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Bibliography on Iraqi Jews


[This was published in "off our backs" which was an American feminist periodical that was published beginning in 1970, with the last publication in 2008.]

off our backs

Page 26

Iraq's Anti-Semitic History

Dear oob:

I am replying to your call, in a recent oob, for information about why Jews left Iraq. This call arose from your coverage of a British feminist treatment of the Middle East's situation.

Iraq was admitted to the League of Nations as an independent country in 1932 (1). There was some discrimination against Jews prior to 1948, e.g., in 1935 a Ministry of Education directive said state secondary and higher education schools could accept only limited numbers of Jews (2) and the teaching of Hebrew was very restricted (3). During 1936-38 there were attacks on Jews in which several Jews were killed (4). In 1941 a farhud (pogrom) killed from 110-170 Jews (5). Some commentators say that the chief rioters were members of the army and the police (6), and the Jewish emigration from Iraq stemmed from that event (7).

In 1948 discrimination was greatly increased. In July/48 Jew-owned banks were forbidden to have any transactions with foreign countries (8). The number of import and export licenses available to Jews was reduced (9). One commentator says Jewish doctors and pharmacists were barred from practising and Jewish students were expelled fro universities (10). In October/48 a government circular instructed all government departments to dismiss Jewish employees (11). In July/48 "Zionism" was made part of Article 51 of the criminal law, and hundreds of Jews were placed on trial (12). People were charged with, for example, receiving mail from relatives in Israel (13). Most Jews charged were fined, some were imprisoned, one was hanged (14). Jews who wished to go abroad had to deposit 3,000 pounds and get an exist permit which was very difficult to obtain (15). Thousands of Jews left illegally between the end of 1949 (when the State of Emergency was lifted) and March/1950 (16).

In early March/50 a government decree allowed Jew to leave legally provided that they relinquished citizenship (17). Some succeeded in selling their property but because of the religious law forbidding transactions with Jews and the number of Jews selling they received only low prices for their property (18). As Jews were not permitted to take more than 50 pounds sterling per adult and 20 pounds per child (19) many Jews left their property on the assurance of the government that their homes and businesses would be disposed of legally and that they would receive the proceeds (20). On March 10/51, one day following the deadline for exit registration, the government declared all the property and bank accounts of those who had applied for exit visas forfeit (21).

In addition, on March 19, 1950, there was the first of a series fo bomb attacks on places such as synagogues where Jews gathered (22). In 1951 the Iraqi government found tow Jews guilty of throwing the bombs (23). More about these bombs later.

About 110,000 Jews left Iraq legally in 1950-51 (24). About 3,500 to 15,000 Jews remained (25).

Since 1964 these Jews have been forbidden to leave the country. They couldn't run or own a commercial or industrial business without a Moslem partner, couldn't get a job in a high government office, the political or military areas, or participate in sports, arts, the radio, or television (26). Around June 1976, as the 6-Day war started, their property was frozen, Jewish pharmacies were closed, and they were expelled from public and private offices (27). (Since 1948 presumably some Jews have been rehired by government.) Scores of Jews were arrested and nine were sentenced to death (28). After years in which Jews were forbidden to work, Jews left Iraq legally or illegally, and only about 400 were left in Iraq in 1972 (29).

All the above information was obtained from books in the University of Toronto library and should be available in any good university or large library.

The position that Zionists deliberately bombed Jewish gathering places in Iraq is advocated by Marion Woolfson in Prophets in Babylon, though the author does not say that it was the sole cause of the Jewish migration from iraq (30). This book was referred to earlier. Woolfson cites Haolan Hazel, an Israeli magazine, and Black Panther, an Israeli journal for and by non-European Jews. Both would probably be very difficult to obtain in the U.S., aside from translation problems. Woolfson also cites the January/73 edition of Middle East International, which should be available at university libraries.

I would like to make some comments on the claim Zionists deliberately bombed Jewish synagogues and that this bombing caused the Iraqi emigration. The evidence presented by Woolfson can be torn apart by careful analysis, e.g., Woolfson says a member of the Haganah stated that he had been part of an underground in Iraq helping Jews to escape illegally and which had arms caches, but Woolfson never cites this Haganah member as admitted that he bombed Jewish meeting places.

But this claim can also be destroyed by a more general analysis. Apologists for iraqi persecution of Jews face a difficult problem. On the one hand, they claim that Jews were neither persecuted in Iraq nor forced to leave. On the other hand they must explain why, if Jews were not persecuted, 110,000 left, abandoning a land where they had lived for 2,500 years as well as considerable property. They therefore claim that Jews only left because of Zionist staging of anti-Jewish bombings.

This theory can be criticized on several grounds. First, noone claims that the 1941 pogrom in which 110 Jews were killed was instigated by Zionists. So why assume that Zionists had to be responsible for bombings which killed only a few people. Second, Jews were leaving before emigration was legalized, and the bombings began after emigration was legalized. Even some pro-Iraqi authors agree illegal emigration was considerable, which they use as the excuse to justify the legal emigration at the cost of citizenship (31). Other pro-Iraqi books deny there was much emigration before the bombings to justify their thesis that the bombings were the main cause of emigration.

Finally, and most important, in view of the government actions dismissing them from government jobs and trying them for "Zionism," Iraqi Jews hardly needed a few bombings to persuade them to leave. Some commentators do not even mention the bombings as a reason why Jews left. After all, the 1941 farhud had been far worse. Bombings may be the act of a few isolated individuals. Jews left because the government actions indicated that the state was against them (32). Pro-Iraqi writers try to get around the clear evidence of government anti-Jewish actions by claiming that the government measures were the result of a British initiative (Iraq had been independent since 1932) and were done to strengthen the state of Israel (32) (just what Israel needed -- another 100,000 impoverished Jews) or were a conspiracy master-minded by Britain and Israel and executed by puppet rulers (34). Noone, incidentally, has claimed that Iraqi military actions against israel were also the result of a British and Israeli conspiracy.

I wish to thank oob for calling for information on this issue. I am sorry to be so far over the 500 word limit. I tried to be concise but I wished to be specific and provide people with a number of sources.

Reva Landau

1. Khadduri, Majid, Independent Iraq (2nd ed. 1960 Oxford University Press)

2. Cohen, Hayyim, The Jews of the Middle East (Israel Universities Press 1973) at 27; Roumani, Dr. M., The Case of the Jews from Arab Countries (1977, World Organization of Jews from Arab countries) at 31

3. Roumani, supra, n.2, at 29

4. Cohen, supra, n.2, at 29-30

5. Landshut, Siegfried, Jewish Communities in the Muslim Countries of the Middle East (Hyperion Press, Westport, 1950) at 46; Woolfson, Marion, Prophets in Babylon (1980, Faber and Faber, London) at 156

6. Cohen, supra, n.2, at 30

7. Landshut, supra, n.2, at 32

8. Ibid, at 48; Roumani, supra, n.2, at 32

9. Cohem, supra, n.2, at 35; Sachar, H., A History of israel (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1976) at 399

10. Sachar, H., supra, n.9, at 399

11. Roumani, supra, n.2, at 32; Landshut, supra, n.5, at 48

12. Woolfson, supra, n.5, at 184; Landshut, supra, n.5, at 47

13. Woolfson, ibid at 184; Landshut, supra, n.5, at 49

14. Woolfson, ibid, at 184

15. Landshut, supra, n.5, at 47

16. Khadduri, supra, n.1, at 276; Cohen, supra, n.2, at 35

17. Khadduri, supra, n.1, at 277; Woolfson, supra, n.5, at 186

18. Cohen, supra, n.2 at 35; Khadduri, supra, at 277

19. Cohen, ibid, at 35

20. Sachar, supra, n.9 at 399

21. Ibid; Woolfson, supra, n.5 at 188-9

22. Woolfson, supra, n.5 at 186-188

23. Woolfson, ibid, at 190

24. Khadduri, supra, n.1 at 277

25. Ibid; Sawdayee, Max, All Waiting to Be Hanged (1974, Levanda Press Ltd., Tel-Aviv) at 10. Sawdayee says there were originally 150,000 Iraqi Jews.

26. Sawdayee, supra, at 14

27. Ibid, at 35

28. Cohen, supra, n.2 at 36

29. Sawdayee, supra, n.25-end; Cohen, supra, n.2 at 37

30. Woolfson, supra, n.5 at 191-200

31. Khadduri, supra, n.1 at 276

32. Cohen, supra, n.2 at 36

33. Woolfson, supra, n.5 at 186

34. Iraqi Jews Speak for Themselves (1969, Dar al-Jumhuriyal Press. Baghdad) at 15