Another story in the Iraqi whirlwind

synagoge baghdadFrom time to time, we receive emails from people concerned about a lack of mainstream media coverage of the persecution of the ancient churches inside Iraq, an already tragic situation that is getting worse as Iraq begins to fly apart into competing Islamic states, or tribes, or whatever. This is, of course, part of a wider story in the region — as I learned during my recent visit to Istanbul.

However, this morning I was reading my usual newspapers on the train when I ran into two paragraphs in The Washington Times that added yet another stunning angle to this story. This is one of those situations where I knew something was happening — at the head level — but the bare facts in the newspaper still hit home.

The story by veteran religion writer Julia Duin, a friend of this blog, focuses on yet another hearing by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Sadly, hearings of this kind take place all the time and, thus, this rather short story was located on an inside page. Here’s the lede:

Iraq’s outnumbered Christians and other religious minority groups are targets of a terror campaign and are facing a dire situation where killings and rapes have become the norm, a panel of witnesses testified yesterday on Capitol Hill.

But here are the two paragraphs that snuck up on me. The quote is from the Rev. Canon Andrew White, vicar of St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad:

Iraq’s eight remaining Jews, now hiding in Baghdad, are “the oldest Jewish community in the world,” he said, referring to the 597 B.C. Babylonian conquest of ancient Judah that brought the Jews to the region as captives.

“The international community has done nothing to help these people,” Mr. White said, explaining that the group is trying to emigrate to an Iraqi Jewish enclave in the Netherlands, which won’t admit them.

Here’s the question that popped into my mind: Which is more surprising, that there are only eight Jews left in Iraq or that officials in the Netherlands will not grant them asylum?

Have I missed it, or has there been extensive coverage of this issue? There will, of course, be headlines when the last Jews are killed or exiled against their will. I think.

Photo: The synagogue in Baghdad.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Larry “Grumpy” Rasczak

    “There will, of course, be headlines when the last Jews are killed or exiled against their will. I think.”

    I think you are overly optomistic. How many people in America know that there were large Jewish minorities in the Arab nations as recently as 1947?

    “In a key address before the Political Committee of the U.N. General Assembly on November 14, 1947, just five days before that body voted on the partition plan for Palestine, Heykal Pasha, an Egyptian delegate, made the following key statement in connection with that plan:

    The United Nations . . . should not lose sight of the fact that the proposed solution might endanger a million Jews living in the Moslem countries. Partition of Palestine might create in those countries an anti-Semitism even more difficult to root out than the anti-Semitism which the Allies were trying to eradicate in Germany. . . If the United Nations decides to partition Palestine, it might be responsible for the massacre of a large number of Jews.
    Heykal Pasha then elaborated on his threat:

    A million Jews live in peace in Egypt [and other Muslim countries] and enjoy all rights of citizenship. They have no desire to emigrate to Palestine. However, if a Jewish State were established, nobody could prevent disorders. Riots would break out in Palestine, would spread through all the Arab states and might lead to a war between two races.”

    Look at that a MILLION Jews lived in Arab lands!

    On October 14, 1949, Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri Sa’id spoke with U.N. officials about the exchange of “100,000 Baghdad Jews and 80,000 other Jews in Iraq for [an] equivalent number [of] urban Arab Palestinian refugees.”

    Now their are 8.

    Why? Well a big part of it was Laws in 1950 and 1951 the deprived Jews of their Iraqi nationality and their property in Iraq, respectively.

    How many gentiles know about this? How many care?

    How many reporters even know that Syria, Turkey, Egypt, etc. were all Christian Lands once? How many just think that the whole Middle East has ALWAYS been Islamic and that the Crusades (when the mean old White European Christians attacked the Moslems) are the be all and end all of Islamic History?

    I think you overestimate both the interest and the background knowlege of the modern journalist, someone who’s education better prepares them to cover Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton than matters of policy, history, or intelectual weight.


  • John L. Hoh, Jr.

    Iraq’s eight remaining Jews, now hiding in Baghdad, are “the oldest Jewish community in the world,” he said, referring to the 597 B.C. Babylonian conquest of ancient Judah that brought the Jews to the region as captives.

    I assume this refers to Jewish communities outside Israel? A good historian knows that not all the Jews were carted off by Nebuchadnezzar. And the deportation was in waves over a period of years, taking only the best, brightest, and influential leaders. (The return under Cyrus was likewise in stages, and not all Jews returned, obviously after 70 years a number were too old and many others knew nothing but the land in which they lived).

    “Grumpy” makes many excellent points above. Unfortunately few people wanted to believe any rumors emanating from Nazi Germany. The international community chastises Israel when she defends herself.

  • Pingback: The Last Eight Jews in Baghdad « Toddled Dredge

  • Julia

    I wonder why the only Christian cited was an Anglican?

    What about all the ancient Christian churches that have been in that area since soon after Christ’s death – both Orthodox and Catholic Rites in communion with Rome.

  • John McCoy

    A similar story–yet different in crucial details–is playing out in Afghanistan where the last member of the (quasi-)indigenous Jewish population is living in Kabul.

    I don’t know why this has hit the news lately, but it has. I heard a story on NPR last week as well. There was some coverage back in ’05 when the second-to-last Jew died. The story of the feud between the last two is almost Biblical in its view into human sin. A dedicated Googler might be able to find some more information from the coverage back in ’05: there should be enough threads in the CTV story to find some information. The two feuded over control of the synagogue. A synagogue that had exactly two members. (Though I seem to recall that 9 is a quorum for a synagogue? That hasn’t gotten any play in any of the articles that I have read.)