The Israel-Palestine Mission Network of Presbyterian Church USA recently published “Zionism Unsettled”. What is “unsettling” about this publication is its lack of fact and truth.
In 2001 under U.N. auspices, the infamous World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa attempted to delegitimize Jewish nationalism by equating Zionism with racism. Anti-Jewish and anti-Israel language prompted the U.S. and Israel to leave the U.N. Conference. The ugliness that resulted from this Orwellian misuse of language, to undermine the legitimate rights of the Jewish people to their homeland, is still with us today.
“Zionism Unsettled” was surely not intended to add fuel to the fires raging in the Middle East, but unfortunately its misrepresentation of Zionism does just that. My personal history, however, as well as the stories of the other 850,000 Mizrahi Jews, provides proof of the absolute necessity for a Jewish State.
Here is a quote from page 48 of Zionism Unsettled.
“Middle Eastern Jews, also called Mizrahi Jews, share a history of largely harmonious integration and acculturation in their host countries. Sadly, this model of coexistence was destabilized by the regional penetration of Zionism beginning in the late 19th century.”
I am a Jew from Libya and lived there until I was 19 years old. I know from firsthand experience that in 1945, before the establishment of Israel, Arabs in Libya called for the killing of the Jews.
On November 5, 1945, anti-Jewish riots broke out in Tripoli, Libya, with more than 140 Jews killed in and around the city over the course of three days. There were cases of Muslims offering help and shelter to Jews, but there were also reports of Jews finding their own neighbors among those who were attacking them. Many of the rioters shouted “jihad fil-kuffar” – “war against the infidels.”
Libyan Arabs looted and burned Jewish homes and killed Jews. They dragged my neighbors and relatives out on the streets and slaughtered them. Pregnant women had their stomachs slit open and their babies killed. My mother escaped because she ran from rooftop to rooftop, until a kind Christian woman saved her life from the mob outside. They were shouting, “Adbah El Yehud (slaughter the Jews).” My father buried the severed bodies of his close friends. This experience traumatized him for the rest of his life.
The rioting spread to other towns in the Tripolitania province. Nine synagogues – four of them in Tripoli – were burned to the ground, and 35 Torah scrolls were destroyed.
In 1941 Jews of Baghdad (representing a third of its population) were also attacked, butchered and maimed. Over 180 people were murdered and hundreds were wounded
Arab pogroms against Jews resident in Arab lands are well documented and are incontrovertible facts. These pogroms, and others like them took place well before the establishment of the State of Israel.
I challenge you to invite me or my fellow Mizrahi Jews to tell our story. Let your Presbyterian congregants hear from eyewitnesses how Jews in Arab countries suffered persecution, arbitrary arrest, torture, and harassment. Let members of the Presbyterian Church hear from eyewitnesses how we were denied the most basic human and civil rights, such as the right to become citizens, the right to vote, the right to hold public office, or hold government jobs.
I challenge you to invite me to speak about how my family, together with the rest of the Libyan Jewish community, was expelled. Libya confiscated our homes, all our belongings, burned my father’s warehouse and finally expelled us with nothing but the clothes on our backs.
Your congregation needs to learn that the driver of the bus taking my family to the airport attempted to burn the bus we were on while we were inside. Two Presbyterians saved our lives!
For centuries, Jews lived as second class citizens in Arab countries. We had to pay special taxes called jizya to symbolize our subordination to Muslim rulers. Perhaps this is why Arab leaders today cannot accept that we – “Kaleb El Arab” (the dogs of the Arabs!) have the audacity to want self- determination and a return to our ancient homeland Israel
Of over 800,000 Jews who lived in Arab countries for over two thousand years, less than 5,000 remain today. Nearly 600,000 Jewish refugees from the Arab countries settled in Israel, and the rest of the Jewish refugees found homes in the Western World. Between 1948 and early 1950s Israel became the biggest and most successful refugee camp in the Middle East. Israel gave us a refuge, and offered dignity and hope.
My organization, JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa), appeals to the Presbyterian Church USA to hear our voices and to recall the publication “Zionism Unsettled”. This publication denies the history of over 800,000 Mizrahi Jews who suffered persecution and expulsion from nine Arab countries solely because they were Jewish. “Zionism Unsettled” is an assault on memory, truth, and justice.
Gina Bublil Waldman was born in Libya and came to the USA as a refugee. She is the co-founder and president of JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa). She lectures widely on her experience and the subject of Jewish refugees.