The Jews of Iraq, waiting for an official Iraqi apology

By Matti Kallo writer and journalist

The history of the Jews in Iraq goes back 2,600 years. Throughout the centuries they were able to preserve their identity, culture, and traditions and be genuine citizens of Iraq well before others. Their roots are ancient and their distinguished and bright contributions are preserved in the pages of history. They have contributed to the establishment of national rule and the establishment of the Iraqi kingdom with the participation of Sassoon Eskell in the Cairo conference in 1921, led by Winston Churchill. Sassoon Eskell (1860-1932) became the first Iraqi finance minister and organized the first state budget in the history of Iraq and participated in several successive governments. It was thanks to him that Iraq received revenues for oil sales in gold instead of paper currency. After his insistence on this treatment of financial oil transactions in the 1925 negotiations with the British, he was able to develop a precise plan for the issuance of a unified Iraqi currency. It became the first Iraqi currency in circulation, the dinar, replacing the Indian Rupee and Turkish Lira.

Iraqi Jewry has contributed greatly to the building of the Iraqi state at all levels, and they were prominent and had high-ranking positions in the post-independent civil service. In 1946 they had six deputies in parliament and Menachem Salih Daniel chaired the Senate. They have left their mark on the development of education, as their percentage of university graduates was the highest of all Iraqis. A large number of well-known economists, doctors, and businessmen sprang from among them, including the first Iraqi Jewish pilot Salim Daniel who in1930 flew a civilian plane from London to Baghdad. He descents from a great family of philanthropists which is remembered as one of the dedicated families who generously served Iraq. The family donated money and property to the Endowment Department, and to this day these are registered with the Islamic Endowment Department in Iraq.

The bright history of the Iraqi Jews is too long to recount in one article, it would require dozens of books. But their longing for Iraq since their forced displacement is what prompted me to write this article, especially after I met one of them at an airport. When I was talking with my family in Iraqi Arabic, a man of around 50 years-old came up to me and asked me in the same Arabic, “are you an Iraqi?” I answered “Yes”, and I asked him how he learned the Iraqi dialect. “I am an Iraqi Jew, born in Tel Aviv! We speak this dialect at home with my uncles, aunts, and their children because we love Iraq and long to see it. We know some songs of Nazem Ghazali, Afaf Iskandar, Salima Murad, and Zuhur Hussein. And we know the Tigris, the Euphrates, Abu Nuwas Street, al-Masgouf, and the Karrada. Our wish is to once see my grandfather’s house in al-Bataween.”

This is an Iraqi Jew whose parents, grandparents, and fellow countrymen have emigrated because their Iraqi citizenship was revoked by unfair decision by the governments of the former monarchy. Their properties and shops were confiscated. They left leaving everything behind. Everything but a bag of clothes. They left with a thousand tears in their eyes. And despite their misery, they held on to their customs, traditions, and heritage inherited from their ancestors. In the diaspora they established Iraqi neighborhoods and Iraqi shops and restaurants in which they sold Iraqi food. They established cultural clubs and organized social gatherings. There are cafes where they listen to Iraqi music. They established a neighborhood in Tel Aviv which they called “Little Baghdad”. It became a shrine for their memories. When you search social media platforms, you will find Iraqi Jews recounting these memories; not only of Baghdad, but of many cities and areas of Iraq, including Karbala. You will find nostalgia and longing for the streets and alleys of their country and their neighbors. They constituted 2.6% of the total population of 4.8 million of Iraq in 1947.

Most of Iraqi Jews agree that their best days were after the “Farhoud” pogrom. When Abd al-Karim Qasim overthrew the monarchy in a coup on July 14, 1958, restrictions on the remaining Jews were lifted and living conditions improved. But after the bloody coup of February 8, 1963, by the Iraqi Ba’ath Party, restrictions were reimposed, and Iraqi Jews were persecuted again. Their sect’s name was changed to “the Mosaic sect.” In 1969 a number of merchants, most of them Jews, were executed on charges of spying for Israel. This led to the acceleration of emigration among the remaining Jews. This peaked in the early 1970s, and they fled under harsh conditions via northern Iraq to Iran as transit.

Hundreds of Iraqi Jews were distinguished by various specializations and professions and they made a clear impact on the modern history of Iraq; writer and lawyer Anwar Shaul, the brilliant journalist Salim Khadoori Bassoon, Professor Shmuel Moreh, Menachem Daniel, judge Daoud Samra, judge Na’im Zilkha (he also led a Jewish council of politicians and businessmen), scholar Reuben Battat, great philanthropist Eliezer Khadoori, Shimon Balass, Munir Basri, considered one of the most prominent Iraqi historians, Sir David Ezra, singer Salima Murad, Daoud Kuwaiti, and Dr. Jacques Abboud. Dr. Abboud devoted three days per week to treat the poor for free. When his Iraqi nationality was revoked in 1972 for being Jewish, he emigrated to Britain. He is said to have repeated until his last breath, “I am Iraqi until I die.”

Evidence or an example of the love and adoration of Jews for their homeland Iraq is when Iraqi Jewish activist Niran Bassoon received a small box containing a handful of homeland soil as a gift from a doctor returning from Iraq to Great Britain. Feeling it with her hands, she could not hold back her tears and her tongue could not utter words. As the Iraqi Jewish Linda Manuhin put it, “I left Iraq more than 40 years ago, but Iraq never left me.”

When one of the followers of Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr asked the head of the Sairoun parliamentary bloc about a possible return of the Jews of Iraq to their country, he answered, “If their loyalty is to Iraq, then they are welcome.” In my opinion, no one is more loyal to Iraq than the Iraqi Jews. And they just want an apology from the Iraqi state for their forced displacement and their misfortunes… only because they are Jews!

Let them close their eyes and visit their homeland.

Matti Kallo is a writer and journalist originally from the Syriac town of Bartella, Nineveh Plain in Iraq. Since 1995 he lives in Melbourne, Australia

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SyriacPress.

Disclaimer: translated from the original Arabic. Here