Tuesday, May 22, 2007


On "Nostalgia for Babylon"

No Snow Here has a blog post entitled "Nostalgia for Babylon" where she discusses a recent BBC article, "Israelis from Iraq remember Babylon." She wonders "to what extent relationships between Middle Eastern Jews and non-Jews were good prior to 1948" and opines "There is the common fallacy that this is ancient fighting that has been going on forever (this fallacy also sets up an untrue division between 'Arab' and 'Jew') ... "

The BBC article has the foul smell of hasbara and suggests that for Jews life in Iraq was all sweetness and light--"It was an easy, happy life"--until those evil Arabs turned against the poor, innocent Jews in their midst. There is no mention, of course, in the BBC article that Zionists and, even the Mossad and Haganah, were active in Iraq's Jewish community long before the Nakba. This is documented in Zionism in an Arab Country: Jews in Iraq in the 1940s by Esther Meir-Glitzenstein and elsewhere.

There is no mention either that thousands of Iraqi troops actually fought and died in Palestine trying to stop Jews from stealing the country when Jews, mostly recent European immigrants, were less than one-third of the population and owned ~7% of the land. It is understandable that some Iraqis would be hostile to a community that had harbored agents of organizations directly involved in spilling Iraqi blood and ethnically cleansing Palestine.

The key figure in the BBC article, Yakov Reuveni, "was 17 years old in 1951, when his family emigrated to Jerusalem." Here's what Naeim Giladi, a former member of the Zionist underground in Iraq, writes in "The Jews of Iraq" about that time period in Iraq:
... March 19, 1950—a bomb went off at the American Cultural Center and Library in Baghdad, causing property damage and injuring a number of people. The center was a favorite meeting place for young Jews.

The first bomb thrown directly at Jews occurred on April 8, 1950, at 9:15 p.m. A car with three young passengers hurled the grenade at Baghdad’s El-Dar El-Bida Café, where Jews were celebrating Passover. Four people were seriously injured. That night leaflets were distributed calling on Jews to leave Iraq immediately.

The next day, many Jews, most of them poor with nothing to lose, jammed emigration offices to renounce their citizenship and to apply for permission to leave for Israel. So many applied, in fact, that the police had to open registration offices in Jewish schools and synagogues.

On May 10, at 3 a.m., a grenade was tossed in the direction of the display window of the Jewish-owned Beit-Lawi Automobile Company, destroying part of the building. No casualties were reported.

On June 3, 1950, another grenade was tossed from a speeding car in the El-Batawin area of Baghdad where most rich Jews and middle class Iraqis lived. No one was hurt, but following the explosion Zionist activists sent telegrams to Israel requesting that the quota for immigration from Iraq be increased.

On June 5, at 2:30 a.m., a bomb exploded next to the Jewish-owned Stanley Shashua building on El-Rashid street, resulting in property damage but no casualties.

On January 14, 1951, at 7 p.m., a grenade was thrown at a group of Jews outside the Masouda Shem-Tov Synagogue. The explosive struck a high-voltage cable, electrocuting three Jews, one a young boy, Itzhak Elmacher, and wounding over 30 others. Following the attack, the exodus of Jews jumped to between 600-700 per day.

Zionist propagandists still maintain that the bombs in Iraq were set off by anti-Jewish Iraqis who wanted Jews out of their country. The terrible truth is that the grenades that killed and maimed Iraqi Jews and damaged their property were thrown by Zionist Jews.

Among the most important documents in my book, I believe, are copies of two leaflets published by the Zionist underground calling on Jews to leave Iraq. One is dated March 16, 1950, the other April 8, 1950.

The difference between these two is critical. Both indicate the date of publication, but only the April 8th leaflet notes the time of day: 4 p.m. Why the time of day? Such a specification was unprecedented. Even the investigating judge, Salaman El-Beit, found it suspicious. Did the 4 p.m. writers want an alibi for a bombing they knew would occur five hours later? If so, how did they know about the bombing? The judge concluded they knew because a connection existed between the Zionist underground and the bomb throwers.

This, too, was the conclusion of Wilbur Crane Eveland, a former senior officer in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), whom I had the opportunity to meet in New York in 1988. In his book, Ropes of Sand, whose publication the CIA opposed, Eveland writes:
In attempts to portray the Iraqis as anti-American and to terrorize the Jews, the Zionists planted bombs in the U.S. Information Service library and in synagogues. Soon leaflets began to appear urging Jews to flee to Israel. . . . Although the Iraqi police later provided our embassy with evidence to show that the synagogue and library bombings, as well as the anti-Jewish and anti-American leaflet campaigns, had been the work of an underground Zionist organization, most of the world believed reports that Arab terrorism had motivated the flight of the Iraqi Jews whom the Zionists had “rescued” really just in order to increase Israel’s Jewish population.”
Eveland doesn’t detail the evidence linking the Zionists to the attacks, but in my book I do. In 1955, for example, I organized in Israel a panel of Jewish attorneys of Iraqi origin to handle claims of Iraqi Jews who still had property in Iraq. One well known attorney, who asked that I not give his name, confided in me that the laboratory tests in Iraq had confirmed that the anti-American leaflets found at the American Cultural Center bombing were typed on the same typewriter and duplicated on the same stenciling machine as the leaflets distributed by the Zionist movement just before the April 8th bombing.

Tests also showed that the type of explosive used in the Beit-Lawi attack matched traces of explosives found in the suitcase of an Iraqi Jew by the name of Yosef Basri. Basri, a lawyer, together with Shalom Salih, a shoemaker, would be put on trial for the attacks in December 1951 and executed the following month. Both men were members of Hashura, the military arm of the Zionist underground. Salih ultimately confessed that he, Basri and a third man, Yosef Habaza, carried out the attacks.

By the time of the executions in January 1952, all but 6,000 of an estimated 125,000 Iraqi Jews had fled to Israel. Moreover, the pro-British, pro-Zionist puppet el-Said saw to it that all of their possessions were frozen, including their cash assets. (There were ways of getting Iraqi dinars out, but when the immigrants went to exchange them in Israel they found that the Israeli government kept 50 percent of the value.) Even those Iraqi Jews who had not registered to emigrate, but who happened to be abroad, faced loss of their nationality if they didn’t return within a specified time. An ancient, cultured, prosperous community had been uprooted and its people transplanted to a land dominated by East European Jews, whose culture was not only foreign but entirely hateful to them.

The Ultimate Criminals

Zionist Leaders. From the start they knew that in order to establish a Jewish state they had to expel the indigenous Palestinian population to the neighboring Islamic states and import Jews from these same states.

... David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, told a Zionist Conference in 1937 that any proposed Jewish state would have to “transfer Arab populations out of the area, if possible of their own free will, if not by coercion.” After 750,000 Palestinians were uprooted and their lands confiscated in 1948-49, Ben Gurion had to look to the Islamic countries for Jews who could fill the resultant cheap labor market. “Emissaries” were smuggled into these countries to “convince” Jews to leave either by trickery or fear.

In the case of Iraq, both methods were used: uneducated Jews were told of a Messianic Israel in which the blind see, the lame walk, and onions grow as big as melons; educated Jews had bombs thrown at them.

A few years after the bombings, in the early 1950s, a book was published in Iraq, in Arabic, titled Venom of the Zionist Viper. The author was one of the Iraqi investigators of the 1950-51 bombings and, in his book, he implicates the Israelis, specifically one of the emissaries sent by Israel, Mordechai Ben-Porat. As soon as the book came out, all copies just disappeared, even from libraries. The word was that agents of the Israeli Mossad, working through the U.S. Embassy, bought up all the books and destroyed them. I tried on three different occasions to have one sent to me in Israel, but each time Israeli censors in the post office intercepted it. [emphasis added; endnote reference numbers omitted]
Concerning Zionist involvement in the bombings described above, see also:
The "Lavon Affair" of 1954 is a well-documented instance of Israeli agents attempting to covertly bomb American targets in an Arab country and placing the blame on Arabs.

I'll close with some excerpts from The Jews of Baghdad and Zionism: 1920-1948 (PDF), the Oxford University master's thesis of Ari Alexander:
Jews and Christians, having lived for centuries as dhimmis were enthusiastic recipients of European educations and political ideas. Their language skills enabled them to reap employment opportunities when the British ruled Baghdad. Jewish global business networks developed in the framework of the British Empire to allow a visible minority of Jews to quickly become some of the wealthiest Baghdadis. As hatred towards the British colonial administration mounted, the Jewish reliance on British support became isolating and dangerous [This is echoes the main premise of Benjamin Ginsberg's The Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State--vfpd].

A small but visible Zionist movement developed in Baghdad during the 1920s under the leadership of ‘the teacher.’ From the outset, all major community figures and the vast majority of Jews distanced themselves from the Zionists, aware of the danger that it could pose to Jewish security [They probably would have been better off if they had organized publicly against Zionism but their opposition was based on expedience, not principle, as Alexander makes clear elsewhere--vfpd]. Arab nationalism viewed European colonialism and Zionism as its chief enemies during its formative years [With very good cause--vfpd]. And with major powers France and Britain tainted by their colonial exploits, many in Baghdad looked to Germany for guidance. A multi-dimensional relationship between Berlin and Baghdad served to militarize Arab nationalism and provide it with a totalitarian dress, while some of the virulent anti-Semitic rhetoric of Nazi Germany seems to have seeped into the hearts and minds of the Baghdadi masses through newspapers, radio, schools and the army. It is difficult to gauge from the sources consulted for this thesis what exactly the meaning of Nazism was to its Iraqi actors. Pro-German they were; pro-Nazi the Zionists have worked hard to make them out to be with relatively little recorded evidence of Nazi-like anti-Semitism. But Baghdadi Jews, who had never felt at home in Arab nationalist circles [Given the picture painted in the BBC article, why is that? Perhaps, contra Reuveni, some people were thinking "of who was Jewish and who was Arab"--vfpd], and who had distanced themselves from Zionism, did indeed become the victims of open hostility, culminating in the farhud of June 1941. While the farhud would not have occurred without the power vacuum in Baghdad with the fall of the Rashid ‘Ali coup, it nonetheless shocked the largely pro-integrationist Jewish community. The trauma was not to last for the vast majority of Jews, who capitalized on the wartime economy and preferred not to dwell on the horrors of the farhud. The Zionist underground was able to build up a sizeable movement through the 1940s, though the predominant theme in their correspondence with the yishuv was frustration at the lack of enthusiasm for their ideas amongst the local population. An even smaller number of Jews became active in the Iraqi Communist Party in search of an alternative response to the religious hostility in the country.

Though all of these themes are important to understanding the Baghdadi Jewish experience between 1920-1948, I have used Zionism as the focal point of this thesis because Zionism was the root cause of the breakdown in Arab-Jewish relations in the modern period. Zionism was not the only factor. Colonialism, Nazi propaganda and the rise of an exclusive radical Arab nationalism all isolated the Jews for one reason or another. The Jewish community in Baghdad between the two World Wars experienced all of these major forces as they tried to educate themselves, succeed in their professions and stay out of trouble. It is probably for this reason that the vast majority of Baghdadi Jews were antipathetic to the Zionists. In an environment full of anti-Zionist rage on behalf of an emergent Arab nation, and in the context of anti-Jewish Nazi rhetoric and the unpopularity of their close economic ties with Britain, most Jews chose either to remain apolitical or to speak out actively against Zionism.

However, the combination of Zionism and Nazi-tinged Arab nationalism prevented the Baghdadi Jews from living in genuine comfort. The force of the Zionist-Arab conflict grew to acquire regional centrality, and it was no great surprise that the Jews of Arab countries were amongst the ‘victims’ of this conflict, squeezed out of their native lands, only to be poorly treated by the nascent state of Israel.

But Nazi-transmitted anti-Jewish propaganda in the newspapers and in the schools would never have made a significant impression on the Baghdadi masses without the ready-made hostility towards Jews that came from their religious association with Zionists. It was because of Zionism that Jewish-Muslim relations could never be like Christian-Muslim relations in Baghdad. Whereas many Christians experienced the same socio-economic benefits of British favoritism and even similar exclusion from nationalist circles, the Jews were guilty by association since their co-religionists were engaging in a daily campaign that was widely perceived to be anti-Arab and anti-Muslim in nature. And it was the Zionists who willfully constructed the dichotomy of ‘Arab’ and ‘Jew’, sowing the seeds of regional conflict that placed ‘Arab-Jews’ in no-man’s land. When the Arab nationalists reproduced this dichotomy and took the Zionists at their word, blurring the line between Jews and Zionists, the ‘Arab-Jews’, much to the joy of Zionist leaders, were forced into the arms, however reluctantly, of the Zionist state.

... The story of Baghdadi Jews is not, as the Zionist narrative would have it, just one of many examples of gentile hatred of Jews. And if the Zionists can be said to have ‘saved’ the Iraqi Jews, as contemporary Zionist historians would have it, then they only needed saving in the first place because of the growth of Zionism and the stirring it aroused around the Arab world. Although Zionism was the solution to a problem for European Jews, it was the creation of a problem for the Arab world.
See also:

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thank you for this research and information. it really clears up the issue. have you read this interview with norman finkelstein and shlomo ben-ami: http://www.democracynow.org/finkelstein-benami.shtml

i don't know how current it is, but i just found it last night and haven't read it yet. i've skimmed it and it looks very much worth reading/listening to.
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