Iraqi Jews in 1905
I have to admit – I was expecting to be disappointed by the BBC’s Radio 4 programme by Alan Yentob, ‘The Last Jews of Baghdad’, but I was pleasantly surprised. Although the trailers seemed to suggest otherwise, the programme did not fall too far into the usual trap of BBC distortion and political-correctness.
Yentob brought his childhood memories into this programme – listening to music by Naim Basri, his father playing the tabla at parties, visiting parents’ friends in their flats in Berkeley Court with their Persian rugs and family photos.
Having established the scene – Jews established for 2,600 years by the Rivers of Babylon, dominant under the British mandate in the civil service, finance and trade to the extent that the Baghdad bazaar closed on Saturdays – Yentob pulled no punches describing the rising influence of Nazism, the horrors of the 1941 Farhud pogrom, the graphic hangings of nine innocent Jews in Baghdad’s main square in 1969. (The only clanger was Yentob saying that on the eve of the pogrom the pro-Jewish Mayor of Baghdad banished the pro-Nazi coup leader Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, when it was Gaylani’s sidekick Yunis al-Sabawi.)
Now there were only seven forlorn Jews left of a 1947 community of 118,000. ‘Vicar of Baghdad’and self-appointed protector of the Jews Canon Andrew White said that Jewish lives, now seen as the epitomy of evil, were at risk. The community would soon be no more.
In conclusion, I could not believe my ears when Yentob said there must be something we can learn from the flight of 850,000 Jews from Arab countries – surely a first on the BBC.
But instead of calling on the Arab world to recognised the wrongs it had committed against the Jews with a view to achieving reconciliation, the programme ended by harking back to a lost age of cooperation and harmony between Jews and Arabs.
Surely a missed opportunity. All in all, though, all credit to Alan Yentob for a job well done.
You can hear the ‘Last Jews of Iraq’ here for the next seven days. It is repeated on Sunday 4 December at 5pm GMT.
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