Saturday, January 19, 2008

Jews From Arab Countries

Elliot Resnick writes for The Jewish Press blog:

Below are excerpts from an interview I conducted several months ago with Dr. Heskel Haddad of WOJAC (World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries), which did not appear in the paper edition of The Jewish Press.

Are Iranian Jews safe? Are they allowed to leave?

They are not persecuting them now. They are as safe as second-class citizens can be. Many of them want to leave but they can’t because the Iranian government knows they will go to Israel and they don’t want them to go to Israel.

How about Syrian Jewry? How many of them are left?

About 100. I don’t think these 100 Jews want to leave. They are not mistreated; they are okay. They have money, they have homes, and they don’t want to leave them.

Some people claim that the Israeli governments of the 1940's and 1950's were responsible for many Jews from Arab countries becoming irreligious. Can you comment?

When the Jews from Arab countries came to Israel, they were told “If you want to work, the pinkas adom, [the red membership book of the socialist Mapai party] should be your Bible” – because Mapai controlled the Histadrut labor union. And for the jobs they were given, they had to get up very early in the morning, with no time to go to the synagogue. So a lot of Jews lost interest in the religion “mikotzer ruach u'meavodah kasha – from shortness of breath and hard work” (Exodus 6:9). But gradually these Jews came back to religion.

Did the Jews from Arab countries flee or leave willingly?

Those who left out of Zionism, I would say, are less than two percent. The majority were forced to leave their homes by persecution. For example, in Iraq all the workers in the government were fired. So there was 90% unemployment among the Jews of Iraq.

In talking about the founding and purpose of WOJAC, Dr. Haddad said...

Between 1948 and 1951, almost one million Jewish refugees came to Israel penniless because all their property and assets were confiscated by the Arab governments. And nobody talks or says anything about them. Only 600,000 Palestinian Arabs left Israel. So we're talking about a de facto population exchange.

We want to negate the right of return and we want to have mutual compensation.