Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Libyan Revolutionary Jew Threatened
The history of Jews in Libya stretches back 2,300 years, but about 40 years ago, former dictator Muammar Qaddafi kicked them all out, and demonized Israel and Judaism to further his populist support.
The legacy of that policy apparently is stronger than most Libyans' hatred for Qaddafi's ways, as an exiled Libyan Jew who helped the rebels overthrow Qaddafi has been forced to leave the country again after an angry mob demanded it.
David Gerbi, a 56-year-old psychoanalyst living in Italy, was referred to by many as the "revolutionary Jew." He returned to his homeland after a 44-year exile recently, and wanted to restore Tripoli's long-abandoned main synagogue. The day he knocked down a wall blocking its entrance, he said a prayer and cried, according to the Associated Press.
"What Qaddafi tried to do is to eliminate the memory of us. He tried to eliminate the amazing language. He tried to eliminate the religion of the Jewish people," Gerbi told the AP at the time. "I want bring our legacy back, I want to give a chance to the Jewish of Libya to come back."
Gerbi said all he wanted was dialogue, but apparently even that is too much to ask a population still seething with resentment for all things Jew.
First, Gerbi was blocked from continuing his restoration efforts by men who claimed violence would ensue if he kept trying, according to the AP. Gerbi said at the time that Libya needed to decide if it would be a racist or a democratic society.
Then, on the eve of Yom Kippur this year, an angry mob of a few hundred gathered at the hotel where Gerbi was staying, according to the Jerusalem Post. News of his synagogue-restoration efforts had spread, and they wanted him deported, carrying signs that read things like "There is no place for the Jews in Libya," and "We don't have a place for Zionism."
The crowd then tried to surge into the hotel but were rebuffed after a talking-to by a rebel commander.
"This incident has served to expose the dangerous reality simmering beneath the surface," Gerbi told the Post. "I want to contribute to, not obstruct, the building of a new democratic and pluralistic Libya. It is sad and absurd that my mere presence in Libya should set off so much hostility and I regret this."
On Sunday, to help cool the anger, Gerbi said he was returning to Italy.
"What happened reveals the extent of Gaddafi's anti-Semitic conditioning of an entire generation, those in their forties and fifties. Forty-two years of lies, of hate propaganda falsely accusing Jews of having been paid off to abandon the country in 1967, of having robbed Palestinians of their homes and of planning to colonize Libya," Gerbi told the Post.
Gerbi said he will continue to work on opening a dialogue with the country's leaders, and ensure a place for all of Libya's minorities in its future.
Jewish Ideas Daily: Libya and the Jews
By ALEX JOFFE 09/04/2011 23:30
Islamist involvement in the revolution does not bode well for Jews and Israel.
There are reasons for Jews to view the fall of Muammar Gaddafi with satisfaction: A bizarre and dangerous enemy of the West and Israel is on the verge of defeat, and the Libyan people may be on the threshold of freedom. But, as in Egypt, the second Arab Spring in Libya looks like a mixed blessing. One test will be the manner in which the new government treats the Jews and Israel.
Libya is, historically, a place of conquest and revolt.
Jews arrived there long before the Arabs, much less Islam: Ptolemy I is reported to have settled Jews in Libya in 312 B.C.E., and more Jews arrived 150 years later. The Libyan Jews of Tripolitania in the west and Cyrenaica in the east became rural farmers and craftsmen and urban aristocrats.
As Romans, Christians, Arabs and Islam swept over Libya and North Africa, the Jews remained. With the coming of Islam, it appears that the Jews of the coast were dispersed to the interior. Their numbers were increased by refugees from Spain and Italy, and they suffered or prospered under various Muslim rulers.
The Italian conquest of Libya in 1911 initially brought the Libyan Jews equal rights, but those rights were eroded by Italy’s subsequent alliance with Germany and the imposition of the Racial Laws of 1938. During World War II, control of North Africa shifted back and forth between Italy and Britain. With every British reverse, the Jews’ situationdeteriorated. Thousands were deported to brutal labor and internment camps in the desert.
The British liberated the country in late 1942, but the result was a new phase of persecution that led to the Jewish community’s demise. In 1945, Muslim pogroms killed hundreds of Jews and destroyed their homes, shops and synagogues; British occupation forces stood by. On the verge of Libyan independence in 1951, Prime Minister Mahmud Muntasser was frank: He could see “no future” for Jews in Libya. Between 1949 and 1951, some 30,000 Libyan Jews left their ancient home for Israel.
With the rise of Arab nationalism and the permanent state of war against Israel, the remaining 8,000 Libyan Jews were systematically stripped of their rights as Libyan citizens. They were barred from having passports, visiting Israel, and serving in public office. Jewish schools and communal organizations were closed. Jews were banned from obtaining the nationality certificates required for engagement in commerce, and in 1961 the government sequestered the property of Jews who emigrated to Israel.
After the Six-Day war, a series of pogroms culminated in the outright expulsion of Libya’s remaining Jews.
As it was across the Arab and Muslim world, for Jews, Libya’s first “Arab Spring” as an independent state was a sad and familiar story. Initially, the sudden ascent of Muammar Gaddafi seemed familiar as well. The official story is that Gaddafi, a member of a small, Arabized Berber tribe, was raised in a tent. As with many lowerclass tribesmen, he found his path to power in the military.
And, as with other tribesmen like Saddam Hussein and Hafez Assad, who seized power across the Middle East in the age of Arab nationalism, he found Jews and Israel to be a useful obsession.
The strongmen inspired by Gamal Nasser regarded the historic defeats of 1948 and 1967 as epic humiliations. In the name of restoring their honor, they turned their societies into police states in which their tribes were pre-eminent.
In this context, the military coup led by Captain Gaddafi in 1969 was routine.
But Gaddafi was different. Unlike his fellow tyrants, he fancied himself a revolutionary mystic. At first, his “philosophy” was a kind of Islamic socialism. But it meandered over the decades from Arabism to Islam to Africanism. His choice of enemies was eclectic. He turned against Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Prince Hassan of Morocco when those countries made peace with Israel. When the PLO began negotiating with Israel in 1995, he expelled tens of thousands of Palestinians. But he also fought border wars with Chad, Tunisia, Algeria and Niger. His support for terrorism was equally wide-ranging and mercurial. His agents blew up American military personnel in Germany, supported the IRA, killed a British policewoman in London, and in 1988 blew up Pan Am flight 103over Scotland. Gaddafi feuded with Arafat but supported the PLO and Black September with millions of dollars annually.
Even Gaddafi’s attitude toward the Arab-Israel conflict appears to have changed, slightly. In a 2009 editorial, published in The New York Times, he called for a one state solution, but gave it a characteristic twist with the name “Isratine.” His was the standard formula, complete with the ‘right of return’ for Palestinians – and thus by definition announcing his intention for Israel to be destroyed.
Gaddafi was, to the end, the picture of a cartoon villain, with the wild hair, the flamboyant uniforms, the Amazonian guards and the endless monologues. The astonishing thing was that this very model of a megalomaniacal, narcissistic tin-pot dictator was regarded as anything but. Such are the power of oil, the threat of terrorism, the marvel of theatricality and the fascination of educated Westerners with the strange ways of the East.
With his regime all but gone, hopes are running high that the new government will create a democratic Libya.
There have been reports of Libyan Jewish businessmen sounding out the rebels about recognizing Israel. But the prominent role of Islamists in the rebellion is not a promising sign, and there is little evidence that Libya’s new leaders will be any more inclined towards Jews or Israel than Gaddafi was. One small harbinger is the changing narrative surrounding the rich crazy uncle of the Arab world: As Gaddafi’s regime began to falter, stories began to circulate that his grandmother was Jewish.
And so Libya enters a new era. For months Gaddafi’s weapons and stolen Libyan cars have filtered into Egypt, Sinai and Gaza. What will become of his heavy and unconventional weapons is unknown. Other signs portend ill. The Egyptian military sounds more Islamist by the day. The Muslim Brotherhood and other groups are growing bolder in their demands.
Islamists are surging in Tunisia, birthplace of the Arab Spring, and waiting in the wings in Algeria, Morocco and Jordan. A sad, realpolitik view is that this second Arab Spring is quickly leading to a cold, bitter winter.
It would be especially bitter if Gaddafi ended by being missed as the devil that we knew.
Alex Joffe is a research scholar with the Institute for Jewish and Community Research. This article was first published by Jewish Ideas Daily (www.jewishideasdaily.com), and is reprinted with permission.
Gadhafi's Jewish Roots
Some of the Libyan rebels opposed to Muammar Gaddafi have accused the colonel of being a Jew, which is considered a heinous epithet in the rabidly anti-Semitic Arab world. But could Muammar Gaddafi actually be Jewish?
According to a new report in the Economist magazine, perhaps.
The well-respected British magazine reports that Gita Boaron, an Israeli of Libyan decent, claimed on Israeli television that she is related to the just-about-deposed Libyan strongman.
“Gaddafi’s grandmother is my grandmother’s sister,” Boaron told Israeli television. “His grandmother is my father’s grandmother. She was Jewish, became Muslim and married the town sheik.
She had children and he’s her grandson, so he’s considered Jewish because his mother was born to a Jewish mother. So it means he’s Jewish.”
Evidently, Boaron thinks Gaddafi should seek refuge in Israel and make aliyah. But Boaron isn’t the only Israeli that believes Gaddafi is part of the Tribe. As the Economist reports:
“In Netanya, a resort north of Tel Aviv, where many of the 100,000-odd Israeli Jews of Libyan origin have settled, a square has been called Qaddafi Plaza in anticipation of his arrival.
‘Whatever he’s done, Israel’s his home,’ says Rachel, a widow sipping her macchiato, Libya’s beverage of choice, and nibbling abambara, a Libyan-Jewish pastry in one of the square’s Libyan-owned cafés. ‘After all, he’s a Jew.’ With his curls, she says, he would fit into many a Libyan synagogue.”
The head of a Libyan Jewish cultural organization in Israel further buttressed the rumor to the magazine.
“Jews from Tripoli remember he [Gaddafi] attended a Jewish wedding in the 1960s, long before he became leader,” Pedazur Benattia said.
Whether the rumor is true or not, Gaddafi is hardly known for being a friend to the Jewish people. When he came to power in 1969, very few Jews remained in Libya, but Gaddafi was able to make the miniscule number shrink even further. Among other things, he confiscated all Jewish property.
Today, there is believed to be no Jews left in Libya.