Iraqi Jews can come back, cleric says

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY EL­LIE JA­COBS

JEWS WHO were ex­pelled from Iraq decades ago are wel­come to re­turn, the Iraqi Shi­ite leader Muq­tada al-Sadr has said.

Re­spond­ing to one of his fol­low­ers, who asked whether Jews who had been forced out of the coun­try could now re­turn, Mr al-Sadr said: “If their loy­alty was to Iraq, they are wel­come.”

He added that Jews who wished to re­turn to their home­land could also ob­tain full cit­i­zen­ship rights, Newsweek re­ported.

Mr Al-Sadr is an in­flu­en­tial Shi­ite cleric whose Saairun party won the most seats in the Iraqi par­lia­ment in the May 2018 elec­tions. He is a na­tion­al­ist seen as close to Iran and led a mili­tia that op­posed the US oc­cu­pa­tion of Iraq af­ter the 2003 war. He has since en­tered pol­i­tics.

The re­marks on Iraqi Jews could demon­strate Mr al-Sadr’s in­creas­ing will­ing­ness to em­brace re­li­gious di­ver­sity in a coun­try that has been as­so­ci­ated with a na­tive Jewish pop­u­la­tion for much of the past 2,500 years.

The in­creas­ing suc­cesses of the Zion­ist move­ment in the 1930s caused the Iraqi Jews’ sit­u­a­tion to de­te­ri­o­rate. Around 200 Jews were mur­dered and over a thou­sand in­jured dur­ing a pogrom known as the Farhud, or vi­o­lent dis­pos­ses­sion, in 1941.

The vast ma­jor­ity — 95 per cent — of the coun­try’s 125,000 Jews left in the two decades fol­low­ing Is­rael’s in­de­pen­dence in 1948, with the help of the un­der­ground Iraqi Zion­ist move­ment and an Is­raeli air­lift oper­a­tion.

Jewish prop­erty was seized, bank ac­counts were frozen and pub­lic work­ers dis­missed fol­low­ing the Six Day War in 1967.

The Iraqi gov­ern­ment bowed to in­ter­na­tional pres­sure in the 1970s and al­lowed most Jews to leave.

Af­ter the 2003 Iraq war, the Jewish Agency tracked down the re­main­ing Iraqi Jews to of­fer them the op­por­tu­nity to em­i­grate to Is­rael and found only 34. That fig­ure was es­ti­mated to be just five in 2013.

PHOTO: GETTY IM­AGES

Mo­q­tada alSadr ar­rives for a press con­fer­ence

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