Rebuilding Bridges to Iraq's Jewish Heritage

Iraqis and Jews of Iraqi descent communicated mostly by writing from afar, but there was some in-person contact. Some Iraqi dignitaries visited Israel despite the challenges and dangers of such visits. The most famous of such visitors was a former deputy in the Iraqi parliament and head of the Iraqi Nation Party, Mithal al-Alusi. He visited Israel after he was invited to participate in anti-terrorism conferences in 2004 and 2008. But then the Iraqi parliament voted to revoke his immunity, preventing him from attending parliament or travel outside the country. Alusi was the target of several assassination attempts, the most serious of which was in 2005 when his two sons were killed. Moreh told Al-Monitor that contacts between the Jews of Iraq and Iraqi society are still ongoing through meetings in Western states and rare visits by Iraqi figures to Israel.

In April 2013, the politically influential cleric Muqtada al-Sadr declared that Iraq is for all Iraqis alike, including Jews who have already left the country. He called for embracing the Jews under the national banner even though it was too late. That declaration was well received by the media and other Iraqi elites.

In response to this invitation, the Israeli poet of Iraqi origin Ronny Somekh said, “I knew that someday, one leader will say, ‘Let us rebuild the links of communication.’ Even though my hope had no practical engine, I relied on a link that exists between Jews, Christians and Muslims.”

Other Israelis also have been making efforts to reconnect with Iraq, Jacky Hugi reported Aug. 4 in an Al-Monitor article titled “Israel’s Iraq Channel.”

On Oct. 11, the US National Archives will open an exhibit, “Discovery and Recovery: Preserving Iraqi Jewish Heritage.” The material, to be returned to Iraq next year, was found by US troops in 2003 in the bombed-out headquarters of Saddam Hussein’s secret police.

Al-Monitor asked a senior researcher at the Moshe Dayan Center, professor Ofra Bengio, whether something similar to what happened in Spain could happen in Iraq. Recently, the Spanish government granted Spanish nationality to Sephardic Jews, urging them to return 500 years after having expelled their ancestors. Bengio said that there is a big difference between the two cases because of the different political and social conditions of the two countries. She added that the Iraqi government is not ready to see the Jews return, nor are Iraqi Jews in Israel ready to do so. The two countries are still in a state of war.

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