The Holocaust and Arab Nationalism


The Mufti reviews Bosnian Muslim SS troops in 1943.

In a previous post, I’ve written something on my parents’ narrow escape from the Holocaust. My grandparents, two aunts, an uncle and a number of cousins did not make it, while others survived by getting to Palestine in the 1920s or ’30s. Currently, about half of my relatives are Israeli. It’s with them in mind that I’ve been a staunch supporter of the Zionist peace camp for many years. It broke my heart when the peace process of the 1990s foundered so dismally in the violence that began with the Second Intifada in the fall of 2000, and again following Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

On this Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, I’m loosely adapting material from a letter to the editor I submitted the other day, about an article that has appeared in the spring issue of Tikkun, “Setting The Record Straight: The Arabs, Zionism, and the Holocaust” by Ussama Makdisi. He reviews a book by Gilbert Achcar, “The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives.” Both writers are professional historians of Arab background.

The reviewer acknowledges that the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, had a “sordid” relationship with the Nazis, but does not elaborate. The Mufti helped recruit Bosnian Muslims into the SS, made incendiary shortwave radio broadcasts in Arabic, from Berlin, advocating hatred and genocide against all Jews, and played a prominent on-the-scene role with the pro-Nazi 1941 coup attempt in Iraq.

I would agree with the reviewer that it’s too simple to lay all the blame on the Mufti for the periodic post-1917 Arab attacks on Palestinian Jews (1920, 1921, 1929, 1936-’39, 1947-’48), but it would be refreshing and useful for historians to honestly analyze his impact without getting bogged down in ideological finger-pointing. Indeed, some Israeli and pro-Zionist writers do engage in finger-pointing from their side—perhaps most shockingly in the writings and public statements of Benny Morris in the last ten years.

(My read of Morris–the most prominent of the Israeli “New Historians,” whose research has yielded a more complete accounting of the events surrounding Israel’s tumultuous birth in 1948–is that he was embittered and unhinged by the savage violence of the Second Intifada of the early 2000’s into a profoundly pessimistic view on the prospects for peace. I will touch upon Morris again in a post next week on the occasion of Israel’s Independence Day.)

Still, the Mufti was the most influential leader of Palestinian–and perhaps pan-Arab–nationalism in the 1930s and ’40s. Clearly, the alliance of Arab nationalists with the Nazi cause is mainly explained by the adage, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” But the Yishuv–the organized Jewish community in Palestine–had every reason to see Palestinian enmity in the 1930s and ’40s as unrelenting and even genocidal in intent.

Since the writers contextualize the motivations of the Mufti and his ilk, should they ignore the context of Palestine becoming a refuge for Jews against the ravages of 20th century antisemitism? The clash of vital interests between Jews and Arabs was best illustrated by the Arab Revolt of 1936-’39: although defeated militarily, it resulted in an Arab political victory with Britain’s 1939 White Paper sharply restricting the legal immigration of Jews to Palestine—a virtual death sentence for countless Jews who might otherwise have survived.

I would hope that most readers of this blog, and of Tikkun in general, can understand that Zionism was not simply a settler-colonialist project (as Prof. Makdisi sees it), but the effort of a hounded people to find a secure home. (An apt metaphor–attributed to Isaac Deutscher and more recently invoked by Michael Lerner–is of the Jews jumping out of a burning building and falling on top of Palestinian bystanders on the sidewalk below.) This doesn’t justify all that was done by Zionists historically, and certainly not all that is done in the name of Zionism today (so much of which I deplore), but such an understanding may help forge a fair and workable peace.

0 thoughts on “The Holocaust and Arab Nationalism

  1. Ralph ,
    Thank you for posting this blog, You are a voice of knowledge and reason in the cesspool of a website.
    The Farhund pogrom in Iraq on Shavuot in 1941 against Jews showed how Iraq collaborated with Nazi Germany
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    Part of Holocaust
    Mass grave for the victims of the Farhud, 1946
    Location Baghdad, Iraq
    Date June 1st-2nd, 1941
    Target Baghdadi Jews
    Attack type Violent pogrom, massacre
    Deaths 175[1] – 780[2] Jews killed
    Injured 1,000 injured
    Perpetrators Rashid Ali, Yunis al-Sabawi, al-Futuwa youth.
    Farhud (Arabic: الفرهود‎) refers to the pogrom or “violent dispossession” carried out against the Jewish population of Baghdad, Iraq, on June 1-2, 1941 during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. The riots occurred in a power vacuum following the collapse of the pro-Nazi government of Rashid Ali while the city was in a state of instability. Before British and Transjordanian forces arrived, around 175 Jews had been killed and 1,000 injured. Looting of Jewish property took place and 900 Jewish homes were destroyed.[1] By 1951, 110,000 Jews – 80% of Iraqi Jewry – had emigrated from the country, most to Israel.[3] The Farhud has been called the “forgotten pogrom of the Holocaust” and “the beginning of the end of the Jewish community of Iraq”, a community that had existed for 2,600 years.[4]
    Contents [hide]
    1 Background
    2 Events preceding the Farhud
    2.1 Propaganda
    2.2 The Golden Square coup
    2.3 Antisemitic actions preceding the Farhud
    3 Farhud (June 1-2, 1941)
    4 Aftermath
    4.1 Long term impact
    5 See also
    6 References
    7 Further reading
    8 External links
    Main articles: History of the Jews in Iraq and Baghdadi Jews
    The Jews lived in the land of Babylon for more than 2,500 years following the Babylonian captivity. There had been at least two earlier comparable pogroms in the modern history of Iraqi Jews, in Basra in 1776 and in Baghdad in 1828. There were many instances of violence against Jews during their long history in Iraq,[5] as well as numerous enacted decrees ordering the destruction of synagogues in Iraq, and some forced conversion to Islam.[6]
    After the Ottoman Empire was defeated in the First World War, the League of Nations granted the mandate of Iraq to Britain. After King Ghazi who inherited the throne of Faisal I, died in a 1939 car accident, Britain installed ‘Abd al-Ilah as Iraq’s governing regent. By 1941, the approximately 150,000 Iraqi Jews played active roles in many aspects of Iraqi life, including farming, banking, commerce and the government bureaucracy.
    [edit]Events preceding the Farhud
    This unreferenced section requires citations to ensure verifiability.
    Between 1932 and 1941, the German embassy in Iraq, headed by Dr. Fritz Grobba, significantly supported antisemitic and fascist movements. Intellectuals and army officers were invited to Germany as guests of the Nazi party, and antisemitic material was published in the newspapers. The German embassy purchased the newspaper Al-alam Al-arabi (“The Arab world”) which published, in addition to antisemitic propaganda, a translation of Mein Kampf in Arabic. The German embassy also supported the establishment of Al-Fatwa, a youth organization based upon the model of the Hitler Youth.
    [edit]The Golden Square coup
    Main articles: Iraq coup (1941) and Anglo-Iraqi War
    Michael Eppel, in his book “The Palestinian Conflict in Modern Iraq” blames the Farhud on the influence of German ideology on the Iraqi people, as well as extreme nationalism, both of which were heightened by the Golden Square coup:
    In 1941, a group of pro-Nazi Iraqi officers, known as the “Golden Square” and led by General Rashid Ali, overthrew Regent Abdul Ilah on April 1 after staging a successful coup. Iraq’s new government then was quickly involved in confrontation with the British over the terms of the military treaty forced on Iraq at independence. The treaty gave the British unlimited rights to base troops in Iraq and transit troops through Iraq. The British arranged to land large numbers of soldiers from India in Iraq to force the country to show its intentions. Iraq refused to let them land and confrontations afterward occurred both near Basra in the south and to the west of Baghdad near the British base complex and airfield. The Germans dispatched a group of 26 heavy fighters to aid in a futile air attack on the British airbase at Habbaniya which accomplished nothing.
    Winston Churchill sent a telegram to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, warning him that if the Middle East fell to Germany, victory against the Nazis would be a “hard, long and bleak proposition” given that Hitler would have access to the oil reserves there. The telegram dealt with the larger issues of war in the middle east rather than Iraq exclusively.
    On May 25, Hitler issued his Order 30, stepping up German offensive operations: “The Arab Freedom Movement in the Middle East is our natural ally against England. In this connection special importance is attached to the liberation of Iraq… I have therefore decided to move forward in the Middle East by supporting Iraq.”
    On May 30, the British-organized force called Kingcol led by Brigadier J.J. Kingstone reached Baghdad, causing the “Golden Square” and their supporters to escape via Iran to Germany. Kingcol included some elements of the Arab Legion led by Major John Bagot Glubb known as Glubb Pasha.
    On May 31, Regent Illah prepared to fly back into Baghdad to reclaim his leadership. To avoid the reality of a British-organized countercoup, the regent entered Baghdad without a British escort.
    [edit]Antisemitic actions preceding the Farhud
    Sami Michael, a witness to the Farhud, testified: “Antisemite propaganda was broadcast routinely by the local radio and Radio Berlin in Arabic. Various anti-Jewish slogans were written on walls on the way to school, such as “Hitler was killing the Jewish germs”. Shops owned by Muslims had ‘Muslim’ written on them, so they would not be damaged in the case of anti-Jewish riots.”
    Shalom Darwish, the secretary of the Jewish community in Baghdad, testified that several days before the Farhud, the homes of Jews were marked with a red palm print (“Hamsa”), by al-Futuwa youth.
    Two days before the Farhud, Yunis al-Sabawi, a government minister that proclaimed himself the governor of Baghdad, summoned Rabbi Sasson Khaduri, the community leader, and recommended to him that Jews stay in their homes for the next three days as a protective measure. An investigative committee later found that Yunis had the intent of killing the Jews, although his rule of Baghdad lasted only a few hours, to be seized by a public security committee.
    During the fall of the Rashid Ali government, false rumors were circulated that Jews used mirrors to signal the Royal Air Force.
    [edit]Farhud (June 1-2, 1941)
    According to the Iraqi government and British sources, violence started when a delegation of Iraqi Jews, sent to meet the Regent Abdullah arrived at the palace of flowers (Qasr al Zuhur) and was attacked by the mob as they crossed Al Khurr Bridge. Violence in Al Rusafa and Abu Sifyan districts followed, and got worse the next day, when Iraqi policemen joined in on the attacks on the Jewish community. Shops belonging to Jews were burned, and a synagogue was destroyed.
    However, Prof. Zvi Yehuda alleges that the event leading to the riots was anti-Jewish incitement in the Jami-Al-Gaylani mosque, and that violence was premediated. Prof Yehuda points to eyewitness testimonials and analyzes the different methods of operation to support his claim.[7]
    Only at the afternoon of June 2, two days into the riots, British forces quelled the violence by imposing a curfew and shooting violators on sight. An investigation conducted by the journalist Tony Rocca of the London Sunday Times attributes the delay to a personal decision by the British ambassador of the time (Kinahan Cornwallis), who did not execute orders received from London and refused pleas by his officers to act against the riots.[8] Other testimonies suggest that the British delayed their entry into Baghdad for 48 hours because they wanted passions in the city to boil over and had an interest in a clash between Jews and Muslims.[9]
    The precise number of victims is unclear: Some sources say that about 180 Jews were killed and about 240 were wounded, 586 Jewish-owned businesses were looted and 99 Jewish houses were destroyed.[10] Other accounts state that nearly 200 Jews were killed and over 2,000 injured, while 900 Jewish homes and hundreds of Jewish-owned shops destroyed and looted.[11] Bernard Lewis writes that according to the “official” statistics 600 Jews were killed and 240 injured, but the unofficial estimates were much higher.[12] The Israeli-based Babylonian Heritage Museum maintains that in addition to 180 identified victims, about 600 unidentified victims were buried in a mass grave.[2]An estimate published in Haaretz newspaper cites 180 killed and 700 wounded. [13]
    Eight assailants, including army officers and police, were condemned to death after the violence by the new pro-British Iraqi government.
    [edit]Long term impact
    See also: Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries
    In some accounts the Farhud marked the turning point for Iraq’s Jews who, following this event, were targeted for violence, persecution, boycotts, confiscations, and near complete expulsion in 1951.
    It is estimated that in 2003, the Iraqi Jewish population numbered less than 100. In 2008 the Iraqi Jewish population dwindled to an estimated 7 people.[14

  2. Ralph, you are right that Makdisi plays down the role of the Mufti, as does Gilbert Achcar, but Don’s comment on the Farhud shows that the Arab world was being infected by A Nazi ideology of antisemitism with an Islamic gloss on it. One of the prime movers behind this was the Mufti, who spent two years in Baghdad inciting against the Jews of Iraq.This was more than simply ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’. As Don implies this ideology poisoned Arab attitudes to the Jews of Iraq, and indeed all Jewish indigenous communities in the region. This poison was just one aspect of a xenophobic nationalist and religious fascism which has pervaded the Arab world ever since.
    Your analogy of the man jumping out of the burning building does not fit. The Palestinian Mufti was one of those who set fire to the building in the first place. Other arsonists were the Muslim Brotherhood, the Ba’ath party, the proto-Nazi youth movements. The Assyrians, Kurds, Maronites and Copts have been jumping out of the windows too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *