Cairo- Libya’s Jewish community leader Raphael Luzon, despite living in exile, still holds to the traditional national Libya look, wearing Libya’s male traditional garb. Even far from home Luzon continues to cling to Libyan customs.
In his online interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Luzon expressed his ache to see peace and stability across Libya once again, and for it to become a country embracing its people regardless of their religious background.
Luzon revealed details on meetings he had with Libya’s late Prime Minister Muammar Gaddafi and a handful of senior officials belonging to the toppled dictator’s regime- 17 months prior to the February revolution which deposed the Gaddafi administration.
He said that the Libyan Jewish community had backed the February revolution, and had long fought for their rights to citizenship – Luzon reiterated that a just and democratic state must be characterized with all-inclusiveness to its people.
Luzon and other members of the former Jewish community of Libya, who were forced to leave the country to Europe in the 1960s and 1970s, have for years been lobbying for the return of considerable private and communal Jewish assets that were confiscated by the regime of slain dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
After Gaddafi’s fall in 2011, there was hope the country might open up and address the grievances of its exiled Jews, but so far little progress has been made.
“We have been ridded of a dictator and become overrun by thousands of them,” Luzon commented on the chaos ravaging Libya today.
Luzon stressed that resolution for Libya can only be determined by Libyan’s themselves and not by foreign intervention.
Alternatively, Luzon expressed puzzlement on Libyans welcoming international envoys with open arms while continuing to refuse any contribution to settlement from Libyan Jews abroad.
On Libyan’s living away from home, Luzon added that an approximated 100,000 Libyan Jews living in Israel still use Libyan dialect in their homes and feel a strong connection to their Libyan national heritage.
As successful as they come, one of the most prominent Jewish figures holding Libyan provenance is Israel’s incumbent Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon.
Visiting Libya three times, two of which took place during Gaddafi’s reign; Luzon used presidential vehicles for transport. The Third visit was post the revolution in which he was taken captive by security forces in Benghazi.
Luzon said that when he spoke to Gaddafi in his prior visits to Libya, he demanded no compensation for the forced exile his family has been suffering since 1967, but simply demanded the right to return home as a Libyan citizen living and thriving, protected and accounted for in his homeland.
Gaddafi said that he had not expelled any Jew from Libya, and had recommended that Luzon refers to senior officials as to prepare for settlement and the Jewish rights of return.
According to Luzon, Gaddafi ordered that the old Jewish temple be reconstructed.
Luzon was promised the rights to citizenship by Gaddafi’s senior officials, and was expecting to receive another invitation in 2011 during which he receives all papers proving his Libyan citizenship.
However, with the revolution taking place, everything was turned upside down and gone with the wind.
Raphael Senior, Luzon’s grandfather, was one of the great financers and fighters for Libya’s sovereignty against the Italian colonization, 1934-1943. His grandfather had escaped to Benghazi after the Italian colonists issued an arrest warrant against him.
On that note, speaking for Libyan Jews in European exile, Luzon said that 95 percent of his community supported the revolution against Gaddafi and any other potential dictatorship.
When asked if the revolution had achieved the goals it was set out for, Luzon said that great hopes were crushed by the evident disorder due to the increasing security threats. Luzon said that he is very concerned for the fate of his country, just like any other Libyan worrying for his homeland.
Moreover, the Jewish community in exile had offered medical and financial aid before, and is still prepared to offer all they are capable of should the need arise or requests be made.
Regarding Libya’s outlook, Luzon believes that only a democracy including all Libyans regardless of religious or tribal background, and which binds everybody by the law, can salvage Libya from its predicament today.
When asked on the number of Libyan Jews living in Britain, Luzon cited a total of 200 who possess great political and economic presence. Robert Halfon, former Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer under former Prime Minister David Cameron’s administration, is one of the cited 200.