Around a million Jews lived in Arab countries in the early 20th century, until the vast majority were forced to leave their countries – mostly because of fear for their lives due to antisemitism and pogroms.
For example, today only about 3,000 Jews remain in Morocco and Tunisia. Most of the harm to the Jews in Arab lands did not begin at the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, as many claim – but started earlier in the early 20th century when the Arabs began to become independent of their European colonizers. The newly independent Arab states did not want a Jewish presence in their countries – although Jews have lived throughout the Middle East since before the coming of the Prophet Mohammed and the subsequent rise of Islam. (See: The Jews of Arabia)
Today something new is happening that we have not seen before. Arab countries are courting the Jews.
The Abraham Accords that were signed by Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and then joined by a number of countries such as Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco – have brought about a transformation in the political thought of the peoples in our region. First of all, they caused a change of consciousness: in that Israel is less ostracized than before. The attitude toward Jews, both of Arab leaders and their citizens, is changing.
On Monday, November 1, the Lebanese Ambassador to France, Rami Adwan, hosted dozens of Lebanese Jews at the ambassador’s residence in Paris.
This was a highly unusual meeting. The ambassador praised the Lebanese Jewish community and spoke in terms not heard in recent years from a senior Arab official regarding the Jews. He spoke of coexistence, freedom of worship and the responsibility of the state to protect all its citizens.
One of the guests was the historian of the Jews of Lebanon, Nagi Zeidan, who came especially from Brussels to Paris for the event. Nagi has already written a book about the Jews of Lebanon, and is currently finishing writing his second book. The ambassador honored the Jewish guests with kosher food specially ordered for them. Such a conference could not have taken place without higher Lebanese governmental approval.
Lebanese Jews have never been harmed by the Lebanese governmental establishment. Synagogues throughout Lebanon are still intact, and the cemeteries have not been harmed either. The group which has harmed the Jews of Lebanon is the Hezbollah organization that brutally abducted and murdered 11 Lebanese Jews. Their goal was to put pressure on Jerusalem and bring about a deal to free Hezbollah members detained by Israel and the pro-Israel South Lebanon Army. But the deal was not reached and this terrorist organization murdered those innocent Jews – executed them cruelly, after accusing them of being “Mossad agents.”
In parallel in the Paris event, a delegation of Syrian Jews recently arrived in Damascus and stayed there for two weeks. (Attached is a photo [number 20] of them in a restaurant at the long table). They were Jews of Syrian descent who live in the United States. After being well received by the authorities in Syria, they left the country none the worse for wear.
These events are indicative of the change that the Abraham Accords have made in the perception and consciousness of many Arabs in the region.
The Jews of Syria had known ups and downs there. In the 1990s they all fled because of the antisemitism of the establishment, which effectively imprisoned its Jews in the 1970s and 1980s and prevented them from moving freely within Syria, let alone travel abroad or immigrate to Israel. Those captured in Lebanon on their way to Israel were imprisoned for many years.
Is Bashar Assad courting the Jews in order to get closer to Israel?
(See video of Syrian Jews on their recent visit to Damascus)
Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir once asked, “Is the Middle East changing? Or is it still the same Middle East and are the Arabs still the same Arabs?”
Time will tell, but for now there are many positive indications.