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June 2, 2022 11:28 am

Why Did the Media Forget ‘Iraq’s Kristallnacht’ on Its Anniversary?

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avatar by Gidon Ben-Zvi


Young Iraqi Jews who fled to pre-state Israel following the 1941 Farhud pogrom in Baghdad. Photo: Moshe Baruch

Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine that began on February 24 has been widely condemned as an illegal act of aggression. The United Nations Human Rights Council voted overwhelmingly on May 12 to launch an inquiry into alleged serious violations committed by Russian troops.

However, while covering fast-moving developments coming out of Ukraine, the media are uncritically disseminating false Holocaust-related analogies and imagery in relation to the conflict that are being used by leaders worldwide.

Russia’s actions are but the latest in a painfully long series of wars that have taken place throughout human history, not a case of “never again.” The Holocaust, with its systematic extermination of some 6 million Jews by the Nazis, was demonstrably different than today’s war in Ukraine.

In contrast, the anniversary this week of an actual Nazi-inspired attack on the Jews of Baghdad during the Shavuot holiday on June 1-2, 1941, which marked the beginning of the end of the Iraqi Jewish community after 2,600 years, has generated virtually no coverage outside of Israel.

This seismic event of anti-Jewish violence, known as the Farhud, became the foundation of an Arab-Nazi alliance that ultimately led to the expulsion of almost a million Jews from across the Arab world.

According to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum, the spasm of violence in Baghdad resulted in 179 people being killed, over 2,000 being wounded, at least 200 children being orphaned, and some 50,000 Jews having their property looted. Other independent researchers estimate that hundreds of Jews were killed.

More than mere Arab nationalists, the rioters were directly linked to Germany’s Nazi Party. Some of them wore swastikas, while several had marched in the Nuremberg torchlight parades. It was the Nazi ideology that fueled the Farhud — a desire to exterminate Jews from the face of the earth.

Until the 1920s there were no significant recorded demonstrations of antisemitism in Iraq. Restrictions from the Ottoman era had been abolished, and, following World War I, the establishment of the British Mandate improved the situation of Iraqi Jews.

However, the rise of such fascist leaders as Hitler and Mussolini led to a profound change in attitudes toward Iraq’s Jews.

The intensification of hatred was incited by such provocateurs as Jerusalem Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, who arrived in Baghdad in 1939. Al-Husseini saw Nazi Germany as a “defender of the Muslim world,” and regarded the Jews as “dangerous enemies.”

The mufti played a prominent role in pre-1948 Palestine, as one of the “founding fathers” of Palestinian nationalism.

When World War II broke out in 1939, al-Husseini hoped to secure Nazi support for Arab nationalism and the expulsion of Jews from the Middle East. In Baghdad, he supported the April 1941 pro-German coup d’état. The mufti also instigated the Farhud, sometimes referred to as “Iraq’s Kristallnacht.”

Throughout World War II, the cleric served as an Arab ally and propagandist for the Third Reich in Berlin, continuing the campaign of antisemitic incitement he started in Mandatory Palestine.

Despite all this, Haj Amin al-Hussein remains a respected figure in Palestinian society, having been praised by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as a “hero” and a “pioneer.”

Nearly 20 years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime in a US-led invasion, Iraqi legislators on May 26 voted overwhelmingly in favor of a new law titled: “Criminalizing Normalization and Establishment of Relations With the Zionist Entity.”

From now on, any Iraqi citizen who makes contact with anyone originating from Israel could face a lifetime prison sentence or even the death penalty.

While the United States swiftly condemned the bill, there has been precious little reporting on Baghdad’s “promoting [of] an environment of antisemitism.”

The Israeli government responded by saying that leaders “who choose a path of hate and incitement hurt their own people first of all,” and urged the people of Iraq not to give their support to “this extremist position.”

Similar to the Farhud anniversary, the Iraqi law banning ties with Israel is a story that has been reported on almost exclusively by local media outlets.

By perpetuating the false narrative that the Russia-Ukraine conflict is a new Holocaust, news organizations are effectively diminishing the plight of those throughout history who have been targeted for total elimination.

And by allowing the memory of Farhud to fade, the media are making it easier for events like Iraq’s antisemitic bill to occur.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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