As soon as the State of Israel began to seek redress for the nearly a million
Jews born in Arab countries who came to Israel in 1948, Hanan Ashrawi, a member
of the Palestinian National Council, claimed that these Jews were never
refugees. For her, a refugee is a person who has left their country of origin
under external pressure, and Jews from Arab countries do not correspond to this
While her motivation for making this absurd claim is clearly
to reserve the term “refugee” exclusively for the Arabs who fled Palestine in
1948, let’s play along. A million Jews were forced to leave Arab countries
against their will in the ‘50s and ‘60s, under the pressure of Arab nationalism.
So what term would she use to describe these people? Exiles? Fugitives?
Expatriots? Why not UFOs? In its eagerness to respond to Israel on this matter,
the Palestinian leadership has opened the door to an issue that has as yet not
had enough attention paid to it, namely the hidden face of Arab (and
Palestinian) nationalism: xenophobia.
Consider Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas’ incredible statement that the future Palestinian state
would not contain a single Jew. A true Judenrein state.
Abbas, of course,
did not mention the 500,000 Jews from North Africa who had to leave from their
homeland, or the over 100,000 Jews of Egypt, or those of Iraq, Syria, Yemen,
The UN has never even acknowledged this mass exodus, which
resulted in the total, or near-total de-judaization of these
Yet it gave the Arabs who fled Palestine the status of
“refugee.” The Muslim worlds depopulation of Jews has also been ignored by the
media and history books, as well as by international bodies. A hush fell over
this chapter of history, allowing the Palestinian mythology to flourish
IN ALGERIA, there was a real ethnic cleansing in 1962. In July of
that year, 150,000 Jews were forced to leave the country suddenly and en masse
after the National Liberation Front (FLN) took power there. The Jews of Algeria
had no choice; the Algerian nationalists gave them (and the Christians
community, as well) two options: “the suitcase or the coffin.”
it was not all systematic ethnic cleansing. In Tunisia, for example, there was a
first wave starting at independence (1956).
Tunisian Jews left their
homeland en masse in 1967 after the riots that led to the burning of the Great
Synagogue of Tunis. Again, the Tunisian crowd’s frenzy of hate proved that no
one but the Muslims had a place in the land of Islam. Again, this xenophobia of
Arab nationalism was the cause of an exodus.
Enumerating all the forms of
pressure exerted on the Jews of the Arab Middle East would make too long a list.
But whatever form it took, whether red tape, murder or arbitrary detention, as
occurred in Egypt in 1948, the Arab countries’ policies all shared one goal: to
force the Jews to leave. And they did – they left naked, forced to leave
everything behind. Thousands of years of Jewish history was swept aside by
tyrants such as Ben Bella, Gamal Abdel Nasser and others.
that although there were a few “incidents,” a few murders or anti-Semitic
pogroms, and although at the time many Arab countries were brutal dictatorships,
the real culprit for the exodus of the Jews is... the Jewish Agency.
is true that the Jewish Agency scoured the Arab countries to bring the Jews in
Israel. But the vast majority of North African Jews emigrated to France, not
Israel. Ashrawi is dead wrong on this point of history, but she’s also
contradicted by the collective memory of the Jews in these regions.
the arrival of the French in the middle of the 19th century, the Jews of North
Africa were dhimmis or second-class citizens, inferior in rights to Muslim
citizens. France gave them equality, freedom and dignity. When France abandoned
its colonial empire, the Jews did not want to return to their former dhimmi
status. It was not the Jewish Agency that instilled this fear of social decline;
this political and civic fear of losing one’s freedom.
If the Jewish
Agency was responsible for the mass exodus of the Jews from the Arab world, as
Hanan Ashrawi asserts, then why was the Arab Christian community also affected,
to the extent that many of these countries also became dechristianized? These
expressions of Ashrawi and the leaders of the Palestinian Authority exhibit only
their hollow thinking and xenophobia. Peace will come through mutual recognition
of wrongs that the parties have caused.
The author is a France-based