Sunday, June 24, 2007

Zion's Overlooked Victims-Sephardis and Mizrahis far from home

There's a sizeable Jewish diaspora that frequently gets overlooked. The Middle East is home to "many Jews who paid the price for the Arab-Israeli conflict," and they would be within their rights to demand a Right of Return, argues Khaled Diab. The Egyptian/Belgian commentator posted an intriguing piece on the Guardian website about this. It is an eye-opener for anyone who has not seen the demographics of Israel up-close.

Palestinians have not been the Middle East's only victims of tumultuous forces beyond their control. Another group that got swept up in history's unforgiving currents was the Arab world's once-thriving Jewish minority: the Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews.

There were some three-quarters of a million Jews living in Arab countries prior to the creation of Israel in 1948. The Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) had a Jewish population of up to half a million; Iraq, up to 140,000; Egypt had up to 100,000; and Yemen, around 50,000. Today, the Jewish populations of most Arab countries number a few hundred or fewer, with the exception of Morocco which still has a few thousand Jews.

Although most Middle Eastern Jews saw Zionism as a remote and alien European dream, about half the Jews who left or were expelled from Arab countries ended up in Israel. The rest went to Europe and the Americas, the largest single group settling in France.

Labelling the rich and westernized Arab states as "McAhmed" societies is brilliant.

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