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The Expulsion of the Jews from Muslim Countries, 1920-1970: A History of Ongoing Cruelty and Discrimination
Between 1920 and 1970, 900,000 Jews were expelled from Arab and other Muslim countries. 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 the United States. Today, they and their descendents form the majority of the French Jewish community and a large part of Israel's population.
In the countries that expelled Jews, a combination of six legal, economic, and political measures aimed at isolating Jews in society was instituted: denationalization; legal discrimination; isolation and sequestration; economic despoilment; socioeconomic discrimination; and pogroms or similar acts.
It is the custom to say that Zionism was responsible for this development. However, the region's anti-Semitism would have developed even without the rise of the state of Israel because of Arab-Islamic nationalism, which resulted in xenophobia.
- 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. The Jewish refugees have suffered more than the Palestinian refugees and undergone greater spoliations. However, they became citizens of the countries of refuge, especially Israel and France, while Palestinians were ostracized from the Arab nations.
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.
The "Statute of the Jews"
Nevertheless, if one compares the facts in the various countries an identical model emerges: Jews were systematically expelled after a de facto "Statute of the Jews" was instituted. A combination of six legal, economic, and political measures aimed at isolating Jews in society was instituted:
- Isolation and sequestration
Pogroms or similar acts
1) The Denationalization of the Jews
The Jews were isolated from their society by a legal process in many lands.
This was the preliminary stage of their exclusion, which was followed by expulsion. A number of legal measures in various countries illustrate this point.
In Egypt the most articulate evolution occurred. It began with the Treaty of Sèvres (1920), a peace treaty between the Allies and the Ottomans that dismembered the Ottoman Empire and opened the way to the further creation of Arab (and Israeli) states. It addressed the question of nationality in Egypt and can be considered the first infringement of the rights of autochthonous Jews. The notion of belonging to a race (article 105) rather than a nation was introduced, thereby dissociating Jews from the majority of the population of the country. The next step was the nationality laws of 1927 and 1929, which favored jus sanguinis (or right of blood). An Egyptian was from then on defined as somebody who had Arab-Muslim affiliation.
The London Convention (1936) granted Egypt independence under King Farouk, and it was followed by a worsening of the nationality laws. According to additional nationality laws (in 1950, 1951, 1953, and 1956), autochthonous Jews became stateless: 40,000 people were turned into "foreigners" in their own country. In 1956, after the Sinai War, a new dimension was added: Egyptian nationality was taken away from anyone who committed acts in favor of enemy states or states with no relations with Egypt. In practice, all Jews were suspected of dual loyalty. This led ultimately to the accusation that all Jews were Zionists.
In Iraq, by the law of 9 May 1950, Jews who left Iraq were stripped of their nationality.
In Libya, the nationality laws of 12 June 1951 (art. 11, clause 27) decreed that the personal status of non-Muslims would be governed by their (religious) courts, in the manner of dhimmis during the premodern period. Jews were no longer allowed to vote or to hold political office.
2) Legal discrimination
A number of legal measures imposed restrictions on businesses and associations. Jewish communities and organizations were placed under supervision. Arabic became the sole language of public services.
In Libya, in 1953, Jews were subjected to restrictions and became victims of economic boycotts. The Maccabi sports club was forcibly opened to Arab members in 1954. A decree was issued on 9 May 1957 obliging Libyans with relatives in Israel to register at the Libyan boycott office, even though at that point, 90 percent of the Jews had already left. On 3 December 1958, Tripoli's Jewish community ceased to be an independent entity. Thereafter it was overseen by a state-appointed commissioner. Legal exclusion worsened. In 1960, Jews were prohibited from acquiring new possessions. They were no longer allowed to vote, hold public office, or serve in the army or the police. On 2 April 1960, Alliance Israélite Universelle schools were closed.
Similar developments occurred in Lebanon. As early as 1947, Jewish students were expelled from Beirut University. Jewish "Zionist" organizations (such as the Maccabi sports club) were forbidden. Jews were discharged from public service positions and Jewish youth movements banned.
In Iraq, Jewish history and Hebrew language instruction were prohibited in Jewish schools during the 1920s. Jews were expelled from public service and education in the 1930s. The Jewish schools' curricula were censored in 1932.
In Iran, Zionist activities (differentiated from "Jewish" activities) were banned in 1979. In 2000, discrimination developed in public service, universities, and public companies.
In Yemen, sharia law was instated in 1913, worsening the situation of the dhimmi. Decrees specifying forced conversion for orphans were issued between 1922 and 1928, while Jews were excluded from public service positions and the army.
In Syria, real estate purchase was prohibited to Jews in 1947, and Jews began to be discharged from public service positions. In 1967, Muslim principals were appointed to Jewish schools.
In Morocco, after independence in 1956, a process of Arabization of public services began, cutting the Jews off from the larger society. A dahir (decree) Moroccanizing Jewish charitable organizations was issued on 26 November 1958, endangering their freedom.
In Egypt, a long process of discrimination in the public service began in 1929. In 1945-1948, Jews were excluded from the public service. In 1947, Jewish schools were put under surveillance and forced to Arabize and Egyptianize their curricula. Community organizations were forced to submit their member lists to the Egyptian state after May 1948 and until 1950. In 1949, Jews were forbidden to live in the vicinity of King Farouk's palaces.
In Tunisia, a law concerning Judaism (11 July 1958) put an end to Jewish communities, replaced them with temporary "Israelite worship commissions," and suppressed the personal status of the Jews (inherited from the dhimmi status, which obliged the Jews to depend on their religious tribunals for all matters related to their personal status). In Tunisia too, independence (1956) led to the Tunisification of public services.
Turkey under the Young Turks (1923-1945) created hard-labor battalions for non-Muslim conscripts in May 1941.Read more at www.jcpa.org
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