Terrorism had minimal impact on mass flight of Iraqi Jews

The Mossad  has always been dogged by accusations that terrorist bombs planted by Zionists caused the mass migration of Iraqi Jews. Now academic Esther Meir-Glitzenstein has written a detailed account refuting the charges in a paper titled Terrorism and migration: on the mass emigration of Iraqi Jews, 1950–1951 in Middle Eastern Studies journal (with thanks: Lisette):

Iraqi Jews being airlifted to Israel in 1950 – 51

The claim recently resurfaced in an article by Hannan Hever and Yehouda Shenhav that examines the defamation suit brought against journalist Baruch Nadel in 1977. They wrote, ‘The bombings undoubtedly led to a remarkable increase in the rate of registration for emigration between March 1950 and June 1951.’15 But Hever and Shenhav were inaccurate: the registration for emigration from Iraq had closed by 9 March 1951, once the Denaturalization Law16 had expired. After this date it was no longer possible to register, nor to rescind registration. What did continue through the summer of 1950 was the airlift that conveyed Iraq’s Jews to Israel. Therefore, if we wish to examine the impact of the terrorist attacks on the scope of emigration, it is necessary to examine the number of people who registered for emigration at the time of the event, rather than the number of Jews who had already been transported to Israel.

Of the five acts of terror, the first took place on 8 April 1950, at the outset of the process, before the modes of transporting emigrants had been agreed upon, and while the Zionist movement was still trying to slow down Jewish registration. The second event occurred on 14 January 1951, after 86,000 (out of 105,000) Jews had already registered and were awaiting transportation from Iraq. At this point, with 60,000 Jews waiting desperately for planes, neither Israel nor the Zionists in Iraq had any interest in encouraging additional Jews to relinquish their citizenship.17 Moreover, with 86,000 registrants, no matter who was behind this terrorist incident, the incident itself was not the cause of the mass emigration.

Likewise, in reporting on the incident, the British Embassy staff in Iraq did not link it with Israel, nor did they see it as an attempt to provoke panic and encourage immigration to Israel. They did report to the Foreign Office in London about conjectures in the Iraqi press, according to which leaders of the Jewish community had instigated the incident in order to draw attention to their dire situation. Subsequently they also reported on a rumor that an Iraqi officer had been arrested, but they could not confirm the rumor.18 A few months later the British raised another possibility: that the bombers were Jews seeking to draw Israel’s attention to the hard- ships facing Jews in Iraq, with the aim of expediting their airlift to Israel and in order to drive wealthy Jews who were planning to remain in Iraq to change their minds and immigrate to Israel.19 If true it means that, at most, this terrorist incident prompted a few thousand wealthy Jews to join the exodus.

The three other incidents occurred during March-June 1951 and had no impact on the scope of emigration because they took place after the Denaturalization Law had expired and regis- tration had closed. At most these acts of terror put pressure on Israel to accelerate the evac- uation of Iraq’s Jews. As to the identity of the bombers, this remains unclear, but given the negligible influence of the terrorist acts on the scope of emigration to Israel, the bombers’ identity is not particularly significant. In response to the Iraqi government’s claims that Zionists bore responsibility for these incidents, the Zionists charged that the bombers were members of nationalist right-wing parties. Information that came to light in recent years suggests that the final terrorist act, on 5 June 1951, was the work of an Israeli spy ring, which sought to help members of the ring whom the Iraqi secret police had apprehended a few days earlier.20 None of these assumptions are relevant to the scope of the Jewish emigration from Iraq.

Furthermore, the global history of migration contains no precedent to back the argument that massive, panicked emigration could result from a few acts of terror committed over the course of a year with a relatively small number of victims. Mass migrations were not a rare occurrence in the twentieth century. They followed from existential crises, wars, and economic or political catastrophes, and most often they were imposed on population groups as a means of resolving inter-state conflict. Examples include the forced population exchange of Greeks and Turks after the First World War, the expulsion of ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe after the Second World War, and the population exchange of Hindus and Muslims in India and Pakistan after the British departure in 1947, among other cases. Another example is the depor- tation of a million French citizens from Algeria as part of the decolonization process in 1962. All of these cases demonstrate that people are not inclined to emigrate in droves, even under difficult conditions, and even in the face of persecution, unless compelled to do so for lack of choice.

Ascribing the mass emigration from Iraq to panic does an injustice to Iraqi Jews and under- estimates the judgment and decision-making abilities of these Jews, whose elite included members of the Iraqi House of Representatives and Senate, renowned lawyers, international tradespersons, bankers, senior managers in government administration and the private sector, writers, journalists, poets, and the like. It would have taken far more than a few acts of terror to induce the emigration of more than 125,000 people from the land in which they and their ancestors had lived for many centuries, to abandon private and public properties and economic rights on a massive scale and immigrate to an impoverished country that was incapable of, and had no intention of, providing reparations for their losses.

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Non-Jews threw 1951 bombs


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