History and Historiography

The expulsion of Jews from Arab countries and Iran – an untold history

This op-ed was written by WJC Jewish Diplomatic Corps member Andrea Mifano, was orginally published on the Brazilian Jewish news  website Kadima in Portuguese on 3 December 2020. 

Until the 1960s, approximately one million Jews lived in Iran and other Arab countries having arrived in the region more than 2,000 years before. Nowadays, it is estimated that only around 15,000 remain, as the majority of the Jewish population in Muslim lands were forced to flee their homes in the years following the establishment of the State of Israel. This mass expulsion and exodus is part of modern history, but inexplicably, it’s neither taught at schools nor remembered within the context of the conflicts in the Middle East.

For over 2,500 years, Jews lived continuously in North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf region the first Jewish population had already settled there at least 1,000 years before the advent of Islam.

Throughout the generations, Jews in the region were often subjected to various forms of discrimination — and in many cases, ranked lower on the status of society than their Muslim compatriots — but they were nevertheless loyal citizens who contributed significantly to the culture and development of their respective countries.

Despite the positive influence that Jews brought to the places where they lived, more than 850,000 Jews were forced to leave their homes in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Morocco, and several other Arab countries in the 20 years that followed the Arab-Israeli war of 1948. Another major forced migration took place from Iran in 1979–80, following the Iranian Revolution and the collapse of the shah’s regime, adding 70,000 more Jewish refugees to this number.


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