On June 17, 2012, Iraqi Jews will commemorate the 71st anniversary of the Farhud
– the riots that took place on Shavuot in 1941. In the riots, reminiscent of
Kristallnacht in Germany, 137 Jews (180 or more according to some sources), men,
women and children, were murdered, hundreds more wounded and much Jewish
property looted. The memory of the riots remains fresh in the minds of Iraqi
Jews. This year’s ceremony will be held in the Babylonian Jewry Center in Or
Yehuda and will be attended by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
attacks occurred without provocation. The Jews, who had lived in Arab lands for
thousands of years, did not declare war on their hosts. They never fought
against them, as the Arabs in mandatory Palestine fought against the Jewish
settlements and afterwards against the nascent Jewish State of Israel. The world
has heard a great deal about the injustice visited upon the Palestinians, under
the code name Nakba, or “catastrophe,” but knows almost nothing about the crimes
committed against Jews in Arab lands. What happened in these countries was in
effect ethnic cleansing.
While the Nakba is marked every year with
demonstrations and wide media coverage, the “Jewish Nakba” does not merit any
public or media notice. This despite the fact that the human and physical
dimensions of the disaster that befell them were larger: the number of Jewish
refugees forced out of their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs
was about 856,000, while the Arabs who left Mandatory Palestine numbered about
650,000 according to UNRWA statistics.
The attacks against the Jews of
Arab lands occurred before the establishment of the State of Israel. In Iraq
they began with discrimination, in the economy, in education and public
Afterwards, Arab nationalism ignited rioting against the Jews,
which came to a peak in the Farhud of 1941.
Similar tragedies befell the
Jews of Libya, Aden and other Arab countries.
The combination of
xenophobic Sunni nationalism and anti-Semitism produced a powerful hatred of the
Jews. This hatred was abetted by Nazis such as the German envoy to Baghdad, Dr.
Fritz Grobba, and pseudo- religious leaders such as Haj Amin al-Husseini (who
fled from Mandatory Palestine and found in Iraq a convenient venue for his
anti-Jewish activities). The Jews were left with no choice but to flee from the
countries they had helped to found and bring into the modern era with their
contributions to government, the economy, medicine, education, literature,
poetry and music.
The threatening anti-Jewish climate that prevailed in
every Arab country was accompanied by inflamed anti-Jewish declarations, even
from the podium of the United Nations.
Government harassment and popular
attacks drove the Jews of the Arab world to migrate en masse to Israel. In
Egypt, a mass expulsion took place in the dead of night; the Jews were forced to
leave behind their personal and communal property – including schools, ancient
synagogues and cemeteries, prophets’ graves and hospitals. The Arab authorities
confiscated the property.
There were certainly Muslims in the Arab
countries who did not support the attacks on the Jews, but their voices were not
The Jews were the scapegoats in internecine power struggles
between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites, just as today Israel is at the center of
the struggle between the Shi’ite Iran and the Sunni states, with Turkey at the
In recent years, a process of awakening can be discerned in
the Arab world, especially among intellectuals, who recognize that it was not
only the Palestinian Arabs who suffered a “nakba,” but that the Jews of the Arab
world had their own catastrophe. Arab leaders – Palestinians and others – would
do well to stop parroting the slogan “the right of return” and deluding their
people, because there is no turning back the wheel of history.
dialogue with Israel for coexistence will bring a genuine basis of justice and
The writer is a former ambassador and deputy general of the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs.