In an unprecedented move, on November 2, Lebanese Jews were invited to a “family reunion” at the initiative of the Embassy of Lebanon in Paris. The goal of this meeting was to hail the Lebanese Jewish diaspora as a symbol of Lebanon’s role as a beacon of civilization and tolerance in the Arab world.
Facing an audience of fifty Lebanese Jews, born in Lebanon or France, the Ambassador stressed the need for all citizens “to unite to save Lebanon, which is in danger.” He also expressed the wish to reconnect with them as they represent a “source of pride for Lebanon,” as well as an integral part of its model of inter-confessional coexistence.
Facing an audience of fifty Lebanese Jews, the Ambassador stressed the need for all citizens “to unite to save Lebanon, which is in danger.”
Among the attendees, figures such as Nagi Gergi Zeidan, a historian specialized in the Lebanese Jewish community, praised the move. Other guests told Annahar that they considered this event as “an official declaration” of the Lebanese government to make a formal distinction between Lebanese Jewish communities abroad and Israeli citizens.
Lebanon as a Model of Coexistence and a “Land of Welcome”
The event attracted a lot of attention in the Lebanese media and generally has been well received. However, some condemned the instrumentalization of the Jewish community for political purposes, and a “PR stunt.” As for the Israeli media, many, including Haaretz, commented on the event in a biased way, by describing it as a hypocritical move, since the conditions for the return of Jews to Lebanon were not met according to them.
Faced with these criticisms, Lebanese Ambassador to France Rami Adwan told Inside Arabia that this event “made the headlines because it is a first,” and that “there was no need to politicize it, because it is part of our consular diplomacy that aims to show the ability of Lebanon to be a land for all faiths.” As for the timing of such an initiative (before the 2022 parliamentary elections), it is apparently a coincidence, as the reception was initially planned for 2020 and postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many Lebanese have expressed concern that this event marks the start of normalization with Israel, as some of the guests have ties to the Zionist state. The ambassador rejected these accusations and said that the guests “never had any problems with the security services and have no relations with Israel.”
Lebanon has been in a state of war with Israel since 1948, and Israel even occupied the south of the country between 1978 and 2000. Any contact with Israel is therefore considered a crime of high treason. Furthermore, Lebanon does not maintain relations with its 3,000 nationals in Israel, whom it considers traitors.
Lebanon “has the singularity of being a model of coexistence and a land of welcome, in a world increasingly tempted by xenophobia.”
In a message of hope, the ambassador told Inside Arabia that Lebanon “has the singularity of being a model of coexistence and a land of welcome, in a world increasingly tempted by xenophobia.” These words remind many of Pope John Paul II, who in 1989 paid tribute to Lebanon as a “message of freedom and an example of pluralism for the East as well as for the West.”
The Tumultuous History of the Lebanese Jews
As in many Arab countries, the history of the Jews in Lebanon is that of a fully accepted and integrated community before the advent of Zionism and the creation of Israel.
Considered as one of the 18 communities recognized by the State, the “Israelites” numbered 20,000 individuals in 1948, mainly concentrated around Beirut, Saida, and Tripoli. At the beginning of the 20th century, Lebanon was the only country in the Middle East that guaranteed the Jewish community constitutional recognition and protection, which led to its expansion until the 1970s.
In the 1930s, President Emile Eddé proposed granting a parliamentary seat to the Jewish Lebanese, an idea that was rejected by the French High Commissioner.
According to Michel Chiha, a renowned Lebanese intellectual, Lebanon, as a multi-confessional nation based on coexistence, is the antithesis of the Zionist state, which is based on the rejection of coexistence and implements Jewish supremacy. Confessionalism is therefore an institutional tool to manage this pluralism, which represents an immense wealth for the cedar country.
Lebanon is the only country that experienced an increase in its Jewish population after 1948, through an influx of refugees from neighboring countries such as Iraq and Syria. In 1941, Lebanon had welcomed many Iraqi Jews fleeing the Farhoud (massacre of the Jewish community in Baghdad) as well as several Ashkenazi families.
Lebanon, as a multi-confessional nation based on coexistence, is the antithesis of the Zionist state, which is based on the rejection of coexistence and implements Jewish supremacy.
Lebanese Jews refused to emigrate to Israel, which they viewed as an enemy, especially since they were well integrated into the Lebanese society, as many of them held high-ranking positions in the administration, the army, and the banking sector.
The beginning of interconfessional conflicts from 1958 onwards and the weakening of the Lebanese State led to an increase in violence and discrimination against Jews, who lived in increasingly precarious conditions. In 1971, there were only 4,000 Jews left, most of them having emigrated to France, North America, or Brazil.
On the eve of the Israeli invasion in 1982, there were only a few hundred left. The Jewish neighborhood of Wadi Abu Jamil, in the heart of the fighting zone, was destroyed, while prominent members of the community were killed by the Organization of the Oppressed on Earth, an Islamist militia.
Lebanon’s Renewed Interest in its Jewish Community
Composed of only 29 individuals whose average age is around 75 in 2021, the Jewish community in Lebanon is slowly extinguishing. Many Jews worship in secret and officially converted to Christianity to avoid persecution. The practice of the faith in the country’s synagogues has completely disappeared, leaving them in a state of decay.
However, this does not mean that Lebanon has abandoned its Jewish community, which remains in the hearts and minds of the Lebanese people, similar to a missing family member.
In 2009, the Minister of the Interior Ziad Baroud proposed an amendment to legislation to change the official name of the Jewish community from “Israelite” to “Lebanese Jews” in order to avoid discrimination. He also suggested the adoption of a law to clearly distinguish between the Jewish community, recognized by the State, and Israeli citizens.
Two decades after the end of the civil war, the reconstruction of the Maghen Abraham Synagogue was finally announced in 2009, through the funding of Lebanese Jewish diaspora members. Donations from Israel were forbidden, as Israel is considered to be an enemy entity by the Lebanese Jewish Community Council.
The reconstruction of the synagogue was part of the will to revive the Lebanese Jewish community and give it a place of worship.
The reconstruction of the synagogue was part of the will to revive the Lebanese Jewish community and give it a place of worship, with the approval of the Lebanese government and Hezbollah. When the synagogue reopened in 2014, politicians from all parties were present, reiterating their support for the community. Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah said at the time that “This is a religious place of worship and its restoration is welcome.”
Ambassador Adwan confessed to being surprised by the attention the event received, as “this kind of event should be normalized, they are Lebanese like any other and we organize such receptions for all Lebanese communities.”
As a symbol of the Lebanese ambition to constitute a civilizational model, the General Assembly of the United Nations voted a resolution in 2019 which provides for the creation of a “Human Academy for the encounter and dialogue” in the country. The resolution was approved almost unanimously at the time, with only the United States and Israel voting against it.
Lebanon is struggling to preserve its model of coexistence while emphasizing a clear distinction between Judaism and Zionism. The rebirth of the Lebanese Jewish community and the full commitment of the State to its protection would be proof that Arab Jews are an essential component of the Arab peoples, which are plural in their religious affiliation but united in their hostility to the Israeli occupation.