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Kuwait Virtual Jewish Tour

[By: Jason Levine]

Jews of Kuwait

The history of the Jewish people in Kuwait is closely tied to and inseperable from the history of the Jewish people in Iraq.  The majority of Jewish individuals in Kuwait fled to Kuwait from Iraq in the 6th century following Nebuchadnezzar's seige of Jerusalem and destruction of the city's temple in the year 586.  The next large Jewish migration to Kuwait came in 1776 when Sadeq Khan captured the Iraqi city of Basra during the Ottoman-Persian war.  Khan and his men made life uncomfortable for the Jewish residents by imposing a "jizya tax" on non-Muslims.  The Ottoman rule stifled the Jewish industry in Iraq and a good number of Jews left for Kuwait. 

The Jews made significant contributions to the Kuwaiti economy, becoming successful businessmen, bankers, and producers of products.  During this time Jewish individuals were heavily involved in the wine-making business, and would even export their product to neighboring countries.  The Jewish population in Kuwait boomed and in the late 1800's there was a vibrant and successful Jewish community.  Relations between Jews and Muslims were positive at the time, with the Jewish market right next to the market Mosque.  The Jewish community in Kuwait had a positive and mutually beneficial relationship with Sheikh Mubarak the Great. Devout Muslims are not allowed to consume alcohol, and because Jewish individuals were involved heavily in the alcohol trade this good relationship did not last. 

Devout Muslim Sheikh Salim Al-Mubarak came to power in 1917 and did not appreciate the Jews selling alcohol in his country.  Salim Al-Mubarak warned the Jewish individuals to stop producing their wine and told him that he would not tolerate it.  Although no evidence exists to prove that the Jews were kicked out of Kuwait, it is widely believed that they were persuaded by threats to leave.  In the early 1900's it is estimated that there were about 200 Jewish individuals in Kuwait, representing 80 families. By the end of the 1920's there was no sign of a Jewish community in Kuwait and there were a scant few individuals left. 

The Jews left Kuwait for a more hospitable environment, and found one in Iraq.  They were welcomed in Iraq by King Faisal, who had many Jewish friends and Jewish members of his Parliament. 

In October 2015 the International Olympic Committee revoked the Olympic Qualifier status from a shooting championship taking place in Kuwait, after an Israeli judge was denied an entry visa into the country. The Asian Shooting Championships, set to begin the last week of October 2015, were stripped of their Olympic Qualifier status after an Israeli delegate who was due to oversee the competition was denied a visa by the Kuwaiti Immigration Department. Kuwait's National Olympic Committee has been accused of interefering with International Olympic Committee business on multiple occasions in the past, and this is another reason why the Qualifying status was revoked.

There are currently no known Jewish individuals living in Kuwait, but at some times there are Jewish foreign workers employed there. 

Sources: The Gaurdian (November 26 2004)
Al-Rai, "Kuwait".  September 10 2014
History of the Jews in Kuwait