In Uprooted: How 3,000 Years of Jewish Civilization in the Arab World Vanished Overnight, Lyn Julius tells the story of the systematic persecution of Jews by Arab countries, beginning in the 1940s and culminating in mass flight and expulsions. Ben Cohen, in his review, commends Julius for not painting with too broad a brush:
Julius . . . makes it clear that there is no archetypal “oriental Jew,” and no literary sleight of hand can encompass the vastly different experiences of Jews from cowed, closed Yemen and from open, ebullient Morocco. Nor can Cairene Jews, educated in European private schools, be lumped in with those crammed into the Jewish quarters of Fez or Meknes. Insofar as these communities began exhibiting more and more similarities as the 20th century progressed, it was the result of the draconian, discriminatory legal regimes imposed on them by the Arab governments under which they lived.
While the expulsion of Mizraḥi Jewry is virtually unknown outside the Jewish world, awareness of the Palestinian refugees—who took flight around the same time—is nearly universal. A number of Israelis have noted the parallels and raised the idea that the two refugee populations could effectively cancel each other out in any final agreement regarding reparations, a suggestion raised by Bill Clinton in the course of peace negotiations. Yet, as Cohen agrees with Julius, the idea of parallel populations is problematic:
Julius . . . that attempting to draw such a parallel does a disservice to the Jews, who were the targets of government-sanctioned discrimination mainly during peacetime. The Palestinian refugees, by contrast, were displaced as a result of the fierce fighting between the Haganah and the invading Arab League armies. The very act of raising this issue, Julius contends, challenges the “unchallenged sway” that the Palestinian refugee issue has held thus far. At the moment, “Jewish refugee rights are dismissed as an impediment to peace, denigrated, or ignored, while Arab rights—including the much-vaunted ‘right of return’—are put on a pedestal.”
As a corrective, Julius puts forward the idea of the Arab world’s Jews as having endured three successive “colonizations.” In the 7th century, there was Islam; in the 19th century, there were European powers; and, finally, in the last century and this one, there has been a “colonization of facts” by which “the story of the Jews from the Middle East and North Africa has been erased and falsified.” Uprooted will surely not be the last historical examination of the Arab world’s exiled Jews, but it is among the first to launch a frontal assault on the myths and preconceptions associated with their plight. For that alone, its value will endure.