This month, Iraqi Jews will commemorate 71 years since the Farhud, also referred to as Pogrom 5701, in which 179 men, women and children were murdered. It happened on the Shavuot holiday in Baghdad in 1941. The names of the victims are listed in the Babylonian Jewish Heritage Center in Or Yehuda, where a memorial assembly will take place on Sunday. This year will be the first time that a high-ranking government representative will participate in the event — Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
The Jews of Iraq remember the eternal shame of the pogrom, reminiscent of Kristallnacht in Germany in 1938. The violent incident, carried out by an incited mob, caused a deep rift in Iraqi Jews' confidence in their own country, that had only recently won its independence in 1932.
Harassment of Jews began without any reason. The Jews, who had lived in Iraq for 2,600 years, did not fight against it, in contrast to the Palestinian Arabs who fought against the Jewish community in Palestine. The world has heard extensively about the "Palestinian Nakba" (meaning "catastrophe," as many refer to the displacement of Palestinian Arabs in the 1948 war.) Pogroms were carried out against Jewish communities in every Arab country. Although history is not a competition of disasters, it is worth noting that ethnic cleansing efforts were made in every Arab country, leaving almost no Jews behind.
The "Palestinian Nakba" earns broad media coverage, while the disaster visited upon the Jews doesn't even earn an echo, despite the fact that it has broad implications. The number of Jews who were forced to leave their homes in Arab countries is about 856,000, in comparison to the 650,000 Palestinian refugees who had to leave Israel.
For reasons that are not quite clear, Israel did not put this Jewish tragedy on the agenda. The world has heard much about injustices done to the Palestinians, but almost nothing of the injustices against the Jews from Arab countries.
Harassments of Jews happened in Iraq, as already mentioned, even before the establishment of Israel, following the rise of Rashid Ali al-Gaylani's pro-Nazi nationalist government. This regime enacted discriminatory regulations in every aspect of life. It lit the flames that started pogroms against Jews, the height of which was the Farhud in 1941.
The connection between Sunni nationalist xenophobia and anti-Jewish sentiments created a reality of Jewish hatred encouraged by Nazi elements. Among these elements was the German Ambassador to Baghdad, Dr. Fritz Grobba, as well as pseudo-religious leaders such as Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Jerusalem Grand Mufti from 1921 to 1937. Husseini fled Palestine in 1937 to evade an arrest warrant from the British Mandate government for his leadership if the Arab revolts at the time. After fleeing Palestine, he came to Iraq and found a convenient meadow for his anti-Jewish activities.
The threatening atmosphere of anti-Jewish sentiment in Iraq culminated in the hanging of a Jewish millionaire Shafiq Ades in the Basra square in 1948, accompanied by impassioned anti-Jewish declarations both on radio broadcasts and on the floor of the U.N.
With no other choice, Iraqi Jews were uprooted from the country they helped establish and integrate into the modern era. Iraqi Jews left behind their personal property, as well as ancient communal property, which the Iraqi government repossessed.
There were certainly Iraqis who did not accept these attacks on the Jews, but their voices fell silent. Jews were a scapegoat for the struggles between Sunni and Shiite Muslim groups, just like Israel is now stuck in the middle of the struggle between Shiite Iran and Sunni Arab countries. One can assume that if there were still Jews in Arab countries, they would be used as the punching bag in the current bloody struggles in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen and Syria.
Over the years, the number of Jews who personally experienced the Arab Jewish narrative is decreasing. It is fitting that in Israel, where most of the community of Jews from Arab countries lives, we remember their heritage. If we don't, Arab propaganda will take hold among the youth, assisted by the deniers of Arab anti-Jewish pogroms, similar to Holocaust deniers.
We must preserve the rich and glorious heritage and commemorate the Arab Jewish victims in an official manner. This will also strengthen our position, both nationally and internationally, and will assist in the process of awakening in the Arab world, especially among Arab intellectuals. There are those who believe that a catastrophe took place in the Middle East whose victims were Jews, and not only Palestinian Arabs.
At the same time, Palestinian leaders must stop encouraging illusions in the hearts of their people about a "right of return." The wheels of history, the must understand, do not roll backward.
The writer is a former ambassador and former deputy director general for the Middle East and the Peace Process in the Foreign Ministry.