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Avi Shlaim and the events of 1951, did the Zionists really blow up the Jews of Iraq?

Avi Shlaim and the events of 1951, did the Zionists really blow up the Jews of Iraq?

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Politics History

Sunday 25 June 202305:34 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

آفي شلايم وأحداث 1951 في بغداد... هل حقاً فجّر الصهاينة يهود العراق؟


Historical events of immense magnitude refuse to fade away in the folds of history in Iraq. The country has always been full of fallacies in history, historiography, and its theories, living in a whirlpool of modern-day crises and numerous past problems.

The issue of Iraqi Jews is one of the prominent issues. Not a year passes without new documents on the matter emerging. Recently, the Jewish writer Avi Shlaim reopened the file of Iraqi Jews on June 8th, after publishing his book "Three Worlds: Memoirs of an Arab-Jew". In his book, he retraces the wheels of history, returning to his years of upbringing in Baghdad, in an attempt to delve deeper into the era of the establishment of the Zionist entity and the events that occurred.

Avi Shlaim, one of the Jews of Iraq, was born in Baghdad in 1945 and left after the bombings that targeted Iraqi Jews in 1951. He holds British citizenship and worked as a professor of international relations at the University of Oxford. He also holds Israeli citizenship, but despite growing up there, he is considered one of the most prominent opponents of Zionism and its policies. He is also known for his in-depth study of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

A reading from Shlaim's book

The book combines Shlaim's personal life with historical events that accompanied his life journey. Within its pages, he adds his opinions about life in the countries where he lived and their policies.

Although Shlaim's stay in Iraq was not long, spending six years as a child during a tumultuous period full of crises, the events he narrates indicate his vivid recollection of many details. These include the luxurious life he experienced under the wealth of his well-known merchant father, from having 12 servants in their grand house to their relationships with the aristocracy in Iraq during the days of the monarchy.

Avi Shlaim, an Iraqi Jew, was born in Baghdad and left after bombings that targeted the Jews of Iraq in 1951. He holds British and Israeli citizenship, but despite growing up there, he's considered one of the prominent opponents of Zionism and its policies

The bombings in Baghdad between 1950-1951 put an end to this luxury, and his family left Iraq for Israel. There, his father failed to establish a successful business project due to his lack of proficiency in Hebrew, and the life of poverty pushed his beautiful mother, as he describes her, to work as a receptionist in a commercial company.

The writer blames Israel for the transformation that changed his life, stating that "the Zionist agenda destroyed the status that Jews enjoyed in the Arab world and pushed them to live under the racism of the occupying state, where Ashkenazi Jews from Europe look down upon Sephardic Jews from Middle Eastern countries, under a policy of racism and a state built on apartheid or racial segregation." He remembers that their lives in Iraq were far from these issues, and his family had extensive and strong relationships with their Muslim friends and neighbors.

Shlaim was not the first to address this issue. Palestinian writer Abbas Shiblak preceded him in his book "Migration or Displacement: Circumstances and Causes of the Migration of Iraqi Jews" ('Hijra aw Tahjir.. Zuruf wa Mulabasat Hijrat Yahud al-‘Iraq'), published by the Palestinian Studies Foundation in 2015. Shiblak states, "At a time when Syrian Jews were emigrating in the thousands in the 1940s, Iraqi Jews were buying land, building schools, and establishing new commercial institutions in their homeland, Iraq."

Most Iraqi Jews were merchants and goldsmiths, and among them prominent figures emerged and influenced modern Iraqi history. These include the first Minister of Finance and founder of the Iraqi economy, Sassoon Eskell, and a member of the Senate from 1925 to 1940, Menahem Daniel. There was also Mir Basri, the head of the Baghdad Chamber of Commerce in 1943. Many Iraqi Jews also gained fame in the arts, such as the singer Salima Murad and the composer Saleh Yakob, known as Saleh Al-Kuwaiti, and his brother Dawoud.

Controversial observations

One of the most controversial observations made by Shlaim in his book is his claim that the bombings that occurred in Baghdad between 1950 and 1951, targeting Jewish shops and religious sites, were carried out by Iraqi Zionists, according to his belief.

This belief stems from his opinion that the Zionist movement, in order to encourage Jews to emigrate from Iraq to Israel, planted saboteurs to create further unrest. He bases this opinion on the Lavon Affair, associated with the former Israeli Defense Minister and Prime Minister, Pinhas Lavon, which accompanied the negotiations for the British withdrawal from Egypt in 1954.

The increasing Egyptian threat near the occupied Palestinian borders heightened Israel's fear of attacks against it across the Egyptian borders after the British withdrawal. Israel then instructed its affiliated terrorist cells to target British interests in order to prolong their presence in Egypt.

"The Zionist agenda destroyed the status of Jews in the Arab world, pushing them to live under a policy of racism, with European Ashkenazi Jews looking down upon Middle Eastern Sephardic Jews, within a state built on apartheid and racial segregation" – Shlaim

Shiblak states that "the resistance shown by Jews against immigration to Israel and their attachment to Iraq led Israel to carry out such operations. The Israeli Defense Minister indirectly admitted the involvement of the Israeli government in the bombings in Iraq. He stated that these bombings achieved the intended purpose, as after the first bomb attack, thousands of Jews lined up in front of immigration registration offices."

Between April 1950 and May 1951, Baghdad witnessed six bombings in various areas of the capital, using hand grenades and explosive devices, targeting Jewish cafes and churches, and resulting in the death and injury of around 20 Jews.

Historical fallacies and the writer's methodology

With all these intriguing details raised by the Jewish writer recently, opposing voices have begun to challenge his memoirs. British Jewish journalist Justin Marozzi, in an article on the Honest Reporting website, says, "Shlaim was only six years old when he left Iraq, so his memories of this period are not reliable. Additionally, his childhood experiences of transitioning from a life of luxury and wealth that his family enjoyed to a life of immigration in newly founded Israel should be taken into account." Marozzi also argues that Shlaim's discussion of racism in Israel is not credible considering his relatively short time living in Israel before moving to Britain.

Previously, writer Moshe Gat, in a lengthy article titled "The Connection between the Bombings in Baghdad and the Emigration of the Jews from Iraq: 1950-51", pointed out that the Iraqi government was the first to claim the involvement of the Israeli Mossad in the bombings at that time. However, archives of correspondence provided by the relevant British and Israeli authorities refuted these allegations.

Previously, there were claims that the British government was involved in these bombings after its attempts to persuade the Iraqi government to launch a demographic change project based on the migration of Palestinians to Iraq in exchange for the immigration of Jews to Israel in 1949.

Iraqi political historian Salam Al-Azzawi says, "These attempts have been historically documented during the era of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. It is also impossible to rule out the theory of Israel's involvement in these events. At the same time, the hand of Arab Iraqi groups is present in them, especially since the bombings coincided with a period of political crisis and economic stagnation, which contributed to increased animosity towards the Jewish community that controls the market."

He further adds in his interview with Raseef22, "The bombings accompanied the rise of nationalism in Iraq, and there is a common belief in their involvement in some of these bombings, given the nature and quality of the operations carried out. Nationalist movements relied on small-scale bombing attacks, while Zionist groups preferred to carry out their operations secretly, such as planting explosive devices and organized attacks."

"The Jews' resistance against migrating to Israel and attachment to Iraq pushed Israel to carry out the bombings. The Israeli Defense Minister indirectly acknowledged the Israeli government's involvement. And after the attacks, thousands of Jews lined up for immigration"

Mere opinions

Retired modern history professor Ibrahim Al-Rubaie does not rule out Israeli involvement in the bombing operations, but he points out that such beliefs remain mere opinions due to their lack of accurate historical research methodology and the inability to document these events.

According to his statement to Raseef22, the writer excessively relied on conspiracy theories and deviated from neutrality in historical narration, while it would have been more appropriate for him to stick to presenting his own opinion.

Jews have lived in Iraq since ancient Babylonian times, after the Assyrian and Babylonian captivity over 2,700 years ago, and they didn't encounter such problems of this kind. However, with the onset of World War II and the success of Rashid Ali al-Gaylani, who was close to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, and his coup against the regent government of Crown Prince Abd al-Ilah, an atmosphere of hatred against the Jews spread. This wave intensified after Britain removed Gaylani from power at the behest of the Jews, which was seen as a great British endorsement of Iraqi Jews. This was sufficient for the outbreak of the first Farhud attacks against Jews in 1941.

After the occupation of Palestine and the failure of the Arab army to regain its territories, animosity towards Jews increased and things continued this way for subsequent years. The Jewish population declined from 135 thousand in 1948 to less than 15 thousand by 1951, and then further decreased to only 100 individuals by 2003.

During those years, Jews maintained their right to practice their religious rituals. They had well-known sites such as the Tomb of the Prophet Nahum in the Alqosh district in northern Nineveh Governorate, the Tomb of Ezra in Al-ʻUzair in Maysan Governorate, and the Tomb of the Prophet Ezekiel in Babylon Governorate. Additionally, there was the Shrine of Sheikh Isaac Al-Ghawuni in Al-Rusafa in Baghdad, the "Meir Taweig" Synagogue located on the eastern side of the Tigris River in Baghdad, later known as one of the centers for registering Iraqi Jews interested in emigrating to Israel, and the Habibiya Cemetery in the Al-Sadr City of Baghdad, which is considered the largest Jewish cemetery in Iraq.

With all these events, it remains evident that Jews were a major part of Iraqi society and contributed to the establishment of the first state. It was also rumored that most of them were opposed to the Zionist movement, and examining these details after all these years is difficult, as historians say, who present the facts without making definitive conclusions.

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