Tag: Iraq/Israel

Despite arrests and threats, conference gives hope for peace

In spite of the official crackdown on the participants in a conference of Iraqis held in Kurdistan in September 2021 which called for peace with Israel, Jewish activists are cautiously optimistic, writes Karmel Melamed in Israel HaYom: 

The controversial conference drew widespread condemnation (Photo: AFP)

After arrest warrants were issued and public death threats were made against many of the 300 Iraqi Muslim leaders calling for their government to make peace with Israel at a conference held in late September in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Jewish activists of Iraqi origin are voicing support for those in Iraq who seek peace with Israel.

“It is depressing that the conference participants have been bullied in this way,” said Lyn Julius, a Jewish activist of Iraqi descent and co-founder of Harif, an association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa based in the United Kingdom. “They were very brave to have taken part in the first place but may have underestimated the risks they were taking.”

The conference, which was held in the city of Erbil, drew widespread condemnation from officials in Iraq’s government, who called it an “illegal meeting.” According to the Iraq News Agency, some Iraqi authorities also announced that they would arrest all 300 participants once they had been identified.

Likewise, an arrest warrant was issued for Wisam al-Hardan, leader of the “Sons of Iraq Awakening” movement, who had demanded that Iraq join the Abraham Accords and, at the conference, also encouraged establishing full diplomatic relations with Israel. Following widespread public condemnation in Iraq, al-Hardan later issued a recorded apology and withdrew his support for the event.

Moreover, arrest warrants were issued against other conference speakers, including former Iraqi politician Mithal Al-Alusi, and a senior Iraqi Culture Ministry official named Sahar al-Tai. Later, Al-Alusi, who has long called for peace between Iraq and Israel, claimed not to have attended the conference at all. Additionally, several other conference participants also backtracked from their earlier pro-peace statements.

Iraq has officially been at war with Israel since Israel’s establishment in 1948, and the country’s decades-old laws call for the immediate arrest and imprisonment of anyone dealing with Israelis or having any ties to Israel.

After 1948, members of Iraq’s Jewish community, which once numbered 150,000-strong, were stripped of their citizenship, had their assets confiscated by the government and were forcibly expelled from the country. The majority of Iraqi Jews resettled in Israel, though some immigrated to Europe and North America. Today, experts estimate that only a handful of Jews still live in Iraq.

Linda Menuhin, an Israeli peace activist of Iraqi background who spoke via Zoom to the Iraqi activists at the Erbil conference, said many attendees are now recanting their statements of peace with Israel out of fear of physical harm to themselves or their families from the Iranian regime’s militias operating in Iraq.

“I believe that Iran indeed is the biggest challenge on the way because Iraq’s regime cannot practice its free sovereignty and has many stakes currently in Iran,” said Menuhin, who made a 2013 documentary film, “Shadow in Baghdad,” about the abduction and killing of her father, Jacob Abdel Aziz, by Iraqi officials in the 1970s.

Nevertheless, she said she remains optimistic about the prospects of peace in the future between Iraq and Israel.

“I do believe there is hope for peace in the future due to the fact that millions are yearning to release themselves from Iran’s strongholds directly or through its militias,” she said. “The young are looking to build a future free of enmity based on good relations with all the neighbors.”

Other Iraqi Jewish activists living in the United States and Canada said Israelis and Jews living in the West can help encourage peace with Iraqis by engaging in possible business ventures or beginning a dialogue through social media.

“The best role of the Mizrahi Jews, in this situation, is to establish commercial contacts and develop business for the benefit of all sides,” said Sami Sourani, an Iraqi Jewish activist living in Canada.

Indeed, one Jewish nonprofit group based in San Francisco, “Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa” (JIMENA), has long been educating groups in the United States and throughout the world about the plight of nearly 850,000 Jewish refugees who fled or were expelled from the Arab and Islamic countries during the 20th century.

JIMENA’s leadership recently released a statement applauding the Erbil conference and calling for future similar events to be done with caution to protect peace advocates in Arab countries.

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Iraqi normalisers recant while US fails to show support (update)

Update: In the Wall St Journal, conference organiser Joseph Braude responds to a misleading New York Times report and appeals to the media not to let Iran ‘shape the story’ (with thanks: Lily):

New York Times Baghdad bureau chief Jane Arraf was one of several journalists who interviewed me by phone about the incident. I explained how I had helped Mr. Al-Hardan develop the speech from his original draft and served as go-between with the Journal’s editors. I confirmed that I translated the edited English-language version back into Arabic and submitted it to Mr. Al-Hardan for approval.

In response to Ms. Arraf’s question about his later claim that he didn’t know the content of the speech from which the article was drawn, I provided the full video of his delivering it to the crowd as well as a clip of a Kurdish TV interview, taped after the conference but before the threats began, in which he reinforced the message. Ms. Arraf’s report mentions neither video, and asserts that I told her the Journal editors had provided “input” on the piece. That’s her word, not mine, and the Journal editors made no substantive changes. The Times thereby lent a measure of credence to a recantation that obviously was made under duress.

The Iraqis who participated in the conference came to me in part because I am the son of an Iraqi Jewish woman born in Baghdad, and I took on the commitment out of a sense of kinship and personal conviction. My organization is doing everything we can to help protect them. As part of that effort, we would like to call public attention to one of the ways international media can help: Don’t allow Iran or its violent proxies to manipulate your coverage. Don’t let their intimidation and threats shape the story. And, when courageous people stand up for peace at clear risk to themselves, take note of this and ask why it is happening and why the Iranians feel so threatened by it.

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An intense backlash of death threats and intimidation has been suffered by  Wissam al-Hardan and other leading Iraqi participants in the recent groundbreaking conference calling for normalisation with Israel. But the most disgraceful aspect of this story is the Biden administration’s silence, writes Jonathan Tobin in JNS News:

From left: Dennis Ross, who took part in the conference by Zoom, organiser Joseph Braude and leading participant Wissam al-Hardan

What was so wonderful about Al-Harden’s Journal article was his acknowledgment of the tragedy of Iraqi Jews, a 2,600-year-old community that numbered more than 100,000 persons, that was driven out of the country by anti-Semitic riots and hatred.

But as The New York Times reports, the backlash against the conference, which was attended by former U.S. State Department official Dennis Ross, was intense.

According to the Times, as news of the conference in Erbil spread, the overwhelmingly Sunni Anbar province issued arrest warrants for six of the participants. Others were fired from their government jobs. Pictures of the six – now wanted by the authorities for advocating peace with Israel – are now featured on huge banners erected at checkpoints between Anbar and Baghdad with the captions accusing them of “treason.”

Just as ominous was the way Al-Harden was intimidated by the Jew-haters. Reportedly, at the conference, he directly advocated Iraq joining the Abraham Accords and spoke of a desire for reconciliation between Jews and Arabs, especially in the light of the fate of Iraqi Jewry and its successful integration into Israeli society. He also warned of Iraq being reduced to a similar position as Lebanon, where Iranian auxiliaries have destroyed the country’s sovereignty and made it a puppet of Tehran.

But after being threatened for doing this and dismissed from his leadership position at the Awakening movement, Al-Harden completely recanted his position. The sheikh said he was deceived by the conference organizers and that he did not write the speech he gave at the conference or the Wall Street Journal article, claiming that since he does not read or write English, he had no idea what was being published in his own name.

The conference organizer, Joseph Braude, an Arabic-speaking American of Iraqi Jewish descent, insists that the sheikh understood everything that was in the article and his speech. Al-Harden’s son, who did not attend the conference but did drop his father off there, is also facing an arrest warrant if he returns to Anbar. Conference attendees are remaining in Erbil, which is part of the autonomous Kurdish region that broke away from Baghdad’s control decades ago. But they know if they go home, they may die.

Iran dominates much of Iraqi society in part because of the ties between Iraqi Shi’ites and Tehran, but also because Iran became immeasurably strengthened by America’s toppling of the Saddam Hussein regime, an unintended and unfortunate consequence of the 2003 invasion of the country.

As much as one might expect that Iran’s Iraqi allies would do their utmost to oppose the expansion of the Abraham Accords, the saddest and the most disgraceful aspect of this story is the reaction of the Biden administration. While Washington has largely remained silent about these events, it was telling that the one American statement about it demonstrated just how thoroughly Iran has also intimidated the United States.

The International Coalition for Operation Inherent Resolve – the U.S.-led force that has been fighting ISIS for eight years – did have something to say about the pro-normalization conference. In a tweet issued by the command’s spokesman, U.S. Army Col. Wayne Marotto, the force officially stated that it had been, “made aware of announcements … relating to the recent conference held in Erbil to discuss the normalization of ties with Israel. @Coalition had no prior knowledge of the event, nor do we have any affiliation with its participants.”

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Analysis by Tom Gross

A pro-Israel summit in Erbil (Dennis Ross  – Washington Institute)

Frantzman: ‘Iraq’s outrage is more lip service than reality’

In a groundbreaking conference recently,  300 Iraqis declared their support for ‘Abraham Accords ‘ to be signed between Iraq and Israel. The Iraqi government’s response was to issue warrants for the arrest of two of the most prominent participants. But how much of this anger is genuine, and how much is posturing to placate Iran? Read Seth Frantzman’s analysis in the Jerusalem Post

 

Iraq’s president Barham Salih meeting Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran on 5 August 2021 (Photo: Reuters)
The reports that 300 Iraqis took part in an event in Erbil in the Kurdistan region, supporting the Abraham Accords and ties with Israel, were greeted with anger in Baghdad. A lot of the anger, as well as calls for court cases to be opened against participants, is virtue signaling. The goal is for Iraqi politicians, from the president to Muqtada al-Sadr, to jump over one another to show off who can condemn the conference and Israel.

 

Al-Sadr must posture because he has been holding the keys to power in Baghdad for years. Navigating between Iran’s role in Baghdad in which Iran has influence through Hadi al-Amiri’s Fatah Alliance in parliament, and his outreach to Saudi Arabia and other states in recent years, Sadr must show that he is tough on the Israel issue.

 

The Prime Minister  and president must posture as well. President Barham Salih is Kurdish and would not be anti-Israel in a normal Iraq, free from Iran’s domination. But the one-time academic has put out a statement. Current prime minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi came to power after pro-Iran militias massacred Iraqis in 2019. He is also someone that in a normal world, untethered from Iran’s guns in Iraq, would be open minded, liberal and able to show nuance on the Israel issue. “Proposing the concept of normalization is constitutionally, legally and politically rejected in the Iraqi state,” read the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

 

The event in Erbil discussing Israel also comes prior to Iraqi elections, so politicians must pretend to be very angry about this conference. In addition Wisam al-Hardan, who is described as a “leader of the ‘Sons of Iraq Awakening’ movement” also wrote about the event in an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal. “He said it gathered more than 300 people, including tribal leaders, intellectuals and youth activists from the October protest movement, from Baghdad, Mosul, Anbar, Babel, Salahaddin and Diyala,” reports claimed. Now Iraq has supposedly ordered the arrest of officials who took part.

 

The “outrage” in Iraq appears more like lip service than reality. The Arab Weekly says the event played into the hands of pro-Iran militias. That is a correct analysis since these militias want to target Erbil and have accused Kurds in the past of being pro-Israel or even a “second Israel” within Iraq. Frequent rumors in pro-Iran media paint Erbil as being linked to Israel or write about “Mossad bases” in Iraq.

Iraqi man in pro-Israel video beaten up and hospitalised

It was one of the most eye-popping videos to surface from the Arab world: an Iraqi man calling for Benjamin Netanyahu to save him and bring him to Israel.

The video, which seemed to  attract  the approval of bystanders,  was hailed by Israeli talk show host Avi Abelow as running contrary to the predominant narrative: that Arabs are instinctively hostile to Israel.

But delight amongst Jewish viewers turned to horror as these pictures began to emerge. They show that that the man was badly beaten and is now being treated in hospital.

According to  Israeli Arabic-media monitor Linda Menuhin, the man made his outburst following the fire that killed  92 in a hospital in Nasiriya. Iranian-supported militias were responsible for almost beating him to death, she claims.

Simply to fly the Israeli flag earns an Iraqi three years in prison. Which goes to show how brave – or desperate – this man was, to speak out in favour of Israel.

How Arabic-speaking Israelis are building bridges

In the wake of the Abraham Accords and intense interest among Arabs in Israeli life, a group of  Arabic teachers and speakers in Israel is building bridgewith the Arab world. Makor Rishon has the story:  

Before Omar Adam sunbathed on the shores of Abu Dhabi and winds of peace blew from Sudan, a group of women began working on social media to train Arab hearts to normalize with Israel. With the help of food, poetry, art and fashion, and especially a simple discourse on everyday life, the past and the future, they create a dialogue with citizens of Arab countries who seek contact with the Jews and Israel, and encourage civic connections between us and them. 

While their trend seems to be conquering the Middle East, and the old hatred of Israel is loosening even slightly, we met with some of them to hear how to do it. Or rather, how to do. 

 Moran Tal, an Arabic teacher in high school, a resident of the center of the country – sings in videos that she uploads the songs of Umm Kulthum, Farid al-Atrash and Faiza Ahmad to Twitter, and tries her voice in contemporary hits as well. It has over 15,000 followers, many of them from Arab countries, who follow it, watch, comment and distribute. “I sit with my family at the table, and at the same time correspond with people from Dubai, Kuwait, Iraq and Bahrain,” she says. “I have received responses from the Iraqi beauty kingdom, I am being followed by ambassadors of Arab countries. I even correct errors in Arabic of annoying tweeters.” 


Linda Menuhin (in white blazer) with her Arabic-speaking friends (Photo: Makor Rishon)

 Smadar Alani, 49, runs the Facebook page “Mazat al-Wassel” (“The Linking Link”), which has almost 8,000 surfers of Iraqi origin. “As an Israeli, I do not interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs and I do not deal with sensitive political content,” says Alani. “I try to focus on culture, literature, music and friendship, any content that produces a bridge. I will bless them with their holidays and name ours.” She also, she says, incorporates music in her posts, which is very powerful on networks.
Hopefully the spirits of peace will reach them as well. A tour of Israel for Iraqi residents. 

 Sapir Levy, a 25-year-old student, works in the Department of Digital Diplomacy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in an Arabic industry led by Yonatan Gonen. Among other things, she is part of a team that operates the “Israel in Arabic” and “Israel in the Gulf” Twitter accounts, and through them encourages support for the latest policy developments. One of the important tools for this, she says, is the study of the Hebrew language. “This is the new trend. We saw interest in Hebrew even before the agreements, which of course increased the desire of our followers to learn the language. “Their progress in knowing the language. It’s a real pleasure.” 

 I meet them in a spacious house near Jerusalem – the house of Linda Manuhin ‘Abd al-‘Aziz. Menuhin greets us with a big smile, pastries and her Iraqi daughter poured into small glasses of glass, and the four of them sit down to chat with me in the sunny corner in the center of the house, on nice chairs. “We call this corner the ‘Iraqi Dream,'” Menuhin says, laughing a rolling, contagious laugh. “Even as a student at a school in Iraq, they knew I was not allowed to be laughed at,” she apologizes.

 “As soon as I started laughing – the whole class would join in, including the teacher, and the lesson would be over.”

Her father, Adv. Yaakov ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, was a well-known figure in the Jewish community in Baghdad. On the eve of Yom Kippur 1973, two years after his daughter immigrated to Israel, he disappeared. Today, at the age of seventy, Menuhin is a veteran of these warriors. , Has been running Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, and has been advising the State Department for eight years. “I am in charge of the Iraqi Facebook page launched by the ministry. Today we have about half a million positive and positive followers. 

Apart from that I have a Facebook page with thousands of followers called ‘Jola Iraqi’, in which I invite Iraqis to travel in Israel with Jews from Iraq. So far I have had two such trips, and the experience has been amazing. I have another Facebook page with 8,000 followers, ‘Shadow in Baghdad’, which tells about my family in Iraq – the Farhud, my father’s disappearance, and the connection between the Jews and the rest of the population. 

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