Fighting revisionism – and this blog’s part in it*

On Shavuoth sixty-nine years ago to the day, a terrible pogrom broke out in Iraq which claimed the lives of hundreds of Jews. It is not known how many exactly were murdered – figures vary from 130 to 600. Thousands of Jews were injured, women raped, babies mutilated, property wrecked and looted. Some brave Arabs saved their Jewish neighbours. Others turned against them. The mayhem went on for two days until the British army, camped out on the outskirts of Baghdad, decided to intervene against the rioters. The Farhud, as it was known, became seared in the memory of those who survived, and sounded the death knell for the ancient Jewish community of Iraq. Ten years later the Jews had almost all left.

These had been the facts about the Farhud. Until an Israeli Professor of Arabic studies tried to change them.

The story begins in January 2007, when Point of No Return stumbled upon a lecture which Professor Sassoon Somekh, an emeritus professor at Tel Aviv University, had given at Vanderbilt University, USA, the previous November. You can read the summary reporthere. One paragraph, though, sounded particularly controversial. Professor Somekh stated:

” We forget that although 150 Jews were killed at least 200 Muslims were killed at the same disturbances and those 200 Muslims because they wanted to defend their Jewish neighbours. And this must be written in letters of fire.”

Sensing that something did not ring true, Point of No Return alerted Salim Fattal, a Baghdad-born broadcaster and author who had interviewed 100 survivors of the Farhud for a series of TV programmes. Fattal challenged Somekh, who blamed a reporter on the Vanderbilt newsletter for misquoting him. But Somekh’s words had been recorded for all to hear.

Salim Fattal then rubbished Somekh’s claim:

“The new theory that 250 Iraqi Muslims sacrificed their own lives only to save or defend their Jewish neighbors is absolute nonsense. This is a new, pathetic attempt to add to the bloody massacre some rosy color and to twist the very simple truth that Arab society was hostile or, in the best case, indifferent to the Jewish tragedy.

“At the time, the Arab public opinion in Iraq, as well as in other Arab countries, including North Africa, was openly admiring of Nazi Germany and was fanatically against the British and the Jews as well. My uncle Meir Kalif and his partner Nahom Qazzaz were assassinated in the pogrom. Their bodies were never found. Our two families were very much involved in searching and tracing their disappearance but in our entire search we never heard such a legendary story.

“When I started working on my documentary series I interviewed over one hundred Jews who were exposed, this way or another, to the traumatic massacre. None of them claimed that Muslims were killed while defending their Jewish neighbors, or simply killed. On the contrary, I heard that some Muslims joined the rioters in killing or looting their neighboring Jews.

“In his special research about the 1941 uprising in Iraq, A’bdul Razzaq al-Hasani, a well-known Iraqi historian, wrote a special chapter about the pogrom titled “the tragedy”. Neither he nor other researchers, Muslims, Jews or Christians, have ever mentioned that such event (ie. the killing of Muslims – ed) had really occurred.

“Did professor Somekh mention any name or names of such righteous Muslim citizens? I doubt if he really meant what he said.

“Moreover, if 250 Muslims were killed while defending Jews and only 150 Jews were killed, if out of total 400 victims, nearly 65% were Muslims and nearly 35% were Jews, then we can definitely say that the pogrom initiated and carried out by Muslims was not directed against Jews but against Muslims. Can anybody conceive such absurdity?

“Yes! There were some Muslims who gave shelter to their Jewish neighbors. I mentioned that three times in the first chapter of my documentary series. Some Muslims challenged the rioters by telling them that “if you want to kill my neighboring Jews you have first to kill me”. For their part they were noble citizens but none of them were killed. Rioters didn’t kill Muslims.

“And yes, again! There were probably hundreds of Muslims who were killed in the second day of the pogrom. Who were they? Who killed them and why? Were they killed because they were defending Jews or because they were rioters who endangered the political and social order in Iraq?

The Israeli ‘new historians’ have done much to smash up the sacred cows of Israel’s ‘Zionist’ narrative, especially the events of the 1948 war of independence. Now the sacred facts of Iraq-Jewish history were being rewritten and an anti-Jewish pogrom stripped of its Jewish significance. Realising that something must be rotten in the Israeli academy if Somekh’s fabrications could be freely disseminated, Salim Fattal decided to write a book. The book, An idol in the Temple of the Israeli Academy, not only sets the record straight on the Farhud, but inveighs against revisionist academics with a post- or anti-Zionist political agenda.

The book, published a few weeks ago, has been well received, but Salim Fattal says that he has nothing personal against Professor Somekh, whom he has known for 30 years. One wonders, however, after such a public dressing-down, how Professor Somekh and Salim Fattal can still hope to be friends, if indeed they want to be. Sometimes, it may be worth sacrificing friendship to truth.

* the fight – not the revisionism!


  • Elie Kedourie is always good to read, even when you might not agree which, for me, is seldom.

    I suggest In the Anglo-Arab Labyrinth for a general understanding of the British role in the 20th and 21st century Middle East.

  • Robert,

    If you prefer to read academic articles because they are more conscice and dense. I sometimes like articles because they are quick to read and have much deeper analysis of the subject matter. I came across of these two. I am thinking you can have access to them, if you live close to a big university. I am sure they are many that we written after these.

    Cohen, Hayyim, “The Anti-Jewish Farhud in Baghdad, 1941.” Middle Eastern Studies, October 1966, pp. 2-17;

    Kedouri Elie, “The Sack of Basra and the Farhud in Baghdad,” Arabic Political Memoirs. London, 1974, pp. 283-314.

  • I am sorry to say that there were severalk books written by the Farhoud messacre as an shameful event at least in France during the 1980 and few in 1990's. The problem is that these books were only read by those few academicians and historians and perhpas few of the general public. The times were not fertile for people to probe into the viscious arab nationalism of the past, also generally speaking anything advanced of this sort was viewed as propaganda to discredit the glorious demands of the palestinian cause and capitulation to the so-called zionist entity. Therefore everything was brushed off and shelved in the dusty bookstores and hidden under the rugs (so to speak). One has to be reminded that at the time the cold war was still there if not to say at its end. People were still enamoured with leftist thinking and ideas. The one book that come to mind is Laurent et Annie Chabry, 1984 "Politique et minorités au Proche-Orient" (Maisonneuve et Larose publications). It is a very conscise and deeply researched book about not only the jewish iraqi slaughter by Arab Nationalist of Rashid Ali Al-Ghaylani facsist regime, but also the plights of the Kurdes and Chaldeans in the new geo-political map drawings of the middle east of the 1940's…

    I am glad at this event has resurfaced since the irak war of 1990 and the global change in attitude about the Middle east. The times are now more fertile to allow people to come to terms with real history of the middle east instead of the history that has been fed by the small bands of leftist and their pseudo-intellectual ancestors.

  • Robert,
    a book on The Farhud and the Arab-Nazi axis by Edwin Black is about to come out. This should help.
    Violette Shamash's 'Memories of Eden' which came out last year has an appendix by Tony Rocca examining the sinister role of Cornwallis, the British ambassador in Baghdad, who callously drank port and played bridge while the pogrom was going on.

  • It is amazing how little coverage this issue has received by mainstream scholars.

    One good book, readable book on the subject for the English-speaking audience is greatly needed.

  • Excellent article. One cannot help but be reminded of the 1929 murderous Arab attacks in Hebron, where the British soldiers also idly stood by as the Jewish community was systematically destroyed over a period of days. It would seem that these examples were actually the rule and not the exception.

  • Sympathy for the pro-Nazi mufti Husseini [Husayni] and for the Nazis was considerable among Arab nationalist circles in Iraq in those days.

    Arab historian Majid Khadduri minimizes the Farhud, while British political agent, Freya Stark, describes a horrendous picture, while also oozing her own Judeophobia.

    Some writers like to forget that the Farhud was preceded by the Assyrian massacre of 1933 and the Armenian genocide during WW I by the Ottoman Empire.

    The overrated historian of Arab nationalism, George Antonius, blamed the Assyrian massacre of 1933 mainly on "Assyrian intransigence." Of course, he does this in a very slick way.

  • When we apportion blame for the Farhud, let's not forget the British refusal to intervene to stop the massacre/pogrom, although British troops sat outside the city at the time of the Farhud. This article quotes a British officer [from a book by Bernard Lewis] who says that the refusal to intervene to stop the Farhud was Foreign Office policy, not army policy. Given the proximity in time to a major pro-Arab nationalist speech by Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden [May 29, 1941], the failure/refusal to stop the massacre seems like an intentional encouragement to the pan-Arab nationalists. See link:

    As far as I'm concerned, the parallels between Obama's sycophantic Cairo speech to the Muslim word [plus his toadying bow to the king of Saudi Arabia] and Anthony Eden's speech encouraging formation of the Arab League are striking. And morally equivalent, unless maybe Obama should be judged more harshly.

    It seems that there is a whole school of historical falsification that wants to soften the world's view of the Farhud as an Arab nationalist crime. Here is a French effort in that direction:

  • Throughout history, there have been individual Muslims who have behaved with decency towards Jews, as the Iraqis who offered shelter to Jews during the Farhud, or the occasional Turkish diplomat who helped Jews, or the few dozen Righteous described by Satloff.

    But every instance I have ever seen of absurd claims of general Muslim sainthood in relations with Jews, has turned out to be a myth – from the non-existent Andalusian paradise, to the non-existent Albanian idyll, to the non-existent Muslim deaths ostensibly protecting Jews from the Farhud.

    Compliments to Bataween for this excellent article.


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