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March 28, 2013 4:11 am

Imagine a Land Where Even One Jew is One Jew Too Many

avatar by Adam Levick

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Libyan rebels celebrating successes.

There will be no Passover Seder in Libya this year.

This is so because, despite a long and proud history, today in Libya there are no Jews.

JIMENA explains:

The history of the Jewish people in Libya dates back to the 3rd century BCE.  In 1911 under Italian rule, Jews were treated relatively well.  Approximately 21,000 Jews were living in Libya, with the majority residing in Tripoli.  However, in the 1930’s the Fascist Italian regime initiated anti-Semitic laws which barred Jews from government jobs, government schools and required them to stamp “Jewish race” into their passports.  However, this was not enough to deter Jews from Libya, as 25% of the population in Tripoli was Jewish with over 44 synagogues in existence.

In 1942, the Jewish Quarter of Benghazi was occupied by the Nazi’s and more than 2,000 Jews were deported and sent to Nazi labor camps.  By the end of WWII, about one-fifth of those who were sent away had perished.  Even with the end of WWII, the situation for the Jews in Libya did not improve.  In 1945, more than 140 Jews were killed and even more injured in a pogrom in Tripoli.  The rioters not only destroyed and looted the city’s synagogues, but they also ruined hundreds of homes and businesses as well.  Again in 1948, coinciding with the declaration of the State of Israel, anti-Semitism escalated and rioters killed 12 Jews and destroyed 280 homes. This time, though, the Jews fought back and prevented even more deaths and injury.  As a result of the rampant anti-Semitism, 30,972 Jews immigrated to Israel.

A new law in 1961 required a special permit to prove Libyan citizenship.  Virtually all Jews were denied this permit.  By 1967 the Jewish population decreased to 7,000.  When anti-Semitic riots commenced following Israel’s Six Day War, King Idris and other Jewish leaders urged Jews living in Libya to emigrate.  An Italian airlift saved 6,000 Jews and relocated them to Rome.  Evacuees were forced to leave behind homes, businesses and possessions. When Muammar al-Gaddafi came to power in 1969, there were only 100 Jews remaining in Libya. His government confiscated all Jewish property, cancelled Jewish debt and made emigration for Jews legally prohibited.  Some Jews still managed to get out.  By 2004 there were no Jews left in Libya.

I cite this to add a bit of context to recent news of a French philosopher being barred from Libya because he is a Jew.

JTA explains:

The French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who supported France’s military intervention in Libya, was barred from visiting there because he is Jewish.

Levy, a celebrity in France, was supposed to join former French president Nicolas Sarkozy on a visit that began on Tuesday in Tripoli.

The [Libyan] website reported that Levy had to stay behind at the insistence of municipal bosses in Tripoli. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one city official told Rue89, “We did not invite him and we’ll close the door in his face if he comes. If the prime minister invited him, he can stay with the prime minister.”

An unnamed spokesperson for the city of Tripoli was quoted as telling Rue89 that the fact that Levy is Jewish could have exposed the municipality to attacks by Islamist militia.

Levy was a vocal supporter for French military intervention in Libya against Muammar Gadhafi and in favor of the rebel forces whose revolution led to the rise to power of Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan.

Those knowledgeable about the ethnic cleansing of roughly 850,000 Jews from Arab lands in the later half of the 20th century would not be at all surprised by Levy’s story, nor that that the cultural legacy of Arab antipathy still endures – antisemitism, remarkably, even without Jews.

In lamenting the experience of even only one Jew, however, I’m reminded of the Passover tradition in which we are commanded to feel as if each one of us were enslaved, and each one of us personally liberated from Egypt.

Ze’ev Maghen has eloquently written that being a Jew means having had ‘existed, built, climbed, fallen, lost, wept, rejoiced, created, learned, argued, loved and struggled for thousands of years’.  Jewish tradition, he passionately insists, can inspire you to “suck in the insights and bask in the glory and writhe in the pain and draw on the power emanating from every era and every episode and every experience” of your people.

Though only one man named Levy was excluded because he was a Jew, our tradition informs a sensibility which imagines that we are the Jew who is feared as one Jew too many.

Adam Levick is the managing editor of CiF Watch, an affiliate of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA)

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  • Jerry Blaz

    From what I heard from Bernard-Henri Levy, being interviewed on the “Charlie Rose” show, he stated that he didn’t go with Sarkozy because he had a prior engagement. He said that he has been to Libya recently, but acknowledged that there are elements who do not want him to visit because he is a Jew. He stated that the anti-Jewish view is a minority opinion.

  • Richard

    As a devoted and committed Jew in his early 80s, who has known Jew hatred personally from his early teens, fought back and finally left the haters behind in their slovenly ignorance and degradation, (or, as my Mother used to say, “may they live and be well”, I have often wondered if the reason for Jewish existence through the thousands of years, is not partly due to the pressure brought on us by those whose hatred continues to exist. Jews would probably be not much more than a strange segment of Protestantism were it not for the hatred of us by so many, especially for so long (thousands of years.) It’s sort of like the parents who tell their children “don’t marry so and so” which makes the children even more determined to “do their own thing and marry just the person whom the parents warn against marrying. If Jews were as socially, professionally accepted more, they might find greater acceptance by non-Jews and thus, become less determined to remain Jewish – at all costs.

  • It must drive the many Christians in the world who hate Jews right off the deep end when the find out that their “friend” Jesus was, to the end of his life, a devout Jew. He didn’t mean to set himself up as a god; he was misinterpreted as one who set himself up as God. That was misinterpreted because of the way he spoke to the Jews. As a teacher, Jesus meant to bring people, many of whom were Jews, closer to G-d, by following his (Jesus’) teachings. Jesus did not mean to set himself up as G-d.

  • mireille mechoullam

    Very good article. This is to show that even when you side against dictators, the new guys aren’t any better.

  • Warren Manison

    On the other hand, as reported in Israeli press, Gaddafi’s maternal grandmother was Jewish, hence his mother was, and, therefore, halachically so was he! So, after 2004, He was Libya’s greatest – if only- resident Jew!
    To wit, from the Feb.23, 2011 Washington Post column “In The Loop,” by Al Kamen: “[It] seems [that] Muammar Gaddafi’s grandmother, the mother of his mother, was Jewish, according to an account broadcast on IsraeliTV news last year.Two Israeli women, who claimed to be his distant relatives, said his grandmother ran away from an abusive Jewish husband, married a Muslim sheik and converted. But under Jewish religious law, Grandma and her daughter, who is Gaddafi’s mom, are still considered Jewish and therefore, as the monthly magazine Israel Today reports in its current issue, so is Gaddafi.” If the story they told is true, the weekly said, then “Gaddafi is entitled to immigrate to Israel as a Jew under Israel’s Law of Return.Even if every other country on earth refused him entry, Israel would be obligated by its own laws to take Gaddafi in.

  • jerry hersch
  • rofedoc

    Thanks to Obama and Clinton the arab spring was born and the status quo is no longer “Jew Tolerant” It has been replaced with a policy of Judenrein, as orchestrated by nazi Germany

  • richard sherman

    Nothing special here. 99.9% of all muslims/arabs feel the about Jews as the Libyans..The Koran requires such a belief system…That is why muslims celebrate Muhammad decapitating 900 unarmed Jews at Quarayza.