Meirav Cohen
Meirav CohenArutz Sheva

On Thursday, Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen (Yesh Atid) received an unprecedented survey of Israelis between the ages of 18-30 whose results demonstrate that the history, heritage, and culture of the Jews from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), known as Mizrahi Jews, is massively unrepresented in the Israeli education system.

While 74% of all respondents said that the history, heritage, and culture of European Jewry is taught in the educational system to a large or somewhat large extent, only 14% could say the same about Mizrahi Jewry: Eighty percent (80%) said that it was either taught to a small or no extent.

In addition, 75% of those polled said they could not recall any program or lesson in school that reinforced a positive perception of Mizrahi Jewry.

When asked if it was felt that the education system should teach the history and tradition of MENA Jews to a greater extent than is currently being taught, 57% of respondents said that it should, and 55% said that more hours should be dedicated to teaching these subjects in school curricula.

As an example of how little is known about MENA Jewish history, only 7% of respondents could identify the Farhud, a pogrom against the Jews of Iraq in 1941, when hundreds of Jews were slaughtered. By comparison, 58% could correctly identify Kristallnacht.

When asked what the leaders of Arab countries should do to compensate the Jewish families or the descendants of families who were forced out from their former MENA countries, 59% said they should provide full monetary compensation for the loss of their property and/or assets in their countries of origin, while only 11% said that they should waive the demand for compensation in exchange for waiving all demands from Palestinian refugees.

Seventy-four percent (74%) were in favor of establishing a government-funded museum dedicated to the history, heritage, and culture of MENA Jews.

Since 2014, according to a law passed by the Knesset, November 30th has been set aside as the Day of Commemoration for the Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries and Iran. However, only 11% of those polled had heard of the day.

The poll was commissioned by Iraqi-British Jewish businessman and philanthropist David A. Dangoor CBE, of Dangoor Education, a subsidiary of the Exilarch’s Foundation, a charity which supports educational initiatives, including many in the field of Sephardi/Mizrahi heritage, culture, and education. Dangoor has been Vice-President of the World Organisation of Jews from Iraq (WOJI) for the past ten years.

“The results are both disappointing and heartening,” said Dangoor. “Disappointing that so little has been done to educate about the history, culture, and heritage of MENA Jews in Israeli schools, but heartening that so many from different backgrounds seek to change that. I hope that these results serve as a wake-up call to the Israeli government and those involved in education that the history and heritage of the majority of Jews in Israel is largely ignored.”

“I decided to initiate this poll in Israel because it is the place where much of the global Jewish agenda is set, and in changing its educational policies towards greater understanding and awareness of Mizrahi and Sephardi Jewish history, heritage, and culture, it would send a message to the larger Jewish world that it, too, must reassess its pedagogical priorities.”

Minister Cohen, the Israeli government minister in charge of the issue, said: “With great regret, in a country where more than 50% of its citizens, and their descendants, are from Arab countries and Iran, their history and heritage is not being passed on.”

“Events and personalities such as the Farhud, Operation Magic Carpet (which brought 50,000 Yemenite Jews to Israel during 1949-50) and Rabbi Shalom Shabazi, are unknown in the Israeli education system.

“Through research, documentation and commemoration, we can change this trend and ensure that the history of the Mizrahi Jews is never forgotten and commemorated for eternity.”

The polling was carried out by Smith Consulting, one of Israel’s leading polling agencies, among 500 Jews in Israel as a representative sample of young people up to age 30, with a sampling error of 4.5%.