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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Trapped in Baghdad?

Two weeks ago, I reported on the increasingly desperate situation of Baghdad's remaining eight Jews, according to Anglican Vicar Andrew White, who takes care of the Jewish community. This morning, the Jerusalem Post reports that White says that the Jews must get out, but no one is willing to take them in. Deja vu all over again?
According to White, an unspecified few have expressed their desire to leave. But despite efforts by Jewish organizations abroad and some Knesset members to bring them to Israel, the eight rejected the idea of the Jewish state as a possible point of refuge. The problem, White said, was that due to the umbrella of anti-Israel and anti-Zionist sentiments they have lived under in Iraq, they are fearful of Israel and what it represents.

"They have been fed anti-Israel propaganda all their lives," he said. "They do not trust Israel to be a good place. If some of them do want to go to Israel, they are scared of what the repercussions might be for the ones that stay."

White said Labor MK Michael Melchior has been extremely supportive. Melchior, a member of the Knesset Committee on Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, told the Post the situation facing the eight Jews in Baghdad was very complex and sensitive. He said some had even been held hostage. "We always try to help when Jews are in need," he said, adding that they were under the care of White.

White said an alternative to Israel as a point of refuge could be the Netherlands. The Baghdad Jews have relatives among the Iraqi community there who emigrated via Israel after the first Gulf War. He said there has been a flurry of back-channel activity between Israel and Holland concerning their possible emigration to either country, and praised the efforts made by Israeli representatives, saying the Israeli government has "done absolutely everything" to help.

However, White said the Dutch were ignoring requests for the visas needed to immigrate and refusing to absorb the community. "We're talking about eight people," he said. "[The Dutch] should be receptive, but they're not."

Dutch officials in Israel told the Post Monday that no activity toward such immigration has taken place.

"Lies. Damn lies. The fact is, is that they just don't want to take them in," White said. "I have spent hours sitting with them. How can they say that I was not there?"

Speaking from The Hague, Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman Rob Dekker told the Post there have been no recent requests for visas, and that there have been no "formal discussions" between White and the Dutch government. He said informal meetings between White and a former Dutch ambassador to Baghdad had taken place.

Dekker said the Dutch Embassy in Baghdad was not equipped to handle the visa requests, and that the eight Jews would have to travel to Jordan or Syria to request visas. He acknowledged that their classification as Jews in their passports might not grant them safe passage to Damascus or Amman, but said these procedures "applied to everyone in Iraq," regardless of religion.

Dekker also said asylum could not be given either, and could only be requested from Holland. Dutch law does not allow for asylum requests from Dutch embassies, he said.

Baghdad's Jews have been leaving for North America, Europe and Israel for 60 years, most recently in 2003, when a few Jews left just after US and British troops invaded Iraq. Following Israel's independence in 1948, 100,000 Iraqi Jews were brought into the newly created Jewish state. The community had been present in Iraq since the Babylonian exile, which began in 586 BCE. following the destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem.
And I suppose that the growing Muslim population in Holland has nothing to do with the Dutch government's readiness to be of assistance.


The more things change, the more they stay the same.

By the way, the picture at the top left of this post is from Baghdad's Great Synagogue and it was taken in 1910. The original may be found here.


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