Iraq is a country with a rich Jewish history, including at one time some of the most successful Jews in the world. Yet, across history it has consistently proven to be one of the worst oppressors of the Jewish people. Last week, the Iraqi parliament passed a law criminalizing normalization with Israel under penalty of death, just a few days before the anniversary of an ugly chapter in Iraqi Jewish history: the Farhud. Iraq’s persecution of Jews, while tragic for the Iraqi Jewish community, has ultimately only led to suffering within Iraq for the Iraqi people. This most recent policy of criminalizing normalization with Israel will only continue their tradition of self-damaging policies.
From June 1-2, 1941, Baghdad, which had a thriving Jewish community and at times served as an example of coexistence between Muslims and Jews, became a war zone for the Jewish community in a horrific pogrom that forever scarred Iraqi Jewry. A violent mob of Muslims, angered by the loss of power of the Nazi-supporting Iraqi regime, began looting and destroying Jewish shops and property on the holiday of Shavuot, after rumors spread that Jews had helped the British in the fall of Rashid Ali’s Nazi-allied government.
Throughout the holiday, the angry mob escalated from destroying property to raping and murdering Iraqi Jews. In total, 180 Jews were murdered and over 1,000 were injured. Additionally, over 900 Jewish homes were destroyed. The Farhud, which is commemorated this week on June 1-2, was the beginning of the end for the once thriving Jewish community of Iraq.
Iraqi Jews who had previously been neighbors and friends with Iraqi Muslims suddenly became enemies. This pogrom occurred shortly after antisemitic propaganda, with the backing of Nazi Germany, had been published in major Iraqi newspapers. The Nazi party had even begun supporting an Arabic version of the Hitler Youth program, Al-Fatwa.
In the following years, many of Iraq’s Jews yearned for integration and healing, but the persecution intensified in the late 1940s. In 1947 Jewish children were banned from any government schools, and in 1948 the Iraqi government implemented wide scale discriminatory laws including firing all Jews from government positions, criminalizing Zionism, boycotting Jewish businesses, arresting prominent Jewish figures, and in some cases executing them publicly for spying for Israel. These murders were intended to frighten and intimidate the Jewish community, even as Iraq forbade immigration of any kind to Israel. This policy was reversed in 1950 when a policy of expulsion was implemented.
Over the next few years, approximately 120,000 Jews were driven out of Iraq following multiple terror attacks against the Jewish community, as well as massive persecution and executions at the hands of the government. Iraq drove out their Jewish community with thousands of them leaving completely impoverished after the government confiscated their businesses, homes and properties, and revoked their citizenship. In 1958, the Jewish community lost their status as a community, and Jewish schools and hospitals were taken by the state, without compensation.
The situation only intensified with the change in power in 1963 under a Ba’athist regime. Jews who remained in Iraq had their assets completely frozen, were forbidden from conducting business, disconnected from society and placed under house arrest. Dozens of Jews were executed for spying throughout the 1960s. This continued through the 1970s and today only an estimated 10 Jews remain in Iraq. The story of Iraqi Jewry is one of the most notorious modern day ethnic cleansing campaigns, but apparently even that wasn’t enough for today’s Iraq.
While there have been calls for normalization with the Jewish state in recent years, the Iraqi parliament last week passed a law rejecting any such notion. The new law states that having ties with Israelis, even business ties, is punishable by life in prison or death. The bill comes in the aftermath of the Abraham Accords, which brought unprecedented partnerships and prosperity to the participating countries. Apparently, Iraq wants no part in a better future for the Iraqi people.
It’s no coincidence that the same week Iraq passed this outrageous bill, the UAE and Israel passed a $2.5 billion (NIS 8.3 b.) trade agreement. Instead of moving forward to a brighter future in the region, Iraq is latching on to the anti-normalization camp that will continue its descent into chaos, as we have seen with every country that refuses to recognize Israel and persecutes its Jewish communities. If Iraqi leaders cared more about their people than they did about hating Jews, we’d see a very different reality for Iraq-Israel relations, one ensuring mutual success and prosperity for both sides.
The writer is the CEO of Social Lite Creative and an expert in online antisemitism and hate speech.