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An article by the Jewish Virtual Library on Lebanon puts the numbers of Jewish people as 20,000 in 1948 citing "Maariv, (June 21, 1991); Jewish Telegraphic Agency, (July 22, 1993); Jewish Communities of the World."

  • Maariv is an Israeli newspaper in Hebrew. I can't find the article.
  • Jewish Telegraphic Agency has an archive but I didn't manage to find the article there (but could possibly be my bad)

An article by Al Jazeera "Uncovering Lebanon’s Jewish past", which the Jewish Virtual Library actually references to support an unrelated statement, contradicts it:

the 1932 national census put the country’s Jewish population at around 3,500 [..] Although some decided to move to Israel when it was created in 1948, a wave of immigration from Syria meant that Lebanon became the only country in the region whose Jewish population increased in the 1950s. “It peaked to about 10,000,” said Tomer Levi, author of the book, The Jews of Beirut."


Edit: To make the question very clear, the doubtful claim is the Jewish Virtual Library 20,000 estimate.

This claim was also referenced in an old question

Disclaimer to avoid exposing people to propaganda unwarned: The Jewish Virtual Library is run by Mitchell Bard, an ex-AIPAC lobbyist, where he self-publishes there.

The Jewish Virtual Library is a partisan source which sometimes cites Wikipedia and it is mostly unreliable, especially in its "Myths & Facts" section. When it cites sources, those should preferably be read and then cited directly instead. Some exceptions on a case-by-case basis are possible.

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    What's the problem here? If the Virtual Jewish Library isn't considered reliable of itself, look at the sources it's citing. Commented Apr 17 at 13:54
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    I can't find a copy of the sources that it cites, that's why I am asking for help
    – Ona
    Commented Apr 17 at 14:08
  • So you just want a copy of the two books? Wikipedia gives the ISBN of its source, and I give a link to it in Google books. You can order it. Aljazeera gives the title and author, and you should be able to order that too. Commented Apr 17 at 14:11
  • Or you know someone that already has the books, and likely has more knowledge than me on the topic and is better able evaluate is 20k a good estimate or not. Instead of 10k (Al jazzeera) or (5k Avery)
    – Ona
    Commented Apr 17 at 14:27
  • @DJClayworth I bought the Avi Becker book it has 6000 at 1944 and 10,000 at 1952
    – Ona
    Commented Apr 17 at 14:37

3 Answers 3

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The first thing to say is that if you are asking whether 20,000 is too high and 10,000 or even 5,000 - a more realistic number, then maybe. Estimating populations is really difficult when there isn't an exact definition of who is a "Jew", and even more so when you are trying to count the members of a persecuted minority. If you sent a census worker to peoples doors in 1948 Lebanon and they asked "Are you Jewish" it's easy to imagine a lot of Jews saying "No". The difference between 20,000 and 10,000 is pretty insignificant in that context, and would not make any difference to the central point of the articles, which is "There used to be lots of Jews in Lebanon, but thanks to persecution and violence almost all of them left".

If you are looking to deny the central point of those articles by saying that the number of Jews in Lebanon was really much, much lower, then there are many reliable sources indicating thousands of Jews in 1948 Lebanon.

Wikipedia has a similar claim, citing the book "Jewish Communities of the World" by Avi Beker.

Aljazeera says the same, in an interview with Tomer Levi, author of The Jews of Beirut.

A number of reliable sources give similar figures, with a Jewish population of several thousands before 1948, increased by emigration from Syria after 1948 where Jews were expelled, and then declining almost totally over the decades thanks to anti-Jewish protests and violence in Lebanon.

Doubts about the reliability of the Virtual Jewish Library should be resolved by examining the reliability of the sources they cite, which seem to be reliable. Even an unreliable source can give correct figures some of the time.

TLDR: There are figures from various sources ranging from 5000 to 20000. The differences between these sources don't undermine the central point of the articles.

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    "Lebanon became the only country in the region whose Jewish population increased in the 1950s. “It peaked to about 10,000,” said Tomer Levi, author of the book, The Jews of Beirut." That's similar enough for our purposes, given differences in counting methods and definitions of what makes a Jew.. Commented Apr 17 at 13:57
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    No, it's not similar enough for our purposes. The whole purpose of this question is to verify the 20,000 claim
    – Ona
    Commented Apr 17 at 13:58
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    Demographics doesn't work like that. There can easily be big differences like that in estimates of populations where it's not clear who is a member of a particular demographic. If your question is "are we sure it's 20,000 and not 10,000" then no, we are probably not. But that would make no real difference to the points of the articles where it's quoted. If you mean "are we sure it's 20,000 and not 10,000" then please edit the question to say that. Commented Apr 17 at 14:00
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    @Ona If you are just asking the question to discredit JVL, that's not an appropriate use of this site. Please only ask questions that you actually want the answer to. Commented Apr 17 at 14:42
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    I don't need to descredit the JVL It is already an unacceptable source for Wikipedia. There is consensus over it. My goal is trying to verify the 20k figure
    – Ona
    Commented Apr 17 at 14:48
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According to The Jews Of Lebanon, Between Coexistence And Conflict, second edition:

The population of Jews in Lebanon was:

  • 1948: 5,200
  • 1951: 9,000
  • 1958: 14,000
  • 1967: 7,000
  • 1971: Less than 4,000

See especially pages 6, 7 and 35.
The 1948 and 1951 data are cited to Encyclopedia Judaica, p. 1543.

On the other hand, according to Myths and Facts 1976: A Concise Record of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (alternative link) edited by Wolf Blitzer at page 84:

Lebanon
1948 Jewish population: 20,000
1976: less than 1,000

Wolf Blitzer gives no source for this information.

Similarly, the 1974 Near East Report by the same publisher says:

Lebanon
1948 Jewish population: 20,000;
1972 : 2,000

And a 1974 Weekly Review says:

LEBANON
Jews have generally been well treated, but of the 1948 total of 20,000 90% have left.

So, there are sources going back to at least 1974 that say 20,000 Jews in Lebanon in 1948, but also sources that give values as low as 5,200.

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  • There are other figures from other sources. An overview of different sources might be better than just picking a single source. Commented Apr 19 at 1:32
  • @DJClayworth the book gives multiple sources on page 35, but for the 1920s and 30s. "Pierre Rondot establishes the number of Jews in Mount Lebanon in 1913 at 86, expanding to 3,588 in 1932 (17) The Encyclopedia Judaica estimates the Jewish population of Beirut alone to have reached 5,000 by 1929.(18) The French government in 1923 counted 3,303 Jews in Greater Lebanon, and the 1932 census registered 3,588 Jews. By the late 1930s the community is said to have numbered 6,000, the vast majority of whom were living in Beirut. Albert Hourani even places their number as high as 9,981.(19)"
    – DavePhD
    Commented Apr 19 at 7:13
  • Where did they get these numbers from exactly? Can you include that in the answer itself?
    – Laurel
    Commented Apr 19 at 18:00
  • @Laurel for the 1948 and 1951 data they have superscript 16, which in the endnotes is: Encyclopedia Judaica, p. 1543.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Apr 19 at 18:56
  • @DJClayworth I added a 1976 source, see if you like the answer better now.
    – DavePhD
    Commented Apr 21 at 14:02
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The Jewish Virtual Library claim is a mistake.

  • How?

The American Jewish Year Book of 1948/1947 presents this table:

Asia

[country] [population]
Aden 8,700
Afghanistan 5,000
India 30,000
Iran 50,000
Iraq 90,000
Syria-Lebanon 20,000
Turkey 80,000
Yemen 45,000
TOTAL 328,700

Africa

[country] [population]
Algeria. 130,000
Egypt 75,000
Libya 26,000
Morocco 286,000
Tunisia 70,000
TOTAL 587,000

GRAND TOTAL: 915,700

Clearly the figures for Syria-lebanon were used for Lebanon. Academic sources on the other hand like The Jews Of Lebanon, Between Coexistence And Conflict, second edition - Kristen Schulze (link to full book) put Lebanon's jewish population at ~5,200.

Non-academic sources like Jewish Communities of the World by Avi Beker, secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress, and the Al Jazzeera article offer numbers consistent with Schulze's figures.

How come different sources made the same mistake?

The Jewish virtual library, a project by AICE, and the 20k-sources in DavePhD's answer are all closely related. Their relationships is explained by Donald Neff in his review of myths and facts:

The Arab-Israeli conflict is littered with propaganda masquerading as information. Both sides are active in this black art, where distorting the facts to one side's favor is considered success. In general, Israel and its supporters have been more adept in this poisonous pursuit, mainly because of their wide media access in the United States. The latest edition of Myths and Facts, however, is not one of the better efforts by the pro-Israel side, mainly because it is less adroit than usual at twisting the facts to the benefit of Israel ... . The original Myths and Facts was published as a byproduct of the Near East Report, a pro-Israel newsletter begun in the 1950s by Si Kenen, a tireless propagandist for Israel. Out of Kenen's propaganda work grew the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), today the most powerful Israeli lobby ... . The current version of Myths and Facts is curiously without specific mention of its debt to AIPAC, although it acknowledges the pioneering role of the Near East Report. This is hardly encouraging since the latter is a reliable source of myths but hardly of facts. Author Mitchell G. Bard is a former editor of the Near East Report and a coauthor of the 1992 edition of Myths and Facts. ... Bard is now executive director of yet another pro-Israel group, the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE), founded in 1993. Among its seven board members are Bard, Arthur Bard, and Eli E. Hertz. Hertz left the Israel Defense Forces as a captain after seven years and moved to New York to found a technology company. He is listed as sponsor of the latest Myths and Facts and chairman of the board of AICE.

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  • You should explain the methodology used by the two references you are putting forward as trustworthy. Why should we believe them over other sources?
    – Oddthinking
    Commented May 28 at 22:50
  • @Oddthinking The appeal is to Occam's razor, I think someone mislabeling Syria-lebanon's numbers as lebanon's is simply more likely than 4 unrelated sources (Beker, Schulze, Tomer Levi which Al jazeera cites, and shapiro from the American Jewish Year Book) being all off by a factor of 4.
    – Ona
    Commented May 28 at 23:16
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    Your accusation is baseless and so very lazy. This may shock you, but I have absolutely zero interest in the number of Jews in Lebanon in 1948. I have no axe to grind on the topic. What I do care about is this site providing quality answers to quality questions. [I have no recollection of the "babies incident", and this isn't the place to re-litigate it.]
    – Oddthinking
    Commented May 29 at 1:06
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    This 1946 reference similarly says that there are 16000-18000 Jews in Syria and Lebanon combined, with Jews steadily migrating from Syria where they are ill-treated to Lebanon and Palestine. google.com/books/edition/…
    – DavePhD
    Commented May 29 at 12:05
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    I don't have enough reputation to make this correction myself: there is only one Z in Al Jazeera.
    – phoog
    Commented May 31 at 2:21

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