August 01, 2007

8 Jews left in Baghdad but for how long?

Someone just posted this Yahoo report to the comments section in an earlier post. Apparently there are 8 Jews still in Baghdad and they are being cared for by an Anglican priest:
Baghdad was once one of the great cradles of Jewish culture and wisdom, but now, according to the Christian priest who has been looking after them, there are only eight Jews left in the Iraqi capital, and their situation is "more than desperate." The Rev. Canon Andrew White, the Anglican chaplain to Iraq, says that the small group is in considerable danger. However, the community has been unable to agree to emigrate as a whole. Some of its members, without identifying themselves as Jews, have attempted to leave individually, but have been turned down. White says that only one of the Jews, a woman, still regularly goes to a Baghdad synagogue, though he will give no details.
How many can there be?
The Jewish population in Iraq began to disappear after 1948, when the founding of Israel resulted in anti-Jewish reprisals throughout the Arab world. Says Felice Gaer, one of the International Religious Freedom panel's commissioners and head of the American Jewish Committee's Jacob Blaustein Institute for Human Rights: "I didn't know about this community until I heard about it from Canon White. I certainly intend to learn more about the situation. It's hard to believe that those who want to provide charitable assistance couldn't reach people anywhere in the world, no less in a country where he U.S. has 160,000 troops."

Both Gaer and White point out that the plight of the remaining Jews is not very different from the hardships faced in Iraq by other religious minorities such as Christians, Mandeans (a gnostic group to whom John the Baptist is a central figure) and Yazidis (whose faith draws from Zoroastrianism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity and other sources). However, the priest says that the Jews have not been able to get any material aid from the Iraqi government, and have been advised by officials "to say that they are Christians or to become Christians, because it's a lot safer."
Actually the departure of Jews from Iraq is a lot murkier than the reference to Arab reprisals would suggest. And the involvement of the American Jewish Committee may not be altogether welcome.

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