‘We Live in Constant Fear,’ Says One of Eight Remaining Jews in Terror-Torn Iraq
Eight Jews remain in terror-torn Iraq, hesitant to leave their homes, the Hebrew site nrg reported on Sunday.
“We live in constant fear,” one woman, a 60-year-old dentist, told the Israeli news outlet over the phone from her home in the Iraqi capital.
The backdrop for this exclusive story, nrg explained, is the World Culture Festival, organized by the Art of Living Foundation — headed by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar — and taking place in New Delhi, India. The festival is being attended by a non-Muslim Iraqi parliament member, who serves as a kind of caretaker and sponsor for these Jews – and who requested anonymity for the interview.
This MP, it was revealed, also met several times with Israel’s representative at the conference, Deputy Minister for Regional Cooperation Ayoob Kara.
According to the Iraqi lawmaker, seven of the eight remaining Jews in his country are women; all reside in Baghdad; none has family; and all are elderly, educated professionals or businesspeople. The MP told nrg that these Jews possess substantial property across Iraq, barely managing to protect it from hostile attacks, including at the hands of the government.
On Friday, the MP, Kara and three of these Iraqi Jews held a conference call in which the Israeli deputy minister asked about their financial and physical condition. “They were initially very wary of speaking to a minister from Israel,” Kara told nrg. “But after they realized that the Iraqi MP was standing next to me, they opened up and told me about their plight and that of the area in which they reside.”
He continued, “I discovered that the only Jewish institutions in Iraq have been destroyed, including the large synagogues and cemeteries. This is unlike the situation for other minorities, particularly Christians, whose houses were rebuilt and are better kept now than they were during the period of Saddam Hussein’s reign.”
Kara said that he enlisted members of the Iraqi parliament to provide care for these Jews through an organization he heads that helps Jews in Arab countries, which has an annual budget of $25 million. “I promised him that the Israeli government would do everything in its power to rehabilitate the Jewish institutions. He also proposed to the three Iraqis that they immigrate to Israel.
“I am awaiting answers about the process,” Kara said. “They have to decide whether they want to make aliyah, and if so, when.”
“Terror is rampant in the streets,” the dentist told nrg. “It is a war between the Sunnis, Shiites and us; Jews are never in a good situation. But there are also some good people, like this MP and others.” Asked whether she would be interested in moving to Israel, she said she would rather not answer.
Iraqi Jewry was once the largest and most affluent in the Middle East. In 1950, two years after the state of Israel was established, most of the Jews of Iraq — nearly 120,000 — were willing to forfeit their Iraqi citizenship and relinquish their property, two preconditions set by the Iraqi government to allow them to emigrate. At the time, a few thousand remained. This community, too, thinned out over the years, as Jews under the rule of the Baathists suffered from severe antisemitism. Indeed, in 1969, nine innocent Jews were hanged in Baghdad’s “Liberation Square” for being “spies.” Later that year, another 50 were executed or died in prison, where they were tortured.
At the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988, approximately 40 Jews moved to Israel. During the 1991 Gulf War, most of the remaining Jews followed suit. The MP told nrg that some of the last eight Jews profess to missing dictator Saddam Hussein, claiming that he looked out for them and attributing their wealth to him.
Kara is a Druze Israeli, who is a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.