The Great Jewish Refugee Crisis of the 17th Century

April 14 2020

In his book Refugees or Migrants: Pre-Modern Jewish Population Movement (reviewed in Mosaic here), the medievalist Robert Chazan argues that for much of history Jews were more likely to leave their homes in exile not because of expulsions, or to flee violent persecution, but to seek new economic opportunities. One of the many examples Chazan cites is the wave of massacres of Jews in Ukraine—then part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth—carried out by the followers of the Cossack leader Bodgan Chmielnicki in 1648 and 1649. While the violence inflicted on Jews during the Chmielnicki uprising and the subsequent period of unrest would not be matched until the Holocaust, Chazan notes that the affected communities quickly reconstructed themselves.

In a recent book on this period of East European Jewry, Adam Teller doesn’t disagree with Chazan’s overall conclusion, but calls attentions to the enormous impact that the massacres did have. Allan Arkush writes in his review of the two books:

Relying, like Chazan, on the research of Shaul Stampfer, Teller reports that of the 40,000 Jews in Ukraine, some 18,000 died between 1648 and 1654, in addition to an indeterminable number of others who were massacred in other parts of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Refugees who remained within the borders of the Commonwealth must have numbered at least 15,000, and another 10,000 seem to have migrated beyond them. Contemporary but unreliable reports refer to 20,000 to 30,000 Jews who were sold [into slavery] or redeemed [by local Jews] in Istanbul, yet “the best we can say is that many thousands of Jews were captured and swept up in the slave trade” between 1648 and 1667.

The overall numbers may seem small by modern standards, but they weren’t then. The total world Jewish population at the time numbered only around one million. Jews in other parts of the world collected money to care for the newly homeless and ransom the captives. For the Lithuanian communities outside Chmielnicki’s reach, already in 1651 the burden was huge, “and under its pressure, communal organizations began to unravel.”

In Teller’s eyes, however, the long-term significance of the refugee crisis lies mostly in the way the Jewish world responded to it: strengthening intercommunal connections, improving channels of communications, and expanding the range of Jewish philanthropy. In addition to these positive developments, the crisis also contributed to the centuries-long tension between German Jews and their coreligionists to the east.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Anti-Semitism, Chmielnicki massacres, Diaspora, East European Jewry, Immigration, Philanthropy

Iran’s Four-Decade Strategy to Envelope Israel in Terror

Yesterday, the head of the Shin Bet—Israel’s internal security service—was in Washington meeting with officials from the State Department, CIA, and the White House itself. Among the topics no doubt discussed are rising tensions with Iran and the possibility that the latter, in order to defend its nuclear program, will instruct its network of proxies in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and even Iraq and Yemen to attack the Jewish state. Oved Lobel explores the history of this network, which, he argues, predates Iran’s Islamic Revolution—when Shiite radicals in Lebanon coordinated with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s movement in Iran:

An inextricably linked Iran-Syria-Palestinian axis has actually been in existence since the early 1970s, with Lebanon the geographical fulcrum of the relationship and Damascus serving as the primary operational headquarters. Lebanon, from the 1980s until 2005, was under the direct military control of Syria, which itself slowly transformed from an ally to a client of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The nexus among Damascus, Beirut, and the Palestinian territories should therefore always have been viewed as one front, both geographically and operationally. It’s clear that the multifront-war strategy was already in operation during the first intifada years, from 1987 to 1993.

[An] Iranian-organized conference in 1991, the first of many, . . . established the “Damascus 10”—an alliance of ten Palestinian factions that rejected any peace process with Israel. According to the former Hamas spokesperson and senior official Ibrahim Ghosheh, he spoke to then-Hizballah Secretary-General Abbas al-Musawi at the conference and coordinated Hizballah attacks from Lebanon in support of the intifada. Further important meetings between Hamas and the Iranian regime were held in 1999 and 2000, while the IRGC constantly met with its agents in Damascus to encourage coordinated attacks on Israel.

For some reason, Hizballah’s guerilla war against Israel in Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s was, and often still is, viewed as a separate phenomenon from the first intifada, when they were in fact two fronts in the same battle.

Israel opted for a perilous unconditional withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, which Hamas’s Ghosheh asserts was a “direct factor” in precipitating the start of the second intifada later that same year.

Read more at Australia/Israel Review

More about: First intifada, Hizballah, Iran, Palestinian terror, Second Intifada