The Islamic Republic of Pakistan is located in South Asia and is the sixth most populous nation on earth. The historic Jewish community in Pakistan likely arrived from India but today there is no recognizable Jewish community left in the country.
- From Security to Intolerance
- Modern Pakistan
From Security to Intolerance
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the largest
city, Karachi, had about 2,500 Jews engaged as tradesman, artisans and
civil servants. Their mother tongue was Marachi, indicating their Bene
Israel origin. In 1893, the Jews of Karachi built the Magain Shalome Synagogue, and, in 1936,
one of the leaders of the Jewish community, Abraham Reuben, became the
first Jewish councillor on the city corporation.
Under British jurisdiction, the Jews in the area became known as Pakistant, and were
treated with tolerance. In the early twenthieth century, a variety of
associations existed to serve the Jewish community: the Young Man's
Jewish Association, founded in 1903, whose aim was to encourage sports
as well as religious and social activities of the Bene Israel in Karachi;
the Karachi Bene Israel Relief Fund, established to support poor Jews
in Karachi; and the Karachi Jewish syndicate, formed in 1918, to provide
homes to poor Jews at reasonable rents.
The Jews lived primarily in Karachi, but a small community
served by two synagogues lived in Peshawar in the northwest frontier
The founding of an Islamic state immediately prior
to the establishment of the State
of Israel created a rising feeling of insecurity within the Pakistani
Jewish community. After Israel declared
independence in 1948, violent incidents occurred against Pakistan's
small Jewish community, which numbered approximately 2,000 Bene Yisrael
Jews. The synagogue in Karachi was set alight and Jews were attacked.
The plight of Jews became more precarious following disturbances and
demonstrations directed against the Jews during the Arab-Israel wars
in 1948, 1956,
and 1967. The persecution
of Jews resulted in large-scale emigration, mostly to India,
but also to Israel and the United
Kingdom. The small community in Peshawar ceased to exist, and the
synagogues were closed.
By 1968, the number of Jews
in Pakistan had decreased to 250, almost
all of whom were concentrated in Karachi,
where there was one synagogue, a welfare
organization, and a recreational organization.
Out of Muslim
solidarity with the Arab states, Pakistan
did not establish any ties with Israel
and frequently joined in anti-Israel moves
in the United Nations and
boycotts initiated by the Arab states.
Pakistan maintained a hostile stance toward Zionism and Israel. In his address as chair of the Second Islamic
Summit in 1974, Prime Minister Z. A. Bhutto asserted: “To Jews
as Jews we bear no malice; to Jews as Zionists, intoxicated with their
militarism and reeking with technological arrogance, we refuse to be
Many influential political figures, including the military
chief-of-staff, promoted the theory that the 1991 Gulf
War was a “clear manifestation of the anti-Muslim forces at
work at the behest of Israel and the Zionist lobby in the United States.”
The leader of the main Islamist party, Jammat e-Islami, termed it the
“war between the Jews, the worst enemy of Islam, and the Muslims.”
The party has strong links with anti-government Islamist forces in Egypt and blames western lobbies, including Zionists, for attacks on religious
parties and movements in all parts of the Muslim world.
In 1996 Pakistani officials continued to condemn the
Middle East peace process and to declare that Pakistan would not establish
relations with Israel until Israel fully implemented UN resolutions.
The media in Pakistan have provided extensive coverage
of the political and personal career of the cricket star Imran Khan.
Since Khan's marriage in 1996 to Jemima Goldsmith, daughter of a British
industrialist and politician, Sir James Goldsmith, Khan was accused
of acting as an agent of the "Jewish lobby." Jemima Khan publicly
denied that her parents were Jewish. An Egyptian newpaper distributed
in Pakistan accused Khan of receiving large sums of money for his election
campaign from the "Jewish lobby." Following complaints from
Khan, the deputy editor of the newspaper retracted the story and published
Since India established diplomatic relations with
Israel in 1992, the Pakistani media have repeatedly referred to the
“Zionist threat on our borders,” and occasionally combine
both anti-Zionist and antisemitic rhetoric. This is particularly common
in the Islamist press, but also occurs in mainstream publications.
The tiny Jewish community in Karachi maintains a low
profile. Despite the developments in the Middle East peace process,
Pakistan's hostility toward Israel and Zionism has not waned. The increasing
influence of extreme Islamists have further undermined the security
of the Jewish community.
Magen Shalome, built by
Shalome Solomon Umerdekar and his son Gershone
last synagogue, was demolished in the 1980s
to make way for a shopping plaza. Most of
the Karachi Jews now live in Ramle, Israel,
and built a synagogue they named Magen Shalome.
Some Jewish families do remain, but they
prefer to pass themselves off as Parsis due
to the intolerance for Jews in Muslim Pakistan. Their number is estimated to be around 200 persons.
Since 1979, Jews escaping persecution in other Arab
lands, such as Iran, used
a secret passage from the country through Pakistan to reach India, where
Jews enjoy relative peace. The fundamentalist Iranian government, however,
discovered and closed the passageway in 2000, halting the exodus of
Jews to India via this route.
and Xenophobia Today
Iranian Jews barely hanging on under hard-liners." The Washington
Times, (August 9, 2000)
Email from Miriam Daniels,
(June 1, 2005).
Siddiqi, Kamal. "In Pakistan's city of strife,
82-year-old fights for her community's dead." Indian
Express, (December 17, 2000).
Belton, Patrick. "Karachi's forgotten Jews." The Jewish Chronicle, (August 17, 2007).