Month: May 2006

The forgotten ‘Farhud’ against Iraqi Jewry

The festival of Shavuot, which falls tomorrow evening, has special poignancy for the Jews of Iraq. On 1 and 2 June 1941, hundreds were murdered, mutilated or raped and property wrecked in a devastating Nazi pogrom. Abraham Miller explains why it is important to grasp that it was the terrible events of Shavuot 65 years ago, and not, as Arab apologists would have it, the creation of Israel, which sounded the death knell for 26 centuries of Jewish life in the Land of the Two Rivers. (With thanks: Joseph)

Farhud is Arabic for “violent dispossession.” This is the word used to describe the pogrom of 1 June 1941 against the Jews of Baghdad. In its wake, the Farhud left some 200 dead, 2000 injured, and 900 Jewish homes destroyed. It was the beginning of the end of the Jewish community of Iraq, a community that existed for twenty-six centuries, preceded Islam by a thousand years, and once numbered over 125,000 souls.

Today, there is not a single Jew left in Iraq. (At any rate, no more than a dozen – ed)

Arab apologists trace the dismantling of the Jewish communities of the Arab world (Mizrachim) and of North Africa (Sephardim) to anti-Jewish sentiment growing out of the creation of Israel. Explicit in this is the imposition of collective responsibility, as if the Jews of the Arab world and North Africa were directly responsible for whatever Israeli Jews did or did not do.

Although the Arab and Muslim communities in America and West understandably have gone to great lengths to publicly cry, “foul” or “racial profiling,” when the events of 09/11 are linked to them or their religion, they are unhesitant and shameless in their invocation of collective responsibility when applied to Jews.

Writing in the interfaith newsletter here in Contra Costa County, Dr. Amir Araim, the Imam of Concord, California and himself an Iraqi who represented Saddam Hussein’s regime to the United Nations, directly links the dismantling of the Jewish community of Iraq to the controversial events of Deir Yassin in the Arab/Israeli war of 1948.

Among the many problems with this woefully unhistorical analysis, is that the Farhud occurred long before there was an Israel or even a single Palestinian refugee.

The Farhud began at 3:00 PM on 1 June 1941, the Jewish holy day of Shavuot. The violence began when a pro-Nazi mob attacked representatives of the Jewish community as they crossed Baghdad’s Al Khurr Bridge to greet the returning Iraqi Regent Abdul-al Ilah. The mob then murdered, burned and raped its way through the Jewish community. Jewish infants were special targets, killed as helpless parents looked on. The superintendent of police refused to stop the riots because he did not want to kill or injure Muslims to save Jews.

The Farhud is doubly embarrassing for Arab apologists. First, it resurrects the problem of the nearly one million Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. They received no recognition from the United Nations and no assistance outside of the Jewish community and the State of Israel. Instead of languishing for four generations in refugee camps, as have Palestinian refugees, within a few years, they became both contributing members and citizens of Israel and Western societies.

Second, the Farhud was a Nazi riot, and it is embarrassing because while Arab propagandists routinely use “Jew” and “Nazi” in the same breath, Nazism is in reality very much part of Arab political culture. Ba’ath socialists of Iraq and Syria, for example, draw their inspiration from Nazism. This further belies the Arab claim that antisemitism is exclusively a Western and not a Middle Eastern phenomenon.

The Farhud was the result of the work of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin el Husseini. The Mufti cut a deal with the Nazis to overthrow the British-sponsored government of Iraq and provide Hitler with Iraqi oil vital to Germany’s war efforts. In return, the Nazis would eliminate the “Jewish problem” in Mandate Palestine. In October of 1939, the Mufti came to Iraq to precipitate a coup that was to be led by Iraqi officers who embraced Nazism and were known as the “Golden Square.”

As a unifying inspiration for the coup, the Mufti invoked Nazi propaganda themes of antisemitism focusing on the Jews as “enemies of the state.”

The coup failed. The Mufti fled Iraq to Berlin and the hospitality of SS Chief Henrich Himmler and later Hitler himself. Although the Nazis held the Arabs in only slightly higher esteem than they held Jews, the Nazis saw the Mufti as a useful ally against the British, and his antisemitic propaganda broadcasts in Arabic from Berlin further served mutual purposes.

The Mufti’s legacy of antisemitism became part of Iraqi culture.

In 1947 when the United Nations took up the question of the Palestine Mandate, Iraqis organized new pogroms and used Nazi confiscation techniques to seize Jewish property.

On 23 September 1948, Safiq Ades, Iraq’s wealthiest Jew was publicly hanged on phony charges and his property seized. His body swung in the public square in Basara, where celebrant Iraqis mutilated it.

A month later, all of Iraq’s Jews employed in the civil service were summarily fired. Iraq then set about systematically seizing Jewish assets and impoverishing its Jews. With a degree of almost unmatched cynicism, the Iraqi political oligarchy profited from requiring the use of its travel agents for Iraqi Jews to flee to Israel. All the while, Iraq saw the imposition of 15,000 penniless Jews a month on the newly created Jewish state as a mechanism to defeat Israel by precipitating a major economic crisis. Indeed, Israel accepted these Jews at a time when there were not even enough tents or refugee camps to house them.

Iraqi Jews went to Israel and lived in refugee camps. So little is known about the plight of the Mizrachi and Sephardic Jewish refugees that even informed Jews are dumbfounded upon learning this. Yet, within a space of a few years, these refugees were absorbed into Israeli society and not left, as the Arabs have left the Palestinians, to languish for generation after generation in camps, in poverty, and without hope.

Slowly but inevitably the truth about the one million Jewish refugees from Arab lands is coming to light. Remembering the Farhud is part of restoring the history of an oppressed and forgotten people, whose suffering and persecution have been far and away too long ignored. Arabs and Muslims must ultimately take responsibility for the antisemitism of their world, a racism that resulted in Arab Jews becoming the largest ethnic group in Israel.

Abraham H. Miller is emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati.

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Also published here

US Congress Resolution to be introduced this week

Justice for Jews from Arab Countries has just released the following press release:

Washington, D.C. (May 30, 2006) – In an important, unprecedented initiative, four Senators and four Congressmen, representing both political parties, have introduced landmark Resolutions* on Middle East refugees in the United States Senate and in the House of Representatives.

These far-reaching Resolutions urge the President to ensure that in all international forums, when the issue of ‘Middle East refugees is discussed, representatives of the United States should ensure: “That any explicit reference to Palestinian refugees is matched by a similar explicit reference to Jewish and other refugees, as a matter of law and equity.”The Resolutions will be the strongest declarations adopted by the U.S. Congress, acknowledging the rights of Jewish and others refugees that were forced to flee Arab countries.

This bi-partisan effort is being spearheaded by Senators Rick Santorum (R-PA), Norm Coleman (R-MN),Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). On the House side, supporters include Congressmen Tom Lantos (D-CA) , Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Michael Ferguson (R-NJ).

Currently, when the issue of refugees is raised within the context of the Middle East at the United Nations or elsewhere, the reference is only to Palestinian refugees, not former Jewish refugees from Arab countries. However, there were two major population movements that occurred during years of Middle East turmoil – Arabs and Jews. Both groups were determined to be bona fide refugees under international law.In fact, there were more former Jewish refugees uprooted from Arab countries (over 850,000) than there were Palestinians who became refugees in 1948. (UN estimate: 726,000)

Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC) is a coalition of Jewish communal organizations operating under the auspices of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the American Sephardi Federation and theWorldOrganizationofJewsfromArabCountriesinpartnership with theAmerican Jewish Committee,theAmericanJewish Congress,Anti-Defamation League, B’nai Brith International, the Jewish Public Council for Public Affairs and the World Sephardic Congress.

*For a copy of the Senate resolution please Email me

Why an Egyptian Jew should tell his story now

It took Israel Bonan more than 37 years before he was able to talk about his experience as a Jewish refugee from Egypt openly even with his own children, so why now? Because historical facts are being rewritten, as usual, by the Arab states. They keep repeating that 850,000 Jews just upped and left their countries of birth – old people, young, healthy as well as sick- all just upped and left.

Israel Bonan writes: Over the years the Middle East narrative took a shape of its own, mostly and unfortunately with a one-sided slant. The world only heard about the travail of the Palestinian refugees, their woes, their troubles, their claims and their aspirations. The world also witnessed the Palestinian refugees as a disenfranchised people, scattered in camps, sheltered in tents and only as wards of the United Nation for over 40 years.

With such a perspective, the world could not but empathize with the disenfranchised, it is natural and it is expected, lest the world at large and its inhabitants (the human race) are judged as a whole, as callous and uncaring.

While this story was being told, its counterpart was not. The untold story is that of the Jewish refugees from Arab countries, who suffered in silence; but whose dignity was preserved expressly by their fellow Jews in their respective communities worldwide, and who extended their helping hands and absorbed them in their midst, be it in Israel (to the extent of 52% of the total population), Europe, US, Canada, South America or Australia, among other nations.

But make no mistake, they were refugees in their own right; they were physically dislocated, the accumulated wealth in their countries of birth, for most of them expropriated, and their emotional well being adversely tested by having to leave their familiar surroundings and their age old environment they were brought up in.

In recent years several organizations were formed to address the issue of redress for the Jewish refugees from Arab countries, and to bring the proper leverage in order to assert the more than 850,000 refugees right of acknowledgement and redress and to ultimately balance the historical narrative of the Middle East so it ceases to be as one-sided as it currently is.

The latest such organization is called Justice for Jews from Arab countries (JJAC), and it is endorsed worldwide by several major Jewish organizations for its charter that is basically focused around that very same goal, the acknowledgement of their plight and redress for the rights that is long overdue the Jewish refugees from the Arab countries.

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JJAC unveils new website

Justice for Jews from Arab Countries (JJAC), the New-York based group spearheading this autumn’s Jewish Refugees’ Rights and Redress Campaign, has unveiled a new website. (With thanks:Israel B)

The website contains statistics about the numbers of Jews who fled Arab countries, a country-by-country history and official and research documentary evidence that many Jews left in response to discriminatory edicts and official persecution.

JJAC seeks to assemble as much information as possible about the Jewish refugees. This data will be deposited with a branch of the Ministry of Justice in Israel. If your family left under duress it is important that you register (download the forms here).

Rita Katz, Iraqi-born terrorist hunter

Unmissable piece in The New Yorker about the driven ‘terrorist hunter’ Rita Katz, who was six when her father was hanged in Baghdad in 1969 on trumped-up spying charges. (With thanks: Iraqijews)

“Rita Katz is tiny and dark, with volatile brown eyes, and when she is nervous or excited she can’t sit still. She speaks in torrents, ten minutes at a stretch. Everybody who works in intelligence calls her Rita, even people who don’t know her well. She sometimes telephones people she hasn’t met—important people in the government—to tell them things that she thinks they ought to know. She keeps copies of letters from officials whose investigations into terrorism she has assisted. “You and your staff . . . were invaluable additions to the investigative team,” the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s Salt Lake City Division wrote; the Assistant U.S. Attorney in Boise said, “You are a rare and extraordinary gem that has appeared too infrequently throughout the course of history.” The letters come in handy, she told me, when she meets with skepticism or lack of interest; they are her establishment bona fides. 

“Katz, who was born in Iraq and speaks fluent Arabic, spends hours each day monitoring the password-protected online chat rooms in which Islamic terrorists discuss politics and trade tips: how to disperse botulinum toxin or transfer funds, which suicide vests work best. Occasionally, a chat-room member will announce that he is turning in his user name and password and going to Iraq to become a martyr, a shaheed. Several weeks later, his friends will post a report of the young man blowing himself up. Katz usually logs on at six in the morning. When she has guests for dinner, she leaves a laptop open on the kitchen counter, so she can check for updates. “It is completely addicting,” she says. “You wake up thinking, I’ve been offline for seven hours, but the terrorists have been making plans.”(…)

“What makes Rita unique is her background,” Peter Probst, a terrorism consultant and retired C.I.A. officer who works with Katz, told me. “Because of what she’d been through, she understood the threat earlier and better than most of us.”

“Katz was born in Basra, Iraq, in 1963, one of four children of a wealthy Jewish businessman. In 1968, in the wake of the Six-Day War, the Baath government, with Saddam Hussein as its head of security, encouraged attacks against Iraqi Jews. Some Jews from prominent families were arrested and charged with spying for Israel, among them Katz’s father. After he was imprisoned, his wife and children were transported to Baghdad and kept under house arrest in a stone hut. Katz’s father was convicted in a military tribunal and executed, in 1969, with eight other Jews and five non-Jews, in a public hanging in Baghdad’s central square. Hundreds of thousands of cheering Iraqis attended; the government offered free transportation to people from the provinces, and belly dancers performed for the crowd. Katz was six years old.

“After the family had been living in the hut for months, Katz’s mother drugged the guards and escaped with the children. By pretending to be the wife of a well-known Iraqi general, a woman she faintly resembled, she got the family first to the Iranian border and then to Israel. They settled in a small seaside town called Bat-Yam. Katz did her military service in the Israel Defense Forces after high school, and studied politics and history at Tel Aviv University. She married a medical student, and went into business with her mother, manufacturing clothes; Katz handled sales. In 1997, Katz’s husband won a fellowship to do research in endocrinology at the National Institutes of Health, and they moved to Washington with their three children. (They later had a fourth.)

“The particulars of her biography—her father’s execution, her escape from Iraq, and her education in Israel—give Katz, in the eyes of some in the counterterrorism community, a kind of bionic character, as if she had been designed to hunt down terrorists.”

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This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.

Point of No Return

Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

One-stop blog on the Middle East's
forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.