A Summary of the Iraqi Parliamentary Debate, 1950, Norman Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times, Jewish Publication Society, 2003.
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A SUMMARY OF THE IRAQI PARLIAMENTARY DEBATE OF A BILL ALLOWING JEWS TO RENOUNCE THEIR CITIZENSHIP, WITH THE COMMENTARY OF THE BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO BAGHDAD
BRITISH EMBASSY, No. 67 Bagdad.
21st March, 1950
The Right Honourable Ernest Bevin, M. P., etc., etc., etc.
The debate in the Iraqi Senate on March 4th on the Draft Law supplementary to the Ordinance for Cancellation of Iraqi Nationality produced two speeches of some pathos from the aged Jewish Senator, Sayyid Ezra Menahem Daniel. Senator Ezra said- “Doubtless the Government has brought forward this Bill with reluctance, in view of the painful condition in which Iraqi Jews find themselves today and in order to reduce the disturbances caused by illegal emigration. This Bill deals with only one aspect of the Jewish question in Iraq. What can be done to reassure the Jews who do not wish to leave their homeland for good and who are loyal and law-abiding citizens? These are now deprived of their constitutional and legal rights as a result of administrative measures placing exceptional restrictions on them alone of all Iraqi nationals. They have been discriminated against, and their liberties, actions, education, and means of livelihood have been handicapped. Does not the Government consider it to be its duty to reassure this large section of loyal citizens by removing those extraordinary restrictions in order to restore to Iraqi Jews their sense of security, confidence, and stability? The Jews have lived in Iraq for 3,500 years. That is why they are reluctant to emigrate unless they are really obliged to do so. History will reveal the real reason for this emigration and will show that Iraqi Jews have nothing to do with the unhappy conditions of which their fellow citizens complain.”
Later in the debate Senator Ezra spoke again saying that he did not know what the Jew could do in Iraq after he had submitted to the exceptional conditions of the past two years. He had not been admitted to the Higher Colleges and was not allowed to study at his own expense abroad. Work was denied to him and he suffered restrictions in business. But for these severe handicaps, Iraqi Jews would not have gone so far as to attempt large-scale flight from the country. The Senator added that if the Government wanted to reassure the Jews and induce them to resume their ordinary avocations it should remove these handicaps and encourage them to work.
The Minister of the Interior, Sayyid Salih Jabr, in reply, said that the Government was sympathetic with loyal citizens who did not put themselves in an attitude of opposition to the national interest. A not inconsiderable section of Jewish nationals, however, had committed acts which were not consistent with the country’s interests and were in fact a disservice to the nation. Their motives might have been political and religious. The Minister continued that the Government felt that it was not in the national interest to prevent the emigration of these people to any destination they might choose. Those who had made up their minds to leave the country for good would do the country harm if they remained. As to the remaining Jewish nationals, the Government considered them as Iraqis equal with Muslim and Christian Iraqis so long as they obeyed the law and acted in accordance with the national interest. The constitution was a guarantee of this.
The remainder of the speeches were of little interest. Muzāhim al-Pachāchī asserted that those Jews who left the country under the new law would be young men who would constitute a Fifth Column. He referred with approval to an article by Mr. Edwin Samuel in the American periodical “The Middle East” in which he had suggested that it was in the interests of both Jews and Arabs to set up a United Nations Committee to arrange an exchange of population and to liquidate their properties in the interests of both parties. He thought that the Jews would continue to smuggle their property while the Palestine Arabs were not able to smuggle theirs, since it had been frozen. Senator Mustafā al-‘Umarī urged caution and a closer study of the Bill. He said that the cancellation of Iraqi nationality should take place on a family and not on an individual basis. If a Jew wished to emigrate, his whole family should go with him. He also inquired why the Iraqi Government had not frozen Jewish property in the same way as Arab property in Israel had been frozen.
The Prime Minister wound up by saying that when his Government had taken office it had found widespread complaints against the economic paralysis caused by thousands of people selling their movable and immovable property by auction. This situation had required a compromise solution. It had become evident that those who were selling their property were attempting to flee the country. The government had seen no point in forcing these people to stay. Those who wished to stay could stay, but those who wished to go should certainly go. This was the compromise solution that the government had reached. The Bill was then put to the vote and passed.
It may be worthwhile to attempt to provide a more convincing answer to Senator Ezra’s questions than did the Minister of Interior. As I have already reported, the Prime Minister has told me that there are now no administrative restrictions applied to Jews which do not apply to all other Iraqi citizens. I have no reason to believe that this is untrue. Nevertheless discrimination against Jews is applied in practice. In the Southern States of America, it is said to be difficult for a negro to obtain his rights against a White American in the Courts or to send his son to study alongside his white fellow citizen in higher colleges. An Iraqi Jew today suffers similar disabilities, which extend to many aspects of his life. Most educated Iraqis deplore this state of affairs, and the Iraqi governing class is increasingly perturbed by the stagnation which has been caused in the markets by the uncertainty with which the Jews regard their economic future. Governments in Iraq, however, are too weak to lead public opinion in a matter of this kind, and any direct attempts on their part to improve the position of Jews are immediately the object of Nationalist attack. I think the Iraqi Government sincerely hoped that the departure of the Jewish malcontents under this new Ordinance would improve the atmosphere and facilitate good treatment for those who remained. Like many well-intentioned Iraqi measures its effects have been different from those intended. It has resulted in an increase in attacks by the Nationalist press on the Iraqi-Jewish community as such. It has produced a still greater stagnation in the markets, while as far as I am aware for the reasons which I have given in my dispatch No. 66 of the 21st March, no Jew has yet come forward to take advantage of the possibility of legal emigration which it provides.
I have the honor to be,
With the highest respect,
Your most obedient,
HENRY B. MACK