The Demise of Iraqi Jewry

Beginning with their rise to power in 1933, the Nazis cultivated contacts with Iraq; after the war ended, no small number of former Nazis took refuge there. These Germans stoked the flames of local anti-Semitism, eventually leading to terrible pogroms that culminated with the expulsion of Jews from the country. Edwin Black writes:

[In the 1930s and 40s], resident Gestapo agents such as Fritz Grobba . . . employed such tactics as dispensing [large amounts] of cash among [Iraqi] politicians and deploying seductive German women among ranking members of the army. From 1933, Radio Berlin began broadcasting hate messages in Arabic, including fallacious reports about non-existent Jewish outrages in Palestine. Grobba cultivated many Iraqis as Nazi surrogates. Iraqi Arab Hitler-style youth marched in Nuremberg torch-light parades hosted by their Berlin counterparts. German was taught in Iraqi schools. When World War II broke out in 1939, Nazism became a fervent cause among many Iraqis.

In May 1941, Iraqi fascists backed by popular support tried to overthrow the pro-Western monarchy and seize British oil fields in Iraq to facilitate the oil-dependent German [plan to invade] Russia. That failed. The Iraqi coup plotters in Baghdad decided to do the next best thing: exterminate its Jews in a single blow. Jews were ordered to stay in their homes, and their doors were marked with a red hamsa.

At the last minute, the extermination plot fell apart. But as the coup leaders fled, in that momentarily power vacuum on June 1-2, 1941, dejected swarms of soldiers, in concert with police, common criminals, and nondescript mobs rampaged through Baghdad hunting for Jews. They were easily found. Hundreds of Jews were cut down by sword and rifle, some decapitated. Babies were sliced in half and thrown into the Tigris. Girls were raped in front of their parents. Parents were mercilessly killed in front of their children. Hundreds of Jewish homes and businesses were looted, then burned. . . .

The persecution grew worse with the formation of the state of Israel; by the end of 1951 almost the entire Jewish population had relocated to the Jewish state. The result was Israel’s gain, and Iraq’s loss:

An estimated 130,000 Jews lived in the Iraq of 1949, with about 90,000 residing in Baghdad. The Baghdad Chamber of Commerce listed 2,430 member companies—a third were Jewish; in fact, a third of the chamber’s board and almost all of its employees were Jewish. Jewish firms transacted 45 percent of the exports and nearly 75 percent of the imports. A quarter of all Iraqi Jews worked in transportation, such as the railways and port administration. The controller of the budget was Jewish. A key director of the Iraqi National Bank was Jewish. The Currency Office board members were all Jewish. The Foreign Currency Committee was about 95 percent Jewish. Over the centuries, Jews had become essential to the economy.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Anti-Semitism, Farhud, History & Ideas, Iraqi Jewry, Nazis, World War II

Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship