Further to Jim’s post on antisemitism in the Middle East this programme, The Last Jews of Iraq, should be heard (only available for another day). It’s a story of ethnic cleansing, very moving and frightening. It’s presented by Alan Yentob, the BBC grandee and himself the son of Iraqi Jews.
The Jewish population of Iraq had existed by the waters of Babylon since 597BC and in 1917 made up one third of the population of Baghdad.
They had their golden years in the 1920s and 1930s, living a comfortable and integrated life among their Arab neighbours. When the state of Iraq was created, they regarded themselves as both Iraqis and Jews.
In 1936 Hitler’s Mein Kampf was translated into Arabic and published in Baghdad. Ideological hatreds began to arise and with growing Zionism in the Middle East Jews began to be regarded as aliens and were attacked in the streets.
In June 1941, a Nazi sympathiser, General Rashid Ali al-Kailani seized power in a military coup. A plan to exterminate the Jewish population of Iraq was formed. The mayor of Baghdad (a Muslim) intervened, General Rashid Ali fled the city, but there was a 2 day pogrom. 180 Jews were killed.
After the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, 98% of the Iraqi Jews left. Those who remained behind lived under suspicion and official persecution, culminating in public hangings which the government celebrated with a national holiday.
Any of these stories – Bosnia, Rwanda, the Sunni-Shi-ite conflict in Iraq – will tell how different communities who had co-existed well enough turned into hostile tribes. Suddenly your fellow citizens in all their different shadings become one kind of person or another – the person who denounces, pursues, even murders or the person who shelters and protects.
In 1947 there were 118,000 Jews in Baghdad. There are now only seven left.