Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Remembering Lebanon’s 17th community

Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/10/2006

magen-abraham-synagogue-9.jpgI’ve been wanting to write an article for some time now on the Lebanese Jewish community, its growth in the 1940s, its decline in the 1960s, and its near disappearance in the 1980s. But I’ve never found the time to finish researching the topic and to initiate the writing process.
While working on the preceding post, I was wondering if something positive can come out of this joint suffering of the Mizrahi Jews and the Palestinians. One should also add that of the Lebanese Shiites who were dragged into a conflict that wasn’t theirs eversince their homes and villages became one of its main battlefields.
This joint suffering could create empathy, but at first the grievances should be expressed publicly.

In Lebanon, the Jewish community has ceased to exist. Probably less than a hundred Jews still dwell in Lebanon with no Rabbi, no open Synagogue, no Religious Tribunal… The most active Jewish institution is certainly the cemetery, for those who remain are ageing.
Those who remain have chosen transparency. In this multi-religious society, their voice is never heard. I wonder if there’s a way to make it audible again. To acheive that, they should be made comfortable about it. They should be publicly acknowledge as being part of the nation, encouraged to come back, like all the other Lebanese who have emigrated. To say that in Lebanon, the State never persecuted or discriminated against the Jews is not enough. What the State actually did was erase their presence from the public sphere.

Portrayal of Jews on Manar (Hezbollah TV)

Lebanon has since the 1940s been defining itself as a Christian-Muslim country. Where does that leave the Jewish community? The constitution talks about parity between Christians and Muslims. What about the Jews? There are no official Jewish holidays (even public holidays in Lebanon follow the parity rule: they’re split evenly between Christians and Muslims). Hezbollah and the programs its television airs confuse very readily Jewish and Israeli, although the law protects the Jewish faith and the Jewish community from defamation. But the government has done nothing about it.

There is a shared belief in Lebanon that defending Jews means siding with Israel in the Israeli-Arab conflict (or what remains of it). I wonder how this belief can be changed, through what actions.

8 Responses to “Remembering Lebanon’s 17th community”

  1. naya06 said

    hi, i really don’t know how to express my opinion, because it will certaintly be percieved as “jewiphobic” and it is absolutely not what i am.
    i would have agreed with all you say ( and I do agree actually), but don’t you think it’s not the best moment to talk about this, isn’t it provocative somehow, or more exactly “not appropriate” under such post war context of susceptibilities or circumstances to worry about the jews in Lebanon, while the lebanese themselves are frustrated and cannot make their voice audible, are desesperated by a State that isn’t offering them the minimun in terms of democracy, garanties for the future and hope that would dissuade them from emigration… At least the jews in Lebanon will be welcomed in Israel while Lebanese aren’t that welcomed anywhere, but I don’t want to be sarcastic.
    I mean come on, before asking to make jews voice audible and find a way to making them part of the power sharing system, and just ask ” what about the jews” and be revolted by the fact that they do not partcipate in politics , i would ask myself what about the Lebanese generation and their rights, our generation?
    Beside i would not militate for the “17”e confessional community but for a ” non confessional” one that could include people from all religions including the jews.
    So, theorically, all you say is so right, but personally i would be more preoccupied by the chiites right now , my own community’s situation or the security of the borders before asking why “There are no official Jewish holidays”and militate to their recognition.
    Apart from that, I want to felicitate you for the quality of your blog, you’re doing a great job JCNWL

  2. naya06 said

    ps: i don’t want to be misunderstood: i dont want the 17e community to be erased or to be considered a second category one, but there are others priorities right now. That’s all.

  3. Dear Naya,
    I don’t see why it’s provocative. I’m talking about recognising the rights of a recognised lebanese community, not of a foreign group. They are Lebanese as much as you and me even if they hold another citizenship (like many other Lebanese, amongst them Shiites). And many are part of our generation. You’ve even met two students at USJ that you didn’t know were jewish.

    As for the right moment. I think it’s always the right moment to try to fight segregation or racism. But it depends to what audience you are doing it. Do you remember what happened during the March protests when Samir Kassir was booed by the crowd because he admonished them against using racist slogans against Syrians. At first I thought the problem was about timing, but now I realise that it was about the audience.

    As for the non-denominational community, it exists on paper you know, it’s just not organised (it has the same status as the Ismaili community in Lebanon). So all you’ve got to do is ask one of your MPs to put forward a law organising it (I’m sure Mokheiber).

    You speak of prioritisation. I think this is important for policial parties, not for people involved in civil society. They follow specific issues and shouldn’t get distracted by what seems central on the political scene. If they do that, they will be renouncing their role. Don’t you think it would be absurd for people working on reading and litteracy, for example, to suspend their work so as to concentrate on relief operations. I do, because there are a lot of issues to address and if society concentrates on one, it will be recoiling on all the rest.
    Thank you again for your commitment as a reader and reliability as a commentator.

  4. I think one important thing that can come out of this endeavour is to separate Lebanese Jews from the actions of the Israel government. Publicising their plight can only enhance Lebanon’s reputation as a pluralistic society and go towards disentangling the damaging conflation many have in their minds of Jews (who may be quite critical of Israel) with Israel itself.

    While there may be other important priorities as the first respondent noted, this one nevertheless is still also important.

    Btw, there is a blog run by the Jews of Lebanon – have you seen it?

    http://jewsoflebanon.lubnan-alkawi.com/?p=19

    I’ve also read a good piece by a now US-based but Lebanese-raised Jew that was critical of Israel’s abhorrent actions during the war this year. I’ll see if I can dig it out and pass it on.

    Ann

  5. Here you go – found in a flash😉

    It’s Time for Jewish Dissenters to Challenge Israeli Policies
    by Henri Picciotto

    Published on Friday, August 11, 2006 by the San Jose Mercury News (California)
    http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/news/opinion/15250169.htm

    “I grew up Jewish in Beirut. Although I left nearly 40 years ago, my memories of Lebanon — vibrant and multicultural — have stayed with me.”

  6. thanks a million Ann.
    I really appreciate your input. I’m thinking of writing something on the lebanese blogosphere this Wednesday (I’m taking a couple of days off to work on a report). So I’ll check them out asap.
    thanks again, you’re great
    I really don’t know how you find to focus on so many things. It’s humbling.

  7. thanks a million Ann.
    I really appreciate your input. I’m thinking of writing something on the lebanese blogosphere this Wednesday (I’m taking a couple of days off to work on a report). So I’ll check them out asap.
    thanks again, you’re great
    I really don’t know how you find time to focus on so many things. It’s humbling.

  8. My pleasure; enjoy your days off and hope your writing goes well

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