AMSTERDAM, Netherlands: They number only eight, but they are the remnant of a community 2,700 years old — the last Jews left in modern Baghdad.
An Anglican clergyman who watches over the tiny Jewish group says they are increasingly desperate and want to leave Iraq for the Netherlands. But Israeli, Dutch and Jewish officials dispute claims by the Rev. Andrew White that the Jews want to leave.
The recent history of Iraq's Jews began to emerge from White's appearance July 25 before the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan federal agency, in which he stressed the growing threat to Baghdad's minorities.
"In the last three or four months things have deteriorated very considerably," he said, according to a transcript of the proceedings held in the Senate.
White said he gives the Jews enough money every month to live, which they then share with other Iraqis.
"Even though they are very small and they have suffered very greatly, they still want to help those who suffer as well as themselves," he said. "I personally think they should all leave, because they have no future, no security, no ability to survive at the moment."
But his claims that the Jews want to go to Holland because of the large Iraqi Jewish community there — and that the Dutch have refused to accept them — were met with surprise by Dutch officials and by the Dutch Jewish community.
"We have had no official request or visa applications," said Rob Dekker, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.
Michael Jankelowitz, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem which is responsible for immigration, said none of the eight Jews left in Baghdad has expressed a desire to leave.
"They survived under Saddam Hussein, and there is no need for them at their late age to pack up and move to different surroundings," he said. Half of them are over 80 years old, and the others are of working age.
They live discreetly in a dangerous area of Baghdad, and could not be contacted for comment.
Hamutal Rogel, the Israeli Embassy spokeswoman in The Hague, quoted a member of the Iraqi Jewish community who is in weekly contact with the group in Baghdad as saying they don't want to leave.
"They are not in the best situation, but they are not frightened. They are not in direct danger," she said.
White, director of the Foundation for Reconstruction and Reconciliation in the Middle East and vicar of St. George's Anglican Church in Baghdad, refused to elaborate on his remarks to the commission, telling AP he had thought the hearing was confidential.