Unlike the prevailing view in Israel, Iraq’s citizens do not place all the blame for the Jewish flight on the “subversive activities” of the Zionist movement. Historian Rashid al-Khayoun claims that several Arab religious figures played a central role in formulating a plan for the forced departure of some 150,000 Iraqi Jews.
The somewhat dry historic research has been augmented by films and television series that recount the contribution of the Jewish community to the local culture. Khilkhal reports that the changing consciousness is also permeating the justice system and that in 2009, an Iraqi Jewish woman managed to get back her home in Baghdad after winning a lawsuit for the restitution of property that was confiscated when the Jews were forced to emigrate.
Such texts are priceless added value to legal agreements, regional diplomatic initiatives and security arrangements between peoples and nations. The willingness of the people of the Middle East to recognize crimes against human beings for the sole reason that they were Jewish, the ability to apologize to them and to compensate them, are essential conditions for sustainable peace. The book “In Ishmael’s House: the History of the Jews and Muslim Lands” (translated into Hebrew only a year ago) refutes the prevailing belief about the allegedly “idyll” enjoyed by Jewish minorities in Muslim states. The author, renowned British historian Martin Gilbert, paints a more complex picture. The Jews were a distinct and low-level minority, dependent on the good will of the ruler. In return for the protection of their lives and property, they were forced to accept legal and social discrimination.
The “Golden Age” of Spain’s Jews under Muslim rule was capped by a vicious attack in Grenada in which some 5,000 local Jews were slaughtered — an identical and perhaps even larger number than the Jews murdered by Christian soldiers at the start of the first Crusade. In a series of pogroms in the first decade of the 20th century, 120 Jews were murdered in Morocco. In the 1940s, crimes against Jews in Arab countries were explained away by the identification of the Jews with Zionism. Hundreds of thousands of Jews fled Muslim states by the skin of their teeth during that period, leaving behind much property, synagogues, cemeteries and public buildings. No one thought it fitting to express regret at the hate crimes committed against the Jews of Arab countries, the looting of their homes and their expulsion into the unknown.
At a special debate conducted by the Knesset in January 2010 to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Knesset member Ahmed Tibi delivered a speech that reverberated throughout: “I, Ahmed Tibi, a proud Arab with every fiber of my being, am happy and proud to be on the same side as prominent Arab intellectuals, who lashed out against the phenomena of Holocaust denial in the Middle East and in other parts of the world.” It’s time for Tibi, just like prominent Arab intellectuals, to also recognize ugly anti-Semitic manifestations in the Middle East and violent acts committed these days against Jews by Muslims around the world, and to muster the courage to condemn them.