Reviewing: “Uprooted,” by Lyn Julius. Vallentine Mitchell. 2018. English. Hardcover. 368 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1910383643.
“Uprooted,” a book about the expulsion of over 850,000 Jews from Arab countries, is one of the best books to come out in 2018. It uncovers a long-neglected but compelling subject, combining impeccable scholarship, research and sumptuous photos, and reads like a novel.
The bloody 20th century, with two world wars and myriad conflicts, produced over 70 million refugees, with the Palestinian refugee crisis taking center stage in world news for decades. Lost among the shuffle is the plight of the Jews from the Arab world, an ancient civilization that goes back to the time of the Mishna and Bible.
Author Lyn Julius is the London-born daughter of Iraqi Jews. An activist for the plight of Jews from Arab countries, she co-founded “Harif” (“sharp” in Hebrew), an organization of Jews from Moslem lands in England. Her goal with this book is to debunk the popular myths surrounding this topic.
Myth 1: The main myth is that until the Arab-Israeli conflict, Jews lived in harmony in the Arab world. Untrue. Conditions in Arab countries may have been better under the medieval Kalif than in Europe, but not in modern times. The modern record is a litany of discrimination, oppression and violence, with pogroms in Fez, Casablanca, Tunisia—all long before the establishment of Israel. The two-day pogrom in Baghdad, Shavuos 1941, in which hundreds were killed and maimed, was even bloodier than the much better known Kristallnacht.
Myth 2: The Arab/Palestinian cause is anti-Zionist, not anti-Jewish. Rioters in Baghdad, Aden or Libya shouting “Itbach El Yahud” (slaugher the Jews), didn’t care about the victims’ politics. Anti-Zionist Jews in Egypt were sent to detention camps along with fervent Zionists.
Myth 3: “The Moroccan myth.” This is the idea that some Arab countries like Jordan or Saudi Arabia, are “moderate”—moderate in the way that the Palestinian Authority is moderate compared to Hamas! When I visited Morocco the guides stressed that Morocco has always been a tolerant, pluralistic country in which Jews flourished. In fact, Morocco has the worst record of pogroms in the Arab world. King Hassan, far from being a savior, passed every anti-Jewish measure presented to him (albeit reluctantly) without protest.
Arab Anti-Semitism and Religious Discrimination (Dhimmi)
Julius claims that Arab anti-Semitism was built in from the beginning when Jews were given Dhimmi status. Jews and other “infidels” had to pay gangster-like protection money just for the privilege of living in a Moslem society. There were severe limitations; Jews could not ride horses, own arms or build houses and shuls higher than the mosque. Fortunately, Dhimmi status was not always enforced, but discrimination came with the territory.
According to Julius, Arab nationalism developed from the void created by the breakup of the Ottoman empire after WWI, greatly exacerbating the religious anti-Semitism based on Dhimmi.
Interregnum of European Colonization
The period between WWI and Arab Independence, in the 1920s and 1930s, was a time in which these countries were between regimes. This was a golden period in which Jews went overnight from third-class citizens to active leaders in the colonial administration as ministers, judges and attorneys. For the first time in centuries Jews were free citizens and brought European culture to the Arab masses as filmmakers, journalists and especially musicians.
The freedom and prosperity was short-lived and didn’t affect the Jewish masses,who were still poor and vulnerable. Within a few Years, Jews were again subject to their Moslem overlords when the Arab countries became independent, fueled by a new Arab nationalism.
Nazi Germany’s Influence on Arab Nationalism
Two forces made Arab-pan nationalism virulently anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist. The rise of Nazi Germany and the Mufti. There was no place on the globe as sympathetic to the Nazis outside of the Third Reich as the Arab world, where the masses enthusiastically swallowed Nazi propaganda. The Nazis directly instigated the Farhoud in Iraq and other atrocities. After the war, Nazi war criminals were welcome in the Arab world as heroes and given haven.
The Role of the Mufti
The most hysterical voice in the strident chorus of Arab nationalism was the Mufti of Jerusalem, who spent the war in Berlin as the guest of Hitler. The Mufti fused traditional religious Arab anti-Semitism with modern nationalism and racism and created a lethal witch’s brew. Palestinian emigrees, throughout the Arab world, incited by the Mufti, agitated local Arabs to violence, as in the case of the pogrom in Aden in 1947.
The book deals with Arab countries—not Moslem, non-Arab lands like Iran or Turkey. Those countries, while they may have discriminated against Jews, lack a critical element: the engine of fierce Arab nationalism that resulted in expulsion.
The nascent Arab states were too new and fragile to withstand the tsunami of pan-Arabism fomented by the Moslem brotherhood in the 1920s. There were more than a few tolerant Arab leaders and intellectuals, especially in Egypt, who were not anti-Semitic but they were drowned out by politics of the mob.
The Arab League
The Arab league created in 1945 was even more fanatic than the Moslem Brotherhood and proposed Nuremberg-like anti-Jewish laws that treated Jews as enemy aliens. With the outbreak of Israel’s war of independence, Jews were treated as the enemy across the Arab world. Jews had no choice but to flee, with a trickle of emigration turning into a tidal wave. No Jew could feel safe anywhere in the Arab world. Whole communities vanished almost overnight. The only communities that did not disappear were those in places like Algeria and Morocco that were still ruled by European powers.
A Jewish Ghost Town
This mass expulsion left the Arab world from Casablanca to Baghdad a giant Jewish ghost town. Of a pre-war population of 850,000, today’s Jewish population in the Arab world is under 5,000. Though ancient Jewish communities have disappeared, the traditions are alive in Israel, France and across the Jewish world. The Sefardi experience has not been one long tunnel of horrors; there were good times and great creativity. Of the three largest Jewish centers in the world—Israel, the US and France—Israel and France have Sefardi majorities. The preservation of the heritage of Jews from Arab countries is essential to Israel’s identity, to the broader Jewish world and world civilization at large.
By Jeff Klapper