Remembering the Farhud pogrom and its lessons for today – opinion – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on May 29, 2021

Now that the latest conflict between Israel and terrorist groups in Gaza has ended, it is important to look back at one of the more wrenching and unprecedented aspects of the recent conflagration.

One of the most important elements to this is how best to understand and then combat hate, incitement and violence between communities.

Jews had lived in what was variously named Babylon, Mesopotamia and Iraq for around two and a half millennia. The Iraqi Jewish academies in Sura and Pumbedita gave us the Babylonian Talmud, the compilation of texts that forms the backbone of the Jewish tradition to this day.

It witnessed the Chaldean Empire, Mongol invasion, Islamic Caliphate and the Ottoman Empire. Sometimes it thrived and contributed to society and the wider world and other times it merely survived.

Jews helped fight for Iraqs independence in the 20th century, and the authorities utilized the talents of the Jewish community and its expertise in areas such as the economic, judicial and postal systems. Iraqs first minister of finance, Yehezkel Sasson, was a Jew.

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Unfortunately, independence also provided power to some who would use malevolence, division and hatred to achieve their political goals.

During World War II, Rashid Ali al-Gaylani became prime minister and decided he would ally with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany to win support for his government. Gaylani was the person who introduced the rabid antisemite Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini to Hitler, and Iraq became an early base for Nazi Middle East intelligence operations during World War II.

Gaylani used anti-British sentiment throughout Iraq, with the Jews as scapegoats, coupled with violent antisemitic incitement spread by the German embassy in Baghdad to foment hatred and mistrust towards the Jewish community.

The German embassy bought the newspaper Al-alam Al-arabi (The Arab world), which published, in addition to antisemitic propaganda, a translation of Mein Kampf in Arabic and supported the establishment of Al-Fatwa, a youth organization based upon the model of the Hitler Youth.

According to witnesses at the time, Nazi-like propaganda was regularly broadcast on the radio and throughout the country. Jewish businesses and homes were marked and false rumors that the Jews were helping the British in the war spread.

After Shavuot, on June 1st, 1941, Jews ventured out from the holiday to be met by mobs in an orgy of violence that lasted two days and left around 180 Jews dead, buried in a mass grave, hundreds more wounded and scores of Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues routed and burned.

It was a blow that the Jewish community never recovered from and led to the mass exodus of Iraqi Jews to the State of Israel after it was established. Between 1948 and 1951, 121,633 Iraqi Jews were airlifted, bused or smuggled out of the country, leaving only a few thousand left who fled the country after public hangings of prominent Jews in the 1970s.

Even up to the very end, many Jews and Arabs refused to be enemies and lived and worked side by side. Animosity was largely imported from outside and incitement as a tool for political goals.

Unfortunately, we see many similar worrying signs in the violence in mixed Israeli towns and cities.

There are many players in the region who seek to whip up the Arab citizens of Israel into a frenzy, whether Iran or extreme Sunni elements. They see Jewish-Arab coexistence as a challenge that needs to be dismantled and replaced with enmity and animosity.

Lies about Jewish takeover attempts to invade and destroy al-Aqsa Mosque originated with the very same Haj Amin al-Husseini a century ago. Unfortunately, it is a canard that has not gone away since and raises its head whenever necessary for those who wish to sew divisions in Israel.

It is exactly this type of incitement that Israeli politicians, religious leaders and other opinion-shapers should confront and demolish. Instead of driving communities apart, we should be investing in coexistence, collaboration and partnerships. We know that the silent minority in both communities do not seek violence and division, and we have witnessed in recent years tremendous steps in bringing Jews and Arabs together.

The creation of the State of Israel is a remarkable and unique event in Jewish history and became a refuge and a home to the hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa who had to flee their millennia-old homes.

Israel is a beacon of light in a region where there has been such a history of darkness for so many, including Jews. Now that we have reestablished sovereignty in our indigenous and ancestral homeland, we need to learn the lessons of the past and use them to create a more peaceful and secure future for all who live within its borders.

That would be the greatest memorial to the Jews murdered during the Farhud 80 years on.

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Remembering the Farhud pogrom and its lessons for today - opinion - The Jerusalem Post

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