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Reviewed by:
  • Zionism in an Arab Country: Jews in Iraq in the 1940s
  • Michael Eppel
Zionism in an Arab Country: Jews in Iraq in the 1940s, by Esther Meir-Glitzenstein. London and New York: Routledge, 2004. 285 pp. $100.00.

This important book by Esther Meir-Glitzenstein deals with the activity of the Zionist movement in Iraq in the last decade of existence of the Jewish community in that country. The book focuses on the struggles between the Zionist emissaries and the community's traditional leadership and those forces within the community which sought to preserve its existence in Iraq, as well as the challenge posed by the Communists. Her details and comprehensive research are based on documents from British, Zionist, and Israeli archives, memoirs, and previous studies.

After the 1920s, the Arab-Jewish conflict in Mandatory Palestine and anti-Zionism as a paradigm, interwoven with the growth of Arabic national consciousness and pan-Arab ideological discourse, became an emotional issue in the internal politics of Iraq. Identification with the Palestinian Arabs and anti-Zionism became an aspect of Iraqi domestic politics, ideologically justified by the pan-Arab dimension of Iraqi nationalism, anti-British nationalism, and processes and contradictions in Iraqi society and its conservative ruling elite and regime.

Established Zionist activity began in Iraq in 1942, with the arrival of the first Zionist emissaries from Palestine. The Jewish community of Iraq had undergone a severe trauma as a result of the farhud riots during the Iraqi-British war early in June 1941. Notwithstanding that shock, which had undermined the self-confidence of the Jews of Iraq, most of those Jews still saw their future within Iraq—that is, they sought to preserve their Jewish identity within the multicultural mosaic of that country. The historic axis of the book is the way in which the Zionist activists, operating from the assumption that the Jews of Iraq had no future in that country and would have to emigrate to Palestine/Eretz Israel, coped with the traditional leadership of the Iraqi Jewish community, the modernized rich elite, which continued to be involved in the Iraqi ruling elite and in the Establishment, and the majority of the modern middle stratum. [End Page 197]

Most of the success of the Zionist activists took place among young Jews from the modern middle stratum. However, up to 1948, the number of Iraqi Jews who were integrated or organized within the activity of the various branches of the Zionist Movement was no more than 2,000. The turning point in this struggle resulted from developments outside the Jewish community which changed the political and ideological conditions in Iraq: the establishment of the State of Israel, the 1948 War, and the growing inability of the conservative ruling elite and regime in Iraq to respond to the needs and distresses of the middle and poorer classes. The anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist trends in Iraq and other Arab states during the 1930s and 1940s were related to the historical predicament of the conservative regimes and the ruling elites which led to their collapse in Egypt, Iraq, and Syria in a series of military coups during the 1950s.

Zionism in Iraq fulfilled the classic role of the revolutionary-pioneering movement, which draws radical conclusions from its perception of historical and social reality, weaves a vision and a plan of action, but is not capable of changing the historical conditions. Only after the establishment of the State of Israel and the 1948 War, which provoked a wave of anti-Jewish sentiment in Iraq backed by politicians from among the conservative elite, did most of Iraq's Jews reach the conclusion that it was no longer possible to preserve Jewish identity and the Jewish community within the framework of the Iraqi State.

The role and function of the Zionist movement and Zionist activity in creating the conditions for the dramatic mass emigration between 1949 and 1951 is an important historical issue in understanding the role of the Zionist movement in the development of modern Jewish nationalism in non-European states.

Among the most fascinating chapters in the book are those which describe the struggles among the political forces within the Zionist movement...


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pp. 197-199
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