Iraqi Pogrom Victims Not Recognized as Nazi Survivors, Israeli Court Rules

Iraqi Jews who escaped the Farhud attacks in 1941 argue that the pogrom was encouraged by Nazi propaganda

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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File photo: Young Iraqi Jews arriving in Israel after the Farhud.
File photo: Young Iraqi Jews arriving in Israel after the Farhud.Credit: Oster Visual Documentation Center
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

The Supreme Court ruled on Sunday that Iraqi Jews who escaped the Baghdad pogroms in 1941 (known in Arabic as the Farhud) are not eligible for the same compensation that victims of the Nazis receive.

While the justices acknowledged that the Nazis were “involved” in the anti-Jewish propaganda that led to the persecution of Iraqi Jews, they ruled that the current law doesn’t allow them to be recognized as victims of the Nazis.

>> Read more: The Jews who survived Baghdad's 'Kristallnacht' and their struggle to be recognized as Nazi victims 

The court put the onus back on the Knesset and the government, stating in its ruling that they could amend the law and broaden the eligibility for compensation to include Farhud.

File photo: Clashes in Iraq in the 1930s.
File photo: Clashes in Iraq in the 1930s.Credit: From the movie 'Remember Baghdad'

The suit, which has been traversing various tribunals since 2011, focuses on a group of Iraqi-born Jews who were victims of the pogrom in Baghdad during the Shavuot holiday of 1941 and who seek to be recognized for compensation under the Victims of Nazi Persecution Law.

The recognition would entitle them to a monthly allowance and other benefits. They argued that the pogrom, which included acts of murder, looting and destruction, was inspired and encouraged by Nazi propaganda, which reached as far as Baghdad during World War II.

Their claim was dismissed by the Holocaust survivors' rights authority in the Finance Ministry, an appeals committee and the Haifa District Court, on the grounds that they did not meet the criteria. Israeli law stipulates that eligibility for compensation as victims of Nazism is only granted to those who would have been eligible for compensation from the German government in accordance with Germany's compensation law.

That law, passed in the 1950s, only recognizes those harmed in the areas controlled by the German Reich and directly by Nazi Germany, not in distant lands like Iraq.

File photo: Jews in Baghdad waiting to renounce their Iraqi citizenship in order to immigrate to Israel, 1950.
File photo: Jews in Baghdad waiting to renounce their Iraqi citizenship in order to immigrate to Israel, 1950.Credit: Oster Visual Documentation Center

However, the law does recognize victims of Germany's satellite countries or countries encouraged by Germany. The plaintiffs sought to prove that Iraq belonged to the latter group. To bolster their case they recruited historians and experts who submitted documents and various testimonies supporting the claim that Iraq was under Nazi influence during World War II.

The Haifa District Court rejected this claim and ruled against the plaintiffs a year ago. They ruled that the case of Iraq did not meet the criteria of the Israeli and German laws because anti-Semitism in Iraq wasn’t connected to Nazi anti-Semitism. “Anti-Semitism in its various forms existed before the Nazi regime rose to power, and didn’t disappear after Nazi Germany was defeated. There are many facets to anti-Semitism and some of them change from era to era,” the court ruled.

The case was appealed to the Supreme Court. The justices examined when the German compensation law could be applied to cases committed by non-Germans outside of German, since, as noted, the Israeli law derives from the German criteria. They, too, were not convinced that Iraq could be considered a German satellite state or was goaded into anti-Semitism by Germany.

However, the court did criticize the state in this context. “The link of the Nazi persecution law to the scope of eligibility for compensation in Germany is a kind of missed opportunity. This law reflects a policy […] which does not reflect the public opinion in Israel at this time,” wrote Justice Daphne Barak-Erez. She noted that the Israeli law's reliance on the German law and Germany, “Blocks the possibility of granting full recognition to the victims.” Despite the ruling, the court recommended and the state attorneys agreed to award the Farhud victims a one-time grant.

Attorney David Yedid, who represented the Farhud victims throughout the entire legal process, criticized the incompetence of elected officials. “It is unfortunate that the same politicians who speak loudly about the rights of the elderly and Holocaust survivors are silent when an action is required in the form of a necessary amendment to a law that creates a historic injustice,” he said.

In recent years, Yedid’s office has filed similar claims on behalf of Jews who came to Israel from Morocco and were affected in the early 1940s by the anti-Semitic persecution of France’s Vichy regime, which collaborated with the Nazis. These claims, which were also submitted to the Holocaust survivors’ rights authority under the Victims of Nazi Persecution Law, were rejected by the authority. These cases are now being handled by the Haifa District Court and the Be’er Sheva appeals committee.

In 2015, the Finance Ministry decided that Jews from Iraq, Morocco and Algeria, who were not entitled to monthly benefits and benefits under the Victims of Nazi Persecution Law, would receive compensation from the state. However, unlike the Farhud victims, who were claiming an allowance equal to that received by other eligible persons under the law (2,200 shekels, or $606 a month), the state agreed to give them an annual grant of 3,600 shekels. The state also only awarded the payments on the condition that the victims would not conduct any other legal proceedings in an attempt to increase the compensation.

Three months ago Germany agreed to a one-time grant for Jews from Algeria who suffered persecution by the Vichy regime. Similar financial compensation has been granted in recent years to Jews from Morocco. These, however, are not pensions granted under Israeli law, but one-time payments from Germany, resulting from negotiations between the German government and the Claims Conference.