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From the Land of the Pharaohs to the Land of the Future: Egyptian Jewish Immigration to Brazil, 1956-61
Immediately following the 1956 Suez War between Egypt and Israel, the Egyptian government under Gamal Abdel Nasser embarked on a campaign of state persecution against the Egyptian Jewish community, which included mass arrests and internment, confiscations of businesses and property, loss of employment and citizenship, and outright expulsions. This campaign prompted the emigration of approximately thirty-six thousand Egyptian Jews during the next five years, making up roughly four-fifths of Egypt’s total Jewish population. Scholarship on this mass migration has mainly focused on Israel, where nearly half of these emigrants resettled, as well as France and the United States, which became home to smaller communities of Egyptian Jews. But it has largely overlooked Brazil, the main destination of Egyptian Jewish emigrants after Israel. This presentation will examine Egyptian Jewish emigration to Brazil from 1956 to 1961. Drawing on Brazilian diplomatic correspondence, the records of international aid organizations such as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and oral history interviews with Egyptian Jewish immigrants in Brazil, it will ask why Brazil became home to the second largest community of Egyptian Jews in the world. It will argue that the answer to this question lies in Brazil’s attempt to distance itself from its prior antisemitic immigration restrictions, the willingness of European nations such as France, Greece, and Italy to accept Egyptian Jewish refugees in transit provided that they ultimately resettled elsewhere, the efforts of international Jewish aid organizations to provide a lasting solution to the refugee problem, and the desires of Egyptian Jewish refugees to replicate the living standards that they had enjoyed in Egypt. Building on a growing body of research on Middle Eastern immigration to Latin America, and departing from prior scholarship on the exodus of Middle Eastern and North African Jews that has largely studied their emigration within Zionist analytical frameworks, this presentation will situate the immigration of Egyptian Jews to Brazil within the overlapping contexts of the Cold War, international diplomacy, and the increasing importance of nongovernmental organizations in managing mid-century migration. By moving away from overdetermined interpretive approaches toward one emphasizing multilateral actors with competing agendas, this presentation will offer a new model for the study of Middle Eastern Jewish emigration.
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