In the fourth of a series*, CAMERA Arabic takes Sky News Arabic to task for spreading unsubstantiated allegations that Israel caused the exodus of Jews from Arab countries. Many of these are stapes of Arab propaganda, but in refuting them the original piece does refer back to some useful links and sources.
Regarding the series of attacks against Iraqi Jewish targets, all carried out in Baghdad between April 1950 and June 1951, their perpetrators and their influence on the Jews’ exodus, all are a matter of a heated historical debate to this day. Apart of the usual “Israel did it” allegation, always a classic of Arab mainstream propaganda that has recently been promoted by “critical theorists” and “new historians”, other more probable suspects have been floated, either by interested parties or scholars.
Among the suspects are Iraqi nationalists (based on the only recorded admission of two perceived culprits ever made), Muslim Brotherhood Islamists, as well as local Jews who – albeit members of the Zionist underground – were operating outside Israeli directives.
Allegedly, the Iraqi Zionists initiated several attacks after the only fatal attack, the Messouda Shemtob synagogue bombing of January 1951, was already carried out (they were certain that the synagogue attack was the work of the Muslim Brotherhood).
This was done to prove the innocence of their fellow underground members, arrested by the Iraqi authorities shortly after the synagogue bombing. At that point most Iraqi Jews were already registered for emigration, so Israel didn’t even have an interest in rushing them out of Iraq.
Moreover, two independent commissions found no connection between Israeli intelligence and the events: the first secretly assembled in 1960 by David Ben Gurion’s instructions; the second as a part of a libel lawsuit filed in 1977 by a former intelligence agent against an Israeli journalist. Eventually, the trial concluded in 1981 with the journalist apologising and retracting his accusations as a part of a settlement.
Currently, the theory about Israeli involvement in the bombings relies heavily on quite oblique pieces of evidence, none of which can be considered substantial:
• The Iraqi official “investigation”, which brought about the arrest, torture and trial of two Zionist underground members, Yosef Ibrahim Basri and Shalom Saleh Shalom. Both were convicted of the synagogue bombing** and were eventually executed; however, despite having found large amounts of hidden weapons as a result of the two’s arrest, the Iraqi authorities were never able to draw a plausible connection between them and any of the attacks, or between them and the Israeli authorities.
A common belief among the Iraqi Jewish community that such involvement existed. Notably, it only became widespread and subsequently faced unrelated hardships.
Unfounded estimates of UK and US diplomats and intelligence agents, accusing Israel of responsibility for the events. A single British report explicitly refrained from questioning Basri and Saleh’s trial, stating there was “no reason to suppose that the trials were conducted in anything but a normal manner”, notwithstanding it being a trial of Zionists conducted by an Arab regime in the early 1950s.
Alleged similarities between the 1950-1951 Baghdad attacks and the 1954 Cairo and Alexandria ones which lay at the heart of the Lavon affair (see more under Egypt below), despite the fact that the latter never targeted Jews.
• An analysis of the Israeli interest in speeding up the Jewish exodus from Iraq. Israeli historian Moshe Gat has pointed out that the main advocates of this analysis base it on distorted dates and statistics.
In conclusion, to unconditionally assign responsibility for the attacks to the Israeli government, as Sky News Arabia did, reflects absolutely no fact checking on the reporter’s behalf.
The first intelligence-related Israeli operations in Yemen date back to the mid-1960s, when Israel sought to interrupt the Egyptian intervention in the Yemenite civil war by providing weapons and funding to the side who fought the Egyptians. This happened more than a decade after Operation On Wings of Eagles (“Magic Carpet”), which was completed in 1950 – notably, before the Mossad even existed as an intelligence agency that was permitted to operate independently outside Israel.
Admittedly, some researches suggest that Israel, not oblivious to the humanitarian crisis some Yemenite Jews were facing, secretly colluded with Yemen’s monarch, influencing his decision in favor of allowing Jews wishing to depart his kingdom to do so. However, this can’t possibly be considered a conspiracy of Israeli intelligence agents to “sow strife and unrest” in Yemen. All the more absurd is the suggestion that the political turmoil, economic difficulties and antisemitic hostilities of the late 1940s – generally perceived as the immediate factors which drove the Jews of the Kingdom of Yemen and the Aden British Protectorate to leave for Israel – are a part of such a conspiracy. This has no historical basis whatsoever.
The identities of most of the 1950-1951 Iraq bombing perpetrators are still unknown. In contrast, an examination of the Egyptian case leaves little doubt that those who orchestrated what the Sky report referred to as “bombing attacks targeting Jewish businesses” – a series of deadly attacks which targeted Jews in Cairo in 1948 – belonged to ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood, agitated by Egypt’s losing war effort against Israel. Not a single English or Hebrew source seriously debates the possibility that Israel, still waging its War of Independence at the time of attacks, would divert its limited resources to engage in such an operation, killing dozens of Egyptian Jews in the process. Additionally, it is unclear why the Sky report mentioned the attacks in the context of Gamal ‘Abd an-Nasser’s rule, since he led the military coup against King Farouq only in 1952.
As for Nasser, his direct responsibility for the many thousands of Jews forced out of Egypt during the 1950s and 1960s is undeniable.
Furthermore, while Nasser himself publicly rejected the “anti-Semite” label and insisted that he opposed Zionism alone, in practice his official policies and propaganda did next to nothing to distinguish the two. In other words, even if Nasser himself wasn’t openly anti-Semitic, his regime definitely was.
Marcelle Ninio, who was involved in the Lavon Affair.
What was the contribution of Israeli policy to the Egyptian decision-making process that produced the mass persecution of local Jews? Indeed, the 1954 espionage affair and 1956 Suez crisis, to which Israel was responsible, has considerably worsened the relations between the Jews of Egypt on the one hand and the Egyptian government and Muslim majority on the other.
However, these Israeli moves never intended to encourage Jewish immigration: the Lavon affair attacks were conceived as false flag, and Operation Musketeer/Sinai Campaign of 1956 had strategic objectives that went far beyond the concerns of Egypt’s small Jewish minority.
It is also debatable to what extent local Jews would be persecuted had Egypt not been in a conflict with Israel. Judging by the fate of Egypt’s Greeks, Copts, Armenians, Italians and Levantine Christians under Nasser’s nationalist regime, all ethnic and religious minorities who lived in the country for generations and were never involved politically with a foreign power hostile to Egypt, it seems very likely that Jews would have been targeted nonetheless, in one way or another.
Once again we’re amazed at how most Arabic-speaking media outlets, purporting to present themselves as “Western” via their brand names, engage in the same kind of baseless, hateful propaganda that (non-Western) Middle Eastern media channels have perfected, often at the order of their local governments.
** In fact Basri and Salah were charged only with throwing the last three bombs, not the synagogue bombing. (Gat p 179)