Jewish Chronicle reporter Sandy Rashti follows up the story of Nabil al-Hadairi (pictured), first broken by Point of No Return. Al-Hadairi defied attempts to gag him and took it upon himself courageously to champion Iraqi-Jewish rights at a November conference in Iraqi Kurdistan for the defence of religions and sects. My comment follows below. (Please note that the link to the Jewish Chronicle article, ‘Iraqi Jews did wonders for us’, may be blocked.)
Iraqi Jews who were forced to leave their homes under Saddam
Hussein’s regime may now be able to reclaim their property and
citizenship after the intervention of a UK-based specialist in Islamic
Academic Nabil Al-Haidari, who lives in London, was invited to speak
at Iraq’s first government-backed conference for the defence of
religions and sects, which was held in Suleimanya, north Iraq. He was
asked on condition that he did not mention the Jewish community, which
constituted one-third of Baghdad’s population in 1918 but dwindled to
6,000 in the 1960s. Today only six remain.
But Mr Al-Haidari, who had not returned to Iraq for more than 30
years since he openly criticised the dictatorship, ignored stern
warnings from the conference’s 11-member committee against the
“sensitive and dangerous subject”, and took advantage of live press
coverage “to surprise them and talk about the massive contribution and
rights of Iraqi Jews”.
Mr Al-Haidari, who is Muslim, said: “I raised three main issues: the
rights of citizenship, parliamentary seats and the right of Jews to get
back the properties and money that was stolen from them.
“If the organisers had known what I was going to say, they wouldn’t
have invited me to speak. But I wasn’t afraid of Saddam, and I’m not
afraid of them.”
The conference was attended by 30 government ministers and sponsored by Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani.
“President Talabani, who is a well- known humanitarian, must seek to
legislate to return their citizenship and add Jews to Article Two of the
constitutionto do so,” Mr Al-Haidari added.
More than 5,000 Iraqi Jews currently live in the UK. Emile Cohen,
who left when he was 16 to study in London, said: “I left Iraq in 1959
and in 1964 they withdrew my passport. They told me I had to return to
Iraq or lose my nationality. This only applied to Jews and there was a
prison sentence hanging over me — I don’t know what for — so I didn’t
“There isn’t any Jew I know who is prepared to go back and get Iraqi citizenship.”
Mr Al-Haidari was “very optimistic. I received personal assurances
[from leading Iraqi judges and officials] that Iraqi Jews can apply for
their citizenship, get their money and property back.”
But Edwin Shuker, a British-based Jew who fled Baghdad in 1971, thought this was an over-confident assessment.
He said: “The Jews who left, mainly in the 1950s, had their property
taken away and their assets frozen by the government, by law. Unless the
law is revoked, there’s nothing we can do about it.”
However, Mr Shuker praised Mr Al-Haidari’s courage in speaking about
Iraqi Jews. “He did a great job. Many Iraqis believe that Jews are
responsible for the good times and if Jews return the times would be
better in the country”.
London Iraqi David Dangoor said: “Morally speaking, Iraqi Jews have
not only the right to the property that they lost, but to a share of the
mineral wealth of the country they inhabited long before it became Arab
or Muslim. (In British law mineral wealth is the property of the state – ed)
“However, Jews are practical people. Most of them have already made
new lives elsewhere and have proved themselves in their new communities.
“My father Naim built up six major businesses in Iraq and had to
leave them all behind, yet it was the best bargain under the
circumstances, to exchange countries for religious freedom and a
peaceful environment. ”
The redacted Iraqi Jews (Gatestone Institute – with thanks Ida; Michelle)
The clock cannot simply be turned back for Iraqi’s Jews (Jewish Chronicle)
My comment: Mr Al-Hadairi deserves praise for his efforts on behalf of Iraqi Jews, but as Cohen states, no Iraqi Jew wants his citizenship back. As Shuker says, the Iraqi government has shown no inclination to repeal the 1951 law freezing Jewish property. (Incidentally, in spite of the setting up of a Claims Commission after the 2003 US invasion, no Jew whose property was seized after 1968 has received compensation either.) Such initiatives as Mr al-Hadairi’s are wishful thinking, seeking to turn the clock back to 1950. If Iraq wants reconciliation with its Jews, it needs to build bridges with the 90 percent of Iraqi Jews and their descendants now permanently settled in Israel.