The Iraqi Jewish community possesses ancient roots, dating back to 722 BCE, and has a proud history. Between 500 and 700 CE, Iraqi Jewry produced the Babylonian Talmud, which is utilized by Jews around the world to date. Great Judaic scholars such as Hillel were Iraqi. In essence, Judaism as we know it today was born in Iraq. But aside from being rich regarding Jewish learning, Iraqi Jews had vastly contributed towards Iraqi society. They introduced the olive tree into Iraq and helped to develop Iraq’s postal and judicial systems. Iraq’s first Finance Minister, Yehezkel Sasson, was Jewish.
However, starting in the early 1940’s, the Iraqi Jewish community would suffer waves of persecution. In 1941, a group of pro-Nazis Iraqi military officers, inspired by the Palestinian Grand Mufti Haj Amin Al Husseini, staged a coup d’état and then proceeded to unleash a two-day Kristallnacht style pogrom against the Baghdad Jewish community during the Shavuot holiday. Almost 200 Jews were slaughtered; over 2,000 were wounded, around 1,000 Jewish shops and homes were torched, and a synagogue with its Torah scrolls was burnt. This massacre is known today as the Farhud, which means the violent dispossession.
After that, the predicament of Iraqi Jews further deteriorated. Iraqi Foreign Minister Fadil Jamali declared in 1947, “any injustice imposed upon the Arabs of Palestine will disturb the harmony among Jews and non-Jews; it will breed interreligious prejudice and hatred.” Between 1946 and 1949, there were a series of anti-Jewish riots in Iraq. Furthermore, starting in 1948, to be a Zionist became a criminal offense and hundreds of Jews were arrested, tortured, and then given extremely lengthy prison sentences for being Zionists. Iraqi Jews who went to Israel and didn’t return were tried in absentia. Jews were removed from the civil service, had their business licenses revoked, and quotas were placed on Jewish high school and college students.
After Israel won her War of Independence, then Prime Minister of Iraq, proposed to the British Ambassador to Jordan, Sir Alec Kirkbride that “the majority of the Jewish community in Iraq” should be forcefully expelled ‘in army lorries escorted by armored cars to the Jordanian-Israel frontier.” There, the Iraqi Jews would be forced to “cross the line.” While this particular plan wasn’t carried out, Said did mention expelling Iraqi Jews on no less than six occasions with foreigners in 1949. While the plight of the Palestinians was the excuse given, it is important to note that according to Nuri Said, “The Jews have always been a source of evil and harm to Iraq.” In other words, anti-semitism was the real reason for the destruction of Iraqi Jewry.
In 1950, the Iraqi Parliament passed the Ordinance for the Cancellation of Iraqi Nationality for Jews, Law No. 1 that robbed Iraqi Jews of their citizenship. One year after that, the Iraqi Parliament passed another law ordering the confiscation of all Jewish property. In 1947, there were over 130,000 Jews in Iraq. From 1949 till 1951, however, over 104,000 Iraqi Jews fled to Israel as part of Operation Ezra and Nehemiah. Another 20,000 arrived in Israel during this time period via Iran. However, in 1952, the remaining Iraqi Jews were barred from immigrating and faced even worse persecution until the early 1970’s, when almost all of the remaining Jews in Iraq left. As of 2008, Baghdad, which used to be a third Jewish, had less than 10 Jews, with only a few more scattered in the Kurdish areas of Iraq. A once vibrant culture has been destroyed!
Reported by Rachel Avraham for United With Israel
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