Thursday, August 09, 2007


Controversy over destiny of last few remaining Jews in Baghdad

(AP) - They number only eight, but are caretakers of a story stretching back 2,600 years. Now, it's up to the last Jews of Baghdad to decide whether to remain or flee their ancient home. An Anglican clergyman who watches over the remaining Jewish families says they are increasingly desperate to emigrate to the Netherlands, where there is an active Iraqi Jewish community. But Israeli, Dutch and Jewish officials dispute the claims by the Rev. Andrew White that they want to fully abandon a city where Jews accounted for one-third of the population as recently as a century ago.
The attention on Iraq's Jews increased after White's appearance July 25 before the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, in which he stressed the growing threat to Baghdad's minorities. "In the last three or four months things have deteriorated very considerably," he said, according to a transcript of the proceedings held in Washington. White said he gives the Jews enough money every month to live, funds which they then share with other Iraqis.
"Even though they are very small and they have suffered very greatly, they still want to help those who suffer as well as themselves," said the British priest, who began visiting Iraq regularly in 1998 and was allowed by Saddam Hussein's regime to preach at an Anglican Church. "I personally think they should all leave, because they have no future, no security, no ability to survive at the moment."
He claims that the Jews want to join the Iraqi Jewish community in Holland — and that the Dutch have refused to accept them. The statements, however, were met with surprise by Dutch officials and members of the Dutch Jewish community. "We have had no official request or visa applications," said Rob Dekker, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.
Michael Jankelowitz, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem which is responsible for immigration, said none of the eight Jews left in Baghdad has expressed a desire to leave. "They survived under Saddam Hussein, and there is no need for them at their late age to pack up and move to different surroundings," he said. Half of them are over 80 years old.
They live discreetly in a dangerous area of Baghdad, and could not be contacted for comment. The eight Jews, belonging to four families, are all that is left in Iraq from one of the world's oldest Jewish community, dating to the 6th century B.C. when the Babylonians conquered ancient Palestine and exiled many Jews. Over the centuries, Baghdad became a center of Jewish culture and learning.

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