Arab Jews

Arab Jews

Arab Jews (Arabic: اليهود العرب "Al-Yahūd al-`Arab", Hebrew: יהודים ערבים "Yehudim `Aravim")is a controversial term referring to Jews living in the Arab World, or Jews descended from such persons.cite web|title=Ishaq al-Shami and the Predicament of the Arab Jew in Palestine|author=Salim Tamari|publisher=Jerusalem Quarterly|accessdate=2007-08-23|url=]

The term was sometimes used in the early part of the 20th century, when the Arab World contained a Jewish population of around 1 million, who were seeking acceptance in the newly-formed Arab states. Most of this population has since moved to Israel and Western Europe, and to a much smaller degree to the United States and South America. They were typically Arabic-speaking, having one of many varieties of Arabic (see also Judæo-Arabic languages) as their primary community language, with Hebrew reserved as a liturgical language. These Jews and their descendants span a range of religious observances, from the ultra religious to the large segment of Jews that are entirely secular.

In recent times, some scholars – like Ella Shohat, a Middle East scholar at New York University, David Shasha, Director of the Center for Sephardic Heritage, and Amiel Alcalay, a professor at Queen's College in New York – have been emphasizing the importance of their identity as Arab Jews.cite web|title=The Jews of the Arab World: A Community Unto Itself|author=Lynne Vittorio|publisher=Aramica|date=2002-10-16|accessdate=2007-08-22|url=]


According to Salim Tamari, the term Arab-Jew generally referred to a period of history when some Eastern Jews (Sephardic and Mizrahi) identified with the Arab national movement that emerged in the lead up to the dismantlement of the Ottoman empire, as early as the Ottoman administrative reforms of 1839, owing to shared language and culture with their Muslim and Christian compatriots in Greater Syria, Iraq, and Egypt.

David Rabeeya, a self-identified Arab Jew, extends that identification back even further, noting the long history of Arab Jews in the Arab world that remained in place after the dawn of Islam in the 7th century until midway through the 20th century.cite book|title=The Journey of an Arab-Jew in European Israel|author=David Rabeeya|publisher=Xlibris Corporation|year=2000|page=49-50|isbn=0738843318|url=,M1] He writes that Arab Jews, like Arab Muslims and Arab Christians, were culturally Arab with religious commitments to Judaism.cite book|title=The Journey of an Arab-Jew in European Israel|author=David Rabeeya|publisher=Xlibris Corporation|year=2000|page=49-50|isbn=0738843318|url=,M1] He notes that Arab Jews named their progeny with Arabic names and "Like every Arab, Arab Jews were proud of their Arabic language and its dialects, and held a deep emotional attachment to its beauty and richness."

In his book, The Arab Jews (2006), Yehouda Shenhav, an Israeli sociologist, traced the origins of the conceptualization of the Mizrahi Jews as Arab Jews. He inteprets Zionism as an ideological practice with three simultaneous and symbiotic categories: "Nationality", "Religion" and "Ethnicity". In order to be included in the national collective they had to be "de-Arabized". According to Shenhav, Religion distinguished between Arabs and Arab Jews, thus marking nationality among the Arab Jews. Cite book
publisher = Stanford UniversityPress
isbn = 0804752966
pages = 280
last = Shenhav
first = Yehouda
title = The Arab Jews: A Postcolonial Reading of Nationalism, Religion, and Ethnicity
year = 2006


The term "Arab Jew" is sometimes used by newspapers and official bodies in Arab countries, to express the belief that Jewish identity is a matter of religion rather than ethnicity or nationality. Most Jews disagree with this, and therefore do not use the term and even consider it offensive; but some Mizrahi activists, even those not born in Arab countries, define themselves as Arab Jews either because they identify as such, or to make a cultural or political statement. Notable persons espousing such identities include Naeim Giladi, Ella Habiba Shohat, Sami Shalom Chetrit and David Rabeeya.

The proponents of the term "Arab Jews" argue that "Arab" is a linguistic and cultural rather than a racial or religious term, and that the Jews in Arab countries fully participated in that culture. On this view, the correct distinction is between Jews, Muslims, Christians and other religious groups, rather than between Jews and "Arabs". Similarly the Christian population of countries such as Egypt, Lebanon or Syria are quite unproblematically described as "Arabs", even though most of them, and indeed most of their Muslims, are descended from the pre-Islamic population of those countries who were converted by Arabian conquerors.

One argument against the term "Arab Jews" is that some of the communities referred to originated as early as the Babylonian captivity (6th century BCE), thus antedating the Arab Muslim conquest by a millennium. Furthermore, in actual usage in North African and Near and Middle Eastern countries, people spoke of Arab Muslims and Arab Christians, but never of Arab Jews: the Jews were regarded as an ethnic as well as a religious minority. No one in fact ever spoke of "Arab Jews" until the rise of secular ethnic nationalism in the early twentieth century, when many Jews sought integration into the new national identities (Iraqi, Tunisian etc.) as an escape from their previous minority status, in much the same way as some nineteenth century German Jews preferred to identify as "Germans of the Mosaic faith" rather than as "Jews".

Proponents of this view do not seek to deny the strong Arabic cultural influence on Jews in those countries. In North Africa, some Jews spoke Judeo-Arabic languages while others spoke French; and in some areas there are still Jews who dress quite like Arabs. Their argument is that “Arabness” referred to more than just a common shared culture. One could therefore legitimately speak of “arabized” Jews, or "Jews of Arab countries", but not of "Arab Jews"; just as one can speak of "English Jews" or "British Jews", but not of "Saxon Jews" or "Celtic Jews". What is needed is an equivalent of the traditional term "Musta'arabim" (Arabizers), which was used to distinguish the older Arabic-speaking communities of those countries from post-1492 Sephardim.

A third view is that the term "Arab Jew" has a certain legitimacy, but should only describe the Jewish communities of Arabia itself, such as the Banu Qaynuqa of the time of Muhammad and, possibly, the Yemenite Jews: see Arab Jewish tribes. This stems from the view of Arab identity as a geographical rather than ethno-linguistic or cultural.


According to Salim Tamari, in most places in the world today, the term "Arab Jew" is considered an oxymoron.
*Approximately one half of Israeli-Jews, (nearly 2,900,000 out of 5,840,000 Million) could be described as Arab-Jews; thus using the term would imply that Israel (with almost 20% of the population defined as Palestinian-Arabs) is a 70% Arab state.
* Some Jews falling within boundaries of distinct non-Arab ethno-linguistic communities which are themselves inside boundaries of countries today considered Arab, identified as that ethno-linguistic community (along with Muslims and any other religious groups within that non-Arab ethnic identity) rather than as Arabs. Such is the case in Morocco with the Berber Jews together with Berber Muslims and the tiny Berber Christian minority identifying as Berbers, or in Iraq with the Kurdish Jews together with Kurdish Muslims, and Kurdish Yazidi, Kurdish Yarsan, and Kurdish Christian minorities identifying as Kurds.
* There is considerable opposition because of political rivalry and different opinions regarding Zionism and issues concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
* The term defies the ethos of "The Melting Pot", such defiance is widely considered a relative taboo in Israel.
* The term is widely used by politically left-wing or anti-Zionist activists in Israel, as opposed to the commonly Zionist right-wing voting preference of Mizrahi Jews in Israel.

Arab Jews by location

Near East


Iraqi Jews constitute one of the world's oldest, and historically most important, Jewish communities. Abraham came from Ur in Babylon, and it was to Babylon that the Jews were exiled around 600 BCE. The descendants of these exiles ensured that Babylonia became the most important Jewish community after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. The community thrived as the center of Jewish learning until the Middle Ages, when the Mongol invasion, and the subsequent persecutions of the Persians significantly reduced its importance. With the rule of the Ottoman Empire, the life of Iraqi Jews improved, though the community never regained its former importance. Iraqi Jews played an important role in the early days of the country's independence. sufficiently so for Chaim Weizman to propose, after Kristallnacht, that the Iraqi government accommodate 300,000 European Jews in exchange for £20-30 million. [ Martin Gilbert, 'British Government Policy toward Jewish Refugees (November 1938-September 1939)', "Yad Vashem Studies", vol.13, p.130.] Their situation however deteriorated in 40s, especially after the Nazi-influenced Farhud pogrom, and further persecution resulting from events in Palestine. The Iraqi Jewish community, numbering 120,000 in 1948, left the country over the three year period of 1949-1952. Rising popular prejudice, antisemitic violence and official discrimination against them within the host community motivated the exodus, which was facilitated by Zionist initiatives, both from the new state and the local underground movement, for a policy of repatriation following the establishment of the state of Israel. [For details see Moshe Gat, "A Jewish Community in Crisis: The Exodus from Iraq, 1948-1951" Frank Cass, London 1997 passim, esp. pp.20-28,182-187] Today, less than 100 remain. Many Iraqi Jews moved to India, where they are known as Baghdadi Jews.Today there are over 540,000 Iraqi Jews in Israel constituting nearly 8% of its national population.


In Biblical times, much of the geography now in Jordan was part of the history of the Jews in the Land of Israel. According to the Hebrew Bible three of the Israelites' ancient tribes lived on the territory that is today known as Jordan: The Tribe of Reuben, the Tribe of Gad and the Tribe of Manasseh. Since its 1516 incorporation in the Ottoman Empire, it was part of the" vilayet" (province) of Damascus-Syria until 1660, next of the "vilayet" of Saida (Sidon), briefly interrupted by the 7 March 1799 - July 1799 French occupation of Jaffa, Haifa, and Caesarea.

During the siege of Acre in 1799, Napoleon prepared a proclamation declaring a Jewish state in Palestine. On 10 May 1832 it was one of the Turkish provinces annexed by Muhammad Ali's shortly imperialistic Egypt (nominally still Ottoman), but in November 1840 direct Ottoman rule was restored. The British Balfour Declaration of 1917 promised both sides of the Jordan River to the Jewish people, but that was changed by the Churchill White Paper which created a split between the British Mandate of Palestine and Transjordan. Following the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine of 1947, Jordan was one of the Arab countries that attacked the new Jewish state of Israel. It gained some victories but it was eventually defeated during the Six-Day war when it attacked Israel again. Jordan eventually signed the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace.

Jordan has a law explicitly prohibiting any Jew from becoming a citizen. [cite web |author=Alan Dershowitz |title= "The Case Against Jordan" (2003)|url=] and that "In Jordan, no Jew can be a citizen or own land.". [cite web |author=Alan Dershowitz |title= "The World According to Jimmy Carter"|url=] Jordan's laws against Jewish residence has been criticized by Benjamin Natanyahu. [cite book |author= Benjamin Natanyahu |title= "A Durable Peace: Israel and its Place Among the Nations" (2000)|publisher = Warner Books|id= ISBN 0446523062] However, a US Department of State International Religious Freedom Report 2006 on Jordan states that: "The Government recognizes Judaism as a religion; however there are reportedly no Jordanian citizens who are Jewish. The Government does not impose restrictions on Jews, and they are permitted to own property and conduct business in the country." . [cite web |author=United States Department of State |title= "Jordan :International Religious Freedom Report 2006"|url=]


In 1948, there were approximately 5,000 Jews in Lebanon, with communities in Beirut, and on villages near Mount Lebanon, Deir al Qamar, Barouk, and Hasbayah. While the French mandate saw a general improvement in conditions for Jews, the Vichy regime placed restrictions on them. The Jewish community actively supported Lebanese independence after World War II and had mixed attitudes toward Zionism.

After 1948, the number of Lebanese Jews quadrupled, from 5,000 to 20,000.While Lebanese had more negative attitudes toward Jews after 1948, the situation was considerably better than in Syria and Iraq. by 1967, however, many Lebanese Jews had gradually emigrated to the United States, Canada, France, and Israel. The remaining Jewish community was particularly affected by the civil wars in Lebanon, especially as Syrian involvement became stronger. In 1971, Albert Elia, the 69-year-old Secretary-General of the Lebanese Jewish community was kidnapped in Beirut by Syrian agents and imprisoned under torture in Damascus along with Syrian Jews who had attempted to flee the country. A personal appeal by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan to the late President Hafez al-Assad failed to secure Elia's release. By all accounts, there are fewer than 100 Jews left in Lebanon. [ [,2506,L-3292543,00.html Beirut’s last Jews] ]

The Maghen Abraham Synagogue was built in 1925 in Beirut. Although it is no longer opened for service, it can still be seen in Wadi Abu Jamil Street, the former Jewish quarter in central Beirut.

About 35,000 Jews from Lebanon now inhabit the State of Israel, they are 0.5% of the Israeli population.



Photochrom of Jews in Jerusalem, in the 1890s.]

Towards the end of the Ottoman era in Palestine , native Jewish communities lived primarily in the four 'holy cities' of Safed, Tiberias, Hebron and Jerusalem. The majority of Jews in these cities, with the exception of Jerusalem, were Arabic and Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) speakers. In Jerusalem, Yiddish was the dominant language among Jews there due to the large migration of pious Ashkenazi Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe.The spoken languages of the Jewish communities of Hebron and Jerusalem at the turn of the century were described by Robert Cooper, based on his reading of an 1882 text by Luncz, as follows: "Leaving aside the Karaites, a small Jewish sect which rejected Talmudic Judaism, Luncz divided the Jewish population into Sephardim and Ashkenazim: the former were subdivided into Sephardim proper, who spoke Judaeo-Spanish, and Moghrabim, who spoke Arabic; the latter [Ashkenazim] differed from the Sephardim, he said, by ritual and by the fact that they spoke Judaeo-German. It is interesting to note that he found this language division to be the major distinguishing characteristic of these communities. According to Luncz, [in Jerusalem] there were 7,620 Sephardim, of whom 1,290 were Moghrabim, having come from the Maghreb or North Africa. As a rule, they were natives of the city, Turkish subjects, and fluent in Arabic."]

In Palestine, the situation of the Jewish community was more complicated than in neighbouring Arab countries. Whereas in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, communities were largely homogeneous in ethnic and confessional terms, in Palestine, Jewish pilgrims and European Christian colonial projects brought a large number of Ashkenazi immigrants from Eastern Europe and Sephardic groups from Bulgaria, Turkey and North Africa in the nineteenth century. 'Native' Jews of Palestine were not necessarily of Iberian origins, and included substantial Yiddish speaking communities who had established themselves in Palestine centuries earlier.

In the narrative works of Arabs in Palestine in the late Ottoman period, as evidenced in the autobiographies and diaries of Khalil Sakakini and Wasif Jawhariyyeh, "native" (again as defined by the source) Jews were often referred to as "abnaa al-balad" (sons of the country), 'compatriots', or "Yahud awlad Arab" (Jews, sons of Arabs). When the First Palestinian Congress of February 1919 issued its anti-Zionist manifesto rejecting Zionist immigration, it extended a welcome to those Jews "among us who have been Arabicized, who have been living in our province since before the war; they are as we are, and their loyalties are our own.".

Most likely the number of "Palestinian Jews" in Israel today is between 70,000 - 270,000 people, about 1 - 4% of the nation's total population.


In 1948, there were approximately 30,000 Jews in Syria. The Syrian government placed severe restrictions on the Jewish community, including on emigration. Over the next decades, many Jews managed to escape, and the work of supporters, particularly Judy Feld Carr, in smuggling Jews out of Syria, and bringing their plight to the attention of the world, raised awareness of their situation. Following the Madrid Conference of 1991 the United States put pressure on the Syrian government to ease its restrictions on Jews, and on Passover in 1992, the government of Syria began granting exit visas to Jews on condition that they do not emigrate to Israel. At that time, the country had several thousand Jews; today, under a hundred remain. The rest of the Jewish community have emigrated, mostly to the United States and Israel. There is a large and vibrant Syrian Jewish community in South Brooklyn, New York. In 2004, the Syrian government attempted to establish better relations with the emigrants, and 12 Syrian-Jews visited Syria.

Arabian Peninsula

There had been, for some long but uncertain period, a significant number of Jews in Arabia. Some Arab historians claim that very large numbers of Jews – as high as 80,000 – arrived after the destruction of the First Temple, to join others already long established in places such as the oasis of Khaybar as well as the trading colonies in Medina and Mecca (where they even had their own cemetery). Another theory posits that these Jews were refugees from Byzantine persecutions. Regardless, Arab historians mention some 20 Jewish tribes, including two tribes of Kohanim. The Jews spoke Arabic, were organised into clans and tribes like the Arabs, and seem to have fully assimilated the values and customs of Arab desert society in all forms save for religion. [Bernard Lewis, "The Crisis of Islam" (London, 2003), p. XXVII]

According to Islam, Muhammad had contact with the Jews of Arabia, and Jews feature prominently in the early history of the Muslim movement. The founder of Islam paid great respect to the Torah itself, as seen in the Hadith of Sunan Abu Dawud, where Muhammad is portrayed putting the Torah onto a cushion on which he at first sat and saying: "I believe in you and the one who revealed you (meaning God)". How these professions by the Islamic founder can be reconciled with later changes made in the fundamental readings in the Jewish Torah are hard to understand. But [Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 38 ("Kitab al Hudud", ie. Prescribed Punishments), Number 4434] The importance of the father of Judaism and the Jewish Nation, Abraham, within Islam can be further highlighted in the common belief of the shared tribal connection between the Jews and the tribes of Arabi, although Muhammad downplayed Abraham's Jewish or Christian credentials and instead portrayed him as a common forefather. [Albert Hourani, "A History of the Arab Peoples" (London, 1991), p. 18] The Constitution of Medina, written shortly after hijra, addressed some points regarding the civil and religious situation for the Jewish communities living within the city from an Islamic perspective. For example, the constitution stated that the Jews "will profess their religion, and the Muslims theirs", and they "shall be responsible for their expenditure, and the Muslims for theirs". Rarely did Jews live with such freedom.

But whatever influence Jewish religious practice had on Muhammad, politically the Jews did not fare well under his growing influence as a result of political conflicts regarding the city's tribal alliances, as well as theological tension from their rejection of Muhammad's claims to prophethood. After the Battle of Badr, the Jewish tribe of Banu Qaynuqa allegedly breached treaties and agreements with Muhammad. The Islamic founder regarded this as "casus belli" and besieged the Banu Qaynuqa. Upon surrender the tribe was expelled. [Ibn Kathir p. 2] The following year saw the expulsion of the second tribe, the Banu Nadir, accused of planning to kill the founder of Islam by dropping a rock on his head as he rested under a wall outside its village—Muhammad, who received 'divine warning', evaded the plot. According to Islamic mythos, Banu Nadir aligned themselves with the Arab idolators of Mecca after being evicted from their mansions in Medina. The Banu Nadir chief unsuccessfully attempted to recruit the third Jewish tribe of Medina to breach treaties with Muhammad. The third major Jewish tribe in Medina, Banu Qurayza was eliminated when the Muslims besieged their fortifications. They were judged after having surrendered by a Muslim judge named Saad "under the laws of the Torah". Capital punishment befell and all adult males were executed and their women and children were taken into indetured servitude, an event reported in Surah 33:25-27 of the Qur'an. [Irvin and Sunquist, "History of the World Christian Movement", Vol. 1 (Edinburgh, 2001), p. 268]

Muhammad invaded the other Jewish tribes in Arabia including Khaybar and Fadak. They remained, in a weakened but tolerated status as 'People of the book', but the harsh conditions that came with dhimmi status caused them to quickly lose power until they were expelled from the peninsula a few years later by the Caliph Umar. While the idea of dhimmi status comes from the Quran, the particulars of the legal rights and limitations were derived from the imposition of inferior status on the Jews of Khaybar after the Muslims had captured it.

The development of the Mohamand's teaching may be linked to the changing relationship with the Jews of Medina. [Albert Hourani, "A History of the Arab Peoples" (London, 1991), p. 18] Although they formed part of his original alliance with the tribes of Medina, their position inevitably eroded as Muhammad's claim for his divine mission expanded. The Jews could not accept him as a genuine messenger of God within their own tradition due to his not being of Jewish lineage. Muhammad, in turn, seems to have viewed the nature of Jewish religious practice as a corruption or perversion of the revelation entrusted to them by the one God: "you have concealed what you were ordered to make plain", said Muhammad of the Jews, noting their exclusive societal nature and reluctance to proselytize. They had, in his view, greedily held onto a revelation that was meant to be spread to all peoples. [Ibn Ishaq, "The Life of Muhammad" (A. Guillaume trans., 1967 revision, reprinted in 2003), p. 258]

With such official attitudes towards Judaism it is not surprising that the limited tolerance shown towards the Jews in Arabia did not last. In year 20 of the Muslim era, or the year 641 AD, Muhammad's successor the Caliph 'Umar decreed that Jews and Christians should be removed from all but the southern and eastern fringes of Arabia—a decree based on the (sometimes disputed) uttering of the Prophet: "Let there not be two religions in Arabia". The two populations in question were the Jews of the Khaybar oasis in the north and the Christians of Najran. [Bernard Lewis, "The Crisis of Islam" (London, 2003) p. XXVII] Other sources report the forced deportation of Jews and Christians occurring in 634 AD, with the last remnants of these two monotheistic religions being removed from the Arabian peninsula by the year 650. [Irvin and Sunquist, "History of the World Christian Movement", Vol. I (Edinburgh, 2001), p. 270]

Some provisions were made for the expelled Jews. The Arabian Jews were assigned lands in Syria and Palestine (while the Christian were sent to Iraq), and they were given time to effect the move. The expulsion was eventually completed, and from then forward the Holy Land of the Hijaz was forbidden to non-Muslims. [Bernard Lewis, "The Crisis of Islam" (London, 2003), p. XXVIII] Only the Red Sea port of Jedda was permitted as a "religious quarantine area" and continued to have a small complement of Jewish merchants.


Bahrain's tiny Jewish community, mostly the descendants of immigrants who entered the country in the early 1900s from Iraq, numbered 600 in 1948. Over the next few decades, most left for other countries, especially England; some 36 remain (as of 2006.) []

Relations between Jews and Muslims are generally considered good, with Bahrain being the only state on the Arabian peninsula where there is a specific Jewish community. Bahrain is the only Gulf state with a synagogue. One member of the community, Rouben Rouben, who sells TV sets, DVD players, copies, fax machines and kitchen appliances from his downtown showroom, said “95 percent of my customers are Bahrainis, and the government is our No. 1 corporate customer. I’ve never felt any kind of discrimination.”

Members play a prominent role in civil society: Ebrahim Nono was appointed in 2002 a member of Bahrain's upper house of parliament, the Consultative Council, while a Jewish woman heads a human rights group, the Bahrain Human Rights Watch Society. According to the JTA news agency, the active Jewish community is "a source of pride for Bahraini officials". []


In 1776 Sadeq Khan captured Basra, many of the inhabitants left the country and among them were Jews who went to Kuwait. With the Jews' efforts, the country flourished with its buildings and trades. Around 1860, the number of Jews increased and their trade flourished. The Jews had a market called "The Jews' market." The Jews were known to be very careful with trading. They were mostly wholesalers and worked with India - Baghdad and Aleppo and also exported to Europe and China. There were about eighty Jewish families in Kuwait living in one district. The Jews wore long gowns and Fezes. Some wore European suits and the men covered their head with Fez. They had a Synagogue with a Sefer Torah. In the Synagogue, there was a separate place for the women. Shabbat was a sacred day. The Jews did not work that day. There was a Jewish cemetery, proof of a community that lived there for a long time. Before 1914 there were about two hundred Jews. Most of them went back to Baghdad and few went to India. [cite web |publisher= |title= "History of the Jews in Kuwait" |url=]


There was a Jewish presence in Oman for many centuries, however, the Jewish community of the country is no longer existent. Some of the most early Jewish history in what is now Oman is associated with the biblical figure Job. The Tomb of Job is located 45 miles from the port city of Salalah. [cite web |publisher= |title= "1998-03-20: Visit to Tomb of Job in Oman" |url=]

In the mid 19th century, the British Lieutenant J.R. Wellsted documented the Jews of Muscat in his memoirs "Travels in Arabia, vol. 1". He mentions that there are "a few Jews in Muskat (sic), who mostly arrived there in 1828, being driven from Baghdad ... by the cruelties and extortions of the Pacha Daud." He also notes that Jews were not discriminated against at all in Oman, which was not the case in other Arab countries. [cite web |publisher= |title= "The Jews of Oman" |url=]


There are few Jews in Qatar, but the Anti-Defamation League has protested the existence of antisemitic stereotypes in Qatar’s newspapers. [cite web |publisher= |title= "Countries at the Crossroads: Country Profile of Qatar" |url=]

As an indication of the opening up of Qatari society to Western influence, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that a forum on U.S.-Islamic relations in Qatar will feature Israeli and U.S. Jewish participants. Former President Clinton and Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, are the scheduled keynote speakers at the Jan.10-12 U.S.-Islamic Forum in Doha. The forum is sponsored by the Project on U.S. Policy Towards the Islamic World, funded by the Saban center, which was founded by American-Israeli entertainment mogul Haim Saban. [cite web |publisher= Cleveland Jewish|title= Israelis, U.S. Jews in Qatar|url=]

Saudi Arabia

The first mention of Jews in the areas of modern-day Saudi Arabia dates back, by some accounts, to the time of the First Temple. Immigration to the Arabian Peninsula began in earnest in the 2nd century CE, and by the 6th and 7th centuries there was a considerable Jewish population in Hejaz, mostly in and around Medina, in part because of the embrace of Judaism by such leaders as Dhu Nuwas (who was very aggressive about converting his subjects to Judaism, and who persecuted Christians in his kingdom as a reaction to Christian persecution of Jews) and Abu Karib Asad. The Hejazi Jews were mostly wine merchants and traders. At the same time, a considerable Jewish population was growing in nearby present-day Yemen, particularly in Aden and Hadramaut, which sustained their Jewish populations until relatively recently. Jewish settlement also existed in the northern parts of the peninsula.

There were three main Jewish tribes in Medina, forming the most important Hejazi community before the rise of Islam in Arabia. These were the Banu Nadir, the Banu Qainuqa, and the Banu Qurayza. Other Arabian Jewish tribes in Muhammed's time: Banu Awf; Banu Harith; Banu Jusham; Banu Najjar; Banu Sa'ida; Banu Shutayba. [cite book |author= Norman Stillman|publisher= Jewish Publication Society|title= "Jews of Arab Lands" (1979)]


Local Yemenite Jewish traditions have traced the earliest settlement of Jews in this region back to the time of King Solomon. One explanation is that King Solomon sent Jewish merchant marines to Yemen to prospect for gold and silver with which to adorn the Temple in Jerusalem. Another legend places Jewish craftsmen in the region as requested by Bilqis, the Queen of Saba (Sheba). The immigration of the majority of Jews into Yemen appears to have taken place about the beginning of the second century C.E., although the province is mentioned neither by Josephus nor by the main books of the Jewish oral law, the Mishnah and Talmud." [cite book |author= Werner Daum (Editor)|title= "The Jews of Yemen", in "Yemen: 3000 Years of Art and Civilization in Arabia" (1987) Felix""|url=]

The average Jewish population of Yemen for the first five centuries C.E. is said to have been about 3,000. The Jews were scattered throughout the country, but carried on an extensive commerce and thus succeeded in getting possession of many Jewish books. Three pseudo-messiahs later appeared: Shukr Kuhayl I (1861–65), Shukr Kuhayl II (1868–75), Joseph Abdallah (1888–93).

According to the "Jewish Encyclopedia":

:At the beginning of the nineteenth century the condition of the Jews of Yemen was miserable. They were under the jurisdiction of the Imam, and were forbidden to wear new or good clothes, nor might they ride an ass or a mule, being compelled tó make the longest journeys on foot when occasion required it. They were prohibited, moreover, from engaging in money transactions, and were all mechanics, being employed chiefly as carpenters, masons, and smiths. At the beginning of the nineteenth century they are said to have numbered 30,000, and to have lived principally in Aden (200), Sana (10,000), Sada (1,000), Dhamar (1,000), and the desert of Beda (2,000). In recent times there have been no Jews in the Tahama (the low coast-land) nor in Hodeida, but they now reside in the interior of the plateau. Settlements of considerable size are found in the vicinity of Sana, and are divided between Manakhah, with 3,000 Jews, and Sana, which has a separate quarter containing about 8,000. [cite web |publisher= "Jewish Encyclopedia" |author= Joseph Jacobs and Schulim Ochser |title= "(Jews of) Yemen"|url=] Today some 350,000 Yemenite Jews live in Israel, nearly 5% of the nations total population.

North Africa


Jews and Judaism have a long history in Algeria. However, following the brutal conflict of the 1990s there – in particular, the rebel Armed Islamic Group's 1994 declaration of war on all non-Muslims in the country – most of the thousand-odd Jews previously there, living mainly in Algiers and to a lesser extent Blida, Constantine, and Oran, emigrated. The Algiers synagogue was abandoned after 1994. These Jews themselves represented the remainder of only about 10,000 who had chosen to stay there in 1962; most of Algeria's 140,000 Jews, having been granted French citizenship in 1870, left the country for France when it attained independence, together with the pied-noirs. 210,000 Algerian Jews now live in Israel, (3% of the nations population).


Egyptian Jews constitute perhaps the oldest Jewish community in the world. The Jewish population of Egypt is now somewhere from 100-1000 people, down from between 75,000 and 80,000 in 1948. They included some 5,000 Karaite Jews at that date, who, along with the Rabbanite Jews, constituted the historic core of the community. About 133,000 Egyptian Jews now live in Israel, 1.9% of the nations population.


The area now known as Libya was the home of one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, dating back to at least 300 BCE. In 1948, about 38,000 Jews lived there. A series of pogroms started in November 1945, when more than 140 Jews were killed in Tripoli and most synagogues in the city looted. The pogroms continued in June 1948, when 15 Jews were killed and 280 Jewish homes destroyed. [ [] [] [ Jewish Virtual Library] ]

Upon Libya's independence in 1951, most of the Jewish community emigrated from Libya. After the Suez Crisis in 1956, another series of pogroms forced a large number of Jews to flee. In 1967, the Jewish population of 7,000 was again subjected to pogroms in which 18 were killed, and many more injured, sparking a near-total exodus that left fewer than 100 Jews in Libya.Fact|date=May 2007 When Muammar al-Gaddafi came to power in 1969, all remaining Jewish property was confiscated and all debts to Jews cancelled. [ [ Middle East Facts] ]

Slat Abn Shaif Synagogue in Libya before World War II.]

In 2004 Libya unilaterally invited Jews to return and receive compensation for their original property, on condition that they leave their property in Israel to Palestinians. [ [ Libya Wants the Jews to Return "Home"] April 14, 2004 (INN)] Libyan Jews' reaction to the offer of return has been negative; they view it as a stunt intended to improve Libya's standing in both the Western and Arab worlds, cite concerns about religious freedoms, and point out the lack of human rights and democracy in Libya that make such an offer highly unattractive. However, the compensation offer has attracted guarded interest. [ [ Libya Invites the Jews Who Fled To Come Home] by Eric J. Greenberg April 30, 2004 "The Forward" (retrieved on August 2, 2007)] [ [ Libyan Jews claim £100m for seized wealth] by Inigo Gilmore January 11, 2004 (The Telegraph)] . 150,000 Libyan Jews now live in Israel, (2.2% of the nations population).

Although the main synagogue in Tripoli was renovated in 1999, it has not reopened for services. The last known Jew in Libya, Esmeralda Meghnagi, died in February 2002.


Moroccan Jews constitute an ancient community. Before the founding of Israel in 1948, there were about 500,000 worldhistory|quote=p. 966|section=3770] Jews in the country, but fewer than 7,000 or so remain. [ [ AXT entry] , 1997.]

In June 1953, forty-three Jews were murdered, and violence persisted. Upon independence in 1956, there were around 265,000 Jews, according to the census. Jews were granted full suffrage and complete freedom of movement but emigration was restricted (although thousands of Jews continued to leave for Israel clandestinely). After the 1967 Six-Day War, many middle-class Jews emigrated because of worsening conditions, including a virulent antisemitic and anti-Israel press campaign.

Many Jews with deep ties with France emigrated to France. Others exited France to other Western Francophone countries (esp. Belgium and Switzerland) as well as Québec (French-speaking Canada). They were mostly economic migrants. Although the vast majority of Jews left after independence, 5,500 Jews remain in Morocco. There have been several anti-Semitic events and an Al-Qaeda attackFact|date=February 2007. Nevertheless, conditions for Jews by the Moroccan government have improved, and Jews receive special privileges from the royal family, especially the late Hassan II. Nearly 1,000,000 Moroccan Jews live in Israel today comprising around 14% of its total population.


Tunisia has had a Jewish minority since Roman times. Tunisia was the only Arab country to come under direct German occupation during World War II, where they suffered under a forced labor and random execution policy. After independence in the 1950s, Tunisia's Jewish Community Council was abolished by the government and many Jewish areas and buildings were destroyed for urban rehabilitation. In 1948 the Jewish population was an estimated 105,000. During the Six-Day War, Jews were attacked in riots, and, despite government protection, 7,000 Jews emigrated to France.
As of 2004 an estimated 1,500 still remain, particularly on the island of Djerba (noted for its synagogues), comprising the country's largest indigenous religious minority.



For nearly 700 years, Spain (then Al-Andalus) was ruled by an Islamic Caliphate. For a period of time during the Muslim rule of Spain, Jews were generally accepted in Muslim Spanish society and Jewish religious, cultural, and economic life blossomed. Over time, the nature and length of this "Golden Age" has become a subject of debate. Some scholars give starting periods of the Golden Age as either the mid-700s CE (the Muslim conquest of Spain) or 912 (the rule of Abd-ar-Rahman III) and end of the Golden Age as variously 976 (when the Caliphate began to break apart), 1066 Granada massacre, 1090 invasion of Almoravides or the mid-1100s invasion of the Almohades. [cite book |author=Mark R. Cohen |title= "Under Crescent and Cross" (1995)]

Frederick Schweitzer and Marvin Perry agree that there are two general views of the status of Jews under Islam, the traditional "golden age" and the revisionist "persecution and pogrom" interpretations. They argue that the 19th century idealized view of Jewish historians was taken up by Arab Muslims after 1948 as "an Arab-Islamist weapon in what is primarily an ideological and political struggle against Israel", and ignores "a catalog of lesser-known hatred and massacres", including Muslim pogroms against Jews in Córdoba in 1011 and in Granada in 1066. [cite book |publisher= Palgrave Macmillan, 2002 |author= Frederick M. Schweitzer and Marvin Perry |title="Anti-Semitism: myth and hate from antiquity to the present"|ISBN=0312165617]

ee also

* Jewish ethnic divisions
* Mizrahi Jews
* Musta'arabim
* History of the Jews under Muslim rule
* Jewish exodus from Arab lands
* Arab Jewish tribes


External links

* [ Who is an Arab Jew?] – On being Mizrahi by Albert Memmi.
* [ Reflections by an Arab Jew] – On being Mizrahi (pro-Arab identity) by Ella Habiba Shohat.

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