The Jews of Arab countries: expulsion or aliyah? "Hazman Hazeh"
Daniela Charbit | 19.04.2021 | Photo: Elham Rokni
Jewish aliyah from Arab countries: is there such a thing? Was it ideologically motivated or perhaps the result of persecution by the local authorities? Was the transfer of the Jews from Arab countries to Israel really initiated by Israel or by other powers?
This is an opportunity to take a peak at articles by Amit Linn and Esther Meir-Glitzenstein and get some answers. But first a reminder: Last year we celebrated the publication of the first printed issue of Hazman Hazeh (These Times) – a magazine of political thought, culture, and science founded by the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, which publishes articles and essays by leading writers and scholars in Israel and abroad. We've now decided to provide a platform here for articles recently published in the magazine, which together cast new light on the subject.
In November 2020 Linn wrote in his article The Refugee Currency about the far-reaching change in the public and institutional discourse about the migration to Israel of Jews from Arab countries. A years-long narrative of a religious and ideological aliyah shifted within a short time into a narrative of expulsion and refugeehood. Supposedly, for the sake of historic justice. But was that really the case? Political sources presently confirm that the main motive behind the rapid switch of narratives was the desire to sabotage negotiations for a political settlement. Furthermore, Israel's recognition of the trauma of its citizens hailing from Arab countries was very partial, and even that was “nationalized” for its political purposes in a manner that echoes its utilitarian treatment of their story, their property and their pain.
Whereas Linn focused on the current political use of the story of Jews from Arab countries, the article by Meir-Glitzenstein – Back to the question of the immigration of the Jews of Arab countries, published in January 2021 – focused on the historic process that led to the immigration of that population to Israel. Meir-Glitzenstein illustrates how both narratives of the migration of Jews from Arab countries – the “Zionist” explanation, according to which the motive for the migration was ideological-religious, and the "anti-Zionist" explanation, according to which Zionism was responsible for destroying the interreligious symbiosis in the Arab countries – fail to reflect the complicated and heterogeneous reality. She argues that as a matter-of-fact, in most cases Israel did not initiate the events that led to the exodus of Jews from the Arab countries, but mainly responded to the actions of the Arab governments and other international parties (especially the British), sometimes against its will.
Picture: Elham Rokni, Khalili Sisters No. 18, 2013