A vast Jewish Diaspora underwent a process of communal annihilation prior to Israel’s establishment and continued during Israel’s formative years, yet we Israelis rarely talk about or commemorate these historic events. On the eve of the establishment of the State of Israel, at least 800,000 Jews lived in Arab countries. Today, this ancient Jewish Diaspora numbers only a few thousand at best. These numbers alone should give us pause: Emigration of more than 99 percent of the Jewish population in such a short time is unparalleled in modern Jewish history. Even the Jewish communities of Europe, which experienced the most extreme suffering of anti-Semitic violence, did not vanish entirely, or so abruptly. The story of the Jews from Arab lands is a saga that extends over hundreds of years and over a vast geographic region.
More than 800,000 Jews lived in the countries of the Arab world at the time of Israel’s founding. Virtually all of them fled or were forced out of their homes and communities after Israel’s establishment with more than three-quarters of these Jewish refugees moving to Israel. The once-thriving communities they had established in places such as Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Tunisia shrunk and, in some cases, virtually disappeared. The Jews of these Arab nations were forced to leave behind most if not all of their property and businesses with no compensation other than being allowed to remain alive to flee.
Thousands of pages of testimony have been collecting dust in various government offices in Israel since the 1950s. Under the bureaucratic heading “Registry of the Claims of Jews from Arab Lands,” they tell of lives cut short, of individuals and entire families who found themselves suddenly homeless, persecuted, humiliated. Together they relate a tragic chapter in the history of modern Jewry, a chain of traumatic events that signaled the end of a once-glorious Jewish Diaspora. Yet for all its historical import, this chapter has been largely repressed, scarcely leaving a mark on Israel’s collective memory, ignored by the printed and broadcasted media. The issue of Jewish refugees from Arab nations has not been on the agenda of the academic world always in tune to remain politically correct, proactively refraining from endangering the accepted false narrative of Arab refugees central to Palestinian Arab propaganda.
On the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, June 1-2, 1941; 79 years ago, the Muslim residents of Baghdad carried out a savage pogrom against their Jewish neighbors. In this pogrom, known by its Arabic name al-Farhoud, the pogrom of "violent dispossession" was carried out against the Jewish population of Baghdad. Over 180 Jews were murdered and mutilated and thousands wounded; Jews were killed randomly, women and children were raped in front of their relatives, and babies crushed. Jewish property was plundered; homes, business, places of worship, communal institutions were looted, set ablaze and destroyed. Historians have referred to the Farhoud as being a pogrom associated with the Holocaust. The Farhoud has also been called the beginning of the end of the Jewish community of Iraq, propagating the mass migration of Iraqi Jews out of the country, of which the majority made Aliyah en masse to the newly established State of Israel.
The linking of the Farhoud to the Holocaust is based on historical record and involved Muslim leaders who fully identified with the Nazi regime and played an active role in promoting the annihilation of Jewry of the Middle East. At the time, under the auspices of the British Mandate representatives, a governmental commission of inquiry was established concerning the Farhoud, and determined that the Nazi propaganda of Radio Berlin had been one of the massacre’s foremost instigators. The first Arab-language Nazi radio station was launched in Berlin prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, broadcasting anti-British, anti-American, anti-Soviet, and particularly anti-Semitic propaganda. It thus helped spread radical anti-Semitism in the Middle East. The messages in the propaganda broadcasts were designed to achieve certain goals, such as winning the Arab population’s sympathy for the Nazis and the Führer, stoking Arab national sentiments, incitement against the Jews, and blaming the Jews for being behind all the Arab world’s calamities and failures. The commission’s report also identified the main individuals who had impelled the assault. It pointed to the extensive activity of Dr. Fritz Grobba, the German ambassador to Baghdad, and to the activity of the former mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin Husseini, who had fled to Iraq from Mandatory Palestine in October 1939 and begun inciting against the Iraqi Jews. The mufti had also worked with Iraqi subversive elements, including Rashid Ali, to overthrow Iraq’s ruling Hashemite monarchy and install a pro-Nazi regime.
For those interested in further exploring the rich history of Iraqi Jewry, and learning more about the Farhoud, I highly recommend visiting The Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center, located in the central Israeli town of Or Yehuda. The Center was established in 1973 to preserve the history of the Jewish community in Iraq and to ensure that it remains part of the future narrative of the Jewish nation. The Center fosters research, preservation and publication of the culture and folklore of Iraqi Jewry. Adjacent to the Center is the Museum of Babylonian Jewry, opened to the public in 1988 and exhibiting chapters from the history of Babylonian Jewry throughout the generations over the course of more than 2,600 years.