A few hours ago we published our reply to a June 11th Guardian article which whitewashed the ethnic cleansing of over 800,000 Jews from Arab countries between 1947 and 1972 – consistent with a pattern of such historical revisionism at the London daily which manifested itself again in a June 16th op-ed by Sami Ramadani.
Ramadani made the following claim in a piece titled ‘The sectarian myth of Iraq‘:
[Nobody] has yet produced historical evidence of significant communal fighting between Iraq’s religions, sects, ethnicities or nationalities. Prior to the 2003 US-led occupation, the only incident was the 1941 violent looting of Jewish neighbourhoods – which is still shrouded in mystery as to who planned it. Documents relating to that criminal incident are still kept secret at the Public Records Office by orders of successive British governments. The bombing of synagogues in Baghdad in 1950-51 turned out to be the work of Zionists to frighten Iraq’s Jews – one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world – into emigrating to Israel following their refusal to do so.
There are two claims – one about the 1941 “violent looting” (known as the Farhud), and another about a specific synagogue bombing in Baghdad.
First, regarding the “violent looting of Jewish neighborhoods“, Lyn Julius, an expert on the issue of Arab refugees from Arab countries, provided a brief account of the incident in a recent essay:
The Farhud — a Kurdish word meaning “forced dispossession” — erupted at the peak of World War ll. Over two days of rioting coinciding with the Jewish festival of Shavuot, a frenzied mob, including Arab neighbors and policemen, murdered around 180 Jews in Baghdad and other cities (the exact figure is not known); 242 children were orphaned, scores of women raped, hundreds wounded, 900 homes and 586 Jewish-owned shops were looted. Although some Arabs did heroically defend their Jewish neighbors, stories abound of pregnant women eviscerated, babies mutilated and Jewish hospital patients refused treatment or poisoned. The dead were hurriedly buried in a mass grave.
Though the question Ramadani raises – whether the anti-Jewish riots were “a direct result of incitement and deliberate, organized, German-Nazi propaganda” – is an interesting one (one which Julius addresses in her essay), by focusing on the narrow issue of who ‘incited’ the riots, he deflects from the more pertinent fact: that a “frenzied mob” of Iraqi Muslims perpetrated the atrocity, and they bear most of the moral responsibility.
Regarding the 1951 synagogue bombing:
Evidence revealed in 2006 by Tom Segev (a historian not known for towing the ‘Zionist narrative’) demonstrated that Iraqis from the Muslim Brotherhood threw the deadly bomb – not Zionists, as Ramadani claims.
On January 14, 1951, at about seven in the evening, a bomb – or perhaps it was a hand grenade – was tossed into the open courtyard of the Masuda Shemtov synagogue in Baghdad. The courtyard served as a gathering place for Jews, prior to their departure for the airport, on their way to Israel. At the time of the terror attack, the place was filled with several hundred people. Four of them, including a 12-year-old boy, were killed; about 10 were wounded. The Iraqi authorities blamed two activists from the Zionist underground, and had them executed.
Now, a recent publication is shedding new light on the mystery. The revelations come from Yehuda Tager, an Israeli agent who operated in Baghdad, was exposed and spent about 10 years in prison there. According to Tager, the bombing of the Masuda Shemtov synagogue was not carried out by Israelis, but by members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Further, at Point of No Return (the blog on Jewish Refugees from Arab countries), further refuting claims that Zionist may have been behind the bombing, notes that by March of that year (1951), all but about 6,000 Jews had decided to register to leave Iraq – calling into question why ‘Zionists’ would go to such efforts to spur Aliyah when the overwhelming majority of Iraqi Jews had already decided to do so.
Also, Israeli historian Moshe Gat has argued that it is “highly unlikely the Israelis would have taken such measures to accelerate the Jewish evacuation given that they were already struggling to cope with the existing [mass] immigration”.
Leaving the one bombing aside, the broader fact that Jews in Iraq, once a community of 135,000, fled the country due to antisemitic persecution is undeniable, and the Guardian contributor’s suggestion that Zionist agitation caused their flight is simply a lie.
As Point of No Return has noted about life for Jews prior to the bombing in 1951:
Jews were leaving [Iraq] illegally at a rate of 1,000 a month in 1949. Jews fled because they were being persecuted, because of the execution of the anti-Zionist Jew Shafik Ades in September 1948, because they were sacked from the Civil Service, because they could not enroll in universities and colleges, because they could not travel, because money was being extorted from them, because they were being arbitrarily arrested and unfairly singled out as Zionists.
Here are the major antisemitic events, again, per Point of No Return:
- 1932: German Charge d’affaires, Fritz Grobba, publishes instalments of Mein Kampf in Arabic daily newspaper. Radio Berlin begins Arabic broadcasts.
- 1934 – 36: 600 Jewish clerks dismissed from government
- 1934: regulation introduced requiring Jews to deposit £50 to travel abroad.
- 1935: state secondary schools impose quotas on Jewish students. Hebrew and Jewish history instruction forbidden. Only the Bible can be read without translation.
- 1936: government-licensed Jewish businesses must have a Muslim partner.
- 1939: Iraqi public school system begins to follow a Nazi education model.
- 1936: Three Jews murdered in Baghdad, one in Basra. Bomb thrown into synagogue on Yom Kippur.
- 1936 – 39: despite the Chief Rabbi officially dissociating himself from Zionism and a condemnation of Zionism signed by 33 Iraqi Jewish leaders, seven murders of Jews and six bombings take place.
- 1941: In the interregnum following a pro-Nazi coup, 179 Jews are killed and 911 houses looted in the Farhoud pogrom.
- 1947: Iraqi Foreign minister threatens expulsion of Jews as part of coordinated Arab League plan if Partition of Palestine goes ahead.
- 1948: state of emergency declared; 310 Jews court-martialed.
- 1948: Jews receiving letters from Palestine accused of Zionism.
- September 1948: Shafik Ades, Iraq’s richest Jew, hanged.
- May 1948 – Dec 1949: 800 – 1,500 Jews dismissed from public service. Jewish banks lose their foreign exchange trading licences. Restrictions on high school and university students.
- Jewish community ‘donates’ 113,000 dinars to war effort against Israel. Fines collected from Iraqi Jews: $80 million. Travel ban on Jews and on buying and selling property. Retroactive tax on Jews. Property of all Jews who had emigrated since 1933 confiscated. Government ceases to service Jewish areas. Property of Jewish prisoners impounded. Jewish newspapers shut down.
- Feb and March 1949: 100 Jews tried for connections to Zionism.
- March 1950: Iraqi Parliament Ordinance permits Jewish emigration upon forfeiture of citizenship. Some 120,000 Jews register to leave.
- March 1951: Law no. 5 deprives all stateless Iraqi Jews of their property.
All of these events of course wildly contradict Ramadani’s suggestion that there was no significant ethnic, sectarian or religious inspired violence prior to the Iraq invasion in 2003.
As Elder of Ziyon argued in his own excellent fisking of Ramadani’s op-ed, The Guardian whitewashes historic Iraqi antisemitism, “Comment may be free, but The Guardian has an obligation to fact-check what people write”.
Yiftah Curiel, spokesperson for the Israel Embassy in London, had a letter published at the Guardian on June 18th in response to Ramadani’s op-ed.
- Lyn Julius replies to the Guardian’s whitewash of the ethnic cleansing of Jews (cifwatch.com)
- Was the ‘Farhud’ Really a Nazi Event? (algemeiner.com)