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September 25, 2017 5:29 pm

New York Times Whitewashes Iraq’s History of Killing Jews

avatar by Ira Stoll

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Iraqi Jewish immigrants arriving in Israel in 1951. Photo: GPO via Wikimedia Commons.

A New York Times article about Israel’s support for Kurdish independence gives readers a false impression about how Jews were treated in Iraq.

The Times news article reports: “After Israel’s defeat of its Arab neighbors in 1967 and the Baathist coup in Iraq a year later, Iraq became inhospitable to its dwindling Jewish population.”

This error is repeated in a photo cutline, which reads: “Fleeing Iraqi Jews arrive at the Israeli consulate in Tehran in 1970. At the time, Iran was an Israeli ally and Iraq was becoming inhospitable to Jews.”

Actually, Iraqi hostility to Jews began before 1967 and was manifested in murderous violence in 1941.

This may seem like a pointless or pedantic argument about mere chronology. So what if the Times was off by a few decades? Actually, though, it does matter. The idea that it was the 1967 war — and Israel’s subsequent “occupation” of East Jerusalem and the West Bank — that prompted Arab inhospitability to Jews fits with a certain leftist narrative. If that claim were true, and the Arab objection were merely to the “occupation” of land won in the 1967 war, as opposed to the existence of Israel or of Jews at all, then that might support the idea of withdrawing from the West Bank or parts of Jerusalem. This theory, does not, however, fit with the facts, at least when it comes to Iraq.

Don’t just take my own word for it; the New York Times itself acknowledged as much in an article published in 2016, which reported:

Iraqi Jews had always been the targets of sporadic attacks. But the danger soared with the rise of the Nazis’ influence in the 1930s as well as unhappiness around the Arab world with Zionism’s push for a Jewish state. A pogrom in June 1941, the Farhud, killed nearly 200 Jews in Baghdad.

“Nearly 110,000” Iraqi Jews left and went to Israel in a 1951 airlift, that 2016 Times article reported. If pre-1967 Iraq was so supposedly hospitable to Jews, why did so many of them choose to leave?

The website of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum has some helpful context:

Nazi influence and antisemitism already were widespread in Iraq, due in large part to the German legation’s presence in Baghdad as well as influential Nazi propaganda, which took the form of Arabic-language radio broadcasts from Berlin. Mein Kampf had been translated into Arabic by Yunis al-Sab’awi, and was published in a local newspaper, Al Alam al Arabi (The Arab World), in Baghdad during 1933-1934. Yunis al-Sab’awi also headed the Futtuwa, a pre-military youth movement influenced by the Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) in Germany. After the coup d’etat, al-Sab’awi became a minister in the new Iraqi government….

On the afternoon of June 1, 1941, when the Regent and his entourage returned to Baghdad and British troops surrounded the city, the Jews believed that the danger from the pro-Nazi regime had passed. They ventured out to celebrate the traditional Jewish harvest festival holiday of Shavuot. Riots broke out, targeting the Jews of Baghdad. These riots, known as the Farhud, lasted for two days, ending on June 2, 1941.

Iraqi soldiers and policemen who had supported Rashid Ali al-Gailani’s coup d’etat in April and Futtuwa youths who were sympathetic to the Axis incited and led the riots. Unlike in previous incidents, rioters focused on killing. Many civilians in Baghdad and Bedouins from the city’s outskirts joined the rioters, taking part in the violence and helping themselves to a share in the booty. During the two days of violence, rioters murdered between 150 and 180 Jews, injured 600 others, and raped an undetermined number of women. They also looted some 1,500 stores and homes. The community leaders estimated that about 2,500 families—15 percent of the Jewish community in Baghdad—suffered directly from the pogrom. According to the official report of the commission investigating the incident, 128 Jews were killed, 210 were injured, and over 1,500 businesses and homes were damaged. … By 1951, ten years after the Farhud, most of the Iraqi Jewish community (about 124,000 Jews out of 135,000) had immigrated to the State of Israel.

So much for the Times’ inaccurate claim that it was only after 1967 or 1970 that Iraq “was becoming inhospitable to Jews.”

More of Ira Stoll’s media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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