Miss Iraq: Grotesque Antisemitic Iraqi Law Demands Strong Response
What does it mean when a society makes peace a crime, and adds the death penalty as a consequence? My native Iraq is about to find out.
A grotesque new law by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is expected to be implemented by the Iraqi government in the coming weeks, prescribing the death penalty for Iraqi citizens, foreigners visiting Iraq, and Iraqis abroad who communicate with Israelis in any way, even online.
This means that I, for one, would risk death if I returned to Iraq, but I have now known this for quite some time.
In 2017, I had the honor of serving as Miss Iraq in the Miss Universe pageant, the first time in 45 years that my country had been represented.
During a pre-pageant photo shoot in Las Vegas, I said to Miss Israel, Adar Gandalesman: “let’s take a picture so our people can see we don’t have a problem and we’re actually ambassadors for peace.”
In the caption, I wrote: “Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel.”
The reaction back home was not what I hoped for; I began to receive death threats, and the Miss Iraq organization threatened to strip me of my title if I didn’t take down the photo. A day after posting the selfie, I agreed to put up a second post explaining that I don’t support the Israeli government or its policies in the Middle East, and apologized for “anyone who thinks it’s an attack for the Palestinian cause.”
It didn’t make any difference; my family and I have since permanently left Iraq for safety.
The present controversy emerged after Iranian missile strikes landed near the US consulate in Erbil, the chief city of Iraqi Kurdistan, in March of 2022. US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman articulated a belief that the US consulate was not the target of the attack. Thereafter, the Iranians alleged that they were striking an Israeli target in Kurdistan, although Iraqi and Turkish officials indicated that the strike hit the villa of a Kurdish businessman. Still, international sources – including The New York Times — continued to repeat the Iranian claim that a secret Israeli site was targeted, and Sadr began his anti-Israel push to deflect blame from the actual aggressor — his patron, Iran.
In pushing this ugly new law, Iraq is attempting to solidify its ugly heritage of ethnic cleansing, most notably of its Jewish citizens.
Before World War I, Jews were one-third of Baghdad’s population. In 1941, during a Nazi-inspired coup, a Baghdad mob was responsible for a pogrom — the Farhud — that killed, raped, and maimed hundreds of Jews.
In 1950, when 130,000 Jews remained in Iraq, the government passed the Nazi-modeled Denaturalization Act, providing for the confiscation of property and revocation of citizenship of any Jew who left the country. By 1951-2, nearly the entire Jewish community had left, with the assistance of an Israeli airlift, Operation Ezra and Nehemia. In 2006, after the American liberation, the new constitution excluded only Jews from the right to retrieve their Iraqi nationality, which Iraqi Jews have rightly called “a continuation of the policy of ethnic cleansing.”
Sadly, Iraq’s diversity is being destroyed. Iraq’s Yezidi population — massacred, tortured, raped, and displaced during the reign of the ISIS Caliphate – has plummeted from as many as 700,000 before 2014, to just 300,00 today. Over 90% of Iraq’s ancient Mandaean gnostic community has departed in the last two decades, from 100,000 strong in 2003 to fearing extinction today. Iraq’s Christian population has fallen by over 80%, from 1.4 million in 1987 to about 250,000 today. Iraq’s religious minorities are fleeing because they see no future in their ancient homeland.
It is important for Westerners to understand what kind of Iraq is being built on the rubble of years of oppression, hope, and then further war. The new Iraq is so tightly under Iran’s thumb that it will bend the truth and initiate a witch hunt against the long-expelled Jews — and any who dream of peace — even as the region as a whole bends decisively in favor of establishing ties with Israel.
If Iraq follows through on this antisemitic, racist, and warmongering law, its government should be held to account by the world. After expending so much blood and treasure in Iraq, the free world risks losing our country both culturally and politically to the Iranian-led “Axis of Resistance,” which is fiercely opposed to democracy and human rights. Put simply, hate crimes — like the extirpation of Iraq’s minority communities, and the new proposal to execute anyone who has contact with Israel — must not be allowed to stand. There must be consequences.
The author is a secular Muslim who represented Iraq in the 2017 Miss Universe pageant. After posting an Instagram photo of herself and Miss Israel during the pageant, she received a torrent of death threats, and she and her family were forced to flee Iraq.