An Exodus? Why did the Jews Leave Iraq in the 1950s?

Oriental Institute, Breasted Hall

The departure of Jews from Iraq is puzzling in retrospect, considering the degree to which Iraqi Jews were immersed in Iraqi life and culture. This emigration, however, was spurred by the increasingly volatile situation in the years 1948–1951. The desire of the state of Israel to bring Iraqi Jews to Israel, in conjunction with brutal right wing nationalist activity in Iraq and the ineptitude of the Iraqi leadership, provided the impetus for emigration. The escalation of the conflict in Palestine prompted Iraqi right wing politicians to mark all Iraqi Jews as Zionists. The state did not make much of an effort to discredit these right wing propaganda efforts, and at times even incited anti-Jewish acts, with the result that younger Jews turned to Zionism. The state of Israel seized upon the Iraqi government’s actions as the ultimate proof that Arabs and Jews could not live together. This talk will analyze the processes and events that led to the demise of one of the most important Jewish communities in the Middle East.