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Jews in Islamic Countries:
Lebanon

(Updated 2013)


Jews in Islamic Countries: Table of Contents | Jewish Refugees | Arab Anti-Semitism


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Jewish Population
1948: 20,000    |    2012: < 1001

When Christian Arabs ruled Lebanon, Jews enjoyed relative toleration. In the mid-50’s, approximately 7,000 Jews lived in Beirut. As Jews in an Arab country, however, their position was never secure, and the majority left in 1967.

Fighting in the 1975-76 Muslim-Christian civil war swirled around the Jewish Quarter in Beirut, damaging many Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues. Most of the remaining 1,800 Lebanese Jews emigrated in 1976, fearing the growing Syrian presence in Lebanon would curtail their freedom. Most Jews went to Europe (particularly France), the United States and Canada.

In the mid-1980s, Hizballah kidnapped several prominent Jews from Beirut — most were leaders of what remained of the country’s tiny Jewish community. Four of the Jews were later found murdered.

Nearly all of the remaining Jews are in Beirut, where there is a committee that represents the community.2 Because of the current political situation, Jews are unable to openly practice Judaism. In 2004, only 1 out of 5,000 Lebanese Jewish citizens registered to vote participated in the municipal elections. Virtually all of those registered have died or fled the country. The lone Jewish voter said that most of the community consists of old women.3

The Jewish cemetery in Beirut is decrepit and cared for by an elderly Shiite woman. The gravestones, written in Hebrew and French, are a testament to the Lebanese Jewish community that is now only a shadow of its former self.4

The Arab-Israeli conflict, and Israel’s long military presence in Lebanon, provoked strong anti-Israel sentiment. All travel from Lebanon to Israel is strictly prohibited. Meanwhile, Hizballah uses southern Lebanon as a base for terrorist attacks against Israel.

In September 2008, Isaac Arazi, the leader of Lebanon’s Jewish Community Council announced that he planned to rebuild the Maghen Abraham synagogue in Beirut and that additional plans were underway to restore Beirut’s Jewish cemetery, which is home to some 4,500 graves.5 Originally built in 1926, the synagogue was seriously damaged during the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war when looters stole its Torah ark and prayer benches and gutted its electrical system. Renovation work began in August 2009, with approval from the Lebanese government, planning authorities, and Hizballah. Reconstruction was funded by donations from private donors and a donation from Solidere, a construction company privately owned by the family of assassinated prime minister Rafik Hariri.6


Sources:

1) David Singer and Lawrence Grossman, Eds. American Jewish Year Book 2003. NY: American Jewish Committee, 2003.
2) Maariv, (June 21, 1991); Jewish Telegraphic Agency, (July 22, 1993); Jewish Communities of the World.
3) Majdoline Hatoum, "Of 5,000 Jewish Lebanese, only 1 voted," The Daily Star (May 10, 2004).
4) Stephen Talbot, "Syria/Lebanon: The Occupier and the Occupied," PBS Frontline (2004).
5) "Lebanon Jews to rebuild Beirut's Maghen Abraham Synagogue," Ya Libnan (September 18, 2008).
6) "Renovation work underway at Beirut's main synagogue," Haaretz (August 18, 2009).

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