution will lead to the loss of every hope for the establishment of peace and security in Palestine and the Middle East region.”

What was House Resolution 185?

House Resolution 185 was a resolution introduced in the House of Representatives in the 110thCongress by Representative Jerrold Nadler on February 16th, 2007 and passed by a voice vote. The resolution is a sense of Congress stating that the US State Department should use “the voice, vote, and influence of the United States to ensure that any resolutions relating to the issue of Middle East refugees, and which include a reference to the required resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue, must also include a similarly explicit reference to the resolution of the issue of Jewish refugees from Arab countries.” Full text-

What was the Farhud?

The Farhud was a horrific pogrom of violence against the Jews of Baghdad which broke out on June 1st, 1941, during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. This violence towards the Jews lasted for two days. The Farhud was both Nazi inspired and encouraged by a prominent Arab leader, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj-Amin Al Husseini. Al-Husseini previously met with Adolf Hitler and top Nazi officials in Berlin who offered him assistance in the dissemination of Anti-Jewish propaganda. Nazi Germany's Ambassador to Iraq in 1941, Dr. Fritz Grobba increased Nazi outreach to Iraqi Arab communities by purchasing Arab language newspapers. One Iraqi newspaper Al-Alam Al-Arabi (The Arabic World) published the first Arabic language translation of Mein Kampf.  Grobba also assisted with the creation of the first Iraqi chapter of the Hitler youth known as Al-Fatwa. The Nazi-inspired rioters rampaged through the city of Baghdad slaughtering Jews, raiding and destroying their homes and business, and raping Jewish women; the Jewish community of Baghdad was devastated. The Farhud was only stopped when British forces occupying Iraq stepped in to restore order after nearly 300 Jews were killed, over 2,000 Jews were injured and 600 Jewish businesses were looted. The event marked the beginning of the end for the Iraqi Jewish Community which at the time numbered over 130,000 people. Voices of the Farhud- (part 1) (part 2)

Why are you bringing this up now since Jewish refugees were absorbed?

The history of Jewish refugees from Arab countries deserves recognition and redress. In order to understand a full picture of the conflict in the Middle East the history of Jews from the region must be acknowledged and addressed. There are still many Jews alive today who were born in Arab countries and forced out of their countries. While many of them built new lives abroad and did not dwell on their suffering at the time, it is not to late now to address what happened to them.

Weren’t most Jews Zionists who wanted to go to Israel anyway, isn’t that part of being Jewish?

Jews in Arab countries were not given a choice. They were stripped of their assets and forced to leave as penniless refugees.  Former Justice Minister of Canada Irwin Cotler, notes that “A report titled ‘Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries: The Case for Rights And Redress’ documents a pattern of state-sanctioned repression and persecution in Arab countries – including Nuremberg-like laws – that targeted its Jewish populations, resulting in denationalization, forced expulsions, illegal sequestration of property, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and murder – namely, anti-Jewish pogroms.” [15]

Have the Middle Eastern Jews living in Israel succeeded?

Yes, and no. In Israel today Middle Eastern and North African Jews are found at all levels of Israeli society. Many members of the Israeli government have their roots in these communities. At the same time, social gaps do exist between Ashkenazi (European descent) and Mizrahi (Middle East and North African) Jews. Yet, as Avraham Tal writing in Ha’aretz observes, the gaps are closing: A review published in The Economic Quarterly by Dr. Shlomo Sitton, a lecturer in economics at the Hebrew University, of a review paper by Iris Jerby and Gal Levy, “Israel: The Socio-economic Gap,” examines their argument that “inequality between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim has not been erased and is even becoming sharper in many areas.” Sitton comes to the conclusion that the gap is actually narrowing and gives examples from four areas, based on the authors’ research data and the government’s Statistical Yearbook:
  • Education levels: Between 1986-87 and 1994-95 (the period covered by the study), the percentage of Askenazi Jews (of European and American origin, first and second generations) who earned high school matriculation certificates rose from 42 to 50 percent. Among Mizrahi Jews (of Asian and African origin, first and second generation), this rate increased from 23 to 34 percent. The gap exists, but narrowed from 19 percent to 16 percent. A similar trend is evident in higher education, where from 1975-76 to 1994-95 the percentage of Israelis earning Bachelor’s degrees rose from 17 to 27 percent among Ashkenazim and from 14 to 23 percent among Mizrahim.
  • Living conditions: While the proportion of people living in conditions of less than one person per room rose slightly between 1992 and 1998 among Ashkenazim born abroad – from 53 to 56 percent – the increase among Mizrahim born abroad rose from 31 to 51 percent to nearly close the gap).
  • Employment, by type of profession: the ethnic gap in the higher professions is still large – 38 percent of first-generation Ashkenazim held these positions in 1998, compared to 23 percent of their Mizrahi counterparts; for the second generation, the percentages are 52 and 25 percent, respectively. But since 1991 the gaps have closed slightly, from 18 to 15 percent among the first generation and from 29 to 27 percent in the second.
  • Income: Here, Sitton relies on an article by Dr. Jimmy Weinblatt, Dean of the Department of Humanities at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, “The Employment Market in a Pluralistic Society,” in a book published by the Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel. Weinblatt reaches the conclusion that the wage gap between urban salaried employees born in Europe and America and those born in Asia and Africa (first-generation in both cases) nearly closed between 1985 and 1997. (A contributory factor may have been the still-low income levels among immigrants from the CIS). Among the second generation, the gap widened somewhat “but one cannot speak of a true deepening” of the gap.

Were Jewish refugees from Arab states treated differently than the Arab refugees from Palestine?

Yes. Nearly 50 percent of Israel’s Jewish population today has their roots in Arab countries, while the Arabs who left Israel constitute less than 2 percent of the total Arab population in Arab states. Even so, the Jewish refugees were – in spite of tremendous difficulties, especially in the early years of Israel’s independence – economically and socially absorbed and given a secure haven in the State of Israel, whereas the Palestinian Arab refugees were deliberately herded into refugee camps by their host Arab states, devoid of the minimal conditions for decent life, so that they might become a political and propaganda tool in the hands of the Arab governments in their relentless fight against the State of Israel. Furthermore, Jewish refugees from Arab states received no financial support whatsoever from the international community: their absorption was financed, to the last cent, by the Israeli government and by their Jewish brethren in Israel and abroad. Jewish refugees from Arab states have not been granted any international political recognition of their plight. There are no UN resolutions calling for this population to receive just compensation and restitution. Palestinian Arab refugees, on the other hand, have received massive political and material support from the United Nations, whose agencies – primarily the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – have spent billions of dollars, from May 1950 to date, on their maintenance. Despite propaganda in many Arab countries, which has succeeded in establishing the concept of “the legitimate rights of the Palestinians” and their “right of return” in the organs of world public opinion, the world community is only now beginning to recognize the fact that the Jewish refugees from Arab countries have no less legitimate rights, and that these rights should be fully acknowledged and restored.

Shouldn’t the Jews from Arab states be invited to return to their former homes?

Such an invitation exists already, but virtually none of the Jewish refugees or their children,want to return to those lands where they suffered intolerable violence and persecution. They simply want justice. They want the international community to recognize their plight and integrate full compensation of their lost property as part of a final Middle East peace agreement.

Wasn’t the Arab backlash against Middle Eastern and North African Jews understandable because of the Arab-Israeli conflict?

No. Just as the backlash against Arab-Americans after September 11 was not “understandable” and has been correctly labeled as racist; just as the backlash against Japanese-Americans in World War Two was racist and unjustified, so too was any Arab backlash against the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa. If the Jews of Arab states were truly seen by their neighbors and governments as equal citizens then the anti-Jewish rioting, massacres and expulsions would not have taken place.

Who are the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa?

There has been an uninterrupted presence of large Jewish communities in the Middle East and North Africa from time immemorial. In the eighth and sixth centuries BCE* Assyria and Babylon respectively conquered the ancient Kingdoms of Israel and Judea. This marks the beginnings of the ancient Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa, some 1,000 years before the Arab Muslim conquests of the these regions — including the Land of Israel — and about 2,500 years before the birth of the modern Arab states.

Despite the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests, the Land of Israel under various Jewish governments remained the central locale of most of ancient Jewry. Nonetheless, strong and vibrant Jewish communities remained in Mesopotamia, the Levant, Egypt, North Africa and (pre-Muslim) Arabia.

In the 7th century CE, Arab armies under the banner of the new religion of Islam conquered the vast regions of the Middle East and North Africa, encountering indigenous peoples living in their own lands. Over the centuries, through a process of Arabization and Islamicization, these regions are now known as the “Arab world.” Yet, non-Arab and non-Muslim minorities, the original indigenous inhabitants, remained as minorities in their own lands.

The 1,400 year history of the Jews under Arab and Muslim rule is a long and varied one. Jews (and Christians) were considered dhimmi, a “protected” group of second-class citizens. The Jews’ sojourn in Muslim lands was marked by some golden periods of prosperity, when Jews served as advisors to the ruling class; these periods were often marked by Jewish advances in medicine, business and culture. Jewish philosophy and religious study also flourished. Often, however, the Jews were subjected to punishing taxes, forced to live in cramped ghetto-like quarters and relegated to the lower-levels of the economic and social strata.

In 1948, two refugee populations emerged as a result of the Arab states’ war against the newly established State of Israel: the Palestinian Arabs and the indigenous Jewish populations who were expelled from Arab states. While Jewish refugees were absorbed into Israel and granted citizenship, Palestinian refugees were rarely, with the exception of Jordan, absorbed into their host Arab society.

Is there a connection between the Palestinian issue and the Jewish refugees from Arab states?

Much of the responsibility of the expulsion of the indigenous Jews of the Middle East and North Africa by Arab governments lies with the Palestinian political leadership who engaged in anti-Jewish incitement throughout the Arab world, with the help of Nazi Germany during World War Two, and after the war. In 1941 pro-Nazi Palestinian nationalist leader Hajj Amin al-Husayni, the Mufti of Jerusalem, arrived in Berlin, along with many other Palestinian leaders, as a guest of the German Nazi regime. He worked in several capacities for the triumph of the Nazi “new order:” he directed propaganda beamed to the Arabs of the Middle East and North Africa as well as Muslims in Asia to elicit rebellion and sabotage against the Allied powers; he was the linchpin for the Nazi espionage network in the Middle East and organizer of saboteurs who were spirited into the area; he organized an Arab Legion to serve with the German Army, and was active recruiting Muslim SS divisions in the Balkans and occupied Russia. The Nazis welcomed him and his entourage warmly. He was given a generous stipend and subsidies to sustain five residences and suites at two hotels in Germany. He established an “Arabishes Büro” and a so-called “Jewish Institute” at Nazi expense. Al-Hussayni asked Adolf Hitler, the Nazi Führer (leader), to apply the same methods against the Jews of the Middle East then being directed against Europe’s Jews.  Al-Hussayni drafted a political declaration, which he presented to the Axis allies of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, in the hope they would adopt it.  In paragraph 7 he would have Germany and Italy  recognize the rights of Palestine and other Arab countries (to) resolve the problem of the Jewish elements in Palestine and the other Arab countries in the same way as the problem was resolved in the Axis Countries. [1] (At this time the Jewish “problem” was being “resolved” by Nazi Germany through a genocide now known as the Holocaust.) Further, in a meeting between Hitler and al-Hussayni, on November 28, 1941, Hitler made this promise to the Palestinian leader: (the) Führer would offer the Arab world his personal assurance that the hour of liberation had struck. Thereafter, Germany’s only remaining objective in the region would be limited to the annihilation of the Jews living under British protection in Arab lands. [2] (emphasis added) With these assurances, al-Hussayni voiced his hope for a “final solution” to the Jewish presence in the Middle East in a speech given at a rally in Berlin, on November 2, 1943.   The speech was carried by Nazi Germany’s official radio network, Radio Berlin:  National Socialist Germany knows the Jews well and has decided to find a final solution for the Jewish danger which will end the evil in the world. The Arabs especially and Muslims in general are obliged to make this their goal, from which they will not stray and which they must reach with all their powers: it is the expulsion of all Jews from Arab and Muslim lands.”[3] (emphasis added) During the Palestine Partition debate at the United Nations, the Palestinian delegate to the UN, Jamal al-Hussayni, (representing the Arab Higher Committee of Palestine to the UN General Assembly and a nephew of Hajj Amin al-Hussayni), made the following threat: “It must be remembered that there are as many Jews in the Arab world as there are in Palestine whose positions… will become very precarious. Governments in general have always been unable to prevent mob excitement and violence.”[4]

Was there any coordination between Arab governments in the expulsions of the Middle Eastern and North African Jews?

Yes. The New York Times reported on May 16, 1948 on a series of measures taken by the Arab League to marginalize and persecute the Jewish residents of Arab League member states. TheTimes article reported on a “text of a law drafted by the Political Committee of the Arab League which was intended to govern the legal status of Jewish residents of Arab League countries. It provides that beginning on an unspecified date all Jews except citizens of non-Arab states, would be considered ‘members of the Jewish minority state of Palestine.’ Their bank accounts would be frozen and used to finance resistance to ‘Zionist ambitions in Palestine.’ Jews believed to be active Zionists would be interned and their assets confiscated.”

The Times article further reported the following:

“Already in some Moslem states such as Syria and Lebanon there is a tendency to regard all Jews as Zionist agents and ‘fifth columnists.’ There have been violent incidents with feeling running high. There are indications that the stage is being set for a tragedy of incalculable proportions.”

“In Syria, a policy of economic discrimination is in effect against Jews. ‘Virtually all’ Jewish civil servants in the employ of the Syrian Government have been discharged. Freedom of movement has been ‘practically abolished.’ Special frontier posts have been established to control movements of Jews.

“In Iraq no Jew is permitted to leave the country unless he deposits £5,000 ($20,000) with the Government to guarantee his return. No foreign Jew is allowed to enter Iraq even in transit.

“In Lebanon Jews have been forced to contribute financially to the fight against the United Nations partition resolution on Palestine. Acts of violence against Jews are openly admitted by the press, which accuses Jews of ‘poisoning wells,’ etc.

“Conditions vary in the Moslem countries. They are worst in Yemen and Afghanistan, whence many Jews have fled in terror to India. Conditions in most of the countries have deteriorated in recent months, this being particularly true of Lebanon, Iran and Egypt. In the countries farther west along the Mediterranean coast conditions are not so bad. It is feared, however that if a full-scale war breaks out, the repercussions will be grave for Jews all the way from Casablanca to Karachi.”

The Times article also makes references to

“Statements made by Arab spokesmen during the General Assembly session last autumn, to the effect that if the partition resolution was put into effect, they would not be able to guarantee the safety of the Jews in any Arab land.”

The following excerpt from “Why Jews Fled the Arab Countries,” by Ya’akov Meron, in The Middle East Quarterly, September 1995 (for the full article, click here) explores the nature of these statements made by the Egyptian, Palestinian and Iraqi delegates to the U.N. during the debate on the partition resolution.

In a key address before the Political Committee of the U.N. General Assembly on November 14, 1947, just five days before that body voted on the partition plan for Palestine, Heykal Pasha, an Egyptian delegate, made the following key statement in connection with that plan:

The United Nations . . . should not lose sight of the fact that the proposed solution might endanger a million Jews living in the Moslem countries. Partition of Palestine might create in those countries an anti-Semitism even more difficult to root out than the anti-Semitism which the Allies were trying to eradicate in Germany. . . If the United Nations decides to partition Palestine, it might be responsible for the massacre of a large number of Jews.

Heykal Pasha then elaborated on his threat:

A million Jews live in peace in Egypt [and other Muslim countries] and enjoy all rights of citizenship. They have no desire to emigrate to Palestine. However, if a Jewish State were established, nobody could prevent disorders. Riots would break out in Palestine, would spread through all the Arab states and might lead to a war between two races.[5]

Heykal Pasha’s thinly veiled threats of “grave disorders,” “massacre,” “riots,” and “war between two races” did not at the time go unnoticed by Jews;[6] for them, it had the same ring as the proposition made six years earlier by the Palestinian leader Hajj Amin al-Husayni to Hitler of a “final solution” for the Jews of Arab countries, including Palestine (see above). But the statement appears to have made no lasting impression, to the point that a historian of the Jews in Egypt has described Heykal Pasha as “a well-known liberal.”[7]

Particularly noteworthy is that although Heykal Pasha spoke at the United Nations in his capacity as a representative of Egypt, he continuously mentioned the Jews “in other Muslim countries” and “all the Arab states,” suggesting a level of coordination among the Arab governments. Indeed, four days after his statement, Iraq’s Foreign Minister Fadil Jamali declared at the United Nations that “interreligious prejudice and hatred” would bring about a great deterioration in the Arab-Jewish relationship in Iraq and in the Arab world at large,[8] thereby reinforcing the impression that Heykal Pasha was talking not just on behalf of Egypt but for all the independent Arab states. Further confirmation came several days later, after the General Assembly had decided in favor of partitioning Palestine, when, “following orders issued by the Arab League,”[9] Muslims engaged in outrages against Jews living in Aden and Aleppo.[10]

Another indication that Arab rulers coordinated the expulsion of Jews from their territories comes from a Beirut meeting one and a half years later of senior diplomats from all the Arab States. By this time, March 1949, the Arab states had already lost the first Arab-Israeli war; they now used this defeat to justify an expulsion that had been officially proclaimed before the war even began. As reported in a Syrian newspaper, “If Israel should oppose the return of the Arab refugees to their homes, the Arab governments will expel the Jews living in their countries.”[11]

According to Walid Khalidi, perhaps the leading Palestinian nationalist historian and a highly reputable source, “The (Palestinian) Arabs held their ground throughout the period from November 1947 to March 1948. Up to March 1, not one single Arab village had been vacated by its inhabitants, and the number of people leaving the mixed towns was insignificant.”[12] The mass departure from Palestine of 590,000 Arabs began only in April 1948; yet, Heykal Pasha had publicly and very formally announced a program to expel Jews from Arab countries fully five months earlier.

What is Henna?

Henna is an ink made from the henna plant, most often used for temporary tattooing or body art. Henna was often used among the Jews in North African countries for vanity as well as ceremonial purposes. Today henna is commonly used in Sephardi/Mizrahi Jewish  pre-wedding bridal celebrations, with different designs symbolizing icons meant to protect the bride. Demons and evil spirits are supposed to be driven away by disguising the couple with intricate ink designs that may last weeks on the wedding couple's skin. The henna ceremony takes place toward the end of the couple's wedding party, once the bride has put on her last set of clothes before she gets married. The oldest member of the family, usually the grandmother, spreads henna on the palms of the bride and groom. The henna is then wrapped against the skin to lock in body heat, creating a more intense color. Guests are sometimes encouraged to spread henna on their palms afterward as a symbol of good luck.

What is Mimouna?

Mimouna is a traditional festival celebrated by Moroccan Jews at nightfall on the last day of Passover and throughout the following day until sundown. Families open their homes to the public as they host a celebration involving family, friends, neighbors, and food. A family’s kitchen table features many different cuisines including assorted fruits, vegetables, eggs, cakes, sweet meats, milk and wine, butter, honey, jams, and the popular pastry called Mufleta. Since the celebration coincides with the last day of Passover breads, cakes and leavened breads previously prohibited from being eaten during Passover are particularly present in the celebration. Mimouna is a time to celebrate luck and good fortune as well as the start of the spring season. Foods eaten symbolize fertility, joy, abundance, success, health, and prosperity.

What is Arab Nationalism?

Arab Nationalism is an ideology which rose to prominence in the 1950s as Arab Nations began to gain independence from former colonial powers. The premise of Arab Nationalism is that there should be political, cultural, religious, and historical unity among the people of Arab nations. Arab nationalism’s main goal was to achieve independence of Western influence for all Arab countries. However, Arab Nationalism became the basis for alienation and loss of national identity for many indigenous Jews and other minorities of Arab countries. Once many Arab countries achieved their independence from European colonial powers, the ideology of Arab Nationalism inspired clauses of many constitutions of new Arab countries stating that Arabic was the particular Arab nation's official language and the the source of all law was the religion of Islam. Across the Middle East and North Africa the movement alienated Jews and other non-Arab minorities living in the region such as Christians, Berbers and Kurds who suddenly became foreigners in their own homelands because their identity did not conform with the majority population who identified racially as Arab or religiously as Muslims. An example of a law inspired by Arab Nationalism which severely alienated an indigenous Jewish Community was a 1947 amendment to the Egyptian Companies Law which mandated that at least 75% of the administrative employees and 90% of employees in general of an Egyptian company had to be Egyptian nationals. This law led to the dismissal from employment and loss of livelihoods of most of Egypt's Jewish community due to the fact that the Egyptian government had previously in 1926, granted Egyptian nationality to persons of "foreign fathers," only if the "foreign father belonged  racially to the majority of the population of a country whose language is Arabic or whose religion is Islam." Most Egyptian Jews, while Ottoman subjects in 1926 where unable to claim Egyptian Nationality because they failed to meet the Egyptian government's racial requirements.

What is the Talmud?

The Talmud is the chief text of Judaism, the teachings discuss Jewish laws, ethics, philosophy, and history according to hundreds of different rabbis. The Talmud is comprised of two sections: the Mishnah and the Gemara. The Mishnah describes the Jewish oral law and the Gemara is the rabbinic interpretation of these laws. Altogether the Talmud consists of 63 tractates usually taking up approximately 6,200 pages of text. It is written in Tannaitic Hebrew and Aramaic. A large portion of the Talmud was compiled in Iraq, known as the Talmud Bavli. The Talmud Bavli was drafted over an approximately 200 year time period between the 3rd and 5th centuries AD. The center of Jewish study during this time period was Mesopotamia (known today as Iraq) where Nehardea, Nisibis, Mahoza, Pumbeditha (known today as Fallujah) where all centers of famous Yeshivot (schools of Jewish religious learning). More than 50 Rabbis from what is now known as Iraq contributed to the Talmud. The most famous of the Babylonian Rabbis were Rav Ashi, Ravina and Abba Arika a disciple of Rav Judah Ha-Nasi.

What are Piyut?

Piyut are Jewish ritual poems recited during religious services. Piyut have existed since ancient times and are most often recited and written in Hebrew or Aramaic. They usually follow a specific poetic pattern often following the order of the Hebrew alphabet.

What are refugees?

According to the United Nations a refugee is an individual who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country." After the Six-Day War, on November 22, 1967, the United Nations passed UN Resolution 242 affirming the necessity of achieving a just settlement to the refugee problem in the Middle East. In referring to a "just settlement" without referring to Palestinian refugees specifically, the United Nations acknowledged that Jews who fled their home Arab countries where bona fide refugees entitled to be included in a just settlement of the Middle East conflict.

What is a Rosh Hashanah Seder?

A Rosh Hashana Seder is a unique Jewish New Year celebration of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews. Blessings are recited over a variety of foods that symbolize wishes for the New Year. These blessings are recited in a specific order and all start with the phrase “yehi ratzoh,” hebrew for “may it be God’s will.” The blessings ask God for wealth, strength and peace.

What was Operation Ezra and Nehemiah?

Operation Ezra and Nehemiah was also known as Operation Ali Baba, these two airlifts were organized by the Israeli government and brought between 120,000 and 130,000 Iraqi Jews to Israel via Iran and Cyprus between 1950 and 1952. After the mass immigration of Iraqi Jews to Israel, only about 2000 Iraqi Jews remained by 1968. Today there are a handful of elderly Jews living in Iraq. The relative success of these first airlifts paved the way for future airlifts to Israel of other diaspora Jewish communities.

What was Operation Magic Carpet?

Operation Magic Carpet was an airlift to bring the Yemenite Jewish community to Israel organized by the government of Israel, the Imam of Yemen, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the British authorities in Aden. The airlift brought over 50,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel between June 1949 and September 1950. Although the secret airlift was considered a success for the large number of Jewish immigrants it brought to Israel, Yemenite immigrants were often forced to live in substandard ma’abarot (transit camp) housing once they got to Israel and over 850 Yemenite Jews died in the operation.

Did the Egyptian Government ever put its Jewish Community members in Concentration Camps?

Yes. Known in Egypt as Abu Zaabal and Tora, 500 of Egypt’s Jewish men including the Chief Rabbi of the community were forced to live in these prison camps during a three year period following Egypt’s 1967 Six-Day War with Israel. Internees were all Egyptian nationals who suffered great humiliation and a lack of sanitation at the hands of the guards as punishment for no crime but being Jewish.

What was the Giado Concentration Camp?

Giado was a concentration camp built in January 1942 by Italian Fascist authorities in Libya. The Italian colonial authorities decided that they needed to “clean out” Libya of its Jewish population when they established their colonial presence in Libya and forced over 3,000 Libyan Jews into camps, 75% of whom went to Giado. By the time the camp was liberated by British forces in the North Africa campaign in January 1942 over 500 Libyan Jews had died in the camps. Others had been shot trying to escape the camp.

What was the Egyptian Nationality Code of 1926 and how did it impact the Egyptian Jewish community?

The first Egyptian law defining who was an Egyptian citizen was issued by the Egyptian Government on May 26, 1926. According to this nationality code, a person born in Egypt of a ‘foreign’ father, (who himself was also born in Egypt), was entitled to Egyptian nationality only if the foreign father “belonged racially to the majority of the population of the country whose language is Arabic or whose religion is Islam.” The racial and language requirements were drafted into the code to redefine the Jews of Egypt as foreigners in their own country. The vast majority of Egyptian Jews while having been citizens of the previously ruling Ottoman Empire, were prohibited from acquiring Egyptian nationality with this law. Later, during the fifties, having failed to become ‘Egyptian,’ this law served as the official pretext for expelling many Jews from Egypt.

What does Coca-Cola have to do with the expropriation of Jewish owned property?

In November 1961 the government of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel-Nasser issued a decree declaring that “all Jews included in the list of sequestrations are deprived of their civic rights and cannot serve as guardians, caretakers or proxies in any business association or club.” Thus the family of Raphel Biglio, an Egyptian Jew lost their land in Heliopolis, a Cairo suburb that they had been leasing their land to the Coca-Cola Company. That land later became the headquarters of Coca-Cola, Egypt. In 1994 the Coca-Cola company purchased the land from an Egyptian government firm. Biglio sued the Coca-Cola company in American courts for a return of the land. Although the Second Circuit Court dismissed the case saying that Biglio had “not sufficiently alleged that the Coca-Cola Company headquarters in the US controlled Coca- Cola Egypt.” The court did say that Biglio’s lawyers had shown that the En-Nasr bottling company had trespassed the Biglio’s family property.

What is a Laissez-Passer?

A Laissez-Passer is a travel document issued by National Governments and sometimes International organizations such as the United Nations, International Red Cross or the European Union. Usually the travel document is issued for one-way travel to the issuing country for humanitarian reasons only. In the 1950s when the Iraqi government allowed its 120,000 Jewish citizens to leave the country on the condition that they would renounce their citizenship a Laissez-Passer was issued to them as they were stripped of their passports.

What were the 1969 Hangings in Iraq?

On January 27, 1969 Saddam Hussein ordered the hangings of nine innocent Iraqi Jews accused of being Israeli spies. Eight of the nine were from Basra while one was from Baghdad. In the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War the Iraqi government had already issued decrees preventing Jews from attending universities, prohibiting Jews from holding employment, phone lines in Jewish houses were cut and Jews were denied the right to travel outside of Iraq. Saddam Husseim began a campaign of scare tactics which included posting agents in front of Jewish houses and businesses, random abductions of Jews by police forces and the government’s seizure of Jewish assets. The nine Jewish men were put on a televised mock military trial and their hanging was met with much public fanfare and celebration. At the time of the hangings, there were 2,500 Jews still living in Iraq but the hangings marked the beginning of the end of the Iraqi Jewish Community. Almost the entire Jewish Community fled Iraq after the hangings.

[1] On July 22, 1991 the New York Post reported that the Wiesenthal Center had discovered this document in the UN archives on July 2, 1991.

[2] From notes taken by Dr. Paul Otto Schmidt as quoted in Gerald Fleming’s Hitler and the Final Solution, p. 101-104, University of California Press (1988).  Also Geheime Reichssache 57 a/41, Records Dept. Foreign and Commonwealth Office Pa/2

[3] Text of Hajj Amin al-Hussayni’s speech of 2 November, 1943, National Archives, Washington, D.C. T60/2576066-9

[4] United Nations, Official Records of the Second Session of the General Assembly Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question, Summary Records of Meetings, September 25, 1947, Lake Success, New York

[5] U.N. General Assembly, Second Session, Official Records, Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question, Summary Records of Meetings, Lake Success, N.Y., Sept. 25-Nov. 15, 1947, p. 185.

[6] For example, Emile Najjar, the last president of the Egyptian Zionist Federation and a future Israeli diplomat, pointed out Heykal Pasha’s remarks in a lecture delivered in Paris at the Centre d’Etudes de Politique Etrangére on Dec. 20, 1947.

[7] Gurdron Krämer, “Aliyatah u-shki’atah shel Kehilat Kahir,” Pe’amim, Spring 1981, pp. 28-30-34.

[8] U.N. General Assembly, Second Session, Official Records, Verbatim Record of the Plenary Meeting, vol. II, 110th-128th meetings, Lake Success, N.Y., Sept. 16-Nov. 29, 1947, p. 1391.

[9] H.J. Cohen, The Jews of the Middle East, 1860-1972 (Jerusalem: Israel Universities Press, 1973), p. 67.

[10] Daniel Pipes, Greater Syria: The History of an Ambition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990) p. 57, records 75 victims of the Aleppo massacre.

[11] Al-Kifah, Mar. 28, 1949, quoted Shlomo Hillel, Ruah Kadim (Jerusalem: ‘Idanim, 1985) p. 244. This book is available in English as Operation Babylon, trans. Ina Friedman (New York: Doubleday, 1987).

[12] Walid Khalidi, “Plan Dalet, Master Plan for the Conquest of Palestine,” Middle East Forum, Nov. 1961, p. 27.

[13] Maurice M. Roumani, The Case of the Jews From Arab Countires: A Neglected Issue, World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries, Tel Aviv (1978).

[14] Ibid

[15] Irwin Cotler, “Revisionism, rejectionism and Arab-Israeli peace,” Jerusalem Post, Dec. 2011

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