There is archaeological evidence for a Jewish community in Libya dating back to the 10th century BCE. This evidence continues throughout antiquity until 1510 when Spain conquered Libya and subjected its Jews to the Spanish Inquisition. Fifty years later the Ottoman Empire took control of the country and the Jewish community re-established itself, particularly in Benghazi.
In 1911 Libya was colonised by Italy and its Jewish inhabitants were treated fairly well. Around this time, there were about 21,000 Jews in Libya, the vast majority of whom lived in Tripoli. From 1936 Italy began introducing fascist legislation and by 1938 antisemitic racial laws had been put into place. Jews were removed from the civil service, state schools, public office and all their identification was stamped with the words ‘Jewish Race’. In 1940, when Italy entered the Second World War, deportations of Jews began. By 1942, more than 2000 Jews from Benghazi had been sent to labour camps in the desert, or to the Giado Concentration Camp near Tripoli. In 1943 British troops liberated the camps and its Jewish prisoners were allowed to return to their homes.
Whilst WWII hit the Jews of Benghazi the hardest, those that lived in Tripoli suffered more following the Allied invasion of Libya. Pogroms and violent riots in November 1945 killed more than 140 Jews in Tripoli. All of the city’s synagogues were looted and many Jewish homes and businesses were destroyed. In 1948, coinciding with the establishment of the State of Israel, more riots killed 12 Jews and destroyed over 200 homes, although on this occasion the community fought back and prevented further deaths. In 1949 emigration to Israel was allowed. Over 30,000 of Libya’s 40,000 Jews had left the country by 1951.
Things did not subsequently improve. In 1961 a special permit was required by law to prove Libyan citizenship. All but six Jews were denied citizenship. During the Six-Day War in 1967 the Jewish community was once more subjected to violent riots and 18 Jews were killed. Soon after this, consent was given for all Jews to leave the country and with the help of the Italian Navy over 6,000 Jews were evacuated in a month. By 1969, when Gaddafi came to power, only 100 Jews remained in Libya. Their property was confiscated and despite laws prohibiting emigration, by 1974 only twenty Jews remained in Libya. In 2002 the last Jewish person in Libya left the country.
There are no Jews currently living in Libya.