History of the Jews in Iraq

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Iraqi Jews constitute one of the world's oldest, and historically most important, Jewish communities. It was to Babylon that the Jews were exiled around 600 BCE. The descendants of these exiles ensured that Babylonia became the most important Jewish community after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. The community thrived as the center of Jewish learning until the Middle Ages, when the Mongol invasion, and the subsequent persecutions of the local muslims significantly reduced its importance. With the rule of the Ottoman Empire, the life of Iraqi Jews improved, though the community never regained its former importance. Iraqi Jews played an important role in the early days of the country's independence, but the Iraqi Jewish community, numbered at around 150,000 in 1948, was almost entirely driven out of the country by increasing persecution from the 1940s onwards. Today, fewer than 100 Jews remain.


[edit] Early Biblical history

In the Bible, Babylon and the country of Babylonia are not always clearly distinguished, in most cases the same word being used for both. In some passages the land of Babylonia is called Shinar, while in the post-exilic literature it is called the land of the Chaldeans. In the Book of Genesis, Babylonia is described as the land in which are located Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh (Gen. x. 10), which are declared to have formed the beginning of Nimrod's kingdom. In this land was located the Tower of Babel (Gen. xi. 1-9); and here also was the seat of Amraphel's dominion (Gen. xiv. 1, 9).

In the historical books Babylonia is frequently referred to (there are no fewer than thirty-one allusions in the Books of Kings), though the lack of a clear distinction between the city and the country is sometimes puzzling. Allusions to it are confined to the points of contact between the Israelites and the various Babylonian kings, especially Merodach-baladan (Berodach-baladan of II Kings xx. 12; compare Isa. xxxix. 1) and Nebuchadrezzar. In Chron., Ez., and Neh. the interest is transferred to Cyrus (see, for example, Ez. v. 13), though the retrospect still deals with the conquests of Nebuchadnezzar, and Artaxerxes is mentioned once (Neh. xiii. 6).

In the poetical literature of Israel, Babylonia plays an insignificant part (see Ps. lxxxvii. 4, and especially Ps. cxxxvii.), but it fills a very large place in the Prophets. The Book of Isaiah resounds with the "burden of Babylon" (xiii. 1), though at that time it still seemed a "far country" (xxxix. 3). In the number and importance of its references to Babylonian life and history, the Book of Jeremiah stands preeminent in the Hebrew literature. So numerous and so important are the allusions to events in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar that within recent times Jeremiah has become a valuable source in reconstructing Babylonian history. The inscriptions of Nebuchadrezzar are almost exclusively devoted to building operations; and but for the Book of Jeremiah, little would be known of his campaign against Jerusalem.

[edit] Late Biblical history and the Babylonian exile

Three times during the 6th century BCE, the Jews of the ancient Kingdom of Judah were exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. These three separate occasions are mentioned (Jeremiah 52:28-30). The first was in the time of Jehoiachin in 597 BCE, when the temple of Jerusalem was partially despoiled and a number of the leading citizens removed. After eleven years (in the reign of Zedekiah) a fresh rising of the Judaeans occurred; the city was razed to the ground, and a further deportation ensued. Finally, five years later, Jeremiah records a third captivity. After the overthrow of Babylonia by the Persians, Cyrus gave the Jews permission to return to their native land (537 BCE), and more than forty thousand are said to have availed themselves of the privilege. (See Jehoiakim; Ezra; Nehemiah and Jews.)

The earliest accounts of the Jews exiled to Babylonia are furnished only by the scanty details of the Bible; certain not quite reliable sources seek to supply this deficiency from the realms of legend and tradition. Thus, the so-called "Small Chronicle" (Seder 'Olam Zuṭṭa) endeavors to preserve historic continuity by providing a genealogy of the Princes of the Exile ("Reshe Galuta") back to King Jeconiah; indeed, Jeconiah himself is made a Prince of the Exile. The "Small Chronicle's" statement, that Zerubbabel returned to Palestine in the Greek period, can not, of course, be regarded as historical. Only this much can be considered as certain; viz., that the descendants of the Davidic house occupied an exalted position among their brethren in Babylonia, as, at that period, in Palestine likewise. At the period of the revolt of the Maccabees, these Palestinian descendants of the royal house had emigrated to Babylonia.

[edit] Greek Period (300s BCE - 160 BCE)

It was only with Alexander the Great's campaign that accurate information concerning the Jews in the East reached the western world. Alexander's army contained numerous Jews who refused, from religious scruples, to take part in the reconstruction of the destroyed Belus temple in Babylon. The accession of Seleucus Nicator, 312 B.C., to whose extensive empire Babylonia belonged, was accepted by the Jews and Syrians for many centuries as the commencement of a new era for reckoning time, called "minyan sheṭarot,"æra contractuum, or era of contracts, which era was also officially adopted by the Parthians. This so-called "Greek" era survived in the Orient long after it had been abolished in the West (see Sherira's "Letter," ed. Neubauer, p. 28). Nicator's foundation of a city, Seleucia, on the Tigris is mentioned by the Rabbis (Midr. The. ix. 8); while both the "Large" and the "Small Chronicle" contain references to him. The important victory which the Jews are said to have gained over the Galatians in Babylonia (II Macc. viii. 20) must have happened under Seleucus Callinicus or under Antiochus III. The last-named settled a large number of Babylonian Jews as colonists in his western dominions, with the view of checking certain revolutionary tendencies disturbing those lands. Mithridates (174-136) subjugated, about the year 160, the province of Babylonia, and thus the Jews for four centuries came under Parthian domination.

[edit] Parthian Period

Jewish sources contain no mention of Parthian influence; the very name "Parthian" does not occur, unless indeed "Parthian" is meant by "Persian," which occurs now and then. The Armenian prince Sanatroces, of the royal house of the Arsacides, is mentioned in the "Small Chronicle" as one of the successors (diadochoi) of Alexander. Among other Asiatic princes, the Roman rescript in favor of the Jews reached Arsaces as well (I Macc. xv. 22); it is not, however, specified which Arsaces. Not long after this, the Partho-Babylonian country was trodden by the army of a Jewish prince; the Syrian king, Antiochus Sidetes, marched, in company with Hyrcanus I., against the Parthians; and when the allied armies defeated the Parthians (129 B.C.) at the River Zab (Lycus), the king ordered a halt of two days on account of the Jewish Sabbath and Feast of Weeks. In 40 B.C. the Jewish puppet-king, Hyrcanus II., fell into the hands of the Parthians, who, according to their custom, cut off his ears in order to render him unfit for rulership. The Jews of Babylonia, it seems, had the intention of founding a high-priesthood for the exiled Hyrcanus, which they would have made quite independent of Palestine. But the reverse was to come about: the Palestinians received a Babylonian, Ananel by name, as their high priest which indicates the importance enjoyed by the Jews of Babylonia. Still in religious matters the Babylonians, as indeed the whole diaspora, were in many regards dependent upon Palestine. They went on pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the festivals.

How free a hand the Parthians permitted the Jews is perhaps best illustrated by the rise of the little Jewish robber-state in Nehardea (see Anilai and Asinai). Still more remarkable is the conversion of the king of Adiabene to Judaism. These instances show not only the tolerance, but the weakness of the Parthian kings. The Babylonian Jews wanted to fight in common cause with their Palestinian brethren against Vespasian; but it was not until the Romans waged war under Trajan against Parthia that they made their hatred felt; so that it was in a great measure owing to the revolt of the Babylonian Jews that the Romans did not become masters of Babylonia too. Philo speaks of the large number of Jews resident in that country, a population which was no doubt considerably swelled by new immigrants after the destruction of Jerusalem. Accustomed in Jerusalem from early times to look to the east for help, and aware, as the Roman procurator Petronius was, that the Jews of Babylon could render effectual assistance, Babylonia became with the fall of Jerusalem the very bulwark of Judaism. The collapse of the Bar Kochba revolt no doubt added to the number of Jewish refugees in Babylon.

In the continuous struggles between the Parthians and the Romans, the Jews had every reason to hate the Romans, the destroyers of their sanctuary, and to side with the Parthians, their protectors. Possibly it was recognition of services thus rendered by the Jews of Babylonia, and by the Davidic house especially, that induced the Parthian kings to elevate the princes of the Exile, who till then had been little more than mere collectors of revenue, to the dignity of real princes, called Resh Galuta. Thus, then, the numerous Jewish subjects were provided with a central authority which assured an undisturbed development of their own internal affairs.

[edit] Babylonia as the center of Judaism (219 CE - ~1050 CE)

After the fall of Jerusalem, Babylon would become the focus of Judaism for more than a thousand years. The rabbi Abba Arika, afterward called simply Rab, was a key figure in maintaining Judaism after the destruction of Jerusalem. Rab left Palestine to return to his Babylonian home, the year of which has been accurately recorded (530 of the Seleucidan, or 219 of the common era), marks an epoch; for from it dates the beginning of a new movement in Babylonian Judaism—namely, the initiation of the dominant rôle which the Babylonian Academies played for several centuries. Leaving an existing Babylonian academy at Nehardea to his friend Samuel, Rab founded a new academy in Sura, where he held property. Thus, there existed in Babylonia two contemporary academies, so far removed from each other, however, as not to interfere with each other's operations. Since Rab and Samuel were acknowledged peers in position and learning, their academies likewise were accounted of equal rank and influence. Thus both Babylonian rabbinical schools opened their lectures brilliantly, and the ensuing discussions in their classes furnished the earliest stratum of the scholarly material deposited in the Babylonian Talmud. The coexistence for many decades of these two colleges of equal rank (though the school at Nehardea was moved to Pumbedita -- now Fallujah) originated that remarkable phenomenon of the dual leadership of the Babylonian Academies which, with some slight interruptions, became a permanent institution and a weighty factor in the development of Babylonian Judaism.

The key work of these academies was the compilation of the Babylonian Talmud, started by Rav Ashi and Ravina, two leaders of the Babylonian Jewish community, around the year 550. Editorial work by the Savoraim or Rabbanan Savoraei (post-Talmudic rabbis), continued on this text for the next 250 years; much of the text did not reach its final form until around 700. (See eras within Jewish law.) The Mishnah and Babylonian Gemara together form the Talmud Bavli (the "Babylonian Talmud").

The three centuries in the course of which the Babylonian Talmud was developed in the academies founded by Rab and Samuel were followed by five centuries during which it was zealously preserved, studied, expounded in the schools, and, through their influence, recognized by the whole diaspora. Sura and Pumbedita were considered the only important seats of learning: their heads and sages were the undisputed authorities, whose decisions were sought from all sides and were accepted wherever Jewish communal life existed. In the words of the haggadist, "God created these two academies in order that the promise might be fulfilled, that the word of God should never depart from Israel's mouth" (Isa. lix. 21). The periods of Jewish history immediately following the close of the Talmud are designated according to the titles of the teachers at Sura and Pumbedita; thus we have "the time of the Geonim and that of the Saboraim. The Saboraim were the scholars whose diligent hands completed the Talmud in the first third of the sixth century, adding manifold amplifications to its text. The two academies lasted until the middle of the eleventh century, Pumbedita faded after its chief rabbi was murdered in 1038, and Sura faded soon after.

[edit] Sassanid Period (225-634)

The Persian people were now again to make their influence felt in the history of the world. Ardashir I destroyed the rule of the Arsacids in the winter of 226, and founded the illustrious dynasty of the Sassanids. Different from the Parthian rulers, who in language and religion inclined toward Hellenism, the Sassanids intensified the Persian side of life, favored the Pahlavi language, and restored with zeal the old monotheistic religion of Zoroastrianism, founded upon worship of Ahura Mazda, which now, under the favoring influence of the government, attained the fury of fanaticism.

Shapur I (Shvor Malka, which is the Aramaic form of the name) was a friend to the Jews. His friendship with Shmuel gained many advantages for the Jewish community.

Shapur II's mother was Jewish, and this gave the Jewish community a relative freedom of religion and many advantages. Shapur was also the friend of a Babylonian rabbi in the Talmud called Raba, and Raba's friendship with Shapur II enabled him to secure a relaxation of the oppressive laws enacted against the Jews in the Persian Empire. In addition, Raba sometimes referred to his top student Abaye with the term Shvur Malka meaning "Shapur [the] King" because of his bright and quick intellect.

Of course, both Christians and Jews suffered occasional persecution; but the latter, dwelling in more compact masses in cities like Isfahan, were not exposed to such general persecutions as broke out against the more isolated Christians. Generally, this was a period of occasional persecutions for the Jews, followed by long periods of benign neglect in which Jewish learning thrived. By the 600s, however, the Jews were increasingly persecuted, and they welcomed the Arab conquest of 632-634.

[edit] Arab Period (634-1258)

The first legal expression of Islam toward the Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians after the conquests of the 630s were the poll-tax ("jizyah"), the tax upon real estate ("kharaj") was instituted. The first calif, Abu Bakr, sent the famous warrior Ḥalid against Iraq; and a Jew, by name Ka'abal-Aḥbar, is said to have fortified the general with prophecies of success. The Jews may have favored the advance of the Arabs, from whom they could expect mild treatment. Some such services it must have been that secured for the exilarch Bostanai the favor of Umar I, who awarded to him for a wife the daughter of the conquered Sassanid Chosroes II. as Theophanes and Abraham Zacuto narrate. Jewish records, as, for instance, "Seder ha-Dorot," contain a Bostanai legend which has many features in common with the account of the hero Mar Zuṭra II, already mentioned. The account, at all events, reveals that Bostanai, the founder of the succeeding exilarch dynasty, was a man of prominence, who received from the victorious Arab general certain high privileges, such as the right to wear a signet-ring, a privilege otherwise limited to Muslims. Omar and Othman were followed by Ali (656), with whom the Jews of Babylonia sided as against his rival Mo'awiyah. A Jewish preacher, Abdallah ibn Saba, of southern Arabia, who had embraced Islam, held forth in support of his new religion, expounded Mohammed's appearance in a Jewish sense, and, to a certain extent, laid the foundation for the later sect of the Shiïtes. Ali made Kufa, in Iraq, his capital, and thither went Jews who had been expelled from Arabia (about 641). It is perhaps owing to these immigrants that the Arabic language so rapidly gained ground among the Jews of Babylonia, although a greater portion of the population of Iraq were of Arab descent. The capture by Ali of Firuz Shabur, where 90,000 Jews are said to have dwelt, is mentioned by the Jewish chroniclers. Mar Isaac, chief of the Academy of Sura, paid homage to the calif, and received privileges from him.

The proximity of the court lent to the Jews of Babylonia a species of central position, as compared with the whole califate; so that Babylonia still continued to be the focus of Jewish life. The time-honored institutions of the exilarchate and the gaonate—the heads of the academies attained great influence—constituted a kind of higher authority, voluntarily recognized by the whole Jewish diaspora. But unfortunately exilarchs and geonim only too soon began to rival each other. A certain Mar Yanḳa, closely allied to the exilarch, persecuted the rabbis of Pumbedita so bitterly that several of them were compelled to flee to Sura, not to return until after their persecutor's death (about 730). "The exilarchate was for sale in the Arab period" (Ibn Daud); and centuries later, Sherira boasts that he was not descended from Bostanai. In Arabic legend, the resh galuta (ras al-galut) remained a highly important personage; one of them could see spirits; another is said to have been put to death under the last Ommiad, Merwan ibn Mohammed (745-750).

The Ommiad calif, Umar II. (717-720), persecuted the Jews. He issued orders to his governors: "Tear down no church, synagogue, or fire-temple; but permit no new ones to be built". Isaac Iskawi II. (about 800) received from Harun al-Rashid (786-809) confirmation of the right to carry a seal of office. At the court of the mighty Harun appeared an embassy from the emperor Charlemagne, in which a Jew, Isaac, took part. Charles (possibly Charles the Bald) is said to have asked the "king of Babel" to send him a man of royal lineage; and in response the calif dispatched Rabbi Makir to him; this was the first step toward establishing communication between the Jews of Babylonia and European communities. Although it is said that the law requiring Jews to wear a yellow badge upon their clothing originated with Harun,, and although the intolerant laws of Islam were stringently enforced by him, the magnificent development which Arabian culture underwent in his time must have benefited the Jews also; so that a scientific tendency began to make itself noticeable among the Babylonian Jews under Harun and his successors, especially under Al-Ma'mun (813-833).

Like the Arabs, the Jews were zealous promoters of knowledge, and by means of translations of the Greek and Latin authors contributed essentially to their preservation. They took up religio-philosophical studies (the "kalam"), siding generally with the Motazilites and maintaining the freedom of the human will ("chadr"). The government meanwhile accomplished all it could toward the complete humiliation of the Jews. All non-believers—Magi, Jews, and Christians—were compelled by Al-Mutawakkil to wear a badge; their places of worship were confiscated and turned into mosques; they were excluded from public offices, and compelled to pay to the calif a tax of one-tenth of the value of their houses. An utterance of the calif Al-Mu'tadhel (892-902) ranks the Jews, as state servants, after Christians.

[edit] Middle Ages

Babylonia, however, still continued to be regarded with reverence by the Jews in all parts. Eldad ha-Dani, who in the ninth century traveled extensively from Africa, notes that the Jews of Abyssinia placed "the sages of Babylon" first in their prayers for their brethren of the diaspora; and a similar prayer, although it has quite lost its application, is extant today in many congregations. R. Paltiel of Cairo contributed one thousand gold pieces to the schools of Babylonia ("Medieval Jewish Chron." ii. 128), in accordance, no doubt, with a custom prevalent in all places where Jews dwelt. In 1139 Abraham ibn Ezra was in Bagdad, and the exilarchate had possibly been restored at that time. Toward the end of the twelfth century, both Benjamin of Tudela and Pethahiah of Regensburg gave a description of Babylon; Judah al-Ḥarizi's journey was somewhat later. Benjamin found seven thousand Jews in Mosul on the Tigris opposite ancient Nineveh, and at their head was R. Zakkai, of Davidic descent; he found also R. Joseph Burj al-Fulk, court astronomer of the Seljuk sultan Saifeddin. Pethahiah found there two "nesi'im" of the house of David. Other inhabitants paid a gold dinar to the government, but the Jews paid one-half to the government and the other to the two princes. In another passage Pethahiah says that every Jew in Babylonia paid a poll-tax of one gold piece to the head of the academy; for the king (calif) demanded no taxes. The Jews in Babylonia lived in peace. Passing through many places which counted two thousand, ten thousand, and even fifteen thousand Jewish inhabitants, Benjamin reached Bagdad, the residence of the calif. At this time the calif (Emir al-Mumemin) was considered only as the spiritual head of the state; the functions of government proper were exercised by the Seljuk princes.

[edit] Benjamin of Tudela's account

"The calif," says Benjamin, "is kindly disposed toward Israel, and reads and speaks our holy tongue." In Baghdad there resided about a thousand Jews, and there were ten colleges, which he enumerates, all under a president of their own. At the head of all stood the exilarch Daniel b. Ḥisdai. This shows that the exilarchate must have been restored, and, to judge from Benjamin's further description, it had lost but little of its former splendor. Pethahiah mentions only one academy in Baghdad and but a single presiding officer; he knows nothing of an exilarch. The inroad of the Mongolians seems to have wrought havoc in Bagdad; and the only large congregation known to Al-Ḥarizi was that of Mosul. Passing through the city of Babylon, Benjamin reached a place inhabited by twenty thousand Jews, where the house of the prophet Daniel was shown.

[edit] Mongolian period (1258-1534)

The califate hastened to its end before the rising power of the Mongolian Empire. As Bar Hebræus remarks, these Mongol tribes knew no distinction between heathens, Jews, and Christians; and their grand mogul Kublai Khan showed himself just toward the Jews who served in his army, as reported by Marco Polo. Hulagu, the destroyer of the califate (1258) and the conqueror of Palestine (1260), was tolerant toward both Jews and Christians; but there can be no doubt that in those days of terrible warfare the Jews must have suffered much with others. Under the Mongolian rulers, the priests of all religions were exempt from the poll-tax. Hulagu's second son, Aḥmed, embraced Islam, but his successor, Arghun (1284-91), hated the Muslims and was friendly to Jews and Christians; his chief counselor was a Jew, Sa'ad al-Daulah, a physician of Bagdad. After the death of the great khan and the murder of his Jewish favorite, the Muslims fell upon the Jews, and Bagdad witnessed a regular battle between them. Ghaikatu also had a Jewish minister of finance, Reshid al-Daulah). The khan Ghazan also became a Muslim, and made the Jews second class citizens. The Egyptian sultan Naṣr, who also ruled over Iraq, reestablished the same law in 1330, and saddled it with new limitations. Mongolian fury once again devastated the localities inhabited by Jews, when, in 1393, Timur captured Bagdad, Wasit, Hilleh, Bassora, and Tekrit, after obstinate resistance. Many Jews fled to other areas during this time.

[edit] Turkish rule (1534-1922)

After various changes of fortune, Mesopotamia and Iraq came into the hands of the Ottoman Turks, when Sultan Suleiman II in 1534 took Tabriz and Baghdad from the Persians, leading to an improvement in the life of the Jews. The Persian reconquest in 1623 led to a much worse situation, so that the re-conquest of Iraq by the Turks in 1638 included an army with a large population of Jews, some sources say they made up 10% of the army. The day of the reconquest was even given a holiday, "Yom Nes" (day of miracle).

Over time, the Turkish rule deteriorated and the situation of the Jews worsened, but the population continued to grow. In 1884 there were 30,000 Jews in Baghdad and by 1900, 50,000. The community also produced great rabbis, such as Joseph Hayyim ben Eliahu Mazal-Tov (1834 - 1909).

[edit] Modern times (1922-)

Sociologist Philip Mendes asserts that before the anti-Jewish actions of the 1930s and 1940s, overall Iraqi Jews "viewed themselves as Arabs of the Jewish faith, rather than as a separate race or nationality". [1] Additionally, early Labor Zionism mostly concentrated on the Jews of Europe, skipping Iraqi Jews because of their lack of interest in agriculture. The result was that "Until World War II, Zionism made little headway because few Iraqi Jews were interested in the socialist ideal of manual labor in Palestine." (Simon, Reguer, and Laskier, p 364)

In the early days after independence in 1922, well-educated Jews played an important role in civic life. Iraq's first minister of finance, Yehezkel Sasson, was a Jew, and Jews were important in developing the judicial and postal systems. Records from the Baghdad Chamber of Commerce show that 10 out of its 19 members in 1947 were Jews and the first musical band formed for Baghdad's nascent radio in the 1930s consisted mainly of Jews. Jews were represented in the Iraqi parliament, and many Jews held significant positions in the bureaucracy.

In the 1930s, the situation of the Jews in Iraq deteriorated. Previously, the growing Iraqi Arab nationalist sentiment included Iraqi Jews as fellow Arabs, but these views changed with the introduction of Nazi propaganda and the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian Mandate. Despite protestations of their loyalty to Iraq, Iraqi Jews were increasingly subject to discrimination and harsh laws. On August 27, 1934 many Jews were dismissed from public service, and quotas were set up in colleges and universities. Zionist activities were banned, as was the teaching of Jewish history and Hebrew in Jewish schools. Following Rashid Ali's pro-Axis coup, the Farhud ("violent dispossession") pogrom of June 1 and 2, 1941, broke out in Baghdad in which approximately 200 Jews were murdered (some sources put the number higher), and up to 2,000 injured -- damages to property were estimated at $3 million. There was also looting in many other cities at around the same time. Afterwards, Zionist emissaries from Palestine were sent to teach Iraqi Jews self-defense, which they were eager to learn. ." (Simon, Reguer, and Laskier, p 364)

In 1948, the country was placed under martial law, and the penalties for Zionism were increased. Courts martial were used to intimidate wealthy Jews were detained, Jews were again dismissed from civil service, quotas were placed on university positions, and one of the most important anti-Zionist Jewish businessmen in the country was arrested and executed for allegedly selling goods to Israel, shocking the community (Tripp, 123). Additionally, like most Arab League states, Iraq forbade any legal emigration of its Jews on the grounds that they might go to Israel and could strengthen that state. However, intense diplomatic pressure brought about a change of mind. At the same time, increasing government oppression of the Jews fueled by anti-Israeli sentiment, together with public expressions of anti-semitism, created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty.

By 1949, the Iraqi Zionist underground had become well-established (despite many arrests), and they were smuggling Iraqi Jews out of the country illegally at a rate of 1,000 a month (Simon, Reguer, and Laskier, p 365). Hoping to stem the flow of assets from the country, in March 1950 Iraq passed a law of one year duration allowing Jews to emigrate on condition of relinquishing their Iraqi citizenship. They were motivated, according to Ian Black, by "economic considerations, chief of which was that almost all the property of departing Jews reverted to the state treasury" and also that "Jews were seen as a restive and potentially troublesome minority that the country was best rid of." (p.91) Israel was initially reluctant to absorb so many immigrants, (Hillel, 1987) but eventually mounted an airlift operation in March of 1951 called "Ezra and Nehemiah" to bring as many of the Iraqi Jews as possible to Israel, and sent agents to Iraq to urge the Jews to register for immigration as soon as possible.

From the start of the emigration law in March 1950 until the end of the year, 60,000 Jews registered to leave Iraq. In addition to continuing arrests and the dismissal of Jews from their jobs, this exodus was encouraged by a series of bombings starting in April 1950 that resulted in a number of injuries and a few deaths. Two months before the expiry of the law, by which time about 85,000 Jews had registered, another bomb at the Masuda Shemtov synagogue killed 3 or 5 Jews and injured many others. The law expired in March 1951 but was later extended after the Iraqi government froze the assets of departing Jews, including those who had already left. During the next few months, all but a few thousand of the remaining Jews registered for emigration, spurred on by a sequence of further bombings that caused few casualties but likewise had great psychological impact. In total about 120,000 Jews left Iraq.

The true identity and objective of the masterminds behind the bombings has been the subject of controversy. Philip Mendes, in his work on post-1948 Jewish refugees, states that anti-Zionist Jewish authors, along with many Iraqi Jews, believed that the attacks were carried out by the Zionist underground. A secret Israeli inquiry in 1960 reported that most of the witnesses believed that Jews had been responsible for the bombings, but found no evidence that they were ordered by Israel or any motive that would have explained the attack (Morris and Black). The issue remains unresolved: Iraqi activists in Israel still regularly charge that Israel used violence to engineer the exodus, while Israeli officials of the time vehemently deny it (ibid). Iraqi authorities eventually charged three members of the Zionist underground with perpetrating the explosions. Two of those charged, Shalom Salah Shalom and Yosef Ibrahim Basri, were subsequently found guilty and executed, whilst the third was sentenced to a lengthy jail term. Salah Shalom claimed in his trial that he was tortured into confessing, and Yosef Basri maintained his innocence throughout.

Historians have generally argued against the idea of a conspiracy to increase Jewish registration. Mendes cites the arguments of Moshe Gat in The Jewish Exodus from Iraq 1948-1951 (1998):

Historian Moshe Gat argues that there was little direct connection between the bombings and exodus. He demonstrates that the frantic and massive Jewish registration for denaturalisation and departure was driven by knowledge that the denaturalisation law was due to expire in March 1951. He also notes the influence of further pressures including the property-freezing law, and continued anti-Jewish disturbances which raised the fear of large-scale pogroms. In addition, it is highly unlikely the Israelis would have taken such measures to accelerate the Jewish evacuation given that they were already struggling to cope with the existing level of Jewish immigration. Gat also raises serious doubts about the guilt of the alleged Jewish bombthrowers. Firstly, a Christian officer in the Iraqi army known for his anti-Jewish views, was arrested, but apparently not charged, with the offences. A number of explosive devices similar to those used in the attack on the Jewish synagogue were found in his home. In addition, there was a long history of anti-Jewish bomb-throwing incidents in Iraq. Secondly, the prosecution was not able to produce even one eyewitness who had seen the bombs thrown. Thirdly, the Jewish defendant Shalom Salah indicated in court that he had been severely tortured in order to procure a confession. It therefore remains an open question as to who was responsible for the bombings, although Gat suggests that the most likely perpetrators were members of the anti-Jewish Istiqlal Party. Certainly memories and interpretations of the events have further been influenced and distorted by the unfortunate discrimination which many Iraqi Jews experienced on their arrival in Israel.

See also this recent Haaretz article on the bombings

Most of the 10,000 Jews remaining after Operation Ezra and Nehemiah stayed through the Abdul Karim Qassim era when conditions improved, but Anti-Semitism increased in the Ba'ath Party era, culminating in the 1969 lynching of 14 Iraqis, most of them Jews, who were falsely accused of spying for Israel, which led to the departure of most of the remaining Jews.

The remainder of Iraq's Jews left over the next few decades, and had mostly gone by 1970. Today, fewer than 100 Jews remain in the country, and, as of 2004, debate over the Iraqi constitution has included whether Jews should be considered a minority group, or left out of the constitution altogether.[2]

In October 2006, Rabbi Emad Levy, Bagdad's last Rabbi and one of about 12 members of the Jewish community remaining in the city, compared his life to "living in a prison". He reported that most Iraqi Jews stay in their homes out of fear of kidnapping or execution <ref>[3]</ref>.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] References

  • I. Black & B. Morris, Israel's Secret Wars (Futura, 1992).
  • M. Gat, The Jewish Exodus from Iraq, 1948-1951 (Frank Cass, 1997).
  • S. Hillel, Operation Babylon (Doubleday, 1987).
  • N. Rejwan, The Jews of Iraq (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1985).
  • A. Shibak, The lure of Zion (Al Saqi, 1986).
  • R. S. Simon, S. Reguer, M. Laskier, The Jews of the Middle East and North Africa in Modern Times (Columbia University Press, 2003).
  • N. Stillman, The Jews of Arab lands in modern times (Jewish Publication Society, 1991).
  • C. Tripp, A History of Iraq (Cambridge University Press, 2002)
  • This article incorporates text from the 1901–1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, a publication now in the public domain.

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