Tag: Kurds

Iraq’s Jewish heritage is in a parlous state

The walls of Baghdad’s last synagogue, Meir Tweg, are crumbling, reports Salam Faraj; all but 10 percent of Syria and Iraq’s 300 heritage sites are still standing. However, there is a small hope that the Sasson synagogue in Mosul will be restored, and renovation work has been carried out on the shrine of Nahum in Kurdistan. AFP report in Times of Israel: 

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AFP) — In a busy district of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, there is little to distinguish the faded brick building, except for a Hebrew inscription above the entrance.

Iraq’s Jewish community was once one of the largest in the Middle East, but its members have dwindled to a handful, outside of the autonomous Kurdistan region.

“Our heritage is in a pitiful condition” and authorities take no notice, said a member of the congregation who requested anonymity, fearing reprisals.

Their precious history, including the synagogue, is threatened in a country torn apart by decades of war, corruption and armed groups.

While historical treasures ruined by jihadists are being restored in Iraq, rare international efforts at saving the Jewish heritage have not been enough.

Baghdad’s Meir Tweig Synagogue, built in 1942, seems to have been frozen in time.

Behind its padlocked doors, the benches are covered in white cloth to shield them from the sun. The walls of the sky-blue two-story columned interior are crumbling.

The steps leading to a wooden cabinet holding the sacred Torah scrolls are coming apart.

Flanked by marble plaques engraved with seven-branched candelabra and psalms, the cabinet shelters the scrolls written in hand calligraphy on gazelle leather.

“We used to pray here,” the member said. “We celebrated our festivals, and in summer we studied religious courses in Hebrew.”

One synagogue in Iraq’s south has been illegally occupied and turned into a warehouse, the woman added.

“Save this heritage,” she said, asking for the United Nations’s help.

A view of the interior of the dilapidated Sasson Synagogue in Iraq’s northern city of Mosul, February 2, 2022. (Zaid AL-OBEIDI / AFP)

Jewish roots in Iraq go back about 2,600 years, on the land where the patriarch Abraham was born and where the Babylonian Talmud was written.

More than 2,500 years later, in Ottoman-ruled Baghdad, Jews made up 40 percent of the city’s inhabitants.

By the time of Israel’s creation in 1948, they numbered 150,000, but three years later, amid persecution by Iraqi authorities that swelled in the wake of the establishment of Israel, 96% of the community had left.

A report published in 2020 listed Jewish heritage sites in Iraq and Syria, some dating back to the first millennium BC. The study identified 118 synagogues, 48 schools, nine sanctuaries and three cemeteries among the Iraqi Jewish heritage sites. Most are now gone.

“In Iraq, only 30 of the 297 documented sites are confirmed to still exist,” according to the report published by the London-based Foundation for Jewish Heritage and ASOR, the non-profit American Society of Overseas Research.

“Of these 30 sites, 21 are in poor or very bad condition,” it added.

The few remaining Jews in Iraq “worked very hard to protect and preserve their heritage, but the scale of the work was beyond their abilities,” said Darren Ashby, who worked on the study.

“Over time, much of this heritage was lost to seizure, sale or slow decay and collapse,” said Ashby, from the University of Pennsylvania’s Iraq Heritage Stabilization Program.

Read article in full

More about the preservation of heritage sites

Antisemitism rears its ugly head – again

The deportation of Levi Meir Clancy, a Jew who made his home in Kurdistan, is just the latest example of an age-old strategy in the region to  eject Jews as security risks, writes Lyn Julius in Times of Israel:

There was a time when sympathies with Israel could be displayed openly in Kurdistan, but not now

A young American has blamed his deportation from Kurdistan earlier this week on antisemitism.

Arriving at Erbil International Airport on 12 January, Levi Meir Clancy, 31, learned that he was blacklisted as a security threat by the Kurdish authorities.

Clancy had broken no laws, yet he was detained overnight and his passport confiscated before he was put on a ‘plane to Doha in Qatar. He was then made to board a flight back to the US.

Clancy had made the journey from his native California with the intention of returning to the home he had lived in and owned in Erbil since 2015. Collecting his possessions is now impossible, as he has been told that he will never be allowed back in the country.

The authorities detained Clancy overnight but did not subject him to any political or security questioning. However, he was asked his religion and family background. His crime was that he was a Jew. ‘That feeling,’ he lamented,’ when the airport asks your religion when you go to passport control, then they ban you for life and your home is gone.’

Clancy arrived in Kurdistan as a tourist in 2010 and returned to teach English in 2014. He ‘fell in love’ with the country and decided to buy an apartment in Erbil.

Clancy has heard of other Jewish passengers being denied entry to the Kurdistan region in recent weeks. Indeed, the accusation of being a security threat is reminiscent of the strategy employed for decades against the Jewish community of Iraq, which included Kurdistan. As a result, a community numbering 150,000 in the 1940s, stripped of its citizenship and dispossessed, has been driven out. Only three Jews remain in Baghdad.

In one of the worst episodes of persecution, 53 years ago this month, nine Jews were executed in Baghdad on trumped-up spying charges for Israel. Half a million Iraqis came to sing and dance beneath the corpses strung up in Liberation Square.

The oppression suffered by Jews in Iraq predated the creation of Israel. Already in the 1930s Nazi influence grew: Jews were sacked from their jobs and subject to quotas. Then in 1939, the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al Husseini moved to Baghdad and was the driving force behind a pro-Nazi coup and the Farhud massacre of hundreds of Jews in 1941. Thereafter he and his entourage spent the rest of the war as Hitler’s guests and set up SS divisions in the Balkans. After the war, Nazi-inspired antisemitism spread throughout the Arab world.

Yet the historical record and the experience of Mizrahi Jews are being continually denied and downplayed to preserve good interfaith relations. One of the most dramatic exoduses of the 20th century – that of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa – is blamed on the Zionists, or portrayed as an understandable backlash to Arab grievances.

Any mention of Arab or Islamist antisemitism is open to accusations of racism or ‘islamophobia’. Jews are gaslighted into believing that relations between Jews and Muslims were always peaceful and harmonious before Israel was created. In truth, until the colonial era gave them equal rights, Jews and Christians under Islam were dhimmis for 13 centuries –  a  subjugated minority at the mercy of the ruler, vulnerable to outbreaks of violence.

Nowadays, Iran carries the torch for radical Islamist antisemitism, denying the Holocaust and calling for Israel’s destruction. Its tentacles extend as far as Israel’s borders through its proxies Hezbollah and Hamas. In recent years it has increased its influence in Iraq. Levi Meir Clancy fell foul of a policy of aggressive Iranian antisemitism which was not present in the Kurdish region in 2015, when he bought his Erbil home.

The great French writer Albert Camus once said: ‘to fail to call things by their proper names is to add to the misery of the world.’

And if we can’t call antisemitism by its proper name, if we hedge and obfuscate and minimise it, what chance is there of fighting it?

Read article in full

 

 

Deported from Kurdistan – for being a Jew

Point of No Return exclusive

A young American  has blamed his deportation from Kurdistan earlier this week on  antisemitism.

Levi Meir Clancy: blacklisted

Arriving at Erbil International Airport on 12 January, Levi Meir Clancy, 31, learned that he was blacklisted as a security threat by the Kurdish authorities.

Clancy was detained overnight and his passport confiscated before he was put on a ‘plane to Doha in Qatar. He then boarded a flight back to the US.

Clancy had made the journey from his native California with the intention of returning to the home he has lived in and owned and  in Erbil since 2015. Even collecting his possessions  does not now appear possible, as he has been told that he will never be allowed back in the country.

The authorities detained Clancy overnight but did not subject him to any political or security questioning  However, he was asked his religion and family background. He was deported for no reason other than being a Jew.

Clancy visited Kurdistan as a tourist in 2010. He returned to teach English in 2014. He ‘fell in love’ with the country and decided to buy an apartment in Erbil.

His expulsion could be linked to death threats and ‘attacks on his Jewishness’ received over the past two years which he claims are  ‘supported and enabled by multiple officials’. The FBI visited  to warn him that he was at risk while he was in the US completing his Master’s degree.

Clancy has heard of other Jewish passengers being denied entry to the Kurdistan region in recent weeks. Indeed the accusation of being a security threat is reminiscent of the strategy employed for  decades against the Jewish community of Iraq and Kurdistan. As a result, the 150,000-member community, stripped of its citizenship and dispossessed,  has been driven out. Only three Jews remain Baghdad.

In one of the worst episodes of persecution,  53 years ago this January, nine Jews were among 14 Iraqis executed in Baghdad on trumped-up spying charges for Israel.

Iraq and Kurdistan have come under increasing Iranian influence in recent years. It is thought Iran was also behind the Kurdish Jewish Affairs Directorate, which claimed to speak on behalf of a phantom Jewish community of 400 families, although the last Jew had left Kurdistan in 1950.

More about Levi Meir Clancy

 

 

Many Kurdish Jews died during their 1950 exodus

The Iraqi Jewish Archives have revealed interesting details about the exodus of  Kurdish Jews from Iraq, according to amateur historian Sami Sourani, who helped translate documents from Arabic.
A family of Kurdish Jews airlifted to Israel
The Kurdish Jews  had to travel down to Baghdad in order to join the airlift to Cyprus and on to Israel.
During their exodus from Iraq during 1950 -1, the Baghdad Jewish community took charge of the welfare of the 18,000 Kurdish Jews who passed through the capital. It had to request a special budget to bury the many elderly Kurdish Jews who  died in Baghdad.
According to Sami Sourani, who volunteeered to translate some files, the  Baghdad Jewish community stepped up to the challenge of caring for the refugees during their short stay at the Massouda Shemtov synagogue.
The community took on the responsibility of feeding the refugees. The cook was Shalom Saleh who was  hanged in January 1952 together with Yousef Basri on charges of Zionism.
Saleh worked very hard to feed the Kurdish arrivals. A ladies’ committee boiled 100 eggs a day.
The Community appointed a rabbi to take care of  the Kurdish refugees.  Some of the very old who could not stand the warm weather of Baghdad and passed away. To their credit,  the Jewish community of Baghdad made sure that the dead were buried with dignity, regardless of their financial situation.  This was done by the Hebra Kadisha – the Burial Society. The rabbi in charge wrote a letter to the Rabbanut of Baghdad asking for a special budget to buy cloth for shrouds.
The rabbi wrote that the dead people were so numerous, he could not afford to buy shrouds. He told how he was working every day until midnight just to talk to the refugees and deal with their welfare. Sometimes  he had to buy them material using his own money. He requested a raise in his salary  –  about eight dinar per month, at that time. The Rabbanut responded favourably and he got what he wanted.

 

More from Sami Sourani:

Kurdish imposters wanted resident Jew dead

Moving to the Kurdistan Region was the best decision of Levi Meir Clancy’s life. It was the fulfilment of a dream – until he was warned that there was a plot afoot to kill him.  The reason? He stood in the way of the ambitions (amply documented  on Point of No Return) of a group of conspirators posing as Jews. Clancy tells his story in the Times of Israel: 

Levi Meir Clancy: owns a home in Kurdistan

Even without a Saddam Hussein or an Adolph Hitler in power, there are still people with the mentality of a collaborator. That was how the conspirators behind my attack seemed to behave. They were all driven by personal gain. After one conspirator was allegedly convicted of homicide and locked away, the rest continued to collaborate with his associates in their pursuit of antisemitic legends about Jewish wealth and Jewish privilege.

Unfortunately, officials in the Kurdistan Region seemed to believe that antisemitic attacks must involve someone whose primary goal is the “cleansing” of Jewish people from society. Frankly, this is a ridiculous perspective because there are no Jewish people remaining, except a few expatriates who are countable on one hand. There is no Jewish community being “rounded up” like a scene from the Holocaust, because there is no Jewish community.

This outdated perspective on antisemitic violence in the 21st century has created a tremendous blind spot. Without any vigilance, the potential for violence has festered. The conspirators simply had to choose a course of action that avoided the most crude and sophomoric stereotypes of antisemitic behavior.

It was not just the Kurdistan Region’s officials who were unprepared. With the rise in visitation to the Kurdistan Region, many foreigners (and even Jewish people and Israelis) have come to the Kurdistan Region for short periods, experienced no serious problems, and then returned to their homes abroad. As a result, based on their own brief but enjoyable visits, many people shunned the possibility that someone in Erbil might be hunted for their Jewishness. Yet here I am, forced to wake up every morning with the possibility that I will not live to see the next day.

But still, for many people, the idea that an antisemitic plot is underway in the Kurdistan Region is beyond the limits of comprehension — or, perhaps, beyond the limits of compassion. (…)

The people behind the plot against me were a network of men who had emerged over the last few years with false claims of being long-lost Jews, with two of them even securing roles as representatives in the Kurdistan Region’s government. Additionally, they received support from outside of the Kurdistan Region from those who had their own motives as well.

Smartly, the conspirators did not publicly disagree with the popular narrative about coexistence. In fact, they decided to harness it by claiming that they themselves were in fact are long-lost Jews. They ran to the media and made many headlines. It was a catchy story. This opened many doors for them, and provided a level of impunity for increasingly disastrous behavior because well-intentioned people were shy about seeming hesitant regarding supposed Jewish affairs.

At every opportunity, the conspirators issued false but self-perpetuating claims to the media that there was a very large Jewish community in the Kurdistan Region that hovered around 400 families — but which was, in fact, non-existent. The motives were fairly limited,

  • Most of these men just wanted to be in the business of organizing hotly-desired visas, either for aliyah to the State of Israel, or asylum to Europe, which they thought would be very easy to obtain by claiming to be Jewish.
  • Many of them wanted control over real estate connected to Jewish heritage sites, or thought that there was a vault somewhere containing piles of Jewish gold. They would break into Jewish heritage sites to stage photo opportunities, and follow YouTube recordings that played in the background to reenact occasional holidays for the press.
  • A few thought that claiming to be Jewish would help them obtain one-off opportunities such as scholarships from Jewish organizations or some sort of entry into a Masonic cabal.

The whole thing reeked of antisemitic stereotypes, but it was impossible to get any sort of official response on these grounds alone. To my shock, trying to kill me for my Jewishness was still insufficient. At that point, I realized how violence was enabled — there was no point where any official attending to religious issues simply said “that is enough” and got to work.

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Jewish Refugees from Arab and Muslim Countries

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forgotten Jewish refugees - updated daily.