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October 1, 2021 2:38 pm
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New York Times Warps History of Iraqi Jewry

avatar by Ira Stoll

Opinion

The headquarters of The New York Times. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A New York Times dispatch from Baghdad reports on reaction to a conference about peace between Israel and Iraq. In the process, the Times news article offers a peculiar and misleading account of the history of Jews in Iraq.

The Times reported, “While the conference linked the two issues, many Iraqis draw a sharp distinction between feeling an affinity for the country’s former Jewish community and openness to the state of Israel.” The Times lets that make-believe distinction — we love Jews, it’s just Israel that bothers us — pass with no comment, consistent with the desire of many Times readers to minimize the considerable overlap between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. The Times even lends backing to the supposed distinction with its own capsule summary of Iraqi Jewish history: “The Iraqi Jews — an ancient community and an integral part of Iraqi society — were pressured by the government to give up their citizenship and property and leave Iraq after the creation of Israel in 1948.”

That falsely suggests that it was only “the creation of Israel in 1948” that turned Iraqis against the Jews. Yet the Times itself acknowledged back in 2016: “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.” The 2021 Times article makes no mention of the Farhud or of Nazi influence in Iraq.

The Farhud was before the creation of Israel, not “after.”

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And the Farhud was, sadly, not the end of it. Edwin Black, who wrote a book about Iraqi Jewry, reports, “on May 9, 1947, a Baghdad mob killed a hapless Jewish man after hysterical accusations that he gave poisoned candy to Arab children.”

The word the Times chose — “pressured” — is a highly sanitized way of describing what happened to the Jews of Iraq. As Black reports, “One man was sentenced to five years’ hard labor for merely possessing a scrap of paper with an Old Testament Hebrew inscription; the paper was presumed to be a coded Zionist message. Hundreds of Jews were now arrested, forced to confess under torture, punished financially, and sentenced to long jail terms.” The wealthiest Jew in Iraq, Shafiq Ades, “was publicly hanged in Basra. His body was allowed to languish in the square for hours, to be abused by the celebrating crowds.”

Back in 2017, the Times erroneously attributed Iraqi anti-Jewish sentiment to “Israel’s defeat of its Arab neighbors in 1967,” so I suppose it’s a kind of modest progress that the Times is now falsely blaming the events of 1948 for Iraq’s turn against the Jews, rather than the events of 1967.

Even better would be for the newspaper to get the story fully accurate, and to stop blaming Israel for Iraqi Jew-hatred that predates the Jewish state.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of the Forward and North American editor of the Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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