Month: May 2011

The Farhud slaughter in Iraq haunts us still

The Farhud dead were buried in a mass grave

Seventy years ago, an event occurred whose repercussions are still being felt in the Middle East today. The Nazi pogrom known as the Farhud – or Iraq’s Kristallnacht – cemented the Arab-Nazi alliance while marking the dissolution of the ancient Jewish community, writes Lyn Julius in The Jewish Chronicle:

There was a frenzied banging on the front door. When my mother answered it, she recognised her aunt’s Jewish cook, ashen-faced, pleading to be let in: “I was on a bus, and the Muslims were pulling the Jewish passengers out and killing them. I said I was a Christian.”

A month earlier, pro-Nazi officers led by Rashid Ali al-Ghailani, had staged a successful coup in Iraq. The German-backed Rashid Ali and his men were soon routed by British troops – but not before they had incited murder and mayhem against the Jewish “fifth column”.

Seventy years ago, on June 1 1941, a group of Jews, wearing their Shavuot best, had ventured out for the first time in weeks to greet the returning pro-British Regent, only to be ambushed by an armed Arab mob. Terrified Jews barricaded themselves inside their houses, or ran for their lives across the flat rooftops.

The rioting went on for two days: around 180 Jews died in Baghdad and Basra (the exact figure is not known); hundreds were wounded, 900 homes and 586 Jewish-owned shops were destroyed; there was looting, rape and mutilation. Stories abound of babies murdered and Jewish hospital patients refused treatment or poisoned. The dead were hurriedly buried in a mass grave.

Jews recognised some assailants – the butcher, the gardener. But some brave Arabs saved Jews. My aunt tells how the neighbours sheltered her until the trouble had died down. The neighbour was a prominent Nazi, but his wife was “a lady — she even made the beds for us,” my aunt recounts.

The Farhud (Arabic for “violent dispossession”) marked an irrevocable break between Jews and Arabs in Iraq and paved the way for the dissolution of the 2,600-year-old Jewish community barely 10 years later.

A question mark hovers over the role of the British – encamped on the city outskirts, they delayed intervening until the looting had spread to Muslim districts. Yet the victims’ screams reached the British ambassador, Cornwallis, who was enjoying a candlelit dinner and a game of bridge.

Loyal and productive citizens comprising a fifth of Baghdad, the Jews had not known anything like the Farhud in living memory. Before the victims’ blood was dry, army and police warned the Jews not to testify against the murderers and looters. Even the official report on the massacre was not published until 1958.

Despite their deep roots, the Jews understood that they would never, along with other minorities, be an integral part of an independent Iraq. Fear of a second Farhud was a major reason why 90 per cent of Iraq’s Jewish community fled to Israel after 1948.

But the Farhud was not just another anti-Jewish pogrom.The Nazi supporters who planned it had a more sinister objective: the round-up, deportation and extermination in desert camps of the Baghdadi Jews.

The inspiration behind the coup, and the Farhud itself, came not from Baghdad, but Jerusalem. The Grand Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, sought refuge in Iraq in 1939 with 400 Palestinian émigrés. Together, they whipped up local anti-Jewish feeling. An illiterate populace imbibed bigotry through Nazi radio propaganda. Days before the Farhud broke out, the Nazi youth movement, the Futuwa, went around daubing Jewish homes with a red palm print. Yunis al-Sabawi, who, together with the Mufti and Rashid Ali, spent the rest of the war in Berlin, instructed the Jews to stay in their homes so that they could more easily be rounded up.

The Farhud cemented a wartime Arab-Nazi alliance designed to rid Palestine, and the world, of the Jews. The Mufti’s postwar legacy endured. The uprooting of the 140,000 Jews of Iraq followed a Nazi pattern of victimisation – dismantlement, dispossession and expulsion. Nuremberg-style laws criminalised Zionism, freezing Jewish bank accounts, instituting quotas and restrictions on jobs and movement. The result was the exodus of nearly a million Jews from the Arab world.

More Jews died than on Kristallnacht, yet the Farhud has not become part of Holocaust memory. Indeed, the Washington Holocaust Museum had to be vigorously lobbied to include the Farhud as a Holocaust event.

Nazism gave ideological inspiration both to Arab secular parties and the Muslim Brotherhood (Gaza branch: Hamas). The unremitting campaign to destroy Israel is simply a manifestation of the genocidal intentions of Arab nationalism and Islamism. The demons awakened by the Farhud are still with us today.

Lyn Julius is a journalist and co-founder of Harif, an association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa. The Farhud will be commemorated at 7.30pm on June 1 at Ohel David Eastern Synagogue, London NW11. For details see

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There will also be a Facebook Virtual Commemoration on 1 and 2 June.

Witness” The massacre of Baghdad’s Jews” (BBC World Service radio) will be broadcast at 9.50;13.50;17.50 and 22.50 on 1 June and at 1.50 and 3.50 on 2 June (GMT + 1). Podcasts (with thanks: Silke)

CBC Radio The Current

Sarah Ehrlich’s report on the BBC website.

Sarah Ehrlich in Haaretz

Recounting the Farhud (Jerusalem Post)

Remembering the Farhud (Galus Australis) –( with thanks Antonio)

When Iraq had its Kristallnacht (Jewish Chronicle)

Remember the Farhud by Aryeh Tepper (Jewish Ideas Daily)

Remember the Farhudby Zvi Gabay (The Jerusalem Post)

Reut Cohen on the Persecution of the Jews in Iraq

Daphne Anson on the Farhud and its Nazi influences

Article in Norwegian (MIFF)

Svenska Dagladet(Swedish)

It’s not about competing narratives, Anshel!

Reading Anshel Pfeffer’s piece in Haaretz, in which he accuses Bibi Netanyahu of ‘overusing the Holocaust’ in his US speeches last week, I felt like the character in Moliere’s Le malade imaginaire, hurling back the epithet: ‘ignorant!’:

Pfeffer:”The problem with Holocaust overuse is that it moves the focus from the present to history and allows all sides to the argument to get in on the game. When Netanyahu cites the six million, he is giving credence to the Palestinian claim that they were those made to suffer for the genocide of the Jews in Europe. He is directly bolstering the Nakba claims.”


“Whatever the case, a battle of historical narratives, Holocaust versus Nakba (and it doesn’t matter that they are incomparable ), will only perpetuate these claims.”


“We don’t have to give up on the Holocaust – it is our history and holds central lessons for all human beings – but we have to stop using it as a justification for Israeli policies.”

Ignorantus. Ignoranta. Ignorantum.

In the week that we are commemorating the hundreds of Jewish victims of the Farhud, the pogrom perpetrated in Iraq by Arab Nazis in 1941, Anshel Pfeffer’s words ring especially hollow. The Farhud is incontrovertible evidence – seven years before Israel was created – that the Arab-Israeli conflict has never been about competing narratives or claims, but antisemitism.

That antisemitism was exported from Nazi Germany to the Arab world with the active encouragement of the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem. It is still with us today.

We know that the Mufti was responsible for tens of thousands of Jewish deaths – both by pressuring the British into closing Palestine’s borders to Jewish immigration, and by actively aiding the Nazi genocide.

Now new evidence (with thanks: Eze) of the Mufti’s complicity with the Nazis comes from Klaus Gensicke. Karl Pfeifer has reviewed Gensicke’s new book, The Mufti of Jerusalem and the Nazis: the Berlin Years (Vallentine Mitchell), in The Propagandist:

“Gensicke documents the efforts of the Mufti of Jerusalem to contribute to this mass murder. He demolishes the claim that Arabs had no share in that crime.

“Gensicke notes that Yasser Arafat and Amin al Husseini were not only related by blood. Arafat continued the legacy of the Mufti. Both Palestinian leaders were devoted to terrorism and fanaticism. As late as August 2, 2002 the Peace Nobel Prize winner Arafat referred to the Mufti as a “hero” and an inspiring symbol in “withstanding world pressure” and remaining “an Arab leader in spite of demands to have him replaced because of his Nazi ties.”

“The Mufti led the “disturbances” of 1936-39, when the number of Arabs murdered by Arabs exceeded the number of Jews murdered by Arabs. The late thirties was the period of England’s appeasement of the Axis. In Palestine this political strategy led to seeking out the bully in the situation, the one most likely to go over to the Axis if not adequately appeased. As such, England appeased the Palestinians with the White book (paper) issued in May 1939.

“The Mufti arrived 1941 in Germany and was received by Hitler on November 28, 1941 in the presence of Ribbentropp and Grobba. The Fuehrer assured the Mufti:

“Germany stood for uncompromising war against the Jews. That naturally included active opposition to the Jewish national home in Palestine, which was nothing other than a center, in the form of a state, for the exercise of destructive influence by Jewish interests. […] Germany was resolved, step by step, to ask one European nation after the other to solve its Jewish problem, and at the proper time direct a similar appeal to non-European nations as well.”

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Ignorance may be bliss to some, but when its sufferers are ‘top’ mainstream journalists, the disease can be dangerous.

Bibi breaks Israel’s silence on Jewish refugees

Danny Ayalon with Gina Waldman at his 23rd May press conference (Photo: R Goldwasser)

Bibi Netanyahu ‘s mention of Jewish refugees to President Obama marks a welcome break with past silence, or at best, mealy-mouthed ministerial pronouncements. But he needs to go further still, thinks Michelle Huberman in her Jerusalem Post blog ‘Clash of cultures’:

Hallelujah. He said it.

Last week, as I watched Bibi sitting in the White House with President Obama, I raised a cheer when he mentioned Jewish refugees expelled from Arab countries. At long last the subject has been mentioned in front of prime time TV viewers around the world.

I am amazed at the wide-scale ignorance on Jewish refugees from Arab Lands. When Obama gave his famous speech in Cairo in 2009 he made no reference to the 75,000 Jews that were ethnically cleansed from Egypt in the past 63 years. Today only a handful of elderly Jews remain. Or American-Lebanese journalist Helen Thomas believing Jews come from Germany and Poland. In Lebanon there were 10,000 Jews before 1948 and today Beirut has only 40 left. All in their eighties. Why do so few people know these facts?

Well now, whilst our Mizrachi/Sephardi witnesses to the expulsions across the Middle East and North Africa are still alive, it has to be instilled into our Jewish narrative and remembered as much as the Exodus from Egypt and the Holocaust. It is our duty to broadcast these facts to a blinkered world. We have to repeat over and over again that Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees whilst Arab countries did not absorb their Muslim brethren.

As Netanyahu said: “The Arab attack in 1948 on Israel resulted in two refugee problems – Palestinian refugees and Jewish refugees, roughly the same number, who were expelled from Arab lands. Now, tiny Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees, but the vast Arab world refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees. Now, 63 years later, the Palestinians come to us and they say to Israel, accept the grandchildren, really, and the great grandchildren of these refugees, thereby wiping out Israel’s future as a Jewish state.”

It’s not the first time that as Prime Minister of Israel, Netanyahu mentioned Jewish refugees – he did so in his Bar Ilan speech but this time, the mention of Jewish refugees was explicit and most importantly, Netanyahu said it in front of Obama himself, confronting his ignorance on Jewish refugees from Arab Lands.

But why stop there? Bibi should be pressing Obama and EU leaders to put pressure on the neighboring Arab states to give citizenship to the Palestinian refugees huddled in squalid camps on their borders. Without citizenship they are not permitted to work in their host countries and are dependent on donations. They should have dignity with their Muslim brothers and compensation should be used to create wealth and jobs, rather than just handouts.

And the Jews who lost their wealth in the Arab countries must be remunerated too. In February 2010, the Knesset passed a lawto ensure that Israel would sign no peace treaty which did not take account of Jewish refugee rights – notably compensation. Ever since he became Deputy Foreign Minister in the current cabinet, Danny Ayalon, himself the son of an Algerian refugee, has been spearheading a robust campaign to raise public awareness of Jewish refugees.

Netanyahu‘s words also mark a departure from the mealy-mouthed statements of the past. As foreign minister in 2007, Tzipi Livni made a fleeting and confused reference of Jewish refugees at the Annapolis conference by conflating them with Jewish refugees from Europe. She did not stress that those Jews from Arab countries had been resettled by Israel, only that they “longed for Israel.” At the time this was at least an improvement on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He did not mention Jewish refugees at all, but empathized with ‘Palestinian suffering’ mumbling that he was sorry for both Jewish and Palestinian refugees.

Thankfully, we now seem to have made headway since the euphoric days of the Oslo accords, when Minister of Justice Yossi Beilin closed down a department headed by the late Professor Yaakov Meron dealing with Jewish refugees’ property rights.

On the 23rd of May, Jimena organized a press briefing on Jewish refugees. Gina Waldman introduced a short 18 min video of the film ‘The Forgotten Refugees‘ after which she described her own personal story of growing up in Libya and in 1967 after the Six Day War being forced to leave the country, barely escaping attempts to kill her and her family on their way to the airport.

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Nazism inspired Iraqi and Palestinian Jew-hatred

The pro-Nazi Mufti

The Farhud against the Jews of Iraq, whose 70th anniversary is being marked this week, was not just another pogrom, but an extension of the project to exterminate the Jews, Arye Tepper explains in Jewish Ideas Daily:

The end of 2,500 years of Jewish life in Iraq began during two days in June 1941. For 30 terrifying hours, mobs of marauding Iraqi Arabs, soldiers and civilians alike, killed 137 Jews and injured thousands more, pillaged scores of homes, and destroyed more than 600 Jewish-owned businesses. The event came to be known as the Farhud, a Kurdish term for the murderous breakdown of law and order. Within ten years, almost the entire Jewish community of Iraq was gone.

Its exotic name aside, the Farhud wasn’t an isolated eruption of anti-Jewish violence in some far corner of the world. According to the historians Shmuel Moreh and Robert Wistrich, it was at least in part an extension of the Nazi war of extermination against the Jews. Moreh is the editor of a 1992 collection of essays on the Farhud, recently revised and updated in English translation. Marking the seventieth anniversary of the attack, he and Wistrich, the distinguished historian of anti-Semitism, recently chaired a provocatively titled symposium, “Nazism in Iraq,” in the hope of raising public awareness of the event and combating “Farhud denial” among today’s Iraqi Arabs.

At the symposium, Wistrich noted that in 1941, Iraqi Jews “found themselves in the crossfire of three converging forms of anti-Semitism”: the anti-Semitism of Iraqi nationalists, the anti-Semitism of Palestinian exiles in Iraq, and the anti-Semitism of German Nazis. Both the Iraqi and the Palestinian versions were deeply influenced by Nazism.

Consider the case of Yunus al-Sabawi, an Iraqi journalist who became the country’s minister of economics and governor of Baghdad. Al-Sabawi also happened to be the author of an Arabic-language translation of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. In the work’s preface, he celebrated the “great adventurer, the great German leader who rose from being a simple soldier to the leadership of . . . one of the culturally and scientifically most developed nations in the world.” During the Farhud itself, paramilitary groups organized by al-Sabawi were ordered to participate in the attacks.

Or consider the role played by Palestinian exiles. Approximately 400 leading Palestinian families had moved to Iraq after the anti-Jewish riots in Palestine in 1936-39. The most prominent was the orchestrator of those riots: Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, whose connections to Nazism in general and Hitler in particular have been thoroughly documented. But the mufti wasn’t alone in channeling Nazi ideals: in their own account of the events leading up to the Farhud, British officials—the British ruled Iraq off and on from 1914 until 1955—noted the electrifying effect on Iraqi youth groups of their pro-Nazi Palestinian teachers.

Then there is the role played by German Nazis themselves in the Farhud. Dr. Fritz Grobba was the German envoy stationed in Baghdad; fluent in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, he successfully tailored the Nazi message to local sensibilities. Already in 1939 Grobba was predicting in a report to Berlin that “a day will come when the anger of the masses will erupt, and the result will be: a massacre of the Jews.”

Nazism exercised a double appeal to Palestinian and Iraqi Arabs. Its anti-Semitism resonated with certain powerful streams in Arab and Islamic tradition, and its anti-British animus resonated with the anti-imperialism promoted by Arab nationalists who despised the British as occupiers bent on thwarting their aspirations. Ironically, many Jews in Palestine viewed the British in similar terms (which did not prevent them from throwing in their lot with the British in the struggle against Hitler). The Jews in Iraq, however, were naturally more sympathetic to Great Britain, and were accordingly regarded by Iraqi nationalists as a fifth column.

There were also deeper affinities between Nazism and Arab nationalism. Commenting on the Ba’athists, the nationalist group that would go on to dominate Iraq for the last four decades of the 20th century. Wistrich observed in an interview:

The kind of people who founded the Ba’athist movements . . . looked up to Nazi Germany. The German national rebirth, including its anti-Jewish ideology, really appealed to them. The Third Reich represented militarism, glory, obedience, national unity, a messianic political faith—and the removal of the Jews.

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What President Obama did not say

Barack Obama with AIPAC President Lee Rosenberg (Associated Press)

What was remarkable about President Obama’s Middle East speeches last week was what he didn’t say. While promising US government aid to the region, he made no call to oil-rich Arab states to play their part in integrating Palestinian refugees, as Israel has done with Jewish refugees. Sol Sanders writes in the Washington Times:

Mr. Obama’s new proposals were just about as vapid. And there was a glaring omission: His recommendations — debt relief, encouragement of private investment, expansion of trade — trumpeted no call for Arab petro-sheikhs to put their vast dollar holdings where their mouths are.

In Mr. Netanyahu’s somewhat condescending if accurate review before Congress of Mideast history since 1947, one base left untouched was the obvious parallel between the region’s Arab and Jewish refugees. Some 800,000 Arabs originally fled or were expelled from a small part of the British Mandate for Palestine when six Arab states tried to smash a U.N.-proposed but self-proclaimed Jewish state. Almost the same number of Jews, curiously enough, who had lived, many for centuries, in Muslim countries, simultaneously fled for their lives. The wealthier ones (particularly in French-colonial North Africa) immigrated to Europe. But the vast majority, with little more than the clothes on their backs, was absorbed by the nascent Israeli state funded by the Jewish diaspora Zionists and generous American taxpayers.

Nothing like that happened for those seeking refuge in the vast, oil-rich Arab world. Israel’s Arab neighbors mostly refused to accept the new arrivals, even many with tribal and family affiliations. Worse, the Arab regimes — with enthusiastic help from often incompetent, prejudiced United Nations do-gooders — chose to create “open political sores” — surrounding Israel with semi-permanent, fetid refugee camps. And despite occasional highly publicized “aid” checks, Arab regimes have not made any effort since to address the problem.

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