Pak­istan’s last Jew in bat­tle to win ‘em­pa­thy’

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY SI­MON CALD­WELL

DECADES OF per­se­cu­tion of re­li­gious mi­nori­ties have driven al­most all of Pak­istan’s Jews out of the coun­try. Any that re­main keep their Jewish iden­ti­ties a se­cret.

Fishel Benkhald is the ex­cep­tion. He calls him­self Pak­istan’s only “self­de­clared” Jew.

His mother is Jewish but, be­cause his fa­ther is a Mus­lim, the Pak­istani au­thor­i­ties are re­fus­ing to recog­nise his Jewish iden­tity.

Mr Benkhald’s am­bi­tion has been to re­build a de­mol­ished syn­a­gogue in Karachi and to re­store the Jewish ceme­tery there.

But be­fore ap­ply­ing for per­mis­sion to em­bark on the project, he felt it nec­es­sary to reg­is­ter his Jewish faith and race with the au­thor­i­ties.

It emerged last week that NADRA, the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment depart­ment that han­dles cit­i­zen­ship, had thrown out his re­quest.

Mr Benkhald said a seem­ingly re­lent­less tide of an­ti­semitic pro­pa­ganda in the coun­try had spurred him to pub­licly as­sert his true iden­tity.

He ac­knowl­edged that it was “dan­ger­ous” to come out as a Jew in Pak­istan, but added: “My po­lit­i­cal side out­grew my fear. I felt less hes­i­tant about claim­ing my re­li­gion more pub­licly than I would have be­fore.

“My dream is to gain em­pa­thy. Later I will try and get help and start the process for a small syn­a­gogue.”

Ap­ply­ing to change his re­li­gious iden­tity was worth­while just to be able to doc­u­ment the re­sponse of the gov­ern­ment, he said.

The rev­e­la­tion that there is now just one openly Jewish per­son liv­ing in Pak­istan emerged at a pri­vate meet­ing in Par­lia­ment about hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions in the south Asian coun­try.

Lyn Julius of Harif, the UK As­so­ci­a­tion of Jews from the Mid­dle East and North Africa, told the meet­ing that in 1947, the year of Pak­istan’s par­ti­tion from In­dia, there were an es­ti­mated 3,000 Jews liv­ing in the coun­try.

The Jews formed part of a dis­tin­guished pro­fes­sional class and in­cluded Moses So­make, who de­signed many of Karachi’s land­marks, and Leopold Weiss, who helped to draft Pak­istan’s con­sti­tu­tion.

“Hos­til­ity be­gan in 1947 when Mo­ha­jir Mus­lim refugees from In­dia ran­sacked Jewish sites and places of wor­ship,” Mrs Julius told the hear­ing.

“They burnt the Karachi syn­a­gogue. Ev­ery time there was a war in the Mid­dle East, the Jews suf­fered the reper­cus­sions.

“In 1948, most Jews left for Is­rael, and the pop­u­la­tion con­tin­ued to de­cline so that af­ter 1967 there were only 350 Jews left.

“In 1988, the Magen Shalom syn­a­gogue in Karachi was de­mol­ished un­der Zia al-Huq and a shop­ping cen­tre was built on the site.”

The last recog­nised Pak­istani Jew, she said, Fishel Benkhald was Rachel Joseph, who died in 2006 at the age of 88 af­ter cam­paign­ing with­out suc­cess for a small syn­a­gogue.

Mrs Julius said: “The end of the Jewish com­mu­nity in Pak­istan has not meant the end of an­ti­semitism.

“Pak­istan has joined the ranks of states with­out Jews who blame the Jews for ev­ery­thing that goes wrong.

“They imag­ine that the Jews are en­gaged in a global con­spir­acy to con­trol the world,” she added. “Hav­ing got rid of their Jews, they think they have expelled the virus, but it is they who are suf­fer­ing from a pathol­ogy. Tar­get­ing mi­nori­ties is a sign of a sick so­ci­ety.” The meet­ing in Par­lia­ment also heard ev­i­dence from a Pak­istani Chris­tian asy­lum seeker, who told how her hus­band was bat­tered to death in front of her by a Mus­lim gang, some of whom then tor­tured and raped her.

Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic char­ity for per­se­cuted Chris­tians, has listed Pak­istan as a coun­try in which re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion is se­vere.

It said in a re­port last month that at least 50 Chris­tians have been killed by mob violence in Pak­istan since 2001. In April this year, a 13-year-old Pak­istani boy was doused in petrol and burned alive af­ter he ad­mit­ted that he was a Chris­tian.

The UK gov­ern­ment is nev­er­the­less giv­ing £405 mil­lion in for­eign aid to Pak­istan this year alone, with­out at­tach­ing any de­mands for im­prove­ments to the se­cu­rity of p e r s e c u t e d mi­nori­ties. P a k i s t a n has­re­ceived i n t h e re­gion of £1.17 bil­lion from the UK since 2011.

Pak­istan isone ofthose states with­out Jewswho blameJews­for ev­ery­thing

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