Benghazi, Libya

Jewish Benghazi

1640 was the year that the Ottoman empire started their reign in Libya. From then on members of the Jewish community felt compelled to come to this city. It was not until 1775 that Jewish families immigrated from Italy. By the 18th and 19th centuries, Benghazi had around 400 Jewish families. They were not subjected to living in a ghetto. Some were from the Kahal Bengazi region and there were others who were born in Tripoli and Italy. These varying groups all recognized one single rabbi as their leader, but every group had their own synagogue.1

A Muslim fellowship called Sanusiya who had impactful influence in the region had good relations with the Jews in Benghazi. Most of the Jews were very affluent and participated in extensive commercial trading and thus the town became a powerful center for trade between the two continents of Europe and Africa. 2

In 1938 when the Italians occupied Libya, Jews experienced heightened discrimination under new laws. These laws were just as effective in Benghazi. In 1942 when the Nazi’s occupied Benghazi, the city was subject to intensive looting in the Jewish quarter and fighting as well during the World War II era. 3



General History of Jewish Libya

The Libyan Jewish community has roots back to the 3rd century B.C.E. During the Roman empire, Jews thrived socially and economically. The most notable instigation of oppression towards the Jews occurred in 73 c.e., when Jonathan the Weaver from Israel fired up a revolt of the lower ranks of society in Cyrene. Roman officials opposed the uprising and killed Weaver, his disciples and many upper class Jewish people in the area. 4

During 1911 when Libya was occupied by Italy, Jews were treated fairly well.  At that time, there were 21,000 Jews in Libya, and many of them made their livelihood in Tripoli. The Jewish population built 44 syngogues in the city of Tripoli itself. By the 1930s the Italian Fascist government instituted anti-Semitic laws that forbid Jews' entry into government-run jobs and educational institutes. Jews' identification documents also noted the designation 'Jewish race'. 5

In 1942, the Nazis infiltrated the Jewish Quarter in Benghazi and over 2000 Jews were forced into Nazi labor camps. During the post-war British occupation of Libya, the Jewish community was not treated well.  The Jewish quarters were yet again subject to rioting during which houses, businesses and synagogues were desecrated. When in 1948, the State of Israel was officially established, over 30,000 Jews fled to Israel as immigrants. 6

Under Libyan law in 1961, there was a certain permit needed to confirm Libyan citizenship, but no Jew were allowed to obtain such a permit. In 1967, the Jewish population was around 7000. Up until 1969 with the start of Muammar al-Gaddafi’s dictatorship and the years after, Jews continued to be subjected to anti-Semitic laws. Under Gaddafi's rule, all Jewish property was stolen by the government and any Jewish debt was cancelled which made it illegal for Jews to leave the country. Many Jews still managed to escape during these years and by 2004, no Jews remained in Libya.7


Benghazi, Libya

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