From expulsion to triumph, it’s a tale of persecution and freedom. Yet college students know little about the Mizrahi Jewish experience
CAMERA on Campus is proud to announce the launch of Mizrahi Stories, a month-long campaign during November—Mizrahi Heritage Month, which recognizes the culture of Jewish communities from North Africa and the Middle East.
“The Jews of North Africa and the Middle East were communities once numbering over 1.5 million people across two continents,” said Aviva Rosenschein, international director for CAMERA on Campus. “During and after Israel’s war for independence, over 850,000 of them overcame widespread persecution and expulsion from their homes in Arab lands. Seventy years later, their stories remain largely untold.”
To tell those stories, CAMERA has planned a series of initiatives to educate students about the history of Mizrahi Jewish communities including digital advocacy, student-led events on university campuses, tabling, and displays on college grounds, all highlighting important Mizrahi experiences. The campaign also features coverage of five additional regions this year; Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, Tunisia, and the Caucuses.
“Too often Mizrahi Jews are overlooked and ignored in campus discussions about the Middle East,” said Rosenschein. “ That is why we want to educate university students about this longsuffering but inspiring part of the Jewish community.”
Mizrahi Jews are the descendants of the Jewish communities that existed in the Mediterranean, West and Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. Many of these communities have been living continuously in these areas since antiquity and most of them spent centuries under Muslim rule. In the twentieth century, their property was stolen, many of their lives were lost, and their ancient cultures were uprooted and, in some cases, destroyed.
Their history complicates the familiar Palestinian story of victimhood and indigeneity, in which only Arab Palestinians had somehow suffered as refugees during the early years of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Jewish refugees from Arab-majority countries in fact outnumbered Palestinian refugees. As a result, more than half of Israel’s Jewish population is Mizrahi.
“CAMERA’s campaign will spotlight Mizrahi Jewish voices as they share their own and their families’ experiences in online videos, articles, and written accounts that will be shared on social media,” said Hali Spiegel, a director for CAMERA on Campus. “In addition to our campaigns on campus, we are also launching a website featuring original educational content, including articles, infographics, and highlighting prominent figures with Mizrahi ancestry including Gali Atari, Chaim Saban, and Izar Cohen.”
Mizrahi Jewish students are encouraged to participate in the CAMERA’s “Mizrahi Stories Campaign Challenge.” Those with compelling family histories and who post frequently on social media will win prize money for an on-campus pro-Israel organization.
“The rich and beautiful culture of Israel would not be what it is today without Mizrahi Jews. Comprising half of the Jewish population in Israel, they have enriched and defined all domains of Israeli culture, most notably music, cuisine, research, politics, and religious practice. Without Mizrahi Jews and their heritage, it would be impossible to understand Israel today. As a Mizrahi Jew, I am proud to be a part of CAMERA’s Mizrahi Stories initiative!” said Avner Yeshurun, 2021-2022 CAMERA fellow at the University of Miami.
Lyn Julius, renowned scholar and Mizrahi human rights advocate, remarked: “I would like to congratulate CAMERA on running its Mizrahi Stories Campaign. My parents fled Iraq, the oldest Jewish diaspora predating Islam by 1,000 years, for the UK in 1950. Our relatives remained in Iraq as hostages. They lived through a terrifying period when Jews were executed, and dozens disappeared. My family had to be smuggled out, leaving everything behind. The 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab countries have long been missing from the conversation about Israel, yet they are central to understanding the conflict. No matter how sick or destitute, the majority found a haven in Israel where they now comprise over half the Jewish population. The Jewish refugees are crucial to debunking current myths casting Jews as ‘white interlopers’. In truth, Jews never left the Middle East, and Israel is the vindication of an aboriginal Middle Eastern people’s aspirations for self-determination, free from antisemitism and 13 centuries of subjugation to Muslim rule.”
“CAMERA seeks to provide a space for more Mizrahi voices to be heard and seen,” Rosenschein said. “College students are woefully uneducated about this indigenous minority of the Middle East.”
Those interested in participating in CAMERA’s “Mizrahi Stories” initiative can visit the campaign website here.