Jews Must Em­i­grate Or They Will Die

Forward Magazine - - OPINION - By Chaim Avrom Hur­witz Trans­lated by

The first trans­port of Iraqi Jews to Is­rael has ar­rived re­cently, and more are ex­pected. The Iraqi govern­ment set con­di­tions stat­ing that all the Jews who wish to leave this “blessed” Arab land must do so by March, 1951. It’s hard to say how many Iraqi Jews will want to swap their an­cient fa­ther­land for Is­rael. At any rate, it’s likely to come to tens of thousands.

No Is­raeli pow­ers that be, nor Is­raeli con­sulates ex­ist in Iraq. Un­til re­cently, em­i­grat­ing from Iraq was done il­le­gally, via Per­sia. In Per­sia there are around 12,000 Iraqi Jews cur­rently await­ing trans­porta­tion to Is­rael. A while ago there were about 20,000. Due to the fact that Iraq has not yet rec­og­nized Is­rael, Jewish em­i­gra­tion from there has re­quired a lot of hard­ship and ex­pense.

Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, the dis­tance to Is­rael from Iraq isn’t great. And it would likely be in­ex­pen­sive, too. The closer and more af­ford­able ap­proach, how­ever, passes through Jor­da­nian ter­ri­tory. But why should it be easy for the Jews? And why make it so cost­ef­fec­tive? They are forced to em­i­grate by plane via Cyprus, and from there to the Is­raeli air­field.

Af­ter the United Na­tions de­cided to di­vide Is­rael and cre­ate a Jewish state in one part of the coun­try, Jews were for­bid­den from leav­ing Iraq and were made to sell off their assets. Mon­e­tary fines and ar­rests be­gan, es­sen­tially en­abling the con­fis­ca­tion of those assets.

Af­ter Iraq de­clared war against Is­rael, per­se­cu­tion against Jews in­creased. Af­ter the Bri­tish left Is­rael, they sent over the mail to Iraq from Is­rael via Cyprus. The Arab govern­ment took the mail un­der its con­trol. Ev­ery Jew who had a let­ter from an Is­raeli Jew or who had a mes­sage from Is­rael was put on mil­i­tary trial. Two ma­jor wealthy pa­trons were sentenced to heavy fines. Hun­dreds were tried and or­dered to pay up to $10,000. Prison sen­tences of three to 10 years were meted to 1,450 peo­ple. Ev­ery Iraqi Jew who has some net worth knows well enough who among their neigh­bors or govern­ment of­fi­cials lies in wait for their goods. Iraqi Jews are in dan­ger of be­ing ex­ter­mi­nated, not merely robbed of their ma­te­rial pos­ses­sions. Their em­i­gra­tion is an ur­gent ne­ces­sity that mustn’t be de­layed. The Jewish com­mu­nity in Iraq will sooner or later dis­ap­pear, sooner or later cease to ex­ist.

The Jewish com­mu­nity in Iraq is an an­cient one. Baby­lo­nian Jews oc­cu­pied an im­por­tant eco­nomic po­si­tion in agri­cul­ture, trade and busi­ness. The Tal­mud speaks of Jewish agri­cul­tural towns of Baby­lo­nia. They ex­isted al­ready in the first cen­turies af­ter the Is­lamic con­quest in 640. At a later point, they van­ished.

From the sec­ond half of the 19th cen­tury on, Bagh­dad’s Jewish pop­u­la­tion grew at a faster pace than the sur­round­ing pop­u­lace, as the Jews were bet­ter able to heal from dis­ease and to avail them­selves of mod­ern med­i­cal de­vel­op­ments. De­spite im­mi­gra­tion to In­dia, China and Amer­ica, and aliyah to Is­rael, the Jewish pop­u­la­tion of Iraq didn’t de­cline. Jews con­cen­trated mainly in the large cities, es­pe­cially in the cap­i­tal city Bagh­dad. There were about 150,000 Jews in all of Iraq, 3% of the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion of 4 mil­lion. In Bagh­dad it­self, about 100,000 Jews re­side, rep­re­sent­ing about 30% of the cap­i­tal’s pop­u­lace.

From the mid-19th cen­tury un­til re­cently, Iraqi Jews were mostly en­gaged in busi­ness and fi­nance. About 15% were in the trades: tai­lors, shoe­mak­ers. In one, they re­ally had nearly a monopoly, and that is the an­cient Jewish craft of gold­smithing.

In the 1930s Iraq be­gan a sys­temic ex­pul­sion of Jews from all their eco­nomic po­si­tions, from gov­ern­men­tal po­si­tions of lead­er­ship, where un­der the Bri­tish author­ity Jews had a very visible role from busi­ness, and in all the free pro­fes­sions. In or­der to ob­tain per­mis­sion to work in their pro­fes­sions, Jews had to take on Arab part­ners. The Jew worked and the Arab re­ceived a part of the prof­its, aside from bribery monies that Jews al­ways had to pay every­where in Mus­lim coun­tries to their part­ners and govern­ment of­fi­cials. Anti-Jewish pogroms in Iraq were a frequent oc­cur­rence. The big­gest pogrom took place in 1941, when hun­dreds of Jews were mur­dered and Jews’ assets into the mil­lions were plun­dered.

It would be a mis­take to con­sider all Iraqi Jews to be im­pov­er­ished. There is a siz­able sec­tor of ex­tremely wealthy Jews. Those pa­trons would cer­tainly not be among those who im­mi­grate to Is­rael, as they would surely want their wealth to fol­low them. As for mov­ing Jewish assets out of Iraq, it’s not even pos­si­ble to con­sider. Wealthy chil­dren, a slim sec­tor of them, re­ceive a mod­ern ed­u­ca­tion in Euro­pean schools. The ma­jor­ity, how­ever, of the Jewish pop­u­la­tion, the masses, are un­e­d­u­cated and fre­quently il­lit­er­ate, as are the sur­round­ing Arab pop­u­lace.

With the im­mi­gra­tion of Iraqi Jews to Is­rael, a long and sad chap­ter of Jewish his­tory is sealed.

‘Their em­i­gra­tion is an ur­gent ne­ces­sity that must not be de­layed.’

Chana Pol­lack

Chaim Avrom Hurvitz, the son of a Lithua­nian rabbi from Smor­gon, be­gan his jour­nal­ism ca­reer writ­ing for a Bul­gar­ian-He­brew jour­nal. In 1941 he ar­rived in New York City, where he be­came a full-time staffer at the Forverts.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.