Kuwaiti writer: We’ve ignored it, but Jews played important part in country’s history

A columnist published an article tracing the history of the Jews in his country; Kuwaitis of old were a shining model of interfaith coexistence and tolerance.

November 2, 2014 05:07
2 minute read.

Kuwait's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki sign a memorandum of understanding as PA President Abbas stands behind them in Ramallah September 14. (photo credit: REUTERS)

A Kuwaiti columnist, Nasser Bader al-Eidan, published an article in the daily Al-Rai tracing the history of the Jews in his country and its positive contributions to its economy and culture.

According to a report by MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute), Eidan stated: “Kuwaitis of old were a shining model of interfaith coexistence and tolerance. Nowadays such tolerance doesn’t exist [even] among members of the same faith, same homeland and same destiny.”

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“The presence of Jews in Kuwait began in the late 18th century. Most of them came from Iraq because of the Ottoman regime, which imposed the [jizya] poll [tax] upon them and undermined their trade activity,” explained Eidan. “The history of the Jews in Kuwait is important, but most of our generation knows nothing about it, and our textbooks ignore it.”

Eidan observed the important role Jews played in Kuwait’s modern history “whether we like it or not,” as they contributed to trade, arts and the sciences.

Kuwaiti Jews worked in business with Muslims, he said, mentioning the Yehezkel family, which had a company responsible for supplying electricity to the country for 35 years during the rule of Sheikh Ahmad al-Jaber (1921-1950).

He referred to the Jewish musicians Saleh al-Kuwaiti and his brother Daoud that have streets named after them in Tel Aviv.

MEMRI said that they moved from Iraq to Kuwait and the street in Tel Aviv is named: Al-Kuwaiti Brothers.

Historians dispute the exact number of Jews, but they numbered between 50 and 800 and had good relations with Sheikh Mubarak al-Sabah, who reigned from 1896-1915, seeing them as contributing to the trade economy.

“The first religious police in the Gulf was established in Kuwait during the time of the late Sheikh Salim al-Mubarak [1917- 1921] to [combat] the public drunkenness and lewdness that were common in those days,” he said. “The Kuwaiti Jews excelled in wine production in that period.”

Salim al-Mubarak was religious and because of the Jews' wine production, relations soured during his reign.

Eidan cited the research done by Kuwaiti scholar Yousef al-Mutairi from Kuwait University and his interview of Anwar Cohen, “the last Jew to emigrate from Kuwait” in 1953.

“Cohen says that many Jews left Kuwait for Iraq and other countries for various reasons, chief among them [the atmosphere in Kuwait following] the founding of the State of Israel,” he said.

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