In “Attacks persist in Iraq; clerics rail against Americans” (June 20), Associate Press reporter Tarek Al-Issawi seriously misleads readers as to the nature of the exodus of Iraqi Jewry before and after the founding of the state of Israel.
Al-Issawi, in chronicling Jewish flight from Iraq, states that Jews “began emigrating in the 1940s and 1950s, before and after establishment of Israel.”
This is more than understatement. The Iraqi Jewish community, 150,000 strong in 1947, fled within the span of one year, and only 6,000 remained by the end of 1951. Already in 1935, Zionist activity had been declared illegal, Jews were being attacked on the streets, and in June 1941, a pogrom in Baghdad left over 900 Jews dead and thousands injured (Jews of Arab and Islamic Countries: History, Problems, Solutions by Heskel M. Haddad).
In May 1948, the situation intensified when the Iraqi government imprisoned Jews on grounds of being Zionists, and fined or executed others. With no future in Iraq, the Jewish community fled en masse, mostly to Israel. Between July 1950 and August 1951, 144,000 of 150,000 Jews left the country at the cost of their citizenship and all their assets.
The situation worsened when the Ba’athists came to power in 1963, with Iraqi Jews being accused and executed on charges of “Zionism” and espionage for the Central Intelligence Agency. In 1969, 11 Jews were hanged in the public square in Baghdad. Today, a handful of Jews remain.
The history of Iraqi Jewry is not one of “emigration” but persecution.