How Twelve Syrian Jewish Women Married Their Way to Freedom

Jan. 24 2018

In 1977, as Syria’s remaining Jews faced an ever-worsening situation, Congressman Stephen Solarz—who represented a Brooklyn district then home to some 25,000 Jews of Syrian origin—managed to bring twelve young women safely to the U.S. The website On the Rescue Front tells the story:

After Syrian independence from France in 1946, the 1947 partition plan, and the 1948 founding of Israel, Jews in Syria faced terrible discrimination, including several deadly pogroms and riots. By the time of the Six-Day War in 1967, there were an estimated 5,000 Jews in Syria, down from 40,000-45,000 in 1948. Jews could not work for the government or banks, or own telephones or driver’s licenses. Jewish property and passports were seized; bank accounts were frozen; Jewish schools were closed; the Jewish cemetery in Damascus was paved over. A 1964 law restricted Jews from traveling more than five kilometers from their hometowns. Jews who were allowed to leave for medical or business reasons had to leave behind money and family members as collateral.

The three largest Jewish communities, in Damascus, Aleppo, and Kamishli, were placed under house arrest for eight months following the Six-Day War. Jews began escaping in secret, sometimes with help from abroad, even though the penalty for attempting to escape or helping someone to escape was either imprisonment with hard labor or death, and any family members left behind could be imprisoned. Most of those who escaped were young single men. . . . As a result, by 1977, there were 500 unmarried Jewish women in their late teens and early twenties who had no marriage prospects within the Jewish community and who were not allowed to marry non-Jews.

Representative Solarz traveled to Damascus in December 1976, where he spoke with Jewish leaders as well as Syrian government officials. . . . [After Solarz lobbied the Carter administration], Secretary of State Cyrus Vance spoke with President Hafez al-Assad about the young women in February and May 1977; [then] National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski put Congressman Solarz in touch with President Carter, who made a personal plea to the Syrian president in May. Assad eventually agreed to let twelve women leave through proxy marriages.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at On the Rescue Front

More about: American Jewry, Hafez al-Assad, History & Ideas, Jimmy Carter, Refugees, Syrian Jewry

The Struggle for Iraq, and What It Means for Israel

Oct. 17 2018

Almost immediately after the 2003 invasion, Iraq became a battleground between the U.S. and Iran, as the latter sent troops, money, and arms to foment and support an insurgency. The war on Islamic State, along with the Obama administration’s effort to align itself with the Islamic Republic, led to a temporary truce, but also gave Tehran-backed militias a great deal of power. Iran has also established a major conduit of supplies through Iraq to support its efforts in Syria. Meanwhile, it is hard to say if the recent elections have brought a government to Baghdad that will be pro-American or pro-Iranian. Eldad Shavit and Raz Zimmt comment how these developments might affect Israel:

Although statements by the U.S. administration have addressed Iran’s overall activity in the region, they appear to emphasize the potential for confrontation in Iraq. First and foremost, this [emphasis] stems from the U.S. perception of this arena as posing the greatest danger, in light of the extensive presence of U.S. military and civilian personnel operating throughout the country, and in light of past experience, which saw many American soldiers attacked by Shiite militias under Iranian supervision. The American media have reported that U.S. intelligence possesses information indicating that the Shiite militias and other elements under Iranian auspices intend to carry out attacks against American targets and interests. . . .

In light of Iran’s intensifying confrontation with the United States and its mounting economic crisis, Tehran finds it essential to maintain its influence in Iraq, particularly in the event of a future clash with the United States. The Iranian leadership has striven to send a message of deterrence to the United States regarding the implications of a military clash. . . .

A recently published report also indicates that Iran transferred ballistic missiles to the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq. Although Iran has denied this report, it might indeed attempt to transfer advanced military equipment to the Shiite militias in order to improve their capabilities in the event of a military confrontation between Iran and the United States and/or Israel, or a confrontation between [the militias] and the central government in Baghdad.

From Israel’s perspective, after years when the Iraqi arena received little attention from Israeli decision makers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have mentioned the possibility of Israel’s taking action against Iranian targets in Iraq. In this context, and particularly in light of the possibility that Iraq could become an arena of greater conflict between the United States and Iran, it is critical that there be full coordination between Israel and the United States. This is of particular importance due to [the American estimation of] stability in Iraq as a major element of the the campaign against Islamic State, which, though declared a success, is not yet complete.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Israel & Zionism, U.S. Foreign policy