Why Middle Eastern Jewish Refugees are Key to Understanding and Resolving the Israel-Palestine Conflict

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EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Why Middle Eastern Jewish Refugees are Key to Understanding and Resolving the Israel-Palestine Conflict

DATE: 6:00pm – 7:00 pm 27 November 2018

VENUE: Henry Jackson Society, Millbank Tower

SPEAKER: Lyn Julius

EVENT CHAIR: Tom Wilson

 

FULL NAME OF FIRST SPEAKER: Lyn Julius

 

Tom Wilson: Hello ladies and gentlemen, I think we should start as it’s now six o’clock. Welcome to the Henry Jackson Society. My name’s Tom Wilson, I’m a research fellow here on our Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism and our event this evening with Lyn Julius which we are delighted to have in the run-up to the 30th of November which is now a day for commemorating the Jewish communities who were driven from Arab lands. Many of you will be familiar with Lyn, who is the author of this new book Uprooted, which we’ll be selling afterwards. I had a quick flick through and it looks incredibly comprehensive and a really fascinating subject. Lyn of course has written widely on this subject in Haaretz, in the Guardian, in the Jewish Chronicle, and she’s also the founder of Harif, which I’ll let you speak a little bit more about maybe during your presentation since I’m sure you can do a better job of it than I can. Lyn will speak for about half an hour and then we’ll be happy to take questions from the audience after that. So Lyn I’ll hand over to you. Thank you.

 

Lyn Julius: Thank you. Well first of all thank you very much Tom, and thank you to the Henry Jackson society for inviting me here. I’m really delighted to be here, very honoured. So as Tom mentioned. I’ve just published a book, it’s been out a few months now. And I’d like to sort of summarise a little bit of what’s in it, and perhaps talk about why it might be important for understanding and even resolving the Israel-Arab conflict. I’m not going to talk about settlements or two-state solution or anything about that. I will talk about a subject that’s actually hardly ever mentioned, but which I think is the key to really understanding the, certainly the Israel-Arab, or Israel-Islamist conflict. So why did I write this book? I wrote it mainly because it’s quite a personal subject. My family were Iraqi Jews from Baghdad, and they came as refugees, my parents came as refugees in 1950 to this country. There was a massive immigration from Iraq at the time, and 90% of the community, which then numbered 150,000, left Iraq in a sort of a window that the government gave them to leave the country. It lasted for a year. 90% of the community left, most went to Israel, but my family came here. And in all, 850,000 Jews left Arab countries, about 615,000 went to Israel, and 200,000 went to elsewhere, elsewhere to the West. So I had relatives still in Iraq during the 1960s, which was a cause of great anxiety for my parents, because they were desperate to leave and they couldn’t leave. And come 1967, the Six Day War, things got extremely critical for the Jews still living in Baghdad. I had my four grandparents, several aunts, cousins still there. And they kind of, the worst period they experienced was the hanging of nine Jews in liberation square, Baghdad. And they lived through a period of absolute terror. Their phones were cut off, their bank accounts frozen, they were sacked from their jobs, they had no means of earning a living. And worst of all, they couldn’t leave. So I remember my father writing desperate letters to MPs, or whoever he could think of really, to try to get my relatives out. In the end they did manage to leave. My aunt was smuggled out of northern Iraq through Kurdistan and over into Iran. About 2,000 Jews left in that way. They left illegally. They were smuggled out with the help of the Kurds, and probably with the help of the Israeli government, too, behind the scenes. So that was my personal story for, my personal reason for writing the book. And the other reason was of course, because it’s such an important story I think. And there isn’t an awful lot available in English at any rate about this subject. There is a little bit more in French. Apart from academic works, like works from Normal Stillman for instance, which are extremely excellent. And Martin Gilbert’s book, In Ishmael’s House. There’s not an awful lot that’s sort of available in Waterstones or, you know, in the bookshops, and that’s accessible to a wider public. So I wanted to do something readable, but that was also academically solid. So there are plenty of footnotes, and you know I hope that people will find it useful as a reference work as well. So, as I say I think it is the core of the conflict, the main focus of my book is on this massive ethnic cleansing of 850,000 Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. There are only about 4,500 left in the region. And this exodus is obviously a greater number than the Palestinian refugees who left Israel. And it was the greatest number of non-Muslims until the exodus of Christians from Iraq after 2003. I want to take you back in time to look at the root causes, or the roots, really, of these communities. These communities of Jews are indigenous to the region. In fact they go back a very long way. They go back in some cases thousands of years. And certainly a thousand years before the Arab conquest and Islam. And the community of Jews in Iraq actually dates back 2,600 years to the Babylonian exile and the destruction of the first Temple. And these Jews lived continuously in that region, it’s very important to realise that they were always there. And in fact the region has almost as much Jewish history as the land of Israel itself. And there are 17 biblical figures buried in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Lebanon, and among them 5 biblical prophets. And one of them was the prophet Ezekiel. And I do describe in my book Ezekiel’s tomb which was a very popular place of pilgrimage for Jews. About 5,000 Jews would visit Ezekiel’s tomb at the festival of Shavuot, Pentecost, and it was, you know, up until 1950, people used to go there. It was about 2 hours south of Baghdad. But if you see pictures of it now you’ll see it is totally unrecognisable. In fact it is no longer recognisable as a Jewish site at all. It’s been turned into a mosque. And in fact all connection with Ezekiel has been severed. It is now the tomb o some minor prophet from the Qur’an. And this is what’s happened to Jewish heritage really across the region. Roads are being built across Jewish cemeteries, synagogues are being left to decay. And there is very little left of this age-old presence in these countries. With one exception, and that is Morocco, where the king has been spending a lot of money restoring sites, and he’s invested a lot of money in Jewish quarters, and that sort of thing. And obviously he does have a motive for this. I don’t want to be too cynical, but tourism is very important for Morocco. So the fact that these Jews have been in these countries for such a very long time created a sort of cultural symbiosis, where the Jews influenced the local culture, and it in turn influenced them. You only have to see that Judaism and Islam are very close, and Islam was very much influenced by Judaism to see that there is a very close cultural symbiosis. But this has often been misunderstood as coexistence. But of course the relationship between Jews and Muslims was never really equal. Coexistence assumes a sort of equality. The Jew was actually a dhimmi. I don’t know if you know the meaning of the word, everyone’s familiar with dhimmi? A dhimmi is sort of second-class, I would say citizen, but they didn’t have civil rights in those days. So the Jews and the Christians were actually considered inferior and had to behave as such. The central kind of meaning to being a dhimmi was that you had to pay a tax. You had to pay a tax which more or less, you had to pay a tax to the ruler, so that he would protect you. So basically it meant subcontracting out your right to self-defence to the ruler of the day. And that lead to an image of the Jew as being rather cowardly, even effeminate, and not able to defend himself. Now this status, dhimmi status, was not always uniformly applied, and it did depend on the ruler of the day. Some were very good and some actually did not apply the dhimmi status at all. But others did. And I think the one thing you can say about the status of Jews and Christians up until the 19th century was that there was no real security for Jews and Christians, and life was very precarious. So I thought I’d just read you a very short passage from my book.

In a similar way to their Ashkenazi counterparts in medieval Europe, Jews in Morocco have been barred from certain occupations by the Islamic guilds. As in Europe, they perform certain necessary economic functions, like money-lending, and associated tasks like metal-working, which were deemed reprehensible or unlucky by the non-Jewish majority. The Jews were given the most menial of tasks. One such job assigned to them was the salting of decapitated heads of executed captives. In Yemen, the job of cleaning the sewers was done by a sub-caste of Jews. In Egypt today the Christian Copts are the rubbish collectors. In 20th century Iraq, Christians also did menial jobs, in conformity with their lowly status, like cleaning septic tanks. The small Sephardi community of Palestine was so abased under Muslim rule that a contingent of Ashkenazi followers under of false messiah Sabbatai Zevi, seeking refuge in Jerusalem in 1700, refused to put up with the humiliation suffered by the Sephardim. ‘The Arabs behave as proper thugs toward the Jews,’ one wrote. In Palestine Jews were not allowed to worship freely at their holy places. The Mamluk rulers forbade them from treading beyond the seventh step on the staircase to the burial place of the patriarchs in Hebron. ‘Nothing equals the misery and suffering of the Jews of Jerusalem,’ wrote Karl Marx. Turks, Arabs, and Moors are the masters in every respect. To be a dhimmi was to be continually reminded of Islam’s supremacy over Judaism and Christianity. Of course, Jews performed an essential function, as commercial go-betweens, and could and did rise to lofty positions, as courtiers, Sarafs (treasurers), and merchants. Some were fabulously rich, like Haim Farhi. But like him, these Jews could just as quickly fall into disfavour. Farhi had his nose cut off, and his eye gouged out by a treacherous Ottoman governor, and was subsequently assassinated.

So that was the situation really, up until the 19th century. And then there occurred a complete revolution, a sort of reversal in the pecking order in these countries. It was because the colonial power, the western colonial powers, insisted that the no-Muslim minorities be given equal rights with the Muslims. And so the dhimmi status was abrogated in 1856. And together with this there was a group of well-meaning French Jews, who really wanted their co-religionists in Arab countries to be equipped with the education that would allow them to achieve full emancipation in their countries, and also be equipped with the skills to survive in the modern world. And that group set up a network of schools, called the Alliance Israelite Universelle. And that actually really created a revolution. Because instead of being downtrodden, and at the really, at the bottom of society, the Jews and the Christians became an educated middle class. They spoke several languages and they were conversant in maths and science. And eventually they became the backbone of the colonial administrations, the mandates and the protectorates. And certainly, they ran the civil service, in Iraq. There were Jews who became very prominent in politics. There were finance ministers who were Jews. And then in the arts, they were also very prominent. We had actors and singers who were Jews. The founder of the opera in Egypt was a Jew, the first person to write a novel in Iraq was a Jew. And so on and so forth. And I have on my front cover here a picture of Camelia, who was a film star in Egypt in the 1940s. And she very sadly died in a plane crash. She was rumoured to have been the mistress of King Farouk. And it is said King Farouk actually had her killed in this plane crash. But I think that’s just another conspiracy theory. So the colonial era, which began sort of towards the end of the 19thcentury, and really got underway in the ‘20s and ‘30s of the last century, was a golden age for the Jews. They were very prosperous, a lot of them were very comfortable, they had servants. And often when you talk to Jews from Arab countries, they reminisce about that era. But of course the colonial powers were, although they were happy to exploit the Jews for their talents and their skills, they never really considered them worthy of full rights. So except in Algeria, where Jews were given the French nationality, Jews in other countries were not. They were still considered natives, or indigenous. And the colonial powers showed themselves not prepared to really protect these Jews in times of trouble, and in some cases they even incited riots against Jews. And of course the ultimate betrayal by the colonial powers of the Jews was when the Vichy governments were set up in North Africa during World War Two. They began the process of stripping Jews of their rights, which was really the first step on the way to extermination had the Nazis won the war. So the colonial era was very brief. And it was soon eclipsed by the rise of antisemitism. So the antisemitism took two forms. One was the antisemitism generated by Arab nationalism. Arab nationalism soon considered non-Muslims and even non-Arabs to be not really part of the new nation that was emerging in these Arab countries. So eventually Arab nationalism marginalised minorities, and excluded them from politics. And I’m not just talking about Jews, but other groups, even the Copts in Egypt for instance. There was a Coptic Prime Minister at one stage, but you gradually saw them pushed to the margins. And in the Jewish case they were ushered towards the exit. And Arab nationalism in its most extreme form was a blood and soil nationalism, and there were parties modelled on the Nazi model. And they still exist today, like the Ba’ath party in Syria. President Assad is the president of the Ba’ath party. In Iraq, Arab nationalism was especially virulent. And there were Syrian and Palestinian nationalists who came with King Faisal in the 1920s, who began to take control of the main institutions in Iraq, and set about spreading antisemitism. There was another form of antisemitism that arose at that time, and that was Islamism. Islamism was also Nazi-inspired. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928 in Egypt by Hassan al-Banna, and its aim was to establish, to re-establish, I should say, the caliphate. And by 1945 the Muslim Brotherhood had a million men underarms in Egypt. Now antisemitism was at its very core. Not only because the conflict started brewing in Palestine, but because Jews represented modernity. They represented women’s rights, secularism, and all things that were anathema to Islamists. And the Muslim Brotherhood actually set off riots throughout the 1930s against the Jews of Egypt. Now this antisemitism is quite different from the traditional Muslim antisemitism. According to the Qur’an the Jews were actually defeated by Muhammad. They were no longer a threat. And they were just a relic of the past. They were too stupid or stubborn to convert to Islam but they could be tolerated. And they were more or less left to their own devices. But the new antisemitism that came into the Arab world in the 1930s was imported from Europe. And it was the antisemitism of conspiracy theories, of Jewish power, you know that the Jews wanted to dominate the world. And this was actually quite alien to the traditional image of the Jew in the Muslim world. Soon there was a three-way alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood, the Nazis, and the third partner, who was the Palestinian mufti of Jerusalem. Now the Palestinian mufti was the de-facto leader of the Arab world. He was, before anything else, he was an anti-Semite. He was sort of a hybrid of anti-Semitic nationalism and anti-Semitic Islamism. And in 1933 he reached out to the Nazis to make an alliance with them. Wherever he went in the Arab world he incited against the Jews. And in 1939 he was exiled by the British to Baghdad, and there he spent two years. He never ceased to plot the overthrow of the then pro-British government. In April 1941 he finally succeeded, together with the pro-Nazi Rashid Ali, who became Prime Minister. And although the mufti was forced to flee with other ringleaders of the coup by the end of May 1941, he was really the driving force behind the Farhud riot. Now the Farhud was a terrible massacre that broke out on the 1st and 2nd of June 1941. 179 Jews are known to have died in this massacre, but it is thought that up to 600 may have died. And there were terrible scenes of looting, rape, mutilation. People were even poisoned in the hospitals. And we will probably never know what the final death toll was. So the mufti spent the rest of the war in Berlin broadcasting anti-Semitic propaganda. ‘Kill the Jews wherever you find them,’ was the message. And at his famous meeting with Hitler in 1941, he asked permission, when the Nazis were victorious, to manage the extermination of the Jews, not just in Palestine, but in the Arab world. So I would argue the Arab-Nazi alliance was not simply a pragmatic alliance against the colonial powers. It was an ideological movement and had the allies not defeated Rommel at El Alamein in 1942, Jews in Arab countries would have been sent to the death camps too. The legacy of this era still exists today. The Muslim Brotherhood is very much with us. And Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State, was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Of course Hamas is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. And the Arab world, I would say, never really underwent a process of de-Nazification. In 1948 the state of Israel was declared. The Arab League member states declared war against it. But they declared a second war against eth Jews in their own countries, although these were non-combatants. Now the Arab League was egged on at every stage by the mufti, the Palestinian mufti. We have evidence that the Arab League drafted a Nuremburg-style plan, to persecute spies and dispossess their Jews even before the establishment of Israel. Zionism was declared a crime, Jews were accused of it, arrested and even executed. They were stripped of their nationality, their bank accounts frozen, sacked from public jobs, deprived of their livelihoods, prevented from travelling. And moreover, the Jews were subject to sporadic outbreaks of rioting and violence that claimed hundreds of lives. So all Jews in the Arab world became refugees. I just want to show you this, this is a laissez-passer that was issued to a Jew leaving Iraq. And here on the left hand side you see a stamp which says ‘no return’. So he was being sent out of Iraq on a sort of one-way ticket, not allowed to come back. And this happened in many countries in the Arab world. So these Jews were not only made refugees, they were not allowed to take anything with them. They were dispossessed, and they left with nothing. It is difficult to estimate how much they left behind, but there are some Jews who were extremely wealthy, particularly in Egypt. There is a map in my book of Tahrir square, showing all the properties that were owned by Jews around this square, some of them very grand-looking mansions. So most of their property was left behind and of course they were never compensated. Those who went to Israel, 650,000, and that’s more or less the majority, arrived in a country which just could not cope with them, it was a third world country without the resources to house them or to give them jobs. They were put in tent camps or Mahanot, which lasted for decades. And ultimately they were successfully absorbed. If Israel had not been established, would these Jews still be living in the Arab world today? Basically not. Antisemitism predates the state of Israel, I’ve mentioned the 1941 Farhud, and there were outbreaks such as the Fez pogrom of 1912, 1807 in Casablanca, 1840 Damascus Blood Libel, Aleppo 1850, Cairo 1890, and so the list goes on. Truth be told, all minorities were vulnerable to violence, and many have suffered terribly. The Yazidis, for instance. And groups with no Israel of their own have been targeted for death. So the lesson seems to be that you need to have your sovereign state, and the power to defend it. The Middle East is a mosaic of different peoples and religions, but we only assume that the Arabs, and mostly the Sunni Arabs at that, have political rights there. So I’d just like to end by talking a little bit about peace. Can knowing about the Jewish exodus help achieve peace? These Jews obviously have moral, legal and historic rights that must be taken into account in a peace settlement. More than half of Israelis have roots in Arab and Muslim countries. A peace settlement that does not take account of their grandparents’ experience in Arab countries and their unresolved issue will not fly. And a second reason why I think the Jewish exodus is important for peace is that I don’t think the end objective of the Palestinians is a Palestinian state. I think it’s the right of return. And while this is the case, they must be reminded that two sets of refugees emerged from the conflict, both deserving of recognition and compensation, but neither deserving or even able to return. And the Jewish refugees and their successful absorption are a model of Palestinian refugees in their host countries, or in the state of Palestine if it ever arises. So there are many reasons why this story has been neglected. A major one has been that the UN passed hundreds of resolutions on the conflict, 172 resolutions on Palestinian refugees. Not one on Jewish refugees. Another reason was that until recently the Israeli government did not have the political will to make an issue of this, but I’m glad to say this is slowly changing. And as Tom mentioned, there is this commemorative day, the 30th of November, which we are observing, and we hope this will help raise awareness of the Jewish refugees. Thank you very much.

 

Tom Wilson: Thank you very much for that presentation, Lyn, and a shocking fact there at the end about the UN, although perhaps not surprising. I’m sure there are lots of questions. Perhaps if people could raise their hands and if you say your name and any organisation that you might be representing and then we’ll go through and have a discussion. Yes, the gentleman here.

 

Question 1: You mentioned the Nazi roots of Arab nationalism. I’ve noticed Arab flags are frequently red, white and black tricolours and they’re like eagles. Is that where it comes from?

 

Lyn Julius: Well there’s a particular flag, I think it’s the Syrian Socialist National Party, which is uncannily like the Nazi swastika. It’s a sort of red symbol on a white and black background, and I’m sure that was the inspiration. I think the red, black and green and white, I’m not quite sure what the symbolism is. I think some of it’s to do with Islam and Muhammad.

 

Question 1: There’s no green on Egypt’s.

 

Lyn Julius: Is there none? Okay, yeah, I don’t know quite the answer to that, sorry.

 

Tom Wilson: Do we have some more questions?

 

Lyn Julius: There’s no questions.

 

Tom Wilson: Yes.

 

Question 2: Henry Robinson, Jewish Human Rights Watch. I think it’s a fascinating group that you’ve created. I was just wondering why you don’t think Jews don’t feel able to protest in the same way as Palestinians do, in relation to in operating in larger numbers.

 

Lyn Julius: You mean generally speaking?

 

Question 2: Generally speaking.

 

Lyn Julius: You mean why do Jews not protest as much as Palestinians? Well I think, first of all there are very few of us. There’s only 200,000 in the whole of the UK. And the proportion of activists is actually tiny. In fact I think you can count them on the fingers of one hand. I think I know them all personally. And I think Jews need to find allies in this whole grassroots movement. And obviously there have been Christian groups who are pro-Israel who have carried the banner, if you like. They turn up at demonstrations, counter-demonstrations and I think that’s possibly the way to go actually, to enlist more support amongst the non-Jewish population.

 

Tom Wilson: Another question here.

 

Question 3: My name is Jamila, from the Henry Jackson Society. I’m just wondering how you would describe the current situation in Europe, and whether that’s correct. I’ve heard that many Jewish people are actually going back to Israel or emigrating elsewhere. So how would you describe that [inaudible]. Is it really that dangerous?

 

Lyn Julius: I do think a lot of Jews are feeling very uncomfortable at the moment. I think they’re not happy about Jeremy Corbyn being the leader of the labour party, because suddenly the far left has become mainstream. And the far left has kind of espoused an anti-Semitic ideology. You know, they claim it’s anti-Zionist but in fact, you know 90% of Jews support Israel and they are Zionists. So if the left comes out against the Zionists they are in effect coming out against Israel. And in fact, they try and make the distinction, but you can’t make the distinction. And we know from experience of Jews in Arab countries that very soon the distinction, they merge the two together very soon. And Jews were persecuted for being Jews. So I think there is that. A lot of Jews are, I don’t know, I don’t know if they’re planning their exit but they’re certainly discussing it over the dinner table. I think in France things are worse, because there have been, I read an article today, there have been twelve Jews that have been killed in the last few years by basically jihadi Muslims. And I think the sad thing about that is that people are not naming the problem. You know, they blame mental illness, or they say the guy had an unhappy childhood, or something like that. And they’re not really addressing the problem. So you know I would say that this has caused a lot of disquiet. And these communities thought they were safe. You know, 70 years after the holocaust they thought, that’s it, we don’t have to move again. But it seems to be not the case.

 

Tom Wilson: Yes, the lady here.

 

Question 4: Why do you think the myth of coexistence between Jews in Arab lands with Arabs has persisted, despite the truth that you’ve just told us about?

 

Lyn Julius: Yeah. I think, the Jews in a way are to blame for the myth, because I think 19th century Jewish historians did propagate that myth. But they did it in order to embarrass the West into giving them more rights. You know, they said look, look at the Muslim world, the Spanish Golden Age, you know, that’s always brought up isn’t it, how Jews and Muslims and Christians all lived so well together and created this sort of flourishing culture. And so Bernard Lewis does blame Jewish historians of the 19th century, initially. And of course, you hear a lot of it is propaganda, it’s propaganda in the press. I think there’s a lot of wishful thinking. People are desperate for people to get on, if you like. And they point to the golden age and they say, oh, you know, we all got on, everything was peaceful and harmonious. But in fact even there, Muslim fundamentalists ruled Spain for over 100 years. And the Rabbi, Rambam, Maimonides, had to flee Spain and take refuge, well fist he went to Morocco then he want to Egypt. So you can’t say that Muslim rule in Spain was always wonderful. Far from it.

 

Question 4: And they massacred 5,000 Jews in Grenada.

 

Lyn Julius: Yeah, that’s right, that’s right.

 

Tom Wilson: And we have another question here in the front row.

 

Question 5: Thank you. My name’s John Dobson, I write for the Indian Sunday Guardian. Dare I mention two words, Donald Trump. Plenty of people who, maybe cynics, I don’t know, they’re really [inaudible], who really believe that Trump is influenced hugely by the Jewish vote in America, and he’ll do anything to enhance his voter base. And for that reason, he moved the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and he kept arguing that it was in order to enhance peace in the Middle East. Now, I’ve thought about this for a long time, and I cannot see any correlation between moving the embassy into Jerusalem and enhancing peace. If you could help me understand it?

 

Lyn Julius: Well I agree with you. But I think there is the contrary view. The other day I heard an American lady talking about Trump, an American Jewish lady. And she said that American Jews hate Trump, and they are absolutely, you know, they are extremely hostile to him, and of course most of them never voted for him. And they think that, you know, he is allied with the far right in the US, and in fact some of the far righters, like the one who perpetrated the Pittsburgh massacre, thought that the Jews were allowing all the immigrants into America, and they were allied with the far left, if you like. So it’s all terribly complex and I’m no expert.

 

Question 5: But why did he move it, in that case? Wasn’t the status quo okay?

 

Lyn Julius: I don’t think the status quo is ever okay. You know, and every single pretext is seized upon as a move away from peace. You know, it could be building a few houses in Ma’ale Adumim, just on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and then suddenly everyone’s up in arms, this is an obstacle to peace. You know, so I don’t think it follows at all.

 

Tom Wilson: I have another couple of questions, so perhaps this gentleman here, and then the gentleman behind. If you go first, yes.

 

Question 6: Harry Goldstein, North London Friends of Israel. Now, this question is something that Lyn and I have discussed before, but let’s open it up. What do you think we can do to bring this story to the attention of the public in Britain and in Western countries. Because here we’re talking among ourselves, obviously.

 

Lyn Julius: Yeah, we seem to be. But obviously every one of you is important to spreading the word. And I think we should all be raising a huge outcry about this. We should be writing to the press, we should be lobbying our MPs, we should be starting petitions. And every time the BBC does a report on Palestinian refugees, say, what about the other side of the story? Why haven’t you mentioned this? It’s in your charter to be impartial and cover all aspects. We should be raising hell over this. And I would like to see more people in the establishment talk about it. So far we hardly hear, you know, people who should know better, discuss this issue.

 

Tom Wilson: There was a question for this gentleman here.

 

Question 7: My question actually is very similar to the previous one. My name is Alexander [inaudible], I’m just a private [inaudible]. But we all know that the media, including BBC, but even more so continental media in general, are very anti-Israel. And they raise the Palestinian refugee issue every time, okay. And for the average European mind, the other side, which you just enlightened us, doesn’t exist. They never heard about it. Would it not be sensible to make an effort to push that on the front line, so to speak, through the media et cetera. Obviously it’s very hard to embarrass BBC on anything, but let’s use BBC as some example. And some continental media is worse, so I’m not saying it’s the worse. But kind of embarrass them into being even-handed, which nominally they’re supposed to be, and push this issue which frankly that’s why great thanks to you for enlightening us more, really, you know to push it in a way the audience, not just the people, but the media.

 

Lyn Julius: Thank you. Well whatever suggestions you can come up with, I think would be great. I think we each have a different way of perhaps approaching the question. I honestly think, for a long time Israel has not raised this question. And of course they should be, I think, leading the charge, And, you know, we still haven’t really seen the Israeli government really putting its weight behind this issue. I mean okay we’ve got this day in the calendar. But every time the Israeli ambassador appears, you don’t hear him talk about this issue. He’s too defensive. You know, the agenda’s been set by the other side. We talk about settlements. We talk about occupation.

 

Question 7: Palestinian refugees.

 

Lyn Julius: Yes, we talk about Palestinian refugees. It’s about time we set the agenda. I think one way of doing it is to set it in the context of the other minorities. And maybe that is the way forward.

 

Tom Wilson: If you’re happy, we’ll take three questions together. Perhaps this lady, the lady behind and then the gentleman here.

 

Question 8: Lyn I just, you’ve touched on this, why is it you think that Israel hasn’t pushed this issue. This gentleman here is talking about why is it we’re not getting this point out. And you say Israel hasn’t really taken this up. What do you think Israel’s motivation is for not taking this issue up?

 

Tom Wilson: The lady behind.

 

Question 9: Fleur Conways, I’ve actually got a family tree from Baghdad, from the 14th century.

 

Lyn Julius: We might be related.

 

Question 9: I actually do have it. And there was a point that, I’m sure you’re aware of it, that at some point David Sassoon, who was like a chancellor to the Pasha of Iraq, moved his sons and his family over to India. And part of my family went there, and I was born there. So, you know, we had a great community and a great life. But going back to what has been brought up. I think that the Sephardi Jews that were exiled from Arab lands should get together and go and take the Arab nations to the international criminal court of justice, and that’s what should be done.

 

Lyn Julius: I hadn’t heard that one before, but why not? Let’s do it.

 

Question 9: Well, the Palestinians want to take Israel all the time, so I think it should be done.

 

Tom Wilson: And the gentleman over here as well.

 

Question 10: Robert Caplan is a American behavioural scientist, and he’s pointed out, he refers to the French-British colonial enterprise in the Middle East, and the American’s failed missionary enterprise, which encouraged the creation of hundreds of schools and universities and hospitals, which in turn created, gave the impetus for the Arab national movement. And he points out that the Maronite Christians are Phoenician. They are the original population. They are 25% of the population of Lebanon. But perception within the foreign offices of the United States, Britain, and France, not so much France but certainly the United States and Britain, has always been that the Arabs are the indigenous peoples of the Middle East, and even the Phoenicians are invaders. And the reason they do that is because any other narrative is inconvenient, and creates a dissonance that messes around with the economic deals that they want to make. Now if you’ve got a Muslim world versus a Christian, Maronite, Phoenician or Jewish world, it’s always going to win out, economics is always going to win out, unless you can create a situation where at every possible opportunity you talk about Arab imperialism, Arab colonialism, and well frankly British-French complicity in the creation of the problem that we have today. How do we do that?

 

Tom Wilson: Do you want me to run through those three again. So we have a question on why Israel hasn’t pushed the issue more, a question on whether Jews, the Sephardim, and Mizrahim of the Middle East, whether they should take the Arab countries to the courts internationally, and then also the question about different indigenous groups, and expansionism in the Middle East.

 

Lyn Julius: Okay, so let’s start with, why did Israel not say anything for so long? Yeah, this is a very good question, and we ask ourselves this question quite a lot. There are several reasons. I think one was that Israel was taking in refugees from 80 or 100 different countries, they didn’t want to drive a wedge between one group or another. They wanted everybody to become Israeli citizens, learn Hebrew, and the last thing they wanted to do was for them to look to the past, dredge up the past, they wanted them to look to the future, rebuild their lives. And Israel treated these Jews as returning to their homeland. So it’s only recently that they’ve homed in on the push factors if you like, and talking about the persecution, the violence, everything like that. That’s one reason. Another reason was the Jews themselves didn’t make a fuss. At least they’d got out alive, whereas the people that went through the holocaust did not. Most of them perished. So they couldn’t really compare themselves to holocaust survivors. Also there is a sort of dhimmi syndrome, which I talk about in my book, which downplays suffering. The dhimmi tries to appease the powers that be. And also for a long time they were excluded from politics in the Arab world. So it didn’t come naturally for them to be active in the political sphere. All this is changing slowly. And another thing was in international fora, the Israelis did not press clearly this question of Jewish refugees. They say it’s in the resolution 242, we talk about the settlement of the refugee problem. But they don’t specify that that includes Jewish refugees. So the outside world was left ignorant of that. But as I say, I think things are changing. We’ve got an uphill struggle even in Israel, because for a long time the school children were not taught about the history and heritage of their own families, really. There’s also another problem with the elite in Israel, which is basically Ashkenazi dominated, and is more keen to show sympathy to Palestinians than they are to the Mizrahim and Sephardim. Going on to your last point, you’re absolutely right. I think if Jeremy Corbyn were educated to appreciate the true facts, it would turn his whole worldview on its head. Because the real imperialists here are the Arabs, who subjugated the indigenous peoples of the Middle East and North Africa. They imposed a kind of colonialism on the minorities. You can compare the dhimmi status to a kind of colonialism. And I do think that we should really assert the fact that we are indigenous to the region. We should really start a new paradigm, you know, like Edward Said did with his book. You know, maybe someone will write a book, not me, which will then be on academic syllabuses in universities, and would teach the true history of the Middle East and North Africa, and turn this whole business on its head.

 

Question 8: Preferably without falsifying its past.

 

Lyn Julius. Yes. Without falsifying the past. And as for your point, yes, I think it’s a brilliant idea, I have no idea how you would go about it, but I think that sounds good.

 

Question 9: I think we should get a petition off to [inaudible] with a copy to Naftali Bennett. I don’t know if anybody watched Stephen Sackur off HARDtalk last night, with his interview with Naftali Bennett. I was very pleased that he got as good as he gave.

 

Tom Wilson: So we just have a few more minutes. Is there a final round of questions? So we’ll take two. First of all this gentleman here and then the gentleman behind him. And a lady has just got in, so just three very quick questions if they can be. Just the gentleman in the blue shirt first, and then in the jumper, and then the lady, yes.

 

Question 11: Just to follow up on your point, if Jeremy Corbyn is educated. Who is going to educate him? Let’s be frank, look what’s happening in our British universities. People don’t know. Just last week this was not on BBC or anywhere, it just happened my daughter was studying there. The Israeli ambassador was invited to speak there, middle of the week. And it was well in advance. And most people were Jewish, but everybody were invited. The university knew for months. Student security measures, because protests were expected et cetera, they did nothing. Then in the last minute police said, oh it’s not safe. And it was cancelled, one hour notice. Which people to you expect to educate Jeremy Corbyn [inaudible].

 

Lyn Julius: I mean they’re shutting down, they’re shutting down [inaudible].

 

Tom Wilson: This gentleman?

 

Qusetion 12: My name is John Marx, I don’t represent any organisation. We haven’t mentioned the word oil yet. I have a funny feeling that when the world no longer needs oil, that all of this, including what underlines your book, may start to change. And I suspect that it’s going to be an uphill struggle until the world needs less and less oil. And maybe that’s beginning to happen, but it’ll take a while.

 

Tom Wilson: And then there was a question from this lady as well.

 

Lyn Julius: I think the word is gas, now, isn’t it, because Israel’s found a lot of gas.

 

Question 13: I’m Angela Goldstein, I’m also involved with North London Friends of Israel, you can come and ask us about it afterwards. My question is following on about the universities. Has your book been publicised within the academic field at all?

 

Lyn Julius: Well, I know of several universities who actually have a copy in the library, but whether students actually rad it or not I don’t know. I mean I would love it to be on booklists, lecturers’ booklists, and I’d like students to write essays about it and stuff. But obviously, I don’t know.

 

Tom Wilson: And then also there were the two questions on universities, and also the question on whether oil might change the dynamic of this in the Middle East.

 

Lyn Julius: I think in a way, oil is not the major factor now. I think the Saudis’ rapprochement with Israel shows that if the oil producers can be friendly to Israel what about the rest of us? The West should also stop being so unfriendly, anyway. And I’m sure you’re right that the fact that gas fields have been found off the coast of Israel will change the power dynamics. But here we’re talking about history and the rewriting of history, and for so long the Jewish refugees have been actually ignored, deliberately cut out of the picture. So I think we need to re-establish the balance, we need to make sure universities actually teach a balanced account of the history. We’ve got the problem that so many Israel Studies lecturers are anti-Israel, anti-Zionist. I mean, we’ve got a problem in our back garden.

 

Audience Member: We have a problem at the Board of Deputies. I’ve been a low voice since I became a deputy to bring up this issue. And you have a couple of people who have been there for a time representatives of Arab lands, but they have business interests in with Arabs and they’re reluctant to bring the topic up. And I would love everyone here to write to their deputy and say, bring up this topic.

 

Tom Wilson: Okay, thank you. I’ve just had the signal that we’re at the end of our allotted time, thank you so much for coming. Lyn, thank you so much for taking the time to write this book but also for coming and talking to us about it, and I know that they’re now on sale. Please join me in thanking Lyn.

HJS



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