The history of the Jews in Pakistan began and ended with its creation. Jews don’t do well in Muslim countries and in the second half of the twentieth century, with the creation of Israel, they had the option of not living in an Islamic Supremacist racist state.
The last synagogue in Pakistan was demolished by bulldozers. And that was that.
“We are 99% Muslims now but we’re cutting each other’s throats,” he said. Today when there are no Jews, fewer Hindus and only a few Goans and Parsis and the overwhelming majority subscribe to the same religion, they are after each other’s blood.”
But while the synagogue was bulldozed, a cemetery remained. And so did one man.
His real name is Faisal Benkhald, though he has recently adopted the Yiddish first name “Fishel.” He was born in Karachi in 1987, the fourth of five children born to a Jewish mother and a Muslim father. Though registered at birth as Muslim, he considers himself Jewish and is now fighting for state recognition of his chosen religion — an apostasy
As far as the Pakistani authorities are concerned, Fishel is still Faisal, a Muslim. That’s what’s written on his documentation. But he wouldn’t be the only Jewish Pakistani to have a Muslim identity card: The Jews of Pakistan learned to disappear long ago. Some, like Fishel’s parents, registered their children as Muslims to blend in, and all tried to hide.
Fishel is all that remains of what was once a small but thriving Jewish community. Estimated to have numbered about 2,500 people at the start of the 20th century, Pakistani Jewry consisted mainly of migrants from Iraq. Following Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, the central synagogue in Karachi (demolished in 1988) became a focal point for demonstrations against Israel. The majority of Jews left Pakistan for India or Israel around this time.
What happened next could come as no surprise.
A Jewish activist in Pakistan was savagely beaten by a Muslim mob Wednesday – and then arrested and roughed up again by police.
Fishel Benkhald – who is leading a one-man campaign to preserve the old Jewish cemetery in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi – has been a vocal activist for minority rights in the country, which is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim and where minorities such as Christians, Hindus and non-Sunni Muslims are routinely persecuted.
“I was debating over Twitter with a young educated Pakistani Muslim that non-Muslim Pakistanis should be allowed in theory to be elected president according to our constitution,” the discussion was purely theoretical, he noted, given that non-Muslims account for only around 3% of the Pakistani population.
After a back-and-forth “I proposed to debate face to face,” said Benkhald. “He asked for me for my cell phone number and I gave it to him.”
The two agreed to continue a friendly discussion at a restaurant in Karachi. But when he got there, Benkhald soon found himself ambushed.
“I went there alone but he was with his friends, we started the debate in a normal discussion manner but soon it got heated up and cursing started.”
At that point, a “mob” began to gather around him “and two of the guys who were with him started manhandling me – I should have left at that time.
“They started punching me and when I fell they started kicking my head. Someone also tried to snatch away my mobile.”
Fishel has posted some of the recordings from it on Twitter.