Inside the Remnants of Baghdad’s Old Jewish Quarter

Jonathan Spyer describes a visit to Baghdad’s Shorja market, once a center of the city’s Jewish life:

This had once been the vibrant heart of Baghdad’s Jewish community, though not the slightest memory or indication of that was to be found. We wandered the deserted, silent alleyways filled with garbage from the market. . . . There has been a market at Shorja since the Abbasid period in the 8th century. But for some time in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Jews dominated trade in the area. It was the hub of a flourishing community.

In 1951-1952, the long story of Iraqi Jewry came to an end with Arab nationalist agitation, the commencement of anti-Jewish laws from the mid-1930s, growing violence, the Farhud massacres in 1941, and the subsequent persecution and expulsions. Almost the entire community was airlifted or smuggled out of the country between 1949 and 1952. . . .

Some 60 years on, in Baghdad the Jews are a ghostly memory. The poor Shiites who moved into their vacated houses and the mass of the population that came later are neither moved by nor curious about their buried stories. There are, it is said, seven Jews remaining in the city. The old synagogues are long since demolished or boarded up, the mezuzot long pried from the doorways. . . .

As it turns out, the expulsion of Baghdad’s Jews was a portent of what was to come. The Jews were the first minority to be ripped from the fabric of Iraqi society. . . . Today, in Iraq, forces of tribalism and sectarian hatred similar to those that ended Baghdad Jewry’s long and illustrious history are tearing the whole country to pieces.

Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Baghdad, History & Ideas, Iraqi Jewry, Mizrahi Jewry


Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict