Remembering the Iraqi Intellectual Who Stood Up for the Jews

In May 1941, a bloody pogrom, known as the farhud, ravaged Baghdad, leaving 200 Jews dead, hundreds more injured or raped, and shops and homes looted or destroyed. Between 1950 and 1952, approximately 75 percent of Iraq’s Jews left for Israel, but the remainder—some 10,000 souls—lived in relative piece until the 1960s, when conditions took a sharp turn for the worse. Raad Yahya Qassim recounts the attitudes toward the Jews of his father, Yahya Qassim, who between 1945 and 1958 was the editor of the liberal Baghdad paper al-Sha’b:

In 1946, with al-Sha’b in its second year of publication, the political atmosphere in Iraq started to grow increasingly tense in view of the expected creation of the state of Israel. Iraqi public opinion was roughly divided into three views on this matter: the first view was that of Iraqi political parties and newspapers pushing the Arab nationalist approach, who considered Iraqi Jewry and Zionism as one and the same and exhibiting outright hostility toward the Jewish community in Iraq. The second view, predominant in the ruling establishment, looked at the question through a somewhat more moderate and pragmatic lens, taking into account the pressure exerted by some other Arab governments, particularly Syria’s, to follow a hardline policy toward Zionism and the creation of the state of Israel.

The third view was that of a minority, in which Yahya Qassim was a leading example. This view was embodied in Qassim’s daily editorials in al-Sha’b, arguing that Iraqi Jews were—both de jure and de facto—fully equal to other Iraqi citizens, and that the creation of the state of Israel was a separate and distinct question of Iraqi governmental foreign policy. Furthermore, Qassim argued that sympathizing with the plight of the Palestinian Arabs in no way conflicted with the recognition of the full rights of Jews as Iraqi citizens.

There was, however, no significant voice in favor of pursuing good relations with the new Jewish state, although it posed no strategic threat to Iraq, at that time a pro-Western country. But as the younger Qassim relates, his father also “took on the role of lawyer for hundreds of Iraqi Jews” when the Jewish community faced a bevy of anti-Semitic legislation and regulations.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Farhud, Iraq, Iraqi Jewry, Muslim-Jewish relations


Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy