IBRAHIM YOUSSEF SHALEH, the leader of Iraq’s Jewish cmty 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
During Shavuot, Iraqi Jews will commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the “Farhud”
– the riots that took place on Shavuot, June 1-2, 1941. In the riots reminiscent
of Kristallnacht in Germany, 179 Jews were murdered, hundreds more wounded and
much Jewish property looted.
The memory of the riots remains fresh in the
minds of Iraqi Jews.
Similar attacks occurred against almost all Jewish
communities in Arab countries, for thousands of years. The Jews 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 that happened to the Palestinians, under the code-name “Nakba,” or
catastrophe, but knows almost nothing about the wrongs committed against Jews in
Arab countries. What happened in the Arab countries was in effect ethnic
While the Nakba is marked every year with demonstrations and
wide media coverage, the Jewish disaster does not merit any public or media
notice. This despite the fact that its human and physical dimensions were larger
than the Nakba (the number of Jewish refugees forced out of their homes was
about 856,000, while the Arabs who left Mandatory Palestine numbered about
650,000 according to UNRWA statistics).
Only as late as February 22,
2010, was the issue was placed on the Israeli agenda with the enactment of the
“The Law of Preservation of the Rights to Compensation of Jewish Refugees from
Arab Countries and Iran,” which states that any negotiations for the achievement
of peace in the Middle East must include the subject of compensation for said
THE ATTACKS against the Jews in Arab lands occurred even before the
establishment of the State of Israel. In Iraq they began with discrimination in
the areas of the economy, education and public life. Afterwards, Arab
nationalism ignited the fires of 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. In Egypt, a mass expulsion took place in the dead of
night. The Jews were forced to leave behind their property, including schools,
hospitals, ancient synagogues, cemeteries and prophets’ graves. The Arab
governments confiscated it all.
The combination of xenophobic Sunni
nationalism and anti-Semitism produced a powerful hatred of the Jews. This
hatred, according to the American historian Edwin Black, was abetted by Nazis
such as 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 Arab countries that they had helped to found and
bring into the modern era with their contributions to government, economy,
medicine, education, literature, poetry and music.
anti-Jewish climate that prevailed in every Arab land was accompanied by
inflamed anti-Jewish declarations broadcasted on radio, and 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.
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.
recent years, a process of awakening can be discerned in the Arab world,
especially among intellectuals, who recognize that it was not only the
Palestinians Arabs who suffered a nakba, but that the Jews of the Arab world had
their own catastrophe.
For sake of history and educating future
generations, a proper commemoration of the plight and the heritage of Jews from
Arab countries should take place in Israel. 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
The author is a former ambassador and deputy director-general of the