The 70th anniversary of the Tasqeet - the mass airlift of the Jews of Iraq to Israel - is an opportunity for New York university professor Ella Shohet to examine the causes in Jaddaliyya. From the start, her article obfuscates the reasons for leaving: it's because the Jews were 'caught in a vortex of political forces and conflicting ideologies' - an unsavoury soup of colonialism, monarchism, communism, Zionism and Iraq/ Arab nationalism.
Somehow she seems to miss the one 'ism' that overrode all the others: antisemitism.
'A new world order could not accommodate Jewishness and Arabness', she declares. And so she might, as Shohat effectively patented the antonym 'Arab Jew'. But what was fatefully conflated was not Jew and Arab, but Jew and Zionist. And it was not a new world order, it was a deliberate policy specific to Arab League countries. The criminalisation of Zionism in Arab countries permitted arbitrary dispossession, arrest, trial and execution. It turned every Jew into an enemy alien deserving of collective punishment, although they were not citizens of that enemy state. Yes, Arabs who remained in their hundreds of thousands in Israel were subject to limitations at first, but Zionism did not scapegoat them in this way.Ella Shohat
Although she recognises their suffering, Shohat cannot bring herself to call Iraqi Jews 'refugees' - only Palestinians can be refugees. Jews are neither refugees nor immigrants returning to their ancestral homeland. To Shohat, the campaign for justice for Jewish refugees from Arab countries is 'narrative envy' - an appropriation of the sacred Arab nakba.
The 1941 Farhud, now recognised as a Holocaust event, was the decisive break between Jews and Muslims in Iraq, but Shohat only mentions the massacre in order to suggest that Arabs were not Nazis. Did Arabs not save Jews in the Farhud? she complains, ignoring the part played by Iraq's pro-Nazi government.True, the history of Jews under Muslim rule should not be 'farhudised', but neither should one forget that Jews were second-class dhimmi until the colonial era.
While Iraq stole from Iraqi Jews, Israel 'betrayed' Iraqi Jews by 'excluding, rejecting and otherising them as Arabs orientals'. Shohat meanders into an inexplicable digression about the leader of the Iraqi Jewish community, Rabbi Sasson Khaduri, 'much maligned' in Israel for his declarations of loyalty to Iraq' - and his son Shaul, who spent a year in the fearsome prison ' The Palace of the End'. But loyalty did not save the Jews.
Shohat's invective sounds embittered and out of touch with today's Israel, where Iraqi Jews have made their mark on economy, society and culture. She may have a following in the sociology departments of US universities, but few Iraqi Jews would recognise themselves or their experiences in her writings.