It has taken the leaking of a two-year-old US document to turn the persecution and ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab countries into news. As noted by Just Journalism, the French AFP , like other news agencies, habitually under-report their plight. One of seven Jews left in Baghdad, the Jewish dentist who features in the Wikileaks cable, I can reveal, works in a Baghdad clinic alongside Canon Andrew White. Despite expressing an interest in leaving Iraq for Holland, she is still in Baghdad.
The AFP wire service has reported on the contents of a US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks which alleges that there were only eight Iraqi Jews living in Baghdad in 2009. ‘Only eight Iraqi Jews in Baghdad in 2009: cable’ in which a US embassy staff officer speaks to a woman from the miniscule Jewish community, illustrates the effects of the long-term persecution of the minority in Iraq.
The cable gives details of a meeting with a woman who counts herself as one of only eight remaining Iraqi Jews living in Baghdad. She claims that the community had numbered 20 people in 2003, but has declined due to ‘old age, immigration, and sectarian violence’.’ It notes the situation of the woman’s family:
‘Her mother, she said, had died in the previous year, while her husband was kidnapped by Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants in 2005, and was most likely murdered.’
Asked about the possibilities Iraqi Jews living abroad have to re-establish connections or return to Iraq she was pessimistic, explaining that:
‘latent anti-Semitism within Iraqi society would prevent this from happening anytime soon’
The woman, who works as a dentist in an orphanage but conceals her religious identity to her co-workers, commented on the treatment of Jewish places of worship in Baghdad:
‘there was a synagogue and a Jewish cemetery in Baghdad that had remained closed since 2004 with the keys entrusted to two separate Muslim families’
The synagogue in Basra, she claimed, has been ‘turned into a local warehouse’.
A large Jewish community existed in Iraq prior to the start of the 20th century, but rapidly disappeared due to regular outbreaks of mob violence and state-sanctioned persecution. This echoed the treatment of Jews throughout the Middle East following the establishment of Israel. The forced expulsion of these communities is rarely discussed by the media, with a rare exception being a recent episode of the BBC World Service that recounted the 1941 ‘Farhud’ massacre in Baghdad:
‘It spelt the end for a Jewish community that dated from the time of Babylon. There are contemporary reports of up to 180 people killed, but some sources put the number much higher. The Israeli-based Babylonian Heritage Museum says about another 600 unidentified victims were buried in a mass grave.’
Just Journalism recently covered an online discussion with The Guardian’s Middle East editor Ian Black in which he appeared to trivialise the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Arab lands, suggesting that it was ‘hard to imagine a Jewish renaissance in the Arab world without a settlement of the Palestinian question’, ignoring the sheer scale of anti-Jewish bigotry that is prevalent throughout the Middle East.