During Shavuot Iraqi Jews commemorate the 77th anniversary of the Farhud – the cruel and bloody riots that took place on Shavuot (June 1-2 in 1941) against the Jewish community of Iraq. In the riots, reminiscent of Kristallnacht in Germany (November 9-10,1938), 179 Jews were murdered, hundreds more were wounded and much Jewish property was looted.
The memory of the riots remains fresh in the minds of Iraqi Jews in Israel and abroad. This year the commemoration ceremony for the victims will take place on June 12 in the Babylonian Jewish Center in Or Yehuda.
Similar attacks occurred against almost all the Jews living in Arab countries.
These Jews, who had lived in these countries for thousands of years, did not declare war on their hosts. They never fought against them, as the Arabs in mandatory Palestine fought against that Jews and afterward against the nascent Jewish State of Israel. The world has heard a great deal about the “Nakba,” the “catastrophe” of the Palestinian Arabs, but knows almost nothing about the wrongs committed against Jews in Arab countries. What happened in Iraq and the rest of the Arab countries was in effect an ethnic cleansing. Jews were forced to leave behind their personal and communal property, including schools, hospitals, ancient synagogues, cemeteries, and prophets’ graves. The Arab governments confiscated all Jewish property.
While the Nakba is marked every year with demonstrations and wide media coverage, the Jewish disaster does not merit public or media notice. This despite the fact that its human and physical dimensions were larger than those of 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 600,000 ).
Only on February 22, 2010, was the issue 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 Jews.
And only four years later, on November 2014, did a memorial ceremony take place in the president’ residence to honor the existence and expulsion of the Jews from Arab countries, according to a law adopted by the Knesset that year.
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 economy, in education and public life.
Afterward, Arab nationalism ignited rioting against the Jews, which came to a peak in the Farhud of 1941. Similar tragedies happened to the Jews of Libya, Aden and other Arab countries. In Egypt, a mass expulsion took place in the dead of night.
In Iraq, the combination of xenophobic Sunni nationalism and antisemitism produced a powerful hatred of the Jews.
This hatred 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 Iraq and the rest of the Arab countries that they had helped to found and bring into the modern era with their contributions to government, the economy, medicine, education, literature, poetry and music.
Seven years later, the threatening anti-Jewish climate that prevailed in every Arab country was accompanied by inflamed anti-Jewish declarations broadcast 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.
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 also the Jews of the Arab world.
For the sake of history and educating the future generations, a proper commemoration of the plight and the heritage of Jews from Arab countries should take place in Israel.
Palestinians leaders would do well to stop parroting slogans about “the right of return” and deluding their people, because there is no turning back the wheel of history.
The author was born in Baghdad and is a former ambassador and deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry.