Tuesday, December 29, 2009

'Palestinians drove Iraqi Jews to Israel' - author

At last, an Iraqi tells it like it was: the Palestinian Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, who incited the 1941 Farhoud attacks, was guilty of the political stupidity of driving the Jews of Iraq into Israel. The following are excerpts from an interview with Iraqi author Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun, which aired on Al-Arabiya TV on December 4, 2009. (With thanks: Sacha, Lily)

Here is the MEMRI clip.

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: When you meet an Iraqi Jew today on the streets of Europe or elsewhere, he remembers his co-existence with his Muslim or Christian neighbor.

Interviewer: When did the Iraqi Jews begin to lose that sense of security and tolerance?

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: When pan-Arab nationalism grew stronger in Iraq, from the late 1940's to the early 1950's. The Jew began to be the target of deliberate affronts. Iraqi Jews are known for their patriotism. They have nothing to do with Israel. The issue of Israel and Zionism...

Interviewer: But many of the Jews moved to Israel.

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: They were coerced to move.

Interviewer: Who forced them?

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: The wave of pan-Arab nationalism within Iraq.

Interviewer: So they thought that Israel would be better for them than Iraq?

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: They did not go [straight] to Israel. First, they went to European countries, to Iran*... They tried to find an interim region from where they could later return to Iraq. You shouldn't be surprised if I told you that the first to study [the possibility] of expelling the Jews from Iraq was the so-called Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin Al-Husseini.

Interviewer: What, Amin Al-Husseini banished the Jews of Iraq to Palestine?

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: Yes, Amin Al-Husseini played a significant role, along with German Nazism, in dragging the Jews out of Iraq.

Interviewer: How?

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: In the days of the "Farhoud" pogroms, at the end of May and the beginning of June 1941 – which was called the revolution of Rashid Ali Al-Kilani... This is well known. The "heroes" of the Farhoud were Amin Al-Husseini, and some Syrian and Palestinian teachers. I am not accusing these people of collaborating with Israel, but I am accusing them of political stupidity. You drive out a group of peoples who are doctors, blacksmiths...

Interviewer: How did this happen? How did they pressure the Iraqi Jews to move to Israel?

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: By organizing the Farhoud. This was determined by government investigations...

Interviewer: Tell us the story.

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: Amin Al-Husseini was in Iraq then, and so were teachers from Palestine and from Syria. They believed that every Jew was a Zionist, but they failed to understand the mentality of Iraqi Jews. Iraqi Jews lived in Iraq 3,500 years ago. When Cyrus, the Persian king who invaded Babylon and occupied it, he issued a decree, inscribed on a clay cylinder – which can be found at the British Museum. The decree stated that any Jew who wants to return to his country, to Jerusalem, may do so. Only very few returned. The [others] said: This is our country. At the beginning of the modern Iraqi state, the French commander met with the dignitaries of Iraqi Jewry – the English commander, pardon me – and talked to them about the Balfour declaration. They said categorically: "This is our country, and Jerusalem and Palestine are holy places, and we go on pilgrimage there, like the Muslims go to Mecca." This was the position of the Jews.

Interviewer: In the case of Farhoud specifically, how can you accuse Amin Al-Husseini and German Nazism?

Dr. Rashid Al-Khayoun: It is not me who is making accusations. These are legal investigations by the government. The pan-Arab nationalist incited the mob to attack the Jews for two days.

* Hundreds of Jews did leave for Iran and India after the 1941 Farhoud and some returned to Iraq, but it is incorrect to say that most Jews went to Israel 'indirectly': 90 percent of the community was airlifted to Israel in 1950 -51, although the first flights were routed via Cyprus.

Read transcript in full


Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Part of the conclusions of an Iraqi govt commission investigating the Farhud were published by Norman Stillman in his book [Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times, or similar title]. Khayoun's charge against Husseini is found there. However, Khayoun still displays the Arab habit of blaming somebody else. In other words, it was a "palestinian" who is to blame, not the Iraqis.

Anyhow, he somehow forgets --or doesn't know-- that Iraqi Jews left the country in the early 19th century and went to India [Sassoons, Kadoories]. Others went to Israel in the 19th century. For instance, David Yellin's mother was an Iraqi Jewess, I believe. Yellin was a leading educator in the Yishuv. Prof. A S Yahuda was born in Israel in the 19th century to parents from Iraq. Among other things, he wrote a study comparing descriptions of Egypt and its ways and practices with findings about the same matters in old Egyptian texts found by archeologists.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

A S Yahuda compared what he found in the Biblical descriptions of Egypt with ancient texts and paintings of Egypt found by archeology.

victor said...

I'd like to raise a question, since I am not familiar with Iraqi Jews: Khayoun gives the impression that Iraqi Jews thought of Iraq as "our country," and that they did not want to go to Israel. Whether that is true or not, I don't know, but even if it were true, this does NOT entail that Iraqi Jews were opposed to the establishment of a Jewish state. For all I know, many Iraqi Jews might have desired to see a Jewish state while remaining in their own familiar country (obviously, circumstances were such that they had no choice but to leave). In other words, wanting to remain where you are does not mean that you're anti-Zionist. On a more personal note, I have an Israeli cousin whose mother's ancestors left Iraq for Israel 100 years ago, and the founder of the Jewish community in Singapore in the 1840s was a Baghdadi Jewish merchant who left because of harrassment.

bataween said...

You are right, al-K puts the emphasis on the push factors, but this does not mean the Iraqi Jews were necessarily anti-Zionist. However, there were two factors that distinguished the Iraqis from the other Mizrahim: one was the number of Jewish Communists they produced, some prominent today in Israel whose Zionism has been grudging, viz S. Somekh, S Michael, R Snir; the second that the Iraqi Jews were amongst the most acculturated communities - Arabic-speaking and few holding foreign passports: hence to al-K they seem patriotic.

As Eliyahu says, some Jews left the country in the 19th c - for a mix of economic and political reasons (Tigris flooding, swingeing Ottoman taxes,etc)

Anonymous said...

Jews stay put in Yemen despite of a growing Al-Qaeda threat there: