Iraqi Jews are mourning the passing of Mordechai Ben Porat – ‘a giant among men’.
Mordechai Ben Porat has passed away aged 98 at his home in Ramat Gan. Baghdad-born Ben Porat was a minister in the Shamir government, a Knesset member and mayor of Or Yehuda for 14 years. He was awarded the Israel prize in 2001 and a medal for services to the state of Israel.
But Ben Porat, who walked to Israel on foot in 1945, will be best remembered for his part, as the Mossad operative in Baghdad, in organising the clandestine emigration of Jews from Iraq, at first through Iran in 1949, and subsequently the airlift of almost the entire 120,000-member Jewish community of Iraq , known as Operation Ezra and Nehemiah or Operation Babylon.
However he was dogged by the rumour that the Zionists set off bombs to cause the Jewish exodus. In the 1960s he won a lawsuit against the magazine Haolam Hazeh.
His time in Iraq was filled with hair-raising escapades, including a stint in prison. On his return to Israel he studied at Tel Aviv and the Hebrew university. In 1975, he established the World Organisation Jews from Arab Countries. Mindful of the need to preserve Iraqi-Jewish heritage, he set up Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center at Or Yehuda – once the site of two ma’abarot or tent camps . As chairman of the Center, he insisted on visiting the centre once a week, even when his health was failing.