Remember the Farhud
The end of 2,500 years of Jewish life in Iraq began during two days in June 1941. For 30 terrifying hours, mobs of marauding Iraqi Arabs, soldiers and civilians alike, killed 137 Jews and injured thousands more, pillaged scores of homes, and destroyed more than 600 Jewish-owned businesses. The event came to be known as the Farhud, a Kurdish term for the murderous breakdown of law and order. Within ten years, almost the entire Jewish community of Iraq was gone.
Its exotic name aside, the Farhud wasn't an isolated eruption of anti-Jewish violence in some far corner of the world. According to the historians Shmuel Moreh and Robert Wistrich, it was at least in part an extension of the Nazi war of extermination against the Jews. Moreh is the co-editor of a 1992 collection of essays on the Farhud, recently revised and updated in English translation. Marking the seventieth anniversary of the attack, he and Wistrich, the distinguished historian of anti-Semitism, recently chaired a provocatively titled symposium, "Nazism in Iraq," in the hope of raising public awareness of the event and combating "Farhud denial" among today's Iraqi Arabs.
At the symposium, Wistrich noted that in 1941, Iraqi Jews "found themselves in the crossfire of three converging forms of anti-Semitism": the anti-Semitism of Iraqi nationalists, the anti-Semitism of Palestinian exiles in Iraq, and the anti-Semitism of German Nazis. Both the Iraqi and the Palestinian versions were deeply influenced by Nazism.
Consider the case of Yunus al-Sabawi, an Iraqi journalist who became the country's minister of economics and governor of Baghdad. Al-Sabawi also happened to be the author of an Arabic-language translation of Hitler's Mein Kampf. In the work's preface, he celebrated the "great adventurer, the great German leader who rose from being a simple soldier to the leadership of . . . one of the culturally and scientifically most developed nations in the world." During the Farhud itself, paramilitary groups organized by al-Sabawi were ordered to participate in the attacks.
Or consider the role played by Palestinian exiles. Approximately 400 leading Palestinian families had moved to Iraq after the anti-Jewish riots in Palestine in 1936-39. The most prominent was the orchestrator of those riots: Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, whose connections to Nazism in general and Hitler in particular have been thoroughly documented. But the mufti wasn't alone in channeling Nazi ideals: in their own account of the events leading up to the Farhud, British officials—the British ruled Iraq off and on from 1914 until 1955—noted the electrifying effect on Iraqi youth groups of their pro-Nazi Palestinian teachers.
Then there is the role played by German Nazis themselves in the Farhud. Dr. Fritz Grobba was the German envoy stationed in Baghdad; fluent in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish, he successfully tailored the Nazi message to local sensibilities. Already in 1939 Grobba was predicting in a report to Berlin that "a day will come when the anger of the masses will erupt, and the result will be: a massacre of the Jews."
Nazism exercised a double appeal to Palestinian and Iraqi Arabs. Its anti-Semitism resonated with certain powerful streams in Arab and Islamic tradition, and its anti-British animus resonated with the anti-imperialism promoted by Arab nationalists who despised the British as occupiers bent on thwarting their aspirations. Ironically, many Jews in Palestine viewed the British in similar terms (which did not prevent them from throwing in their lot with the British in the struggle against Hitler). The Jews in Iraq, however, were naturally more sympathetic to Great Britain, and were accordingly regarded by Iraqi nationalists as a fifth column.
There were also deeper affinities between Nazism and Arab nationalism. Commenting on the Ba'athists, the nationalist group that would go on to dominate Iraq for the last four decades of the 20th century. Wistrich observed in an interview:
The kind of people who founded the Ba'athist movements . . . looked up to Nazi Germany. The German national rebirth, including its anti-Jewish ideology, really appealed to them. The Third Reich represented militarism, glory, obedience, national unity, a messianic political faith—and the removal of the Jews.
All of this history sheds light on contemporary understandings of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to the conventional narrative, the roots of that conflict lie in Israel's occupation of "Palestinian lands" beginning in 1967. A better and more accurate narrative, however, would place the issue in the context of the ongoing 100-year war waged by the dominant part of the Arab-Muslim world to rid the Middle East of its minorities, from the Berbers to the Kurds to the Jews to, of late, the Christians. In this perspective, the consecutive intifadas against Israel orchestrated by Yasir Arafat's PLO represent, as Moreh writes, "the continuation of the stones that struck the Jews of Iraq following the arrival in Baghdad of the Palestinian Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini and his associates."
Both Moreh and Wistrich argue that the Farhud should be seen as a part of the Shoah. That is a debatable proposition—at the symposium, the objection was voiced that unlike in Europe, the Jews of Iraq, for all practical purposes, were not targeted for extermination. But there is no question that the massacre itself, and the role of Nazism in promoting and abetting it, deserve a prominent place in the collective Jewish consciousness. Seventy years on, it is amazing and frightening to consider that Arab nationalists, pan-Arab nationalists, and Islamists, loudly seconded by their European supporters, still charge Israel with being an outpost of "Western imperialism" in the Middle East.
Nathan Weinstock is a Belgian/French former anti-Zionist who changed his views after encountering the Mizrahi Jews and their history.
“Extending his analysis of the humiliating condition for Jews under Islam to the entire Arab-Islamic world, N. Weinstock has just published a presence so long ... How the Arab world has lost its Jews, 1947-2007 (Ed. Plon, Paris 2008), a book he summarized the contents as follows:
‘The Jews who lived in the Arab world numbered 900,000 in 1948. Today there are only 4.500.Il is a real drain on the land where they were present long before the advent of Islam. It is not fashionable today to evoke the plight of minorities who suffer the yoke of Islamists increasingly radicalized. In this rigorous testing and documented, the author traces the course of Jewish communities in every Arab state, caught between the traditions rooted in East and West emancipated. A trajectory that led to the collapse of our world becomes more resistant to accepting the other, and who may be expected to terrible consequences for our democracies. ‘”
The article is written in French but readers can use their Google translator if they need to read it in English.
Here is a link to his book on Jews in the Arab world, written in French and a little pricey. Perhaps some well stocked local or academic library have copies of the book.
From the book: Une si longue présence (Plon, Paris 2008)
“Until 1948, there were 900 000 Jews living in the Arab world where they had settled hundreds if not thousands of years before the birth of Islam. Only 4 500 are left now, i.e. 0,5 %. This is an exodus on a scale unparalleled in modern history. Based on extensive research, this book exposes the facts behind the flight of the Jewish communities living under the Crescent. A little-known story which most people prefer to ignore, mainly because it runs counter to the prevailing “politically correct” assumptions. Caught between the humiliating dhimmi status imposed on the non-Muslim minorities by the Islamic tradition, on the one hand, and their yearning to benefit from the promise of civil rights held out by the Western democracies, on the other, the Jewish communities of the Arab world were caught in an existential impasse. They had no conceivable future in a society unwilling to accept or condone otherness. And the pity of it all is that so many Jews were actively involved at the forefront of the struggle for the national and social emancipation of their fatherland.”
It is disturbing to the point of dismay that most of the human population remains unknowing about such things, some of them forming, in their ignorance, suppositions about what is going on in the Middle East.
There is good and there is evil.
Placitas, NM/Bethesda, MD
You didn’t really understand the article did you. The antisemitism that led to the pogrom against the Jews in Iraq in the early 40’s also led the Arabs States to reject any compromise on the establishment of a Jewish and Arab State in Palestine.
The war led to the exile of between 500 and 750 thousand Arabs from mandate Palestine and over the next decade about 900 thousand Jews from Arab lands.
The same antisemitism blame the Jews for these events. The Jewish occupation of the West Bank was the result of the war against Israel caused by Syrian, Jordanian and Egyptian and other Arab countries.
Your comment by blaming Israel for the “Palestinian refugee” problem, simplified what really happened: that, for example, Arab States refused to take in Arab refugees, that they kept them in camps paid by the UN. In fine, the refugees were and are being used by the Arab States as a weapon in their continued war against the Jewish State.
I am sorry he did so. Jewry has a rich history also in Poland, Germany, and elsewhere in Europe, but the Shoah was a distinct event and it can be and is written about as a distinct subject.
It seems to me that the Iraqi pogroms and subsequent history can and should be written about as a distinct historical epoch.
I wish there were more accounts of life of daily Mizrahi Jews in Arab countries. I especially like to see personal accounts of their expulsion from these countries.
Elliot's comments are completely irrelevant to what I wrote. I was directly answering the conclusion of this otherwise fine article, where the author unfortunately tried to draw a straight line between the Farhud and the PLO.
But your initial message did just that, to wit: "The Palestinians are upset because nearly a million of them were driven off their land in 1948 and continue to live as second class citizens in their own country with the Green Line, as victims of a humiliating occupation in the territories conquered after the 1967 war, and as exiles in their diaspora."
Placitas, NM/Bethesda, MD
Your argument is self-serving.
The Arab population of Mandate Palestine and before that of the Ottoman Empire lived in a divided land. There were areas with Jewish majorities like that of Jerusalem and there area of Muslims majorities and areas of Christian Arab majorities.
Jews, like many Arabs, had been coming and going in the land for thousands of years after their expulsion by the Romans. They were never strangers to the land nor were they merely “Europeans.” Many of the Jews in the region were Mizrahi Jews, which is to say Jews who spoke Arabic and lived all over the Arab world and whose presence predated the Muslim invasions.
(This is especially true of Iraq.)
It’s also not true that the Arabs were expelled the way the Jews were expelled from most Arab countries. The Arabs had made wars on the Jews and were later joined by the Arab League.
In any case, many of the “Palestinian” Arabs had been recent arrivals like many Jews and were drawn there by jobs created in Jewish communities.
It’s a complicated picture.
“For Mr. Arnon to say that the Arabs were motivated by anti-Semitism in not recognizing Israel is ridiculous. They were motivated by sympathy for fellow Arabs with whom they identified. If this was laced with anti-Semitism, it was not anti-Semitism which drove this perfectly natural reaction. If American Baptists had taken over Palestine, the Arab reaction would have been identical.”
Your comment and comparison is ridiculous. Muslim Arab antisemitism goes back to the founding of the religion. Christians, Baptists or not, had ruled the Arab lands for hundreds of Years and the reaction was hardly the same. In fact, both Arab Christians and Muslims viewed Jews as evil and subhuman: read about the Damascus Affair of the 1840’s:
Antisemitism is of long standing in the Middle East and predates the establishment of the Jewish State by many centuries.
It doesn't suffice; not even close as other have amply demonstrated.
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Mr. Katan refused permission because, as he said, to isolate that section as representative of the total experience of the history of the Jews in Iraq would be wrong. I was astonished by his reply but respected his point of view.