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Cairo Jewish Quarter Bombed; 22 Jews Killed, 41 Injured

On This Day in Jewish History: June 20, 1948

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1948, the infamous Cairo bombings that targeted ancient Jewish areas specifically began – not ending until September of that year. By the end of the antisemitic onslaught that hid as “antizionist” and as a “response” to the Egyptian losses in the War of Independence happening in Israel, 70 Jews would be killed and 200 wounded. Aside from the bombings, violent riots also targeted the Egyptian-Jewish communities. Thousands of Jews who had lived there for nearly 2,000 of years began to flee in this period and by 1956, Egypt formally expelled nearly 25,000 Jews while confiscating their property. The government formally declared that “all Jews are Zionists and enemies of the state” and in the same year about 1,000 were sent to prisons and detention camps.

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Jewish presence in Egypt could be biblically traced to the times when the Jewish People / Children of Israel left en-masse from the region of Goshen with Moshe as their liberator on their way to the Land of Israel during the reign of Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep IV or Akhenaten (1375-1358 BC). In terms of contemporary Jewish history, there were traces of a Jewish community continuously functioning in Egypt since at least the First Temple era (1,000-586 BCE). Although never quite perfect as they were eventually forced to live as dhimmis under the Arabian Muslim rule, Jewish life did flourish in cities like Cairo for hundreds of years. Famously, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides) spent significant time in Egypt leading the Jewish community (Nagid) and working as the court physician to the Grand Vizier al-Qadi al Fadil, Sultan Saladin, and other members of the Ayyubid dynasty. Famously, in the late 19th century, the Cairo Geniza in the storeroom of the ancient Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo was discovered – unraveling around 400,000 Jewish manuscripts containing Jewish religious texts such as Biblical, Talmudic and later Rabbinic works (some in the original hands of the authors).

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As the 6 independent Arab nations (Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia) invaded the nascent Jewish state with the sole goal of finishing what Hitler couldn’t, Jews living in most SWANA region countries began to feel the extended repercussions of their Jewishness. One of those instances began on this day as the Karaite quarter of Cairo was targeted with a bomb that killed 22 Jews and wounded 41. . Later that summer on July 19, bombs were planted in the Jewish-owned stores of Cicurel and Oreco. On July 28 and August 1 two additional Jewish stores were bombed. On September 22, 19 Jews were killed and 52 injured as a massive bomb was set in the Jewish quarter of Cairo.

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Later, it was discovered that the Egyptian government did nothing to curb the attacks on their Jewish citizens as they were conducted by the Muslim Brotherhood who was gaining significant influence and power in Egypt at the time. In November of that year, they did arrest 32 leaders of the Brotherhood while it was discovered that there were at least 2,000 functioning branches inside the country and at least 500,000 declared members or sympathizers. Although arrests were dealt, Egypt’s prime minister, Mahmoud Fahmy El Nokrashy Pasha, would be assassinated by a Brotherhood member and no lasting security for the remaining Jewish citizens of Egypt occurred in fact it deteriorated.

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As mentioned earlier, state-sanctioned anti-Jewish motions began in 1956, only worsening after Israel’s victory in the 1967 6 Day War. Today, there are about 100 Jews left in Egypt (mostly living in Alexandria), but a flourishing Jewish-Egyptian life is practically non-existent. Although Israel and Egypt hold diplomatic relations (since 1979), there is little to no interaction between regular citizens from both countries. Meanwhile, Egyptian media continues to push horribly antisemitic ideas rooted in Protocols of the Elders of Zion lies, there is no official rabbi, synagogues (Sha’ar Hashamayim in Cairo and Eliahu Hanabi in Alexandria) are seldom used, kosher food is scarce, and the Israeli embassy is constantly at risk following various attacks on it on different occasions over the years.

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Sources:

- https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jews-of-egypt

- https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/egypt-virtual-jewish-history-tour

- https://www.worldjewishcongress.org/en/about/communities/EG

- https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/23/world/middleeast/a-bittersweet-homecoming-for-egypts-jews.html

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