The Farhud in Baghdad-memory and lessons

It was on 1-2 June 1941 in Baghdad, where there was a huge Jewish community of nearly 150,000 members, almost 20% of the entire population of the city. A community of glory and pride, of great history and memory; By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down ye-eah we wept, when we remembered Zion.But on these two horrific days, hundreds of Jews were slaughtered by Arab Muslim mobs, with the exact number not known to this very day. Hundreds more injured, property destroyed and life which were irreversibly shattered, alongside expectations, some will say illusions, that it could be different to Jews in a country like Iraq. But first, some historic background and context.

These were days of turmoil in Baghdad, the end of the Pro-Nazi Rashid Ali Al-Gaylani rebellion in Iraq, which started in early May 1941 and was having the potential of undermining the entire British position not only in Iraq, an oil-rich country, but also the entire Middle East. The rebellion was assisted by Nazi aircraft flown from Germany, and was instigated, to a large extent, by the intrigues of the Nazi Embassy in Baghdad . However, the real ideological leader of the rebellion, the main source of inspiration of the officers who rebelled, known as the Golden Square, was the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who was allowed by the British to flee Eretz Israel in 1937 in the midst of the Arab rebellion there against the British and the Jews. He ended up in Baghdad, where he became the undisputed leader of the pro-Nazi elements. Yes, this is the same guy photographed with Adolph Hitler, on 28 November 1941, plotting the extermination of Europe’s and the Middle East, with the man who planned it and then executed it.

So, the rebellion in Baghdad was part of a bigger Nazi plan to infiltrate the Middle East, and it took the British a month to put it down, and with support of no other than a group of brave Israeli heroes, fighters of the Irgun, led by the legendary David Raziel, who was killed in Iraq in the service of the British on 20 May 1941. Yes, this is the same Irgun which later declared a Jewish war of national liberation against the British occupiers of our land. In 1941, Jews still had the illusion that the British will open the gates for the oppressed Jews of Europe. Little did they know then. Few days after the heroic death of Raziel, the antisemitic British Ambassador in Baghdad, Sir Kinahan Cornwallis did everything possible to prevent saving Jews in Baghdad. In the days of chaos there, when the British were present,the mobs of Arab Muslims, acted according to plans devised in advance, committed the Farhud-Pogrom of the Jews. The last ”heroic” act of a failed rebellion. Kill the Jews and save your soul, the Iraqi version.

What do we know about the Farhud? Not much, and this is the first lesson to be learnt. We need to know more about this, about the entire saga of Iraqi Jews, about the entire story of Jews in Muslim and Arab lands and the ethnic cleansing against them as part of the overall Arab-Palestinian-Israeli conflict. To the attention of the Israeli Education Ministry and Naftali Bennett -it is not just settlers who matter, and I, for one, like settlers. There are movies [among others of Pierre Rehov] and books about the REAL history of Jews in Arab lands, not the manufactured, anti Zionist version of some historians and intellectuals who romanticize this history. A recommendation-one of the latest books of the great late Martin Gilbert-In Ishmael’s House-A History of Jews in Muslim Lands”, which is a brilliant, nuanced and balanced description of the subject.Then, there is another lesson-the Holocaust was also in Northern Africa and the Middle East. The Farhud was part of the Holocaust, and should be acknowledged as such. A third lesson, and there are so many more-the Farhud is part of the Arab-Palestinian-Israeli conflict. What happened in Baghdad was part of the conflict due to participation of the Mufti, the connection that the murderers made between the Iraqi Jews and Eretz Israel, and the fact, that the legacy of this particular pogrom, as well as many others in the rest of the Middle East is a significant part of the political legacy which shapes the opinions of so many Mizrachi Jews in Israel, who firmly belong to the Nationalist camp there. This may come as a surprise for so many Progressive and Liberal American Jews who happen to believe, that history started in 1967, and suffering is exclusively that of the Palestinians.

Last but not least-10 years after the Farhud, Iraq ordered the expulsion of all its Jews, clearly an ethnic cleansing act, and 80 % of them finally ended up in the homeland. Seventy five years after the Farhud, Iraq is a nominal state, Israel is a strong and powerful one, with Jews from Iraq playing such a prominent role in the greatness of Israel. Zionism won!

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina