The Farhud – the Jewish Nakba

Arab leaders – Palestinians and others – would do well to stop parroting the slogan “the right of return” and deluding their people.

June 16, 2012 23:05
3 minute read.
Nessim Zalayet depicts the Farhud

Nessim Zalayet depicts the Farhud 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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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.

The 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.

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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 life.

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 heard.

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 forefront.

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.

Only a dialogue with Israel for coexistence will bring a genuine basis of justice and truth.

The writer is a former ambassador and deputy general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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