The Israeli government on Sunday approved the allocation of more than $1.8 million to document and preserve the history and heritage of Jewish communities from Arab countries and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“For me, this is my legacy. We were all in Morocco. We were all in Europe. We have all been to Iraq and Ethiopia. We are all Jews,” said Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. “This program is of very great importance – the preservation of the memory and heritage of a large part of our people.”
It is estimated that more than 850,000 Jews were expelled and displaced out of Arab lands, including Iraq, Libya, Yemen; and from Iran in the 20th century, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry. The proposal, led by Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen and Culture and Sport Minister Chili Tropper aims to record the stories of Arab and Iranian Jewry and their communities who immigrated in the 1950s to ensure they become an integral part of modern Jewish history and are integrated into the curriculum of the education system.
“Unfortunately, in a country where about 50 percent of its citizens are from Arab countries and Iran or descendants of immigrants, the history and heritage of their Jewish communities has not been sufficiently passed on and their legacy is not properly instilled in the public discourse,” Cohen said. “This is a different generation of pioneers, whose life experience and contribution to the Zionist enterprise is not heard enough.”
“The proposal we brought to the government is a step on the path to fix this historical injustice,” she added.
Cohen lamented that high school graduates were not familiar with terms and personalities such as the Farhud, the pogrom against Iraqi Jewry, Operation Magic Carpet, the airlift of Yemenite Jews to Israel or Jewish Yemenite poet Rabbi Shalom Shabazi.
Following the budgetary allocation, the government instructed the Anu Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv to urgently implement a program for an archive dedicated to the research and documentation of the heritage of Jewish communities in Arab countries and Iran. Part of the project is the establishment of a database of testimonies of immigrants from Arab countries.
“There is an urgency to this project in view of the advanced age of many of the immigrants from those communities,” said Tropper. “The project will be accessible to every home in Israel and it will help address the issue in the education system as well.”