Open letter to the Presbyterian Church USA from an Iraqi Jew

| י׳ באדר ב׳ ה׳תשע״ד (12/03/2014) | 0 Comments

Joe Samuels by Joe Samuels

Some of your members, under the banner of human rights, have demonized one country. According to them, the one country that destabilizes the Middle East and creates much pain and suffering to the Arab world, is not Iran, Syria, or Lebanon. It is Israel.

They believe the root of the problem is Zionism and the return of the Jews to Israel.

Your group has just published a booklet entitled “Zionism Unsettled”. The booklet claims that if it weren’t for the Zionist movement that established Israel, the Jews from Arab lands would still be living in peace and harmony among the Arab nations.

I quote from your from Page 48 of “Zionism Unsettled”:

Middle eastern Jews, also called Mizrahi Jews, share a history of largely harmonious integration and acculturation in their host countries. Sadly, this model of coexistence was destabilized by the regional penetration of Zionism beginning in the late 19th century.

My Arabic name is Yusuf. I was born in the Jewish quarter of the old city of Baghdad known as “Taht El Takia” in December of 1930. I am now 83 years old. My mother tongue is Arabic and I am one those Jews who was integrated in the Arabic Islamic culture of Iraq.

Here are some examples of how us Arab Jews lived in harmony with our hosts: I survived the Farhud of 1941 — a violent “pogrom” when Iraqi Muslims, incited by Nazi Germany, took to the streets, destroyed the Jewish quarter and killed 180 Jewish men, women and children.  I was 11 years old. Google Farhud or read Edwin Black’s book “The Farhud”. The cause of the Farhud, wasn’t  Zionism. The Farhud was purely an anti-Jewish act. At 14, I was chased by two Muslim youths with a knife for stopping them from molesting my neighbor’s teenage daughter in broad daylight. At 18, after graduation from Al A’Adadiah High School, I was refused an exit visa to leave Iraq to study in America because I was Jewish. My story is not unique. I am one of 150,000 Iraqi Jews who was discriminated against, oppressed, and forced to escape religious persecution because of my faith.

In May, 1948, after failed attempts to destroy Israel in its fight for independence, the Iraqi government, turned against its Jewish citizens whose ancestors had been there continuously for over 2,500 years. Arrests, torture, imprisonment and hanging of Jews sent fear in every Jewish person’s heart. It was the fear for my life that made me attempt to be smuggled out of Iraq in December, 1949. I was smuggled through Iran and found my freedom for the first time in Israel. In 1941 during the Farhud, there was nowhere to run to. Thank God Israel was there to take us. I started my life there, like many Jews from Muslim countries, as a dispossessed, homeless, penniless refugee.

Your comment that “the Jews in Arab lands lived in harmonious integration and coexistence in their host countries and were destabilized because of Zionism in the 19th century” is totally misleading and wrong. First there was never a continuous peaceful coexistence between Muslim and Jews. There was existence of the Jews in Arab lands for thousands of years, but we lived as second-class citizen dhimmis. We had to pay bribes regularly and take abuse without seeking justice. For example when a Jewish girl was raped, when a Muslim customer didn’t pay my father for merchandise he bought, or when a Muslim murdered a Jew, we wouldn’t dare seek justice for fear of the threat of retaliation.

Out of the 850,00 Jews who once inhabited Arab lands who were either expelled or fled, myself and family included, none of us are living in refugee camps. We are settled around the world as good-standing citizens in many countries. My family is grateful to be citizens of the United States. We are happy to have escaped Iraq and none of us share your sadness or have nostalgia to go back and live as oppressed second-class citizens of any Muslim country.

Of the 600,000 Jews who left Arab lands for Israel, none of them are living in refugee camps. A similar number of Palestinian refugees, from the war their leaders started, are still living in refugee camps in Arab lands after 66 years.

Imagine the Iraqi government promising to return my family’s confiscated home in the Al Alwiya district. Imagine them promising the return of my father’s import business. Imagine taking my wife, my three children (two Ph.Ds, and one MD) and five grandchildren to Baghdad. How crazy would I be? As American Jews and Zionists, how long do you think we would last before being killed?

Your publication, “Zionism Unsettled,” advocating for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) of Israel rejects the existence of a Jewish state. It is not an attack on Israeli politics, but the very idea of Jews being self-determined and having our own country and home. To pretend that your publication is about occupation, to pretend this is about peace, to pretend this is about human right abuse, to pretend that this is anything other than vile, spiteful anti-Semitic Jew hatred is a lie.

As a Christian church, shouldn’t  your priority be to advocate for your Christian brothers? Where is your publication “Islam Unsettled, and the treatment of Christians in the Muslim world.” Fifty Coptic churches were burnt in one day when Morsi ruled Egypt. One Million Iraqi Christians live in refugee camps in Jordan. How about Christians in Syria under the rebels or Christians in Gaza? Bethlehem was a Christian majority; today it has a Muslims majority. Lebanon was the only Arab country with a majority of Christians. Today the Lebanese Christians live as a minority and don’t dare to disarm Hezbollah, the Islamic extremist group, that rules Lebanon.

Rev. Chris Leighton, the Executive Director of the Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies, who strongly objected to your publication, summarizes his objection in an open letter to the church. He wrote, “to suggest that the Jewish yearning for their own homeland — a yearning that we Presbyterians have supported for numerous other nations — is somehow theologically and morally abhorrent is to deny Jews their own identity as a people.”

There are 22 Arab countries. There is place for a 23rd. Yet there is no place for a Jewish state the size of New Jersey? Shame on you.

Category: Iraq, Justice for Jews of Arab Countries, Personal History

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