The story of Jewish expulsion from Arab countries must be told

Canadian professor says Sephardic Jews were a minority in their host countries and struggled to fit into Ashkenazi communities; For Israel, admitting the truth about how these refugee were accepted, would force it to view Palestinians in the same light

Yaniv Pohoriles|
Jewish-Ashkenazi professor Henry Green has become one of the most dominant voices in the study of Jews from Arab countries.
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  • Raised in an Ashkenazi Jewish home in Ottawa, Canada, Green encountered the Sephardi Jews only after arriving in Israel in the early 1970, during the social protests of the Black Panther movement, led by impoverished Israelis from Arab speaking countries.
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    פרופסור הנרי גרין מרצה
    פרופסור הנרי גרין מרצה
    Professor Henry Green
    (Photo: Lily Shor, Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center)
    Guided by his own politics, Green identified with the protests, but was also enthusiastic about learning more about their plight.
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    הפגנת 'הפנתרים השחורים'
    הפגנת 'הפנתרים השחורים'
    A Black Panther demonstration in Jerusalem in the 1970s
    (Photo: David Rubinger)
    As a Jew who had a religious upbringing, Green confesses he knew close to nothing about Sephardic Jews. As he started to dig deeper, he uncovered a fascinating set of facts.
    He said, for example, that only at the University of Southern California there at 52 thousand interviews and testimonies of Jews in the time of the Holocausts, but less than 100 thousand of them tell stories of Jews from Arab countries, and none recount the onslaught of violence against the Jews in Iraq, the Farhud.
    Farhud was the pogrom carried out against the Jewish population of Baghdad in June of 1941. During the two days of violence, between 150 and 180 Jews were murdered, 600 others were injured, and an undetermined number of women were raped.
    When asked why he believe Jews from Arab countries are not widely studies among scholars, Green says the major wave of migration of European Jews took place from 1880 up until WWII, they had time to integrate and and assimilate into their host countries. By the time the wave of Sephardic migration came around in the 1950s-60s, they automatically became a minority even among the Jewish community, and thus struggled to fit in. It took a whole generation for this minority group to speak up and talk about their identities.
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    דיוקנאות של נותני עדות
    דיוקנאות של נותני עדות
    Portraits of Arab Jews
    (Photo: Lily Shor, Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center)
    Green started a documentation project for Sephardic immigrants, and for this purpose he teamed up with his classmate Richard Stursberg, a Canadian entertainment executive.
    The two's most recently collaborated on a book "Sephardi Voices: The Untold Expulsion of Jews from Arab Lands," about Sephar­di and Mizrahi Jews. The authors discuss their struggles, as well as their lives in countries such as Israel, France, Cana­da, and the Unit­ed States.
    Green takes pride in the 450 interviews and documentations collected up until now, which are dispersed throughout different Jewish museums, and which they promote through exhibits worldwide.
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    קולות ספרדיים - עטיפת הספר
    קולות ספרדיים - עטיפת הספר
    "Sephardi Voices: The Untold Expulsion of Jews from Arab Lands" book cover
    He believes that the stories of the Arab Jews must be exposed through these pictures and testimonies, and that the Arab states responsible for their expulsion should stand behind the truth.
    Israel, too, must examine itself and tell the true stories of Sephardic Jews, which he believes is the only way to yield true peace with the Palestinian Arabs as well.
    He believes that by Israel admitting the truth about the how these refugees were treated, it would force the country to view the Palestinians in the same light. Because Israel was and is still not interested in giving the Palestinians, refugee status and the rights that are due to them.
    "Justice begins with truth," Green says.
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