The oldest diaspora, safe in Israel – warts and all

With thanks: Eliyahu

Norman Berdichevsky has set himself the laudable task of writing eight articles devoted to Edot hamizrahthe Jews from different Arab countries now settled in Israel. The February 2012 issue of the New English Review carries the second of Berdichevsky’s articles – this one on the oldest diaspora – the Jews of Iraq.

While the article is interesting and well written, I’m afraid it contains numerous errors. For instance, Abdel Karim Kassem in the late 1950s was by no means a dictator on a par with Saddam Hussein – in fact Jews refer to his rule as a Golden Age of freedom and prosperity. Conditions for the Jews deteriorated under the pro-Nazi king Ghazi, not Faisal, who reigned from 1933 – 1939. The Jews of Iraq were not the most westernised – that accolade probably belongs to the Jews of Egypt. Zionism was quiescent in Iraq until after the 1941 Farhud. The community left Baghdad and other cities and Kurdistan in the airlift of 1950, not 1948. Berdichevsky has got his sequence of the ‘Zionist bombs’ wrong: the American Cultural Center bomb went off in March 1951, not 1950. And Shaul Mofaz is of Iranian, not Iraqi descent.

Here is an extract from Berdichevsky’s article:

“In the December issue of NER, I wrote the first article (on the Yemenites) of a planned 8 part series to examine that segment of Israeli Jewish society that is often neglected or misrepresented – the Oriental or Eastern communities, sometimes referred to as the Mizrahim and Sephardim, constituting at least 50% of the total Jewish population (as they do in France as well) in contrast to less than 5% in the United States (see “Edot Hamizrach” Israel’s Oriental Jewish Communities, New English Review, August, 2009). The simple consequence of this, is that many American Jewish spokespersons when commenting on what they believe are traditional “Jewish” customs, values, traditions, social mores, political behavior, food, music, dress, humor, language, and heritage are often remote from the realities they find when visiting Israel.

“During my eleven years residence in Israel, I did my Ph.D. research on the community of Sha’arayim, a Yemenite ethnic neighborhood in the town of Rehovot (The Yemenites New English Review, December, 2011) tracing the changes it underwent due to the transformation of the original Zionist agricultural settlement to a thriving town. For much of my time in Israel, I worked for a translation agency located in Ramat-Gan in what is considered a predominantly “Iraqi” area where one can still hear the older generation speak a distinctive ‘Jewish Arabic’ that was once the daily jargon of a large part of Baghdad (more than 25% Jewish in 1945).”

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