We are not anti-Semitic, but anti-Zionist. This is a claim I have heard everywhere in Pakistan all my life.
The modern Zionist movement started in 1897, nearly 116 years ago. Anti-Semitism had existed for millennia, and this was the prime reason for establishing the modern Zionist movement in Europe at that time.
The Jewish people as a nation have long been the target of persecution, ill-treatment and massacres under numerous contrived pretexts. From archaic ‘godlike’ Pharaohs and ancient kings to near-historic supreme czars and despot chancellors, Jews have been singled out and beleaguered solely for their religious identity. Throughout Jewish history, wherever and whenever across the world minor (individual) or major (community/social/political) discontent or upheaval occurs, it reignites and releases the never-fully-suppressed Jew-hatred. Jews are the easy ‘go-to’ culprits for all the ills of the disgruntled, be they individuals or communities or countries. Jews are accused of being the cause of all their and the world’s woes. Nowhere in the world was/is safe or secure against the inevitable Jew scapegoating.
At the end of the 19th century and beginning of 20th, it was eastern and central Europe’s turn. Both before and during the Slavic peasants’ uprising and the new socialist ideology that culminated in the Russian Revolution, Jews were persecuted throughout Europe. And while Jews served honorably alongside their German gentile compatriots in WW1, the outcome of the war helped breed more Jew-hatred as well as providing an easy target to blame for Germanic failings. All of which fanned the flames of the ever-growing wave of anti-Semitism in Mother Russia and, later, the Fatherland.
In the aftermath of the atrocities of the Holocaust, until 1948 and the reestablishment of the State of Israel, Jews simply had no safe or secure place anywhere in the world.
However, since both the Muslim Dominion of Pakistan and the Jewish State of Israel emerged on the world map in the late 1940s, the hatred of Jews by Islamists soared in Pakistan and Jews feared for their safety. Their persecution rose 100 times more in Pakistan compared to the rest of the world’s persecution of Jews. Hundreds of Jewish Pakistani families left Pakistan in the ‘70s. They did not leave straight after the reestablishment of Israel because they identified as Pakistani citizens, but after a further 20 years of ever-increasing anti-Jewish attitude, they were unable to stay due to heavy persecution by Pakistani Muslims.
The Pakistani government insisted that they leave without compensation. All money left behind had to be plowed back into the Islamic community. The Jews’ first real exodus occurred soon after the creation of the state of Israel, which triggered many incidents of violence against Jews, and the Karachi synagogue became a site of anti-Israel demonstrations. The majority of Jews who left Pakistan have settled in the Israeli city of Ramle and built a synagogue called Magain Shalome.
Every day I hear and read the lie that “We (Pakistani Muslims) are not anti-Semitic; we protect the Jews and we value their faith.” But so far they have failed to prove these claims. I personally have heard many anti-Jew slogans, such as “Cut the Jews,” “Death to Israel,” “Jews are Terrorists” and many more, and have witnessed various events against the Jewish community in Pakistan. The Pakistani Jewish community had no say or involvement in the politics of Israel, yet they were still persecuted and eventually left Pakistan, where their forefathers had lived.
The Jewish community has largely fled Pakistan, becoming refugees in India or the West, or immigrating to Israel due to the rampant local anti-Semitism and raging Islamic fundamentalism in Pakistan. There are still Jews in Pakistan and much Jewish heritage, such as Jewish cemeteries and synagogues, and there are many Jewish historical and religious sites in this Muslim country.
It was reported in one of the Pakistani English newspapers in 2005, “According to the Election Commission of Pakistan: there are around 800 Jewish voters registered in Pakistan out of which 427 are women and 382 men.”
These people hid their faith and ethnicity due to persecution in Pakistan. One of the Jewish descendants in Pakistan, Mr. Fishal Benkhald, openly disclosed his identity in trying to challenge the loss of a Jewish cemetery. At one point, he debated with Muslims, after which he was beaten up, punched and kicked in the face by the Muslim mob and, when the police arrived, instead of arresting the violent Muslim mob, they arrested Benkhald. He was blindfolded, handcuffed and handed over to the Rangers (Pakistan’s paramilitary troop). The Rangers interrogated him and asked for his connection with Israel. They charged him with being an Israeli spy (Mossad). He defended himself by trying to convince them that his father was a Pakistani Muslim, while his mother was a Pakistani Jewess, and that he is registered as a Muslim man and is a Pakistani citizen on the voting register.
Benkhald’s Jewish maternal grandparents came to Pakistan from Iran and registered their daughter (Benkhald’s mother) as a Muslim to protect her. After rediscovering his Jewish roots, this son of a Muslim father (Fishal Benkhald) is devoted to “claiming Jewish rights in Pakistan.”
Al-Jazeera presenter and columnist Mehdi Hassan wrote the following in his column on March 13, 2013, in The New Statesman: “Anti-Semitism was commonplace among Pakistanis and British Muslims of Pakistani descent.” He further argued that “this is the virus of anti-Semitism that has infected members of the British Muslim community, both young and old…” I believe his hint was towards the British Pakistani community because he has interviewed and witnessed many anti-Semitic attitudes towards that community.
The history of Jews in Pakistan dates at least as far back as 1839, when there were estimated to be about 1,000 Jews, most of whom were living in Karachi at the time. By 1947, there were around 1,500 Jews living in Pakistan. Exactly following the creation of the modern State of Israel, Jew-hatred skyrocketed across Pakistan by Islamists and Jews feared for their safety. By 1953, there were only 500 Jewish families that remained in the country. The peaceful religion of Islam suddenly became the symbol of violence and religious intolerance among Muslims towards the most peaceful and tolerant Jewish community in the country.
Pakistani independence caused a change. When India was partitioned in 1947, Muslim refugees who migrated to the newly established dominion of Pakistan often ransacked Jewish synagogues and prayer halls on their way. Many Pakistani Jews in turn fled in the opposite direction, settling in India. The following year, with Israel having declared its independence, things grew even more tense in Pakistan when rioters burned down a Karachi synagogue to protest US President Harry Truman’s diplomatic recognition of the Jewish state. Wasting little time, Pakistan’s Jews soon began their exodus, scurrying to Israel and elsewhere.
The founding of the Islamic state of Pakistan immediately prior to the creation of modern Israel in her ancestral geographical location created insecurity among Jews in Pakistan. It was reported in March 2006 that Pakistan’s military dropped leaflets in Wazirstan (tribal Area of Pakistan) urging the tribesmen to beware of foreigners and their local supporters who had allied themselves with the Yahood Aur Hanood (Jews and Hindus).
Tribesmen who read the leaflets wondered over the use of the words “Yahood Aur Hanood” to describe the enemy. Most thought it meant the Jews worldwide and the dominant Hindus of India. Pakistani Muslims’ hatred for Israel and Jews simply comes from what they have learned from their parents, elders and radical religious leaders. Most Pakistani Muslims have never met a Jew, let alone an Israeli Jew, and yet Pakistanis – for no apparent reason other than their assumed obligation to support Palestinian Muslims – hate Jews. And besides, they are taught that it’s their religious duty to hate Jews, Hindus and all other non-Muslims. A recent poll of Pakistani army soldiers showed that they would rather fight infidel Hindus on the India-Pakistan border than fight Taliban brethren in their own country, no matter what the Taliban does there.
There are many examples of this ongoing mindset and subsequent impact. The prime reason for the brutal murder of Jewish American reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan was that he was a Jew. He was abducted, tortured and slaughtered by British Pakistani jihadist Omar Saeed Shaikh. The Islamic jihadist organizations fueled anti-Semitic sentiment within the Pakistani community through newspaper and magazine articles and books against Israel and the Jewish people.
Anti-Zionism is simply another name for anti-Semitism in Pakistan. Those Pakistanis who still claim they are not against Jews have completely neglected to prove their sincerity towards the Jewish community. I have not seen any changes in the Pakistani community towards Jews or Israel. The synagogues have been converted into shopping plazas, Jewish schools have been demolished, and Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated and completely destroyed.
The questions remain: Why did the immense bulk of the Jewish community leave Pakistan? If Pakistani Muslims weren’t anti-Semitic, the Jewish community would have no reason to leave en masse and would have stayed in Pakistan. Why did the remaining Jewish people hide their religious affiliation in Pakistan, and why was Fishal Benkhald, a Jewish man (who voluntarily disclosed his Jewish connection), beaten up mercilessly by an Islamic mob, abducted by police and tortured by a paramilitary force in Pakistan?
I don’t see my Pakistani community on the streets raising their voices in defense of Pakistani Jews. The remaining Jews of Pakistan have never called themselves Zionists. They don’t even mingle with fellow Jews around the world. So why have they been persecuted? Their language, color, culture and civil identity are the same as Muslims in Pakistan, yet Jewish Pakistanis still feel threatened and prefer to actively conceal their true religious identity, unlike Christians and other faith communities in Pakistan.
These are the significant questions that the Pakistani Muslim community must address, especially those who claim their sincerity towards the Pakistani Jewish community. And they must work hard for those Jewish people who are still living among them and obscuring their faith due to their fellow Pakistanis’ religious persecution against them.