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Remembering the Farhud

May 25, 2011 – 6:40 pm13 Comments

Three boys who survived the Farhud, having then fled Irag for Pune, India, where this photo was taken. The boy in the middle is Zaki Ades, son of Shafiq Ades who was hanged in Basra on a trumped up charge. Source: midrash.org

By Leor Karp

During one of the many wars in the Middle East during the 20th century there is one massacre that to date has received little publicity. This massacre took place in British controlled Iraq during the early 1940’s, and is called Farhud, meaning violent disposition. This event is thought to have killed more than 180 and injured over 2000 of the already dwindling Jewish population of Baghdad. Unfortunately, neither the exact sequence of events preceding this event nor the total numbers of fatalities resulting from this event are known.

Within Iraq there was ongoing turmoil during the year of 1940. The traditionally pro-British government was first replaced by Rashid Ali, a pro-Nazi, that helped the Baghdad German consulate spread anti-Semitic messages, including translations of Mein Kampf. Furthermore, his administration was instrumental in the establishment of Al-Fatwa, a youth group based upon the model of the Hitler Youth in Germany.

Post British gains in North Africa saw support for the Ali administration dwindle, ultimately forcing his resignation in January 1941. Not content with this fate, Ali joined by some of his generals staged a coup deposing the Iraqi Regent Abd al-Ilah, forcing Ilah to flee.

Although initially successful, this coup was short lived. An alliance of British and some of the Arab Legion soldiers quickly deposed the Ali led coup, forcing him to flee to Iran. Subsequent advances by British and Russian military continued during this period, eventually securing Iran. Post this victory the armistice was signed, leading the Iraqi regent’s return to claim Iraqi rule.

Upon the Regent Ilah’s return British troops had yet to advance to within the Baghdad city limits. He summonsed a delegation of Iraqi Jews to meet him, which on route were attacked by an angry mob. Two days of riots and violence against Jews ensued, during which many more civilians and members of the Iraqi police force joined this mob. This led to the death of more than 180 Jews, the injury of 2000 more, the looting of Jewish business, destruction of many synagogues and the start of the expulsion of the Jewish Iraqi population.

Many alternate theories as to the reasons for the delay in British troop deployment exist, but it was in this two day period, 1-2 June 1941, that the Farhud occurred.

This Shavuot marks the 70th anniversary of this horrific perpetration of injustice onto an unsuspecting population of Jewish Iraqi’s. Let their memory never fade in our consciousness and let us work, pray and hope that this is never repeated.

Leor Karp is an engineer living in Perth.

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  • philip mendes says:

    Leor: a good article on an important topic which raises the question why our so-called internationalist human rights advocates construct one group of Middle Eastern refugees (Palestinian Arabs who have mostly been denied equality or citizenship in the Arab countries in which they live) as progressive, and completely ignore or stigmatize another group of Middle Eastern refugees (Jews from Arab countries who mostly were fortunate enough to be granted citizenship by Israel).

    The Middle East’s forgotten Jewish refugees blog has some outstanding material on the 70th anniversary of the Farhud.

    Philip Mendes

  • Ron says:

    Dwindling Jewish populationin Baghdad? I am not sure. There were more than 100,000 Jews living in Iraq at that time, and a major part of the lived in Baghdad, and did quite well in trade etc. Almost all this large and ancient community migrated to Israel in 1950.

  • Ittay says:

    Hi Philip,
    This article may be of interest in reference to the point you raised.

    “Any reasonable person, Zionist or non-Zionist, must acknowledge that the analogy drawn between Palestinians and Mizrahi Jews is unfounded. Palestinian refugees did not want to leave Palestine. Many Palestinian communities were destroyed in 1948, and some 700,000 Palestinians were expelled, or fled, from the borders of historic Palestine. Those who left did not do so of their own volition.

    In contrast, Jews from Arab lands came to this country under the initiative of the State of Israel and Jewish organizations. Some came of their own free will; others arrived against their will. Some lived comfortably and securely in Arab lands; others suffered from fear and oppression.”

    You can read the rest of the article here:

  • frosh says:

    Ittay, I agree that the analogy is perhaps unfounded, but not necessarily for those reasons.

    The analogy is not a good one because the Palestinian refugees stemmed from an intense conflict zone. Intense conflict zones almost always result in refugees.
    On the other hand, Jewish refugees from the Arab countries did not stem from intense conflict zone. The Arab-Israeli war of 1948 did not take place in the the areas where Jewish refugees came from, and thus should be looked at quite differently.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    The farhad was an appalling event, as were continuing attacks in Iraq against Jews–some of whose families live in Melbourne.

    But this issue should not be used as a cover or ‘equal event’ for dealing with the Palestinian refugee issue. As Shenav argues, the two events cannot and should not be equated in an attempt to justify the Palestinian expulsion or loss of territory or deny their continuing desire to return, not necessarily permanently settle in other Arab countries.

  • philip mendes says:

    Ittay: Shenhav is an extremist, and fewer than one per cent of Misrahi Jews would agree with him.

    Personally I have always argued that the two exoduses should be considered separately, see my earlier article below.

    However, the expulsion of Jews from Iraq and elsewhere suggests a pattern of ethnic and religious intolerance in the Arab world that obviously has ramifications for potential solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.




  • Marky says:

    I really can’t see why it should be considered separately. Had these Arab countries wiped themselves of(f) the Palestinian issue completely, then there may be some points for separate consideration.

    However, the fact is that they do stick their noses very much into this conflict, and the right of return, when they terrorised and killed our people, just because of their pure hatred for us. That is real chutzpah and they should be told where to go..

  • Larry Stillman says:

    I actually think Philip’s comments about Shenhav are pretty inaccurate.

    Unless there has been a survey of Mizrahi Jews about his views, no claims can be made about what percentage agree with him or not.

    Second, he is certainly a far more distinguished academic than myself or Philip.

    See http://www.vanleer.org.il/Eng/content.asp?Id=322 with contributions to management theory, and various areas of social theory including identity politics and post-colonial theory. as well as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yehouda_Shenhav. Of course, it is also possible to dismiss the application of identity theory or post-colonial theory in toto, or particularly, in their application to Israel, but that is a separate and important debate (i.e. does ‘Israeli’ studies lie outside the purview of other fields of study–some would argue yes, others no.)

    But work cannot be simply be dismissed by the term ‘extremist’. What is more accurate to say is that his work on the nature of Mizrahi identity and Zionist is regarded as controversial.

  • philip mendes says:

    READERS: before you get confused our friendly political stalker, have a read of the following below and make your own judgement


    Shenhav, Yehouda (1999) ‘The Jews of Iraq, Zionist Ideology, and the property of the Palestinian refugees of 1948”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 31, pp.605-630 –

    Shenhav, Yehouda (2002) “Ethnicity and National Memory: The World Organisation of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC) in the context of the Palestinian National Struggle”, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 29(1), pp.27-56 –

  • Red says:


    I would like to take issue with the quoted statement:
    “some 700,000 Palestinians were expelled, or fled, from the borders of historic Palestine. Those who left did not do so of their own volition. ”

    In the article and what you quoted this statement is somewhat tempered in the next paragraph, but a reader would absorb the first statement ignoring the next.

    According to my parents who were young Zionist pioneers (from Poland) the Arabs left in 1948 because their leaders promised them that they would return victorious. They pointed out, that in Haifa where they lived there were public announcements asking the Arabs to stay and many did, although others decided to believe their own leaders. I am sure that there were some that were afraid or actually driven out, but who knows the actual figures of those who were driven out compared to those that left to return victorious?

    Similarly Shenhav suggesting that the Mizrahi Jews came mostly for Zionist reasons is a distortion. We know that the Aliyah rate is quite small from a Zionist community, when the community is living comfortably and are not “pushed out”. Yet 900,000 Mizrahi Jews left Arab lands leaving very few Jews behind. There would be many Iraqi Jews who left because of the Farhud, just as there were Palestinians who left because of Dir Ya Sin. These Jews may be too proud to call themselves refugees, but they are just as much refugees as the Jewish refugees from Europe and the Palestinian refugees from Israel. They were forced to leave their wealth behind and came with nothing to Israel, which absorbed them and allowed them to live, work and pray, and again re-establish their lives. Many European refugees received reparations from Germany. The Mizrahi refugees received nothing.

  • Sam says:

    As far as Mizrahi jews leaving Iraq willingly or being driven out, I invite some one who was in that situation to give a brief personal account of why he/or she left to go to Israel. I am well aquainted with several people who now live in Australia but were born and grew up in Iraq. Two of them emigrated from Iraq to Israel and then later to the US and finally to Australia. As far as their experiences in Iraq are concerned, I have been told that the hatred for jews living amongst arab Iraqis was intense and almost to a level of being intolerable, and that was in the late 60’s. Later on things got worse than that and jews were pretty much driven out. That is second hand info, so I would like to hear from someone with first hand experience.

    As far as Larry arguing that the farhud cannot equal the Palestinian refugee issue, does he mean that in a quantitative or qualitative sense? If it is the latter, then that is an appalling view from a jew, as it debases the value of a jewish life to a lower level compared to an arab one. Larry please clear up this ambiguity.

  • Ittay says:

    Hi Red,
    In response to your question “who knows the actual figures of those who were driven out compared to those that left to return victorious?” I recommend you read the book The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited by Benny Morris. Morris is a right wing Israeli historian. Below is an extract of an interview he gave with Ari Shavit of Haaretz in 2004.

    AS: What you are telling me here, as though by the way, is that in Operation Hiram there was a comprehensive and explicit expulsion order. Is that right?
    BM: “Yes. One of the revelations in the book is that on October 31, 1948, the commander of the Northern Front, Moshe Carmel, issued an order in writing to his units to expedite the removal of the Arab population. Carmel took this action immediately after a visit by Ben-Gurion to the Northern Command in Nazareth. There is no doubt in my mind that this order originated with Ben-Gurion. Just as the expulsion order for the city of Lod, which was signed by Yitzhak Rabin, was issued immediately after Ben-Gurion visited the headquarters of Operation Dani [July 1948].”

    AS: Are you saying that Ben-Gurion was personally responsible for a deliberate and systematic policy of mass expulsion?

    BM: “From April 1948, Ben-Gurion is projecting a message of transfer. There is no explicit order of his in writing, there is no orderly comprehensive policy, but there is an atmosphere of [population] transfer. The transfer idea is in the air. The entire leadership understands that this is the idea. The officer corps understands what is required of them. Under Ben-Gurion, a consensus of transfer is created.”

    AS: Ben-Gurion was a “transferist”?
    BM: “Of course. Ben-Gurion was a transferist. He understood that there could be no Jewish state with a large and hostile Arab minority in its midst. There would be no such state. It would not be able to exist.”

    AS: I don’t hear you condemning him.

    BM: “Ben-Gurion was right. If he had not done what he did, a state would not have come into being. That has to be clear. It is impossible to evade it. Without the uprooting of the Palestinians, a Jewish state would not have arisen here.”

    You can read the rest of the interview here: http://www.haaretz.com/survival-of-the-fittest-1.61345

  • Ittay says:

    Hi Sam,
    Both my grandparents were living in Bagdad during the Farhud of 1941. Speaking with members of my family, who, all left for Israel in 1950 together with almost the entire Iraqi Jewish community, I have heard many stories about why they left, including some quoted my shenhav, and some quoted by mendes and in the article above.
    Like with the Palestinians, it’s too simple to give one blanket reason for why an entire community choose to leave.

    I agree with Leor Karp that it’s a shame that so few Jews know of the Frahud, and even less know about the glorious history of the Babylonian Jewish community which stretches back to the time of Hillel and Shammai. Neither do most people know about the fact that for over 1000 years, the relationship between Jews and Muslims in the middle ages was far better than that of jews and Christians in Europe.

    If you would like to learn more about the story of Iraqi Jewry, probably the best author on this topic is Eli Amir. Eli Amir was born in Baghdad in 1937 and left for Israel in 1950. Amir began his career as a messenger boy in the Prime Minister’s Office and worked his way up to Arab Affairs Adviser to the Prime Minister.

    You can hear an interview (podcast) with him here: http://www.jewishbookweek.com/2010/the-dove-flyer.php

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