Remembering the Iraqi Intellectual Who Stood Up for the Jews

July 10 2020

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.

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Read more at Tablet

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

 

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism