Some 350 people from around the world Zoomed in to the 80th Anniversary Commemoration of the Farhud, June 1 and 2, 1941 Shavuot massacre of at least 179 Jews. The massacre sounded the death knell barely ten years later for the oldest Jewish diaspora, which had been in the country since Babylonian times, but had contemporary echoes in the antisemitism sweeping across the West in recent weeks.
A recording was heard of testimony by Steve Acre z”l. He had witnessed the Farhud from the top of a palm tree
One witness told how her family had escaped one day before, at the same time as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and pro-Nazi coup leaders, and had stayed in the same hotel. Others told how they had narrowly escaped death by changing their route home. Muslims had protected Jews in several cases. The Jews could never feel at home in Iraq again, and those who were not able to leave turned to Communism or Zionism as their salvation. ( Event video recording to come soon).
The Hon Irwin Cotler spoke of how a resurgence in antisemitism had not provoked a sense of outrage among decent people in the West. Rabbi Joseph Dweck quoted the author Will Durant:” For barbarism is always around civilization, amid it and beneath it, ready to engulf it by arms, or mass migration, or unchecked fertility. Barbarism is like the jungle; it never admits its defeat; it waits patiently for centuries to recover the territory it has lost.”
Some 28 organisations co-sponsored the event including representative bodies such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews, universities, such as the Tel Aviv university Moshe Dayan Center, and bodies fighting antisemitism, such as B’nai B’rith and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.
Thanking the participants, organiser David Nathaniel, head of the Community of Babylon Iraqi Jews of Montreal, stated:
“We were able to share a deep history and a powerful collective message
in a dynamic fashion and the feedback received both during the event and
since has been numerous and overwhelmingly positive! It was a learning
experience for many and
I believe a healing opportunity for all of us who have been traumatized
over the past few weeks. We honoured the victims of the Farhud, their
families, and friends in a respectful and impactful way.”
Yvonne Green, poetess, brought tears to many eyes when she re-read a poem that Harif had commissioned for the 75th anniversary of the Farhud. We are reprinting the full text below.
Yvonne Green recited her poem for the first time at the 75th Anniversary Farhud Commemoration at Lauderdale Road Synagogue in London.
The Farhud: Baghdad’s Shabu’ot 1st and 2nd June 1941
We walked on Shabbat in the Bustan al-Khass (lettuce orchards) on the East bank of The Dijla (The Tigris),
or in al-Saa’doun, built to look like Hyde Park.
Watch us work, prosper, plod tread the middle ground during a two thousand six hundred year sojourn with family, food, festivals.
Listen to us speak Aramaic, Qiltu, then Gilit. You never learned our languages after you arrived, we wrote literatures preserved for you now in different geographies.
Watch Britain’s renegade Grand Mufti
translate National Socialism into his Promised-Land apartheid, listen to the whispers that the Fuhrer was born in an Egyptian village.
Watch him and hundreds of Palestinian and Syrian intellectuals-in-exile train soldiers, police, militia-men and children, watch nothing stop the Golden Square Generals, even once their leaders temporal and spiritual run away from the British, for whose oil-fuelled infantry eight kilometers was further than the walk from Ambassador Cornwallis’ dinner plate to his card table.
Look, there’s a man in a dark suit at Maqbra, who’ll later press his cheek and arms up against a semi-cylindrical grave where one hundred and eighty Farhud-dead are buried.
This is not the only tomb, they were not the only dead.
But go back before the Omer, watch us tremble as we asked “Mnein Jitem” that Erev Pesach after the lawyer, Rashid al-Gaylani’s coup turned the hilleq bitter. Watch our hopes surge when within the month he and the Grand Mufti escape from the British to Iran, plummet when Yunis al-Sab’awi declares himself Governor General and orders us penned in our homes, soar again when it’s he who’s deported within the day. Hear us attest
to our treble-terror reprieved when we eat our Tbit on the Shabbat which runs into Tikkun Leyl, and hear Regent Abd al-Illah’s due back the next day, Sunday June 1st. Watch us cheer him home on the first day of ‘Eid al Ziyarah.
Then watch soldiers, police, civilians attack us on al-Khurr bridge, at al-Rusafa, Abu-Sifain everywhere until 3 a.m. and silence. Watch at 6 a.m. on the second day of Hag when they start again. Not just the poor from al-Karkh
who cross the river empty handed, then load-up having cruelly sacked our homes, shops, synagogues, but from everywhere they yelp
“Idhbahu al-Yehud” (butcher the Jews). Drilled by Salah al-Din as-Sabbagh, or by centuries of knowing our place, keeping the rules, paying the price being no guarantee of protection.
They cut up Jewish babies and threw them into the undertow, no Moses survived.
They raped girls and old women, cut their breasts, no Dina survived.
They beheaded and severed, taunted and tore. Dragged Jews from buses which they used to run them over. Every attack intended to humiliate.
The dead, hurt, stolen, destroyed uncountable, even once the Regent called in the cut that felled the saturnine mob. Where was natural, civil, military, sharia law? The assumed duty to dhimmi?
In the stand taken by Moslems like Dr Sa’ib Shawkat, Dean of Baghdad’s Medical College. In the acts of landlords who risked their lives to save those whose houses the Hitler Youth-styled Futuwwa had painted with red khamsas.
In the arms of neighbours who caught children in blankets when they were thrown to safety and sheltered families who jumped across flat roofs where Baghdad used to spend its summer nights.
Yes, we fought back, we boiled siraj (sesame oil) and threw it from our shnashil (latticed balconies) where women, unseen, had watched their households’ comings and goings. We used the bricks from our parapets, we had no guns, few had iron fists.
Since the funerals our children remember with new knowledge and their picnics of beith-bla’ham, timman-ahmar, and kahi never go south to al-Kifl for the pilgrimage, sing Shirit Hagvarim at its seven waystations, or hear the tomb of Yehezkel cry for its Jews.
Joe Samuels was 10 when mobs attacked the Jewish community of Baghdad. Rioters maimed, raped, killed and robbed the unsuspecting Jews. This massacre, which began June 1, 1941, was called the Farhud, Arabic for “violent dispossession” or pogrom. To coincide with the Farhud’s 80th anniversary, Joe’s story has been published in a respected mainstream US newspaper, The Wall St Journal:
Joe Samuels, Farhud survivor
The seeds of the Farhud had been sown two months earlier. On April 1, a pro-Nazi coup d’état overthrew the pro-British Iraqi government and seized power. The coup was staged by Rashid Ali al Gaylani, an Arab nationalist and former Iraqi prime minister, supported by four army generals, and aided by Fritz Grobba, a former German ambassador to Iraq. This dangerous group was further stoked by the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, who deeply hated the Jews. Anti-Semitic propaganda began to appear in the daily newspapers and in broadcasts on Radio Baghdad. It was intended to inflame the Muslim population and rally support for the new regime.
The Jewish community bore the brunt of this explosive combination of Arab nationalism, Nazi propaganda and anti-Semitism. In the weeks after the coup my family stayed home most of the time, huddled around the large console radio. We listened with disbelief to reports of Jews being arrested and accused of anti-Iraqi sentiment and of spying for the British. I shook just thinking of the torture being carried out to extract false confessions.
On May 31, 1941, the British army arrived at the outskirts of Baghdad. The pro-Nazi government collapsed quickly, but al Gaylani and his co-conspirators escaped to Iran. The Jewish community in Baghdad felt a sense of relief, especially as it coincided with the eve of the Shavuot festival, commemorating the time when God gave us the Ten Commandments. We had good reason to rejoice.
But that high spirit didn’t last long, and joy reverted to pain and sorrow. The absence of a functioning government created a power vacuum. Across the country, chaos and lawlessness followed.
The Farhud erupted early Monday morning, June 1. Soldiers in civilian clothes, policemen and large crowds of Iraqi men, including Bedouins brandishing swords and daggers, joined in the pillage, helping themselves to loot as they plundered more than 1,500 Jewish homes and stores. For two days, the rioters murdered between 150 and 780 Jews—exact counts aren’t known—injured 600 to 2,000 others, and raped an indeterminable number of women. Some say 600 unidentified victims were buried in a mass grave. All through the night we heard their screams. We heard gunshots too, then sudden quiet. Unarmed and unprepared to defend themselves, Jews were vulnerable and helpless. I was shaken, desperate and angry.
On the first day of the Farhud, my older brother Eliyahu’s adventurous spirit nearly cost him his life. He rode his bike to visit his friend, but returned home traumatized and with tears in his eyes. He had seen men on Rashid Street, a main thoroughfare, dragging Jewish passengers from a minibus, stabbing them to death, and then robbing them in broad daylight.
My family reinforced our front door by stacking heavy furniture against it. I carried buckets of water to the roof to boil and stay ready to toss on marauders should they attempt to break in. We stayed up through the night, barricaded in our home. My father was praying and reading the Book of Psalms, but I was too preoccupied to join. Not wanting to appear weak to my older brothers, I cried myself to sleep in silence.
The riots ended in the late afternoon of June 2 when Iraqi, Kurdish and British forces entered Baghdad, killing some of the rioters and establishing order. My family and I were saved and unharmed, but my uncles Moshi and Meir hadn’t been so lucky. Their homes were ransacked totally. They had managed to escape with their lives only by jumping from rooftop to rooftop.
Later, I heard of Muslim men protecting Jewish homes by standing guard with guns and daggers. Some even sheltered Jews in their own homes and saved them. Those were the good, honorable and faithful Muslims, the righteous among the nations. They were the true heroes. These stories restored my faith and made me realize that there were many good Muslims among us.
After Iraq’s failure in its May 1948 war to extinguish Israel, the new Jewish state, the Iraqi government reignited its assault on its own Jewish citizens. New waves of accusations, arrests, tortures and hangings shook the Jewish community’s faith in the future. Fear of a second Farhud took over. I felt that there was nothing left for me in Iraq. In December 1949, I was smuggled illegally to Iran in a secret hold of a cargo boat. I made my way to Tehran with a group of Iraqi Jews, then we were airlifted to Israel by Jewish operatives. I arrived with nothing but the shirt on my back.
My friends and family were soon to follow. Around 135,000 Iraqi Jews—most of the community—are estimated to have left Iraq by 1952. Most were allowed to bring one suitcase each.
Today only four known Jews live in Iraq. Jewish communities in the Middle East and North Africa had existed for millennia, but they are nearly all gone. Around 850,000 Jews like us were forced to leave their countries. They, too, left behind their homes, businesses, irreplaceable historical artifacts and religious treasures. This was ethnic cleansing of Jews, right after the Holocaust, in the middle of the 20th century.
A journalist based in Basra, Iraq, recently asked me, “Would you like to come back to Iraq, if things got better?” “No,” I replied. “I am glad and grateful to be out of Iraq alive, and feel fortunate and blessed to enjoy freedom in one of the best countries in the world, the United States of America.”
Excellent review in Sifriatenou by Jean-Luc Landier of Michel Abitbol’s book, published in 1983, ‘Les Juifs d’Afrique du Nord sous Vichy’. This is a less-than-perfect automated translation of the French, but it gives a superb overview of the plight of the Jews during WW2 (with thanks: Nelly)
The Jewish community of Algeria adopted early and very quickly the language and the culture of the French colonizer: it was, from the middle of the XIXth century, subject to French civil law, thus abandoning its personal status. His children attended the French school. The authority of the Central Consistory of France was extended to Algeria where rabbis trained at the Jewish Seminary in Paris were dispatched.
But the radical turning point in the evolution of Algerian Judaism was, of course, the adoption of the Crémieux decree (October 24, 1870), which conferred French citizenship en bloc on all the Jews of Algeria, definitively separating their fate from that of Muslims.
The Jewish community in Algeria, which experienced rapid social advancement, especially in the big cities, came up against, shortly after the implementation of the emancipatory decree, the radical hostility of the population of European origin. The participation of Jews in the elections, in accordance with their new rights as citizens, stoked the fierce and enduring hatred of the European community as a whole; it saw in the Jewish vote a step towards granting the same rights to Muslims, a process that could lead to the loss of its privileges.
The anti-Semitic agitation was let loose at the end of the 19th century, fuelled by the Dreyfus affair in France: Max Régis , whose anti-Semitic hatred was his sole program, was elected mayor of Algiers; as was elected Constantine Morinaud, an anti-Semitic leftist; and Drumont , the author of the anti-Semitic manifesto La France juive , deputy for Algiers
Sheikhs Ben Badis and El Oqbi condemned the violence against Jews in Constantine, Algeria, in 1934
The Jews of Algeria were victims of multiple exclusions (from public markets, professional associations…). Anti-Jewish hatred found its outlet during the 1898 riot that broke out in Algiers.
This anti-Semitism of the Europeans experienced a relative pause during the First World War, in which the Jews of Algeria participated courageously (2,000 killed), but manifested itself again with virulence with the crisis of the 1930s.
At the same time, the latent tensions were exacerbated. between Jews and Muslims, linked to the condition of dhimmi which the Jews, in constant social progression, had escaped since the arrival of the French, and especially since the Crémieux decree.
During the Constantine pogrom of August 1934 , twenty-eight Jews were murdered by the Arab populace, without the French army intervening to protect them. The pogrom attested to the strong resentment of the Muslim masses towards the Jews, still perceived as dhimmis and jealous because of their position as commercial intermediaries with the Muslim peasants.
The anti-Semitic agitation was condemned by the Muslim elite, in particular by Sheikh Ben Badis and by Tayeb El Oqbi . It was, on the other hand, encouraged by the European press, whose anti-Semitism was based on the desire to preserve the colonial hierarchies. The authorities, informed by police reports influenced by anti-Semitism, did nothing to dispel this noxious atmosphere, exacerbated by Nazi influence.
Sheikh Ibn Badis and El Oqbi, Algerian politicians, notably Abbé Lambert and Émile Morinaud, succeeded with some success in stoking anti-Semitism among the Muslim masses, by referring in particular to the Palestinian question. As for the officials of the Federation of Muslim Elected Officials, Ferhat Abbas and Mohammed Bendjelloul, who remained followers of a reform policy within the French system, they kept their distance from anti-Semitic propaganda, while regretting the indifference of the Jews of Algeria vis-à-vis the fate of the Muslim population.
French anti-Semitism in Morocco and Tunisia, product of colonial dependence
In Morocco , it was the conjunction of French far-right anti-Semitic propaganda , active in the press, and Muslim resentment following the tensions in Palestine, which created an anti-Semitic climate; violent incidents occurred in Casablanca, Rabat and Tangier. Moroccan nationalist leaders, in particular Al Wazzani and Bannuna, were indeed under the influence of Chakib Arslan, a Lebanese journalist who took refuge in Geneva and an ideologue of Pan-Arabism, close to the mufti of Jerusalem, who sought to undermine French authority in Morocco.
In Tunisia , the Italian fascist propaganda also sought to damage the image of France. Italian propaganda took an anti-Semitic course after the 1938 race laws were passed in Italy. On the other hand, Bourguiba’s nationalist movement of Neo Destour remained impervious to anti-Jewish propaganda.
Nazi Germany, moreover, led a sustained propaganda campaign to undermine French positions in North Africa. This action was constant in Morocco, among nationalist circles, through the intermediary of German merchants who were in fact agents of the secret services. Radio Berlin’s Arabic and Kabyle broadcasts attacked France, and identified the Jews as the agents of its power. In these broadcasts, the Third Reich presented itself as an ally of the Arab peoples, especially in Palestine.
In the three Maghreb countries , the reaction of the Jews was comparable : boycott of German and then Italian products; solidarity with persecuted European Jews; defense of the authority of emancipatory France; support for democratic and anti-racist organizations such as LICA or the League of Human Rights.
The self-defense reactions of certain groups of young people, such as Bétar, however, led community leaders to be cautious.
In September 1939 , as soon as France declared war on Germany, many young Moroccan and Tunisian Jews wanted to serve in the French army, which often turned them away. The Jews of Algeria, for their part, were mobilized like all French citizens.
French anti-Semitism (July 1940-November 1942)
The coming to power of Pétain and the implementation of the National Revolution were greeted with enthusiasm by the Europeans of North Africa.
The enthusiasm for the Marshal was even more unanimous than in metropolitan France, with a large establishment of the Legion of Combatants, the quasi-single party created by Pétain. The press was unleashed against the Jews, in Algeria in particular, where the abolition of the Crémieux decree – a traditional claim of anti-Semites in Algeria – was demanded from the outset by a very large part of European opinion. After the destruction of the French fleet by the British at Mers El Kébir, a climate of suspicion weighed on the Jews of Algeria, suspected of pro-English sympathies.
The statut des juifs was adopted by Pétain’s government on October 4, 1940, without the slightest German request. This strictly French initiative entered into force in Algeria and was also implemented in the protectorates of Tunisia and Morocco after ratification by the sovereigns, the Bey of Tunis and Sultan Mohammed V of Morocco.
On October 7, Vichy put an end to the Crémieux decree , reducing the French Jewish citizens of Algeria to the rank of subjects, seventy years after their full integration into the nation. Jewish officials were dismissed, liberal professions subject to a strict numerus clausus, both in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Rare exceptions were granted to decorated, wounded or maimed veterans.
The application of these measures was very rigorous in Algeria but more flexible in Morocco, under the terms of a dahir from the sultan, and even more liberal in Tunisia.
In Algeria, the rector of the University of Algiers, Hardy, implemented, with the agreement of the governors Abrial and then Weygand, a school and university numerus clausus , going much further than the anti-Semitic measures taken in metropolitan France. Jewish children were thus expelled from primary schools (attendance capped at 14 and then at 7/100) and high schools, and students subject to a rigorous numerus clausus, to the satisfaction of student associations in Algiers.
The second statut des juifs, produced by Vallat, commissioner for Jewish questions, on June 2, 1941, contained new restrictions, and provided for the census of Jews in North Africa, in order to implement “economic Aryanization”, that is, that is, the spoliation of the Jews.
The decree of November 21, 1941, applied in Algeria, aimed to eliminate all “Jewish influence” in the national economy. Provisional administrators were appointed by the governor general for businesses owned by Jews. The mission of the directors, paid by the company, was to prepare for its liquidation, as in metropolitan France.
While many Europeans sought to profit from it, Muslims as a whole refrained from acquiring Jewish businesses. All these measures were taken in a stifling climate, the North African press lashing out against the Jews, and the police indulging in constant harassment and finicky controls, the Jews being suspected of black marketeering.
Identical measures were considered for Tunisia , but their implementation was spread over time by the resident general, Admiral Esteva , whose procrastination, inspired by his Christian faith, irritated Vallat. The beys of Tunis, successively Ahmad Bey and Moncef Bey, expressed their sympathy to their Jewish subjects, but their powers were very limited.
In Tunisia, France was above all anxious to confront the demands of fascist Italy, which opposed the application of discriminatory measures to Jews of Italian nationality.
In Morocco , economic aryanization was left to the initiative of professional groups and unions. The exclusion of Jews was effective in the film industry and also implemented by certain groups of importers. The Jews of Fez were driven out of the European city, and forced to return to the mellah . A persistent public rumor attributed to the sovereign, Sultan Mohammed V was that he gave a flexible interpretation of the anti-Jewish measures rigorously implemented by Noguès, representative of Vichy.
His Majesty Sultan Mohammed V (1909-1961)
The interpretation of rigorous historians (M. Abitbol, G. Bensoussan ) leads to a more nuanced conclusion: the Sultan had no autonomy of decision-making and had the obligation to ratify the choices of the resident-general of France; On the other hand, in private, the Sultan repeatedly told Jewish visitors to the palace that they were his subjects like the Muslims, and that no one could touch either their property or their persons. The Sultan was, in fact, a humiliated sovereign , locked in the heavy constraints of the colonial protectorate, and any gesture on his part, however symbolic, was an affirmation of autonomy.
The other moderating factor in Morocco was paradoxically – and it is little known – the Spanish influence. Francoist Spain, present in northern Morocco and an ally of Germany, put pressure on the resident general to moderate his anti-Semitic exclusion projects.
In accordance with the measures implemented by Vichy in mainland France in October 1940, the French authorities in North Africa proceeded to the administrative internment of foreigners and therefore foreign Jews who had taken refuge there or who were there following the French campaign of May-June 1940. This is how thousands of Jews who volunteered in the Foreign Legion were interned in camps on the Saharan borders after their demobilization, and assigned in particular to the construction of the trans-Saharan railway, an old French colonial project which was presented as one of the great designs of the Vichy regime. In the desert camps, Jewish internees were forced to do forced labor ten to twelve hours a day, in extremely harsh conditions, in heat and privation, under the supervision of non-commissioned officers of the anti-Semitic Legion of German origin. Torture was inflicted in these camps for the slightest violation of the regulations, such as the tombeau punishment: the victim was placed in a pit less than two meters for several days; he was forbidden to move while being beaten by Arab or Senegalese guards. Several died as a result of this abuse.
As for the Algerian Jewish soldiers of the 1939 class, they were demobilized, but not released; following the abolition of the Crémieux decree, they were immediately incorporated into a group of Jewish workers, in Bedeau camp , near Sidi Bel Abbès, or in Telergma, in the Constantine region of Algeria, and forced to do pointless forced labor, in miserable living conditions closer to prison than to barracks, subjected to bullying and insults from juniorofficers or guards from SOL, the future Vichy Militia.
The Jews responded to Vichy’s anti-Semitic measures with disbelief and protest at first. How was it possible that the France of Human Rights, whose nationality they held (as far as the Jews of Algeria) were concerned), whose language they had adopted the language, the culture and the values (in the case of the Jews of Tunisia and Morocco ), could thus cast them out , they who had shown her love and fidelity for decades?
The anti-Semitic measures could not possibly be a French initiative, they had necessarily been imposed by the German occupier. This is what the Chief Rabbi of Algeria Maurice Eisenbeth wrote to Xavier Vallat in 1941. He is remembered for his constant and courageous commitment to easing the persecution of Algerian Judaism. The latter, with the support of Elie Gozlan, secretary general of the Consistory and founder of the Algerian Jewish Committee for Social Studies and with the assistance of Professor Robert Brunschvig, had to create from scratch and set up a network of private schools. in order to take in Jewish children expelled from schools.
By the start of the 1942 school year, a network of seventy primary schools and five secondary schools, serving 20,000 pupils, was in operation. The hundreds of teachers excluded from National Education provided high quality education strictly in accordance with official programs, and despite the incessant harassment of the Vichy administration.
However, Algerian Judaism did not distance itself from mainland France, despite the strictly French persecutions inflicted on it. Like the metropolis, the general government of Algeria sought to set up a General Union of the Israelites of Algeria, counterpart of the UGIF in France. Here again, Rabbi Eisenbeth was approached by Governor Chatel to take the presidency. It could not easily constitute such an institution, doomed in metropolitan France. It was not until September 1942 that the UGIA could be formed. Fortunately, the Allied landing in November led to the abandonment of this project.
In Morocco , mutual aid in favor of Jewish refugees fleeing Europe was particularly active. Before the invasion of the southern zone by Germany, until the summer of 1942, hundreds of refugees had indeed been able to embark in Marseilles towards Morocco, in the hope of reaching the United States or Latin America. Once in Morocco, the refugees found that their lot was hardly more enviable than in Vichy France. Those whose papers were in order – very few in number – were taken care of by the local assistance committees until their departure. The majority were interned in camps.
Jewish institutions in Morocco, financially supported by American organizations such as the Joint or the Hicem, showed solidarity. It was mainly the work of a Moroccan Jewish lawyer from Casablanca, Hélène Cazes Benattar , who knew how to take countless initiatives in favor of the refugees, braving the harassments of the French administration, providing the refugees with material and medical aid, food, accommodation pending their departure, and, for those interned in labor camps, constant assistance to free them.
In the war (November 1942-October 1943)
Following the abolition of the Crémieux decree and the adoption of the statute of the Jews, many young Algerian Jews excluded from the Youth Workshops or the University engaged in sports and fitness in order to combat anti-Semitism , in a sports hall in Algiers called Salle Géo-Gras. This place quickly became the center of one of the first movements of the French Resistance, founded by three young Jews, André Témime, Émile Atlan and Charles Bouchara.
Thanks to the classic novel Exodus, Americans have tended to see Israel as a projection of themselves. Now, for some on the progressive left, the conflict between Jews and Muslims 6,000 miles away has become jumbled up with American ideas about race. Must-read by Matti Friedman in The Atlantic:
When Uris was writing in the 1950s, most Israeli Jews were natives of the Islamic world who’d either been drawn to the new state or forced from their home by their former neighbors.
Many of the rest were survivors of the Holocaust trying to hack out a living without losing what was left of their mind. They lived alongside a sizable Muslim Arab minority, a remnant of those displaced by the war, feared as a fifth column and kept under military rule.
Kibbutznik pioneers like Ari Ben Canaan were never more than a tiny share of the population—and as committed socialists, would never have gone anywhere near the foxtrot. Few people here were blond. A more representative hero for Exodus would have been the Arabic-speaking seamstress from the Jewish ghetto in Marrakech.
But Exodus wasn’t about representation, or about a strange country in the Middle East. It was an attempt to get American readers to look at Israel and see themselves. Ari Ben Canaan was a hero from the America of Ernest Hemingway and John Wayne. He was a blue-eyed, chiseled, gorgeous Paul Newman.
Although a close relationship between America and Israel has been taken for granted over the past half century, it solidified only once Americans decided that Israelis were like them. In novels and countless press reports about pioneers and fighters in the ’50s, “Israel and Jews came to be perceived as masculine, ready to fight the Cold War alongside America,” the scholar Michelle Mart wrote in her study of the topic, Eye on Israel. “By contrast, Arabs were increasingly stigmatized as non-Western, undemocratic, racially darker, unmasculine outsiders.”
“In the images of Israelis, then,” she wrote, “Americans constructed their own self-image at mid-century.”
That construction has been on my mind this month as disturbing events unfolding here have been picked up and interpreted abroad. Many Americans are now using their image of home to construct their image of Israel. Indeed, for some on the progressive left, the conflict between Jews and Muslims 6,000 miles east of Washington, D.C., has become jumbled up with American ideas about race.
The 80th anniversary of the Farhud, a cataclysmic massacre in Iraq, falls at this time. The antisemitism which drove its main instigator, the Mufti of Jerusalem, is still alive today in the kindred ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood (Gaza branch – Hamas). It also sets a precedent for the incidents of mob violence that have targeted Jews in the West. Lyn Julius blogs in the Times of Israel:
Artwork by Nissim Zalayett, a Farhud survivor
It was early, on 1st June 1941, that the woman who delivered milk to Ivy Shashoua’s house in Baghdad warned: ‘Stay at home.’ Trouble was brewing for the Jews that day. The milk woman led Ivy’s family to a small room. They spent 12 hours there without food and water in the Baghdad heat, thinking they were safe.
Meanwhile, they could hear screams and gunshots as a mob ran riot through the streets, murdering and raping Jews, mutilating babies and stripping Jewish homes bare of every last object.
This was the Farhud, an Arabic word for ‘forced dispossession.’ The rioting went on for two days (although the British army, at the gates of Baghdad, could have intervened to stop it) : at least 180 Jews died (some say as many as 600); 900 homes and 586 Jewish-owned shops were destroyed.The dead were hurriedly buried in a mass grave.
The Farhud was incited by pro-Nazi Iraqis who seized power in a coup two months earlier. It marked an irrevocable break between Jews and Arabs and paved the way for the dissolution of the 2,600-year-old Jewish community barely 10 years later. Loyal and productive citizens comprising a fifth of Baghdad, the Jews had not known anything like it.
Other ‘Farhuds’ followed in other Arab countries and just under a million Jews fled. Communities predating Islam and the Arab conquest by a millennium were driven to extinction within a generation.
But the Farhud was not just another anti-Jewish pogrom. Its Nazi inciters had a more sinister objective: the round-up of Jews, their deportation and extermination in desert camps.
The inspiration behind the coup, and the Farhud itself, came from the Palestinian Grand Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini. Moving to Iraq in 1939 with 400 Palestinians, he whipped up local anti-Jewish feeling. An illiterate populace imbibed bigotry through Nazi radio propaganda.
Before fleeing Iraq with the Mufti and prime minister Rashid Ali to spend the rest of the war as Hitler’s guests, Yunis al-Sabawi, who translated Mein Kampf into Arabic, 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 the world, including Palestine, of the Jews. The Mufti’s postwar legacy of islamised antisemitism endures in the kindred ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood – as seen in the latest conflagration between the Brotherhood’s Gaza branch, Hamas, and Israel.
In London, in the US, Canada and Germany, Jews have been subject to verbal and physical attacks and intimidation in a reminder that mob violence has long been an instrument of political coercion in the Muslim world.
Farhud survivors could not rely on the police to protect them – indeed, some police joined the rioters. Jews turned to their Muslim neighbours to save them – and many did.
But some neighbours had evil intentions. The milk woman which Ivy Shashoua thought would save them had planned to kill the family and steal their possessions. In the end, a Muslim friend rescued them.
Two ingredients were present in the Farhud: incitement and the failure of the forces of law and order to protect the Jewish minority. Fear of a second Farhud, and mistrust of the Iraqi police and army, were major reasons why 90 per cent of Iraq’s Jews fled to Israel after 1948.
If the authorities in western countries do not deal firmly with antisemitic incitement and attacks, diaspora Jews will feel that they have no choice but to move to the only country which will protect them – the Jewish state.
An international mega-Zoom commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Farhud takes place on 30 May at 5pm. Register here.
This website is dedicated to preserving the memory of the near-extinct Jewish communities, of the Middle East and North Africa, documenting the stories of the Jewish refugees and their current struggle for recognition and restitution.
Point of No Return
Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries
One-stop blog on the Middle East's forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.