Lebanon’s ambassador to France hosted an unprecedented gathering for dozens of French Jews of Lebanese descent this week, asking for their support amid his country’s economic collapse and even encouraging the long-targeted community to return home.
Four generations of Lebanese Jews who left the country in separate waves over the past century were in attendance for Monday night’s event at the Lebanese Embassy in Paris, which even served kosher food, according to the An-Nahar Lebanese daily.
During the event, one of the Jewish attendees asked Ambassador Rami Adwan why he chose to host the event now after decades in which there had been no outreach from the Lebanese government to its Jewish diaspora.
“The Lebanese state has sometimes breached its duties, but now it is in danger, so [it needs] all of its citizens belonging to different sects must unite to save it,” An-Nahar quoted Adwan as having responded.
Among those in attendance was Nagi Gergi Zeidan, a historian specializing in Lebanon’s Jewish community. He told An-Nahar that in hosting the reunion, Adwan was doing what “all Lebanese officials [had previously] failed to do.”
“At this event, I saw the Lebanon that should be, and this… was expressed by Ambassador Adwan in his speech when he stressed the necessity for Lebanese Jews to return to their homeland,” he said.
Others in attendance were Lebanese Jews, some of whom travel back regularly, as well as those who have not gone back for decades.
Adwan told guests that some had tried to pressure him against holding such an event, as there could be “Zionist supporters of Israel” in attendance. Others criticized the envoy, claiming Hezbollah rival Gebran Bassil of the Christian Free Patriotic Movement was behind the gathering.
Adwan reportedly said the event was simply for the good of Lebanon and went beyond politics.
Attendees told An-Nahar that they were appreciative of the gesture and viewed it as an “official declaration” of the Lebanese government’s distinction between Jewish communities abroad and the State of Israel.
Jews resided in Lebanon for centuries. Lebanon was the only Arab country whose Jewish population grew after the establishment of Israel in 1948, reaching around 10,000 people. But the community quickly dwindled after that, numbering in the low hundreds in the 1970s, since shrinking to just a few dozen at most today.
Lebanon has for the past two years been mired in economic, political and social crisis and its residents are subject to draconian banking restrictions preventing easy access to money. The local currency has plummeted some 90 percent against the dollar on the black market, and an estimated 80% of the population are struggling to escape poverty amid ballooning inflation and shortages of fuel, medicine and electricity.
Violent clashes last month between supporters of the Lebanese Shiite terror groups Hezbollah and Amaal, and Christian militias sparked fears of a return to civil war.
Agencies contributed to this report.