Eretz Israel is our unforgettable historic homeland...The Jews who will it shall achieve their State...And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind. (Theodor Herzl, DerJudenstaat, 1896)

We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East.
(From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America, Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.... For the global jihad, Israel may be the first objective. But it will not be the last. (Friends of Israel Initiative)

Friday, 12 November 2010

The Expulsion of the Jews from Muslim Countries, 1920-1970: A History of Ongoing Cruelty and Discrimination

This article by Professor Shmuel Trigano is a must-read in the light of the ruthlessly waged campaign of delegitimisation of Israel using the Nakba, the “Right of Return” demand, and the“Born in Sin” allegation as weapons. Professor Trigano is a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Professor of Sociology at the University of Paris-Nanterre.  He is director of the College of Jewish Studies at the Alliance Israélite Universelle, editor of Pardes, a journal of Jewish studies, and founder of L'Observatoire du Monde Juif, a research centre on Jewish political life. 

Between 1920 and 1970, 900,000 Jews were expelled from Arab and other Muslim countries: from Morocco to Iran, from Turkey to Yemen, including places where they had lived for twenty centuries. The 1940s were a turning point in this tragedy; of those expelled, 600,000 settled in the new state of Israel, and 300,000 in France and Canada. Today, they and their descendants form the majority of the French Jewish community and a large part of Israel's population.

How does one explain this exodus? It is the blind spot of contemporary political consciousness and an object of denial. There is not even an expression to name this major event. "The Forgotten Exodus" is the most commonly used term. But it actually masks the nature and impact of this historical event. "Forgotten" by whom, other than ideologues? "Exodus" is an apt description of the situation but not of its causes, which the adjective "forgotten" occults even more. For those who underwent the expulsion have not forgotten it at all. Moreover, it is also an important historical fact.

This is a major transnational phenomenon. Jewish communities were expelled either in their entirety or almost so. Communities of some significance remain in Iran, Turkey, Morocco, and Tunisia. All the countries that expelled Jews have one thing in common: they belong to Islam (including Turkey and Iran, which are not Arab countries). However, it is hard to view this exodus as a whole. It largely took place over a thirty-year period (1940-1970) and covered a huge geographical area, from Morocco to Iran, from Turkey to Yemen.

In the countries that expelled Jews, a combination of six legal, economic, and political measures aimed at isolating Jews in society was instituted:
legal discrimination;
isolation and sequestration;
economic despoilment;
socioeconomic discrimination;
and pogroms or similar acts.

Anti-Semitism would have developed even without the existence of the state of Israel because of Arab-Islamic nationalism, which resulted in xenophobia. In the twentieth century, hostility toward Jews was spreading well before Israel's creation: in Yemen, Syria, Mandatory Palestine, Turkey, and Algeria.

It is the custom to say that Zionism was responsible for this development. But Zionism is to be understood, in the worldview of the Islamic mind, in another perspective. With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the birth of intolerant Arab nationalism, long-dominated nations (such as the Armenians and the Jews) sought independence. This was understood by the Arab world as a rebellion not only against the new Arab nation-states but also against Islamic law, which puts non-Muslims in the inferior status of a dominated nation: the dhimmis.

Both the Armenians and the Jews were subjected to violent repression. The former were massacred by the Ottoman Empire in 1894-1895 – around 300,000 victims – and suffered a genocide – 1,200,000 victims  –  by the Turks in 1908. The latter in Mandatory Palestine suffered pogroms in 1920, 1929, 1936, and 1939. And the Jews in Muslim countries ... were forced to leave. Hardly any Jews remain in the abovementioned countries, and the number of Christian Arabs is now dwindling in them as well.

The new Arab anti-Zionism contained classic anti-Semitic policies, as demonstrated by the "Statute of the Jews" that could be compared to the Vichy Statute of the Jews, except that it developed over a long time, in a huge geographical area, and at different periods. Jews were accused of being co-responsible with Israel for the war that the Arab states declared against the new state and then lost. Regardless of their ideological affiliation - communist, nationalist, Zionist, religious, and so on - they were subjected to special laws specifically aimed at Jews. They were expelled from all Arab-Muslim countries because a collective responsibility was imputed to them. This is typical anti-Semitic reasoning.

The Jews from Arab-Muslim countries were powerless. They had no army. They did not take part in the conflict. They were not responsible for triggering hostilities between the Arab states and Israel. That the Yishuv, the quasi-Jewish state that developed in Mandatory Palestine, became a state according to the United Nations Partition Plan was not also responsible for the war except for the scandal of its existence. Instead, the cause of the situation was the intolerance and imperialism of the new Arab states: before these attained independence, there were indeed no such states. Before the Western colonial empires there was another Islamic colonial empire, the Ottoman one. Palestine never existed as a political or cultural entity. The new nation-states – Israel included – were a product of the Western colonial empires and all were "invented." Why were these Jews in Arab countries persecuted and expelled if not as a result of an anti-Semitic ideology and policy? It was a continuation of the traditional Islamic anti-Judaism but defined in reference to the symbol of the rebellion of the Jewish dhimmis: Zionism.

The fact that these events have been obscured has served in the campaign to delegitimize Israel, and therefore to a large extent, the same population that suffered this oppression. The fate of Palestinian refugees, their proclaimed innocence, and the injustice they endured form the main thrust of this delegitimization.

About 600,000 of the Jews forced out of Islamic countries in those years attempted to reconstruct their life in Israel. They have suffered more than the Palestinian refugees and undergone greater spoliations.

They became citizens of the countries of refuge (Israel and France especially), while Palestinians were ostracized from the Arab nations. Unlike Israel, the Arab states have refused to integrate (Palestinian) refugees in the hopes of keeping hotbeds of conflict alive.

Today, 20 percent of Israeli citizens are Palestinian Arabs, while the few thousands of Jews still living in Arab and Muslim states (almost exclusively Iran, Morocco, Turkey, and Tunisia) are tiny quasi-dhimmi minorities, probably destined to disappear. Except in Turkey, they depend on a despotic or monarchic regime that needs them for specific interests in international politics. Since 1922, a Palestinian Arab state has already existed on the territory of Mandatory Palestine: Jordan, with 75 percent of its population Palestinian. The Palestinian Authority rules part of the remainder in what became "Cisjordania" after its annexation by Transjordan in 1948, which then became Jordan.

The Palestinians' fate is mainly the result of the policy of their leadership, who have always rejected the further division of Mandatory Palestine (as proposed in 1937 and 1947). The creation of Transjordan in 1922 apparently was not sufficient. Arabs from Palestine were the allies of the five Arab states that attacked the newly created state of Israel: Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Lebanon, as well as the Arab League. Even today, both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas reject the division of the land, denying Israel its natural right to a national existence while defining Palestine as exclusively Arab and Islamic.

The Jewish people are a people with a long history – contrary to the Palestinians –  and have the right of sovereignty in a land that has been the seat of three Jewish states since earliest antiquity. Zionism is the culmination of a process of self-determination, from a dominated nation in the Arab-Muslim world to an emancipated one within this world – that is, in the Middle East. There has been a population exchange. Israel's "original sin" is a fiction. These are the historical and political facts on which Jewish discourse must be founded. It is time to take back the initiative and restore the Jewish narrative.

You can read the entire article here


  1. Thanks Daphne for posting this. Well after many years of this issue not being discussed there is a new initiative led by DFM Danny Ayalon to recognise Mizrahi and Magrebi Jews as refugees. Danny himself is of Algerian descent.

    The new initiative promoted by the Foreign Ministry calls on Palestinians to "recognize Jews who exiled from Arab lands as refugees."

    The initiative comes as a response to the Palestinians' demand for a "right of return" to the Land of Israel.

    The initiative was drafted by members of Jewish-American organization JJAC.

    After discussing the initiative, Ayalon and National Security Council Chief Uzi Arad decided to hand the matter over to the Foreign Ministry's legal department.

    According to the initial outline of the plan, Israelis hailing from Arab countries will be eligible to demand financial compensation for the property they left behind.

    JJAC also suggested establishing funds that would help protect Jewish cemeteries, restore synagogues and return Torah scrolls to Arab countries, in addition to giving out research scholarships.

    The initiative was launched several days after the publication of Ayalon's article titled "I am a refugee," in which he wrote, "As a descendant of a family forced out of Algeria, my father and I – and the millions of other Jews from families who were expelled from Arab countries after 1948 – are entitled to redress."

    The article, which was published in newspapers across the globe, was also distributed in foreign embassies in Israel and consulates around the world.

    "The issue of Jewish refugees from Arab lands has not been dealt with – not on the public level, or on the political and judicial level," Ayalon claimed.

    "We must remember that more than 850,000 Israelis came from Arab lands without any property, and therefore they are considered refugees. It is definitely an issue that must be raised during our negotiations on a permanent agreement," he said.

    Ayalon also noted that "Israel has absorbed some 900,000 Jews who have assimilated into society, while Arab countries left their refugees to live in subhuman conditions."

    I wouldn't hold my breath that any individual families will receive compensation, but it's definitely worth families registering on the JJAC website.

  2. Thanks for that interesting post, Michelle.The initiative is certainly overdue. I think I mentioned it somewhere previously, but it's good to see it referred to again.