The Lost Jewish Communities of the Arab world

This memorial day commemorates the tragedy of people who were forced to flee from their homes and to leave the countries where they had lived for millennia, solely because of their Jewish identity. ?

 

The lost Jewish communities of the Arab worldThis memorial day commemorates the tragedy of people who were forced to flee from their homes and to leave the countries where they had lived for millennia, solely because of their Jewish identity. ​
The lost Jewish communities of the Arab world
​On 30 November, Israel and the Jewish world remember the fate of more than 850,000 Jews who were forced out of Arab countries and Iran in the 20th century.
This memorial day commemorates the tragedy of people who were forced to flee from their homes and to leave the countries where they had lived for millennia, solely because of their Jewish identity. Many were deprived of their belongings and many suffered from violence and persecution.
The story of the expulsion of entire Jewish communities from Arab lands is an important part of modern Jewish history that profoundly affected the Jewish nation as a whole as well as the demographic composition of the Middle East and North Africa. This is a story that has to be told.
Current research estimates that the number of Jews living in Arab countries and Iran totaled more than 850,000 at the time of Israel’s independence. Some scholars even think the number is closer to one million. In the North African region, 259,000 Jews fled from Morocco, 140,000 from Algeria, 100,000 from Tunisia, 75,000 from Egypt, and another 38,000 from Libya. In the Middle East, 135,000 Jews were exiled from Iraq, 55,000 from Yemen, 34,000 from Turkey, 20,000 from Lebanon and 18,000 from Syria. Iran forced out 25,000 Jews.
The following descriptions typify what Jews living in Arab countries and Iran went through in the 1940s and following Israel’s declaration of independence up to the second half of the 20th century.
Iraq 
In Iraq, where a large community of Jews lived for 2600 years, violent riots known as the Farhud erupted in June 1941, targeting the Jewish population, mainly in Bagdad.  Dejected soldiers of a failed coup took advantage of a power vacuum and swarmed into Jewish communities together with a bloodthirsty mob, killing 179 innocent people, injuring more than 2,100, and leaving 242 children orphans. This act of violence was celebrated across the Arab world and in Nazi Germany.
In 1948 as a response to UNGA Resolution 181 (“the Partition Plan”)  and Israel’s independence, laws were passed making Zionism a criminal offense, allowing the police to raid and search thousands of Jewish homes for any evidence of Zionism. Jews were removed from thousands of government positions and their homes were valued at 80% less than those of their Arab neighbors.
In the years 1948-1951, over 120,000 Iraqi Jews immigrated to Israel to forge a new life. In doing so, they forfeited their citizenship and (after March 1951) their property. The ancient Jewish community in Iraq (which at one time constituted nearly one-third of the total population of Baghdad) is now non-existent.
Egypt 
The story of the Jewish population of Egypt is similar. In the 1940s, hostility against the Egyptian Jewish community, which numbered around 80,000 people, increased. Laws were passed setting limitations for employing Egyptians of Jewish descent, as well as requiring majority shareholders of companies to be Egyptian nationals. Since Jews were denied citizenship as a rule, many Jews lost their jobs and businesses.
During the 1948 War of Independence, thousands of Egyptian Jews were put into internment camps, forced from their jobs, and arrested for supposed collaboration with an enemy state, Jewish synagogues, homes, and businesses were bombed; many Jews were killed and wounded. More than 14,000 Jews immigrated to Israel during this time seeking safety. Between 1948 and 1958, more than 35,000 Jews fled Egypt. While much of this immigration was due to systematic oppression, another contribution factor was Zionism and the desire to live in the newly reestablished Jewish homeland in Israel.
Between 1956 and 1968 another 38,000 Jews fled Egypt, mostly to Israel, to escape systematic injustices such as government expropriation of their homes and businesses and arbitrary arrests of Jewish citizens.
Yemen
The Yemeni Jews faced some of the worst persecution. At the end of November 1947, the Arab population of Aden in Yemen decided to hold a 3-day strike in protest against UNGA Resolution 181 (the Partition Plan). The protest quickly turned violent. Over 80 innocent Yemeni Jews were slaughtered, over 100 Jewish-owned businesses were completely looted, and homes, schools, and synagogues were burnt to the ground. This was one of the most violent attacks on any Jewish population in the Arab world.
A unique and creative solution was found for saving the persecuted Yemeni Jews. From 1949 to 1950, the Israeli government enacted Operation Magic Carpet (known in Hebrew as “On the Wings of Eagles”). The operation was implemented by US and British aircraft, which flew to Aden and airlifted the Jews from Yemen to Israel. By the end of the operation, over 47,000 Yemeni Jews were rescued from persecution and taken to their new home in the State of Israel.
Libya
Jews had lived in Libya for more than 2,300 years, and had a thriving culture, with a population of over 37,000. During World War II, The Libyan regime implemented their own Nazi-inspired holocaust, where more than 2,000 Jews were transported to desert concentration camps, and hundreds of them died. In post-war Libya, Arab nationalism grew in popularity, resulting in violent pogroms against the Jewish community. In 1945, in the city of Tripoli, more than 140 Jews were killed in a violent antisemitic riot, and a few years later in 1948, another pogrom erupted, resulting in 12 Jewish deaths and the destruction of over 280 Jewish homes. In the three years between 1948 and 1951, 30,972 Jews fled to Israel due to the hostile Arab government of Libya.
Remembering their stories
The descendants of these immigrants from Arab countries now account for a majority of Israel’s Jewish population. The Jewish exiles who were forced to flee their homes overcame personal and communal tragedy and not only persevered, but thrived; many have risen to important positions in the national government and in the public and private sectors. They have made an invaluable contribution to the fabric of Israeli society, and their vibrant cultures are an integral part of the colorful mosaic of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. It is time for the world to hear their story.

Frank Iny School; Baghdad, Iraq

Frank Iny School at Baghdad, Iraq

The Frank Iny School was built in Baghdad, Iraq during the 1940s in order to educate the many Jewish children who remained in Iraq after the taskeet. Frank Iny, after whom the school was named, constructed this school which went on to serve hundreds of Jewish children [1]. Former students of the Frank Iny School recall how the school’s policies changed over time due to the shifts in the Iraqi government. Since most of Iraq’s Jews fled the country in 1951 and the Iraqi monarchy fell in 1958, the few remaining Jews in the country felt pressure to guard their heritage as well as their lives. As such, the Frank Iny School, which had once had prominent and well-attended awards ceremonies and plays, became more discreet in order to avoid catching unwanted attention [2]. Although many Jewish schools had once operated in Iraq, often with the support of the local Jewish community, Iraqi government, or international Jewish organizations in Paris and London, these schools began to close in the 1940s. The Frank Iny School was thus the last Jewish school in Baghdad, but closed in 1973 [3].
Description
Baghdad was home to the largest Jewish community in Iraq possibly from as early as its founding in the eighth century. By 1908, the Jews of Baghdad numbered around 53,000, about a third of Baghdad’s total population, and lived in many quarters–including al-Tawrat, Tahat it-Takyah, Abu Saifan, and Suq Hannun. Although Jews were involved in local politics, new tensions began to rise between Jews and Muslims–leading to an anti-Jewish riot on October 15, 1908–and World War I forced many Jews to flee the city. In 1948, the Jewish community in Baghdad numbered around 77,000; however, the Jewish community began to fear life in Baghdad after the Farhūd, a pogrom which occured on June 1, 1941, left 130 Jews killed and millions lost in property damange. The Farhūd inspired the growth of Zionism and Communism among a minority of Jews in Baghdad who felt increasingly disconnected from the Iraq state. Bombings throughout the 1950s further estranged the Jewish community, and by 1952 only about 6,000 Jews remained in Iraq. The Jewish community endured further violence throughout Saddam Husayn’s regime, and by 2003 the last synagogue in Baghdad had closed [4].

[1] Marina Benjamin, Last Days in Babylon: The Exile of Iraq’s Jews, the Story of My Family (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2006), p. 218, accessed August, 6, 2014, http://books.google.com/books?id=JFHwzjYDjjwC&printsec.

[2] Ivy, “Such a pity it does not exist anymore,” Iraqi Jews Who Left Baghdad in the 1960’s and 1970’s, N.d., accessed August, 6, 2014, http://iraqijews.awardspace.com/frankiny.html.

[3] “Personal and Communal Life: School Records,” Preserving the Iraqi Jewish Archive, N.d., accessed August 6, 2014, http://www.ija.archives.gov/exhibit/personal-and-communal-life.

[4] Yaron Ayalon; Ariel I. Ahram, “Baghdad,” Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World, Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman, Brill Online, 2014, Reference, Wellesley College, 19 June 2014 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/baghdad-SIM_000468&gt;.

Last Days in Babylon

Last Days in Babylon: The Exile of Iraq’s Jews, the Story of My Family

Front Cover
Marina Benjamin
Simon and Schuster, Jun 24, 2008Biography & Autobiography336 pages
Marina Benjamin grew up in London feeling estranged from her family’s exotic Middle Eastern ways. She refused to speak the Arabic her mother and grandmother spoke at home. She rejected the peculiar food they ate in favor of hamburgers and beer. But when Benjamin had her own child a few years ago, she realized that she was losing her link to the past.

In Last Days in Babylon, Benjamin delves into the story of her family’s life among the Jews of Iraq in the first half of the twentieth century. When Iraq gained independence in 1932, Jews were the largest and most prosperous ethnic group in Baghdad. They dominated trade and finance, hobnobbed with Iraqi dignitaries, and lived in grandiose villas on the banks of the Tigris. Just twenty years later the community had been utterly ravaged, its members effectively expelled from the country by a hostile Iraqi government. Benjamin’s grandmother Regina Sehayek lived through it all. Born in 1905, when Baghdad was still under Ottoman control, her childhood was a virtual idyll. This privileged existence was barely touched when the British marched into Iraq. But with the rise of Arab nationalism and the first stirrings of anti-Zionism, Regina, then a young mother, began to have dark premonitions of what was to come. By the time Iraq was galvanized by war, revolution, and regicide, Regina was already gone, her hair-raising escape a tragic exodus from a land she loved — and a permanent departure from the husband whose gentle guiding hand had made her the woman she was.

Benjamin’s keen ear and fluid writing bring to life Regina’s Baghdad, both good and bad. More than a stirring story of survival, Last Days in Babylon is a bittersweet portrait of Old World Baghdad and its colorful Jewish community, whose roots predate the birth of Islam by a thousand years and whose culture did much to make Iraq the peaceful desert paradise that has since become a distant memory.

In 2004 Benjamin visited Baghdad for the first time, searching for the remains of its once vital Jewish community. What she discovered will haunt anyone who seeks to understand a country that continues to command the world’s attention, just as it did when Regina Sehayek proudly walked through Baghdad’s streets. By turns moving and funny, Last Days in Babylon is an adventure story, a riveting history, and a timely reminder that behind today’s headlines are real people whose lives are caught — too often tragically — in the crossfire of misunderstanding, age-old prejudice, and geopolitical ambition.

Meet Carole Basri

Meet Carole Basri

Carole Basri is senior vice president of Balint, Brown and Basri LLC, a legal staffing company, and is an adjunct professor at Fordham University Law School.

Basri was assistant counsel on the U.S. Senate Antitrust and Monopoly Subcommittee, and was an attorney at the Federal Trade Commission. She was in-house counsel at the advertising agency of NW Ayer Inc., which she left to become an associate at Baker & McKenzie. Later, she joined Hall, Dickler, Lawler, Kent and Friedman. Basri was in-house counsel at Maidenform Inc. and a consultant to the Perrier Group, Inc. From 1994 to 2002, she was a consultant to Deloitte & Touche LLP, and helped to create its Ethics and Compliance practice.

In 2003, Basri was a member of the U.S. State Department’s “Future of Iraq” Project. She was also a member for the Coalition Provisional Authority, and worked with the Iraqi Reconstruction Development Council on business, anti-corruption and transparency issues in Iraq. Basri also worked with the Iraqi Ministry of Health and the Iraqi Red Crescent on health and legal issues. She is now president of the World Organization of Jews from Iraq. Basri is also a documentary film producer, and recently produced a documentary on hemophiliacs in Iraq who contracted AIDS through tainted blood.

Last Updated: June 15, 2017

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In 1950 Baghdad was 40% Jewish. Today a handful of Jews remain. Uncover the shocking facts about the ethnic cleansing of Iraq’s Jews and what it means for peace in the Middle East today. Why has the world been silent about this atrocity? What is the Islamic view of Jewish citizens? The wretched history of Jews in Arab countries makes a strong case for Israel.

WATCH: the “Taskeet” – Ethnic Cleansing of Iraqi Jews!