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The Abused Jews of Iraq

Jews of Iraq

From April 1950, nearly two years after the Zionists in Palestine unilaterally declared independence for the state of Israel, to March 1951, three bombs exploded among Jews in Baghdad, Iraq: one each outside a cafe on Abu Nawwas Street; at the US Information Centre, a popular reading place for young Jewish Iraqis; and outside the Mas’uda Shemtov synagogue, where Kurdish Jews were awaiting transit to Israel.

Fortunately, only one person, a boy, was killed and one, an old man, injured. Suspicion was immediately directed at “an extremist Iraqi organization,” David Hirst writes in The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East. In fear for their security, many members of the old Jewish community prepared to migrate to the new state of Israel. The Iraqi government did not forbid this, but “the Iraqi parliament passed a law confiscating the property of all Jews who renounced their citizenship. No one was allowed to take more than £70 out of the country.” (This immoral act of parliament carried a revealing message: we don’t want you to go.)

Those acts of terrorism, however, “were the work not of Arab extremists,” Hirst continues, “but the very people who sought to rescue [the Jewish Iraqis]” — that is, “a clandestine [pro-Israel] organization called ‘The Movement.'” In fact, “the bombs which terrorized the Jewish community had been Zionist bombs.”

The startling revelation came from Yehudah Tajjar, an Israeli agent, whose arrest in Baghdad made possible the arrest of 15 members of a covert Zionist organization in Iraq. “Shalom Salih, a youngster in charge of Haganah arms caches, broke down during interrogation and took the police from synagogue to synagogue, showing them where weapons, smuggled in since World War II, were hidden,” Hirst writes. “During the trial, the prosecution charged that the accused were members of the Zionist underground. Their primary aim — to which the throwing of three bombs had so devastatingly contributed — was to frighten the Jews into emigrating [to Israel] as soon as possible. Two were sentenced to death, the rest to long prison terms.” (Tajjar faced life in prison, but was freed 10 years later and returned to Israel.)

Over a decade later, a detailed account of the operation began to make its way into Israeli magazines. “Then on 9 November 1972,” Hirst writes, “the Black Panther, the militant voice of Israel’s Oriental Jews, published the full story. The Black Panther account includes the testimony of two Israeli citizens who were in Baghdad at the time.”

Comments Hirst:

It is often forgotten that the “safeguard” clause of the Balfour Declaration — “it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country” — was designed to cover Diaspora Jews as well as native Arabs. But the uprooting of a million “Oriental” Jews showed that, for the Zionists, it was a clause to be ignored in both its parts. Everywhere they applied the same essential techniques, but nowhere, perhaps, with such thoroughness as they did in Iraq. “Cruel Zionism,” someone called it. [Emphasis added.]

Why? Hirst supplies an answer direct from a writer in the Israeli labor movement’s publication, Davar:

I shall not be ashamed to confess that if I had the power, as I have the will, I would select a score of efficient young men — intelligent, decent, devoted to our ideal and burning with the desire to help redeem the Jews — and I would send them to the countries where Jews are absorbed in sinful self-satisfaction. The task of these young men would be to disguise themselves as non-Jews and plague Jews with anti-Semitic slogans such as “Bloody Jew,” “Jews go to Palestine” and similar intimacies. I can vouch that the results in terms of a considerable immigration to Israel from these countries would be ten thousand times larger than the results brought by thousands of emissaries who have been preaching for decades to deaf ears. [Emphasis added.]

Hirst adds the crucial context:

Zionism had much less appeal to Oriental than it did to European Jews. In the pre-State period only 10.4 per cent of Jewish immigrants came from “Africa and Asia.” In their vast majority, the Oriental Jews were actually Arab Jews, and the reason for their indifference was simply that, historically, they had not suffered anything like the persecution and discrimination of their brethren in European Christendom. Prejudice did exist, but their lives were on the whole comfortable, and their roots were deep [going back to the Babylonian exile]. They were nowhere more at home than in Iraq, and a government official conceded — tongue in cheek — that their Mesopotamian pedigree was much superior to that the Moslem majority….

Zionist agitation in the Arab world outside Palestine began long before the declaration of Israeli independence:

Zionist activities in Iraq and other Arab countries date from the beginning of the [20th] century…. At first, it was the British, rather than local Jews, who bore the brunt of Arab animosity. In 1928, there were riots when British Zionist Sir Alfred Mond visited Baghdad. The following year demonstrations in mosques and streets, a two-minute silence in Parliament, black-edged newspapers and telegrams to London marked “Iraqi disapproval of the pro-Jewish policy of Great Britain.” It was not until the mid-thirties, when the troubles of Palestine were reverberating round the world, that Arab Jews began to excite suspicion and resentment. In Iraq these emotions came to a head in 1941 when, in a two-day rampage, the mob killed some 170 to 180 Jews and injured several hundred more. It was terrible But it was the first pogrom in Iraqi history….

There was no more such violence.

The Iraqi Jews were to be “ingathered,” to use the Zionist lingo. “‘Ingathered’ for what?” Hirst asks.

The Iraqi Jews soon learned; those of them, that is, who actually went to Israel, or, having gone, remained there. For by no means all of uprooted Oriental Jewry did so. A great many of them — particularly the ones with money, connections, education and initiative — succeeded in making their way to Europe or America. But what the irretrievably “ingathered’ learned was the cruelest and most enduring irony of all: Oriental Jewry was no more than despised cannon-fodder for the European creed of Zionism.

So much for the much-believed tale of how Iraq uprooted its ancient Jewish community and drove the Jews to Israel.

To be continued…


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