Saturday, June 18, 2011

Libyan Jews Reflect on Libyan Strife

Ha'aretz has an interesting piece up on the descendants of Libya's Jewish community and their thoughts about the ongoing unrest in their former homeland. The story of Libya's Jewish community is typical of Jews in the region -- a long (2,300 year old) history, marked by "periods of relative tolerance and bursts of hostility." In the 20th century, the "bursts of hostility" became more sustained, and huge numbers fled to Israel immediately prior to and after the War of Independence. The Libyan government itself instituted severe crackdowns on the Jewish population, confiscating property and stripping them of their citizenship.

This persecution accelerated with Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi's rise to power in 1969, though by this point there were only 100 Jews left in the country (the very last Jew left in 2003). In recent years, Colonel Gaddafi had discussed compensating these refugees, but notably appeared to exclude those who had fled to Israel. Other Libyan officials discussed a "right of return" for descendants of these refugees, though it appears few (at least in the Israeli community) are inclined to take up the offer -- both because it would transition them from part of a governing majority to a historically persecuted minority, and because they would almost certainly be forced to forfeit their Israeli citizenship.

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