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Operation Ezra and Nehemiah

From 1950 to 1952, Operation Ezra and Nehemiah airlifted between 120,000 and 130,000 Iraqi Jews to Israel[1][2] via Iran and Cyprus. The massive emigration of Iraqi Jews was among the most climactic events of the Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries. By 1968, only 2,000 Jews remained in Iraq. Today, fewer than 100 Jews remain, all of whom live in Baghdad.

The operation is named after Ezra and Nehemiah, who led the Jewish people from exile in Babylonia to return to Israel in the 5th century BC, as recorded in the books of the Hebrew Bible that bear their names.


  • Background 1
  • Following Israeli independence 2
  • Reversal: permitting Jewish emigration 3
  • Airlift 4
  • Aftermath 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Sources 8
  • External links 9


The critical change in Iraqi Jewish identity occurred after the violent Farhud or pogrom against the Jews of Baghdad, on June 1–2, 1941 following the collapse of the pro-Nazi Golden Square regime of Rashid Ali al-Kaylani. At least 180 Jews were killed during two days of riots, and the Baghdadi Jewish community was irreversibly hit. After the Farhud, Jews began fleeing Iraq at an increasing rate. Fear of a renewed outburst of this kind (of the Farhud) menaced over the community until its eventual dissolution. The Farhud shocked the community to the core, and in effect marked the beginning of a process which was to end with the emigration of the vast majority of Iraqi Jews.[3]

In the first half of the 1940s, the Iraqi people were incited against Zionism by propaganda campaigns in the press, initiated by Nuri al-Said himself.[4] The Iraqi Jewish Leaders, had declared anti Zionist statements during the 1930, but in 1944 they now boldly and vehemently refused a similar request. They did so as a protest against the authorities treatment of Jewish community and not because they had changed their minds about Zionism.[5] The situation of the Jews grew increasingly grave as the decision on the fate of Palestine approached.[3]

After 1945, there were frequent demonstrations in Iraq against the Jews and especially against Zionism.

Following Israeli independence

In 1947, with the affirmation of the 1947 Partition Plan for Palestine, and Israeli Independence in 1948, the Jews began to feel that their lives were in danger. Immediately after the establishment of the State of Israel, the Iraqi government adopted a policy of anti-Jewish discrimination, mass dismissals from government service, and arrests. The Jews felt the ground burning under their feet.[3] Immigration to Mandatory Palestine (later Israel) was banned in 1947. Following Israeli independence, Zionism was declared a capital offense. Jews working in government jobs were dismissed, and hundreds were arrested for Zionist or Communist activity, both real and imagined, tried in military courts, and were given harsh prison sentences or heavily fined.[6] Nuri al-Said admitted that the Iraqi Jews were victims of bad treatment.[7]

On October 23, 1948, Shafiq Ades, a respected Jewish businessman, was publicly hanged in Basra on very dubious charges of selling weapons to Israel and the Iraqi Communist Party, an event that increased the sense of insecurity among Jews.[8] During this period, the Iraqi Jewish community became increasingly fearful.[9] The Jewish community general sentiment was that if a man as well connected and powerful as Shafiq Ades could be eliminated by the state, other Jews would not be safe any longer.[10]

Iraqi Jews began fleeing to Iran, from where they were flown to Israel. By 1949, the Iraqi Zionist underground was smuggling Jews out of the country at the rate of 1,000 a month.[11]

In February 1949 the British learned of Nuri al-Said plan to expel the Jews from Iraq.[12] The Iraqi government decided to retaliate for the expulsion of Arab refugees from Palestine by forcing the majority of the Jewish community of Iraq to go to Israel. In February 1949 the British ambassador to Iraq told the Foreign office that the Iraqi prime minister considered an expulsion of the Jews, should the Jews not be reasonable on the matter of the Arab refugees.[13]

During the end of 1949 The Iraqi Jewish leaders asked the Deputy premier that the government cease its persecution of Jews which had been in operation since 1948. It was clear from the deputy reply, that there could be no change for the better in the attitude toward the Jews, since the government feared the extremist elements who demanded the Jews expulsion and confiscating there property.[14]

Reversal: permitting Jewish emigration

In March 1950, the Iraqi government passed a special bill permitting Jewish emigration on condition that Jews renounce their Iraqi citizenship. The law was motivated both by economic considerations (the assets of departing Jews would be confiscated by the government), as well as a belief that Jews were a potentially troublesome minority who Iraq would be better off without.[15] At first, few would register, as the Zionist movement suggested they not do so until property issues had been clarified. After mounting pressure from both Jews and the Government, the movement relented and agreed to registrations.[16]

In September 1950, Nuri al-Said became a prime minister, and he was determined to drive the Jews out of his country as quickly as possible.[17] He declared to the Arab world that the dispatch of large numbers of Jews was intended to accelerate the collapse of the infant state of Israel, since it could not absorb the flood of immigrants due to her limited capacity.[18]

At first, the Iraqi emigration law allowed the Jews to sell their property and liquidate their businesses. However, later on the government would confiscate the property of Jews relinquishing their citizenship, including those who had already left. Departing Jews were permitted to take no more than $140 and 66 pounds of luggage out of the country, and were also prohibited from taking jewelry with them.[19]

A series of bomb attacks against Jewish places and people, known as the 1950–1951 Baghdad bombings, began in March 1950 and sped up the desire for emigration to Israel.[20]


Immigrants from Iraq leaving Lod airport on their way to ma'abara, 1951

By 1951

  • To Baghdad and Back – Book review from Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center web site
  • Iraqi Jews who left Baghdad in the 1960's and 1970's – Jews who chose to stay in Iraq during Operation Ezrah and Nehamiah
  • [2] The Jews of Iraq By Naeim Giladi.
  • The Forgotten Refugees: the causes of the post-1948 Jewish Exodus from Arab Countries (focuses on Iraq)

External links

  • Mordechai Ben-Porat To Baghdad and Back: The Miraculous 2,000 Year Homecoming of the Iraqi Jews, Gefen Publishing House, 1998. ISBN 965-229-195-1
  • Mahir Ünsal Eriş, Kürt Yahudileri – Din, Dil, Tarih, (Kurdish Jews) In Turkish, Kalan Publishing, Ankara, 2006
  • Shlomo Hillel, Operation Babylon Fontana, Collins Press, 1988/89, translated from the Hebrew by Ina Friedman.


  1. ^ Pasachoff, Naomi E.; Robert J. Littman (2005). ""Operation Magic Carpet" and "Operation Ezra and Nehemiah"". A Concise History of the Jewish People. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 301.  
  2. ^ "Operations Ezra & Nechemia: The Aliyah of Iraqi Jews".  
  3. ^ a b c Gat Moshe (1998). "The Immigration of Iraqi Jewry to Israel as Reflected in Literature". Revue européenne de migrations internationales lien 14 (14-3): 45–60. Fear of a renewed outburst of this kind (of the Farhud ) menaced over the community until its eventual dissolution. The Farhud shocked the community to the core, and in effect marked the beginning of a process which was to end with the emigration of the vast majority of Iraqi Jews. … The situation of the Jews grew increasingly grave as the decision on the fate of Palestine approached. Immediately after the establishment of the State of Israel, the Iraqi government adopted a policy of anti-Jewish discrimination, mass dismissals from government service, and arrests. …. The Jews felt the ground burning under their feet. At the end of 1949, Jews began to flee to Iran, and thence to Israel, in such large numbers that all efforts by the Iraqi government to halt their flight proved fruitless. … the Denationalization Law on March 1950…. The Jews took advantage of the law, and by the end of 1952, most of them had emigrated to Israel, practically bringing to a close the history of the community. 
  4. ^ Esther Meir-Glitzenstein (2 August 2004). Zionism in an Arab Country: Jews in Iraq in the 1940s. Routledge. p. 14.  
  5. ^ Esther Meir-Glitzenstein (2 August 2004). Zionism in an Arab Country: Jews in Iraq in the 1940s. Routledge. p. 19.  
  6. ^ Baghdad, Yesterday: The Making of an Arab Jew, Sasson Somekh
  7. ^ UNITED NATIONS CONCILIATION COMMISSION FOR PALESTINE ,A/AC.25/SR/G/9, 19 February 1949,MEETING BETWEEN THE CONCILIATION COMMISSION AND NURI ES SAID, PRIME MINISTER OF IRAQ, retrieved 2013-10-15, It would also be necessary to put an end to the bad treatment that the Jews had been victims of in Iraq during the recent months. The Prime Minister referred to the increasing difficulty of assuring the protection of the Jews resident in Iraq, under the present circumstances. In answer to an observation by Mr. de Boisanger, who wondered whether Tel Aviv was interested in the fate of the Jews of Iraq, the Prime Minister explained that he was not thinking in terms of persecution; he did not wish the Commission to receive a false impression with regard to his personal sentiments towards the Jews. But if the Jews continued to show the bad faith that they had demonstrated until the present moment, events might take place. (The Prime Minister did not clarify this warning) 
  8. ^ Moshe Gat (4 July 2013). The Jewish Exodus from Iraq, 1948-1951. Routledge. p. 36.  
  9. ^ Eugene L. Rogan; Avi Shlaim (2001). The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948. Cambridge University Press. p. 142.  
  10. ^ Orit Bashkin (12 September 2012). New Babylonians: A History of Jews in Modern Iraq. Stanford University Press. p. 90.  
  11. ^ R. S. Simon, S. Reguer, M. Laskier, The Jews of the Middle East and North Africa in Modern Times (Columbia University Press, 2003), p. 365
  12. ^ Gat, 2013, p.46
  13. ^ Gat, 2013, p. 46
  14. ^ Gat, 2013, p. 62
  15. ^ Ian Black (1991). Israel's Secret Wars: A History of Israel's Intelligence Services. Grove Press. p. 89.  
  16. ^ Meir-Glitzenstein 2004, p. 204: "As stated above, this situation was a consequence of the Israeli immigration and absorption policy. Throughout this period, Israel refused to instruct its emissaries in Baghdad to limit registration for emigration and instead expressed willingness to take in all Iraqi Jews who wished to leave. But immigrants were also flooding into Israel at the time from Poland and especially from Romania, where the exit gates had unexpectedly been re-opened, and Israel was unwilling to limit aliyah from there either. Israel could not afford the initial absorption of such large numbers of immigrants and therefore set quotas based on priorities. And Poland and Romania were given priority over Iraq... The reason given for according priority to immigration from eastern Europe was concern that the communist regimes there would close their gates and put an end to the exodus… Ben-Gurion maintained that the Iraqi leaders were determined to get rid of the Jews who had signed up to emigrate and assumed that delaying their departure would not put an end to the process. In contrast, he was afraid that aliyah from Romania would be terminated suddenly by an order from high up, and aliyah from Poland was expected to stop at the beginning of 1951."
  17. ^ Meir-Glitzenstein 2004, p. 205: "But soon the delay in evacuating the Jews became the problem of the Iraqi state and not just that of the would-be emigrants and the emissaries. The condition of the Jews had ramifications for the overall political situation, domestic security and the Iraqi economy. The Iraqi government found that the problems of instability and turmoil not only remained unsolved but had become worse. Particularly infuriating was the awareness that the source of the problem was the Israeli government, which held the key to the volume and rate of departure of Iraqi Jewry.
    These developments changed Iraq's attitude towards the Jews. From now on Iraq sought to get rid of everyone who had registered immediately and at almost any price. This policy was exacerbated when, in mid-September 1950, Nuri al-Said replaced Tawfiq aI-Suwaydi, who had initiated the Denaturalization Law, as prime minister. Nuri was determined to drive the Jews out of his country as quickly as possible, and when he discovered that Israel was unwilling to increase immigration quotas he suggested various ideas for expelling the Jews."
  18. ^ Moshe Gat (4 July 2013). The Jewish Exodus from Iraq, 1948-1951. Routledge. pp. 123–125.  
  19. ^ Operation Ezra & Nehemiah
  20. ^ Meir-Glitzenstein 2004, p. 202: "For the first few weeks after the enactment of the law, the Zionist activists forbade registration; they were waiting for a clarification of the aliyah routes and a decision by the Israeli government as to its willingness to take in the Jews of Iraq. This ban heightened the tension in the Jewish community. On 8 April 1950, the Zionist leadership (that is, the leaders of Hehalutz and the Haganah, along with the emissaries) convened and discussed the registration issue in view of the pressure from huge numbers of people who wanted to sign up. At the end of the meeting the leadership decided to instruct the people to register and not to wait for instructions from Tel Aviv. A bomb had blown up that day in a Jewish cafe, wounding four people, and the two events were presumably related… The activists' faith in the Zionist ideal and their zeal to implement it, combined with their confidence that Israel would not ignore the aliyah needs of Iraqi Jewry, paved the way to this decision. To inform the Jews of the decision, the leadership issued a proclamation... The fact that the proclamation was written in the name of the State of Israel lent it added force and gave the Jews the impression that the State of Israel and the Israeli government were calling on them to leave Iraq and move to Israel."
  21. ^ Bashkin 2012, p. 277: "By 1951 Sa'id realized that the Jews were about to leave Iraq, and wanted to see them depart immediately regardless of the Palestinian question. The British report that he asked the Jordanians to stop deceiving refugees on the possibility of their being admitted to Israel and for all Arab countries to take steps to resettle them. FO 371/91635, 15 January 1951, from Sir A. Kirkbride (Amman) to Foreign Office (London) (a report on Nuri Sa'id's visit to Jordan)."
  22. ^ Meir-Glitzenstein 2004, p. 203: "The change began as a result of the immigration policy of the Israeli government: the pace of aliyah lagged far behind registration and revocation of the registrants' citizenship.
    By September 1950, only 10,000 Jews had left; 60,000 of the 70,000 registrants were still in Iraq. The problem grew worse. By mid-November only 18,000 of 83,000 registrants had left. Matters had not improved by early January 1951: the number of registrants was up to 86,000, only about 23,000 of whom had left. More than 60,000 Jews were still waiting to leave! According to the law, Jews who had lost their citizenship had to leave lraq within 15 days. Although in theory, only 12,000 Jews still in lraq had completed the registration process and had their citizenship revoked, the position of the others was not very different: the Iraqi government was in no hurry to revoke their citizenship only because the rate of departure was already lagging behind the revocation of citizenship, and it did not want to exacerbate the problem.
    Meanwhile, thousands of Jews had been fired from their jobs, had sold their property, and were waiting for Israeli aircraft, using up their meagre funds in the meantime. The thousands of poor Jews who had left or been expelled from the peripheral cities, and who had gone to Baghdad to wait for their opportunity to emigrate, were in an especially bad state. They were housed in public buildings and were being supported by the Jewish community. The situation was intolerable."
  23. ^ Devorah Hakohen (2003). Immigrants in Turmoil: Mass Immigration to Israel and Its Repercussions in the 1950s and After. Syracuse University Press. p. 124.  
  24. ^ Kirkbride, Alec (1976), From the Wings: Amman Memoirs, 1947-1951, Psychology Press, pp. 115–117,  
  25. ^ a b Nissim Kazaz, the end of an exile, life of Jews after the exodus, 1951–2000
  26. ^ David J Goldberg (28 Aug 2010). "A book review of: In Ishmael's House: A History of Jews in Muslim Lands by Martin Gilbert". The Guardian. while it is pertinent to point out that 850,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands have been fed, housed and absorbed by Israel since 1948 while 750,000 Palestinian refugees languish in camps, dependent on United Nations handouts 


See also

Until Operation Ezra and Nehemiah there were 28 Jewish educational institutions in Baghdad, 16 under the supervision of the community committee and the rest privately run. The number of pupils reached 12,000 and many others learned in foreign and government schools. About 400 students studied medicine, law, economics, pharmacy, and engineering. In 1951 the Jewish school for the blind was closed; it was the only school of its type in Baghdad. The Jews of Baghdad had two hospitals in which the poor received free treatment, and several philanthropic services. Out of sixty synagogues in 1950, there remained only seven after 1970. Most public buildings were seized by the government for paltry or no compensation.[25] Those Jewish refugees have been fed, housed and absorbed by Israel.[26]

After the initial emigration, the number of Jews in Baghdad decreased from 100,000 to 5,000. Although they enjoyed a brief period of security during the reign of Abdul Karim Qassim, later regimes would seriously increase the persecution of Iraqi Jews.[25] In 1968 there were only about 2,000 Jews still living there. On January 27, 1969 nine Jews were hanged on charges of spying for Israel causing most of the remaining community to flee the country. Today fewer than 100 Jews remain.


The operation was conducted by the Near East Transport Company and the Israeli national airline El Al. The flights began in mid-May 1951, when Iraqi Jews were airlifted to Cyprus, from where they were flown to Israel. Several months later, a giant airlift operated directly from Baghdad to Lod Airport. Operation Ezra and Nehemiah ended in early 1952, leaving only about 6,000 Jews in Iraq. Most of the 2,800-year-old Jewish community immigrated to Israel.

[24], the Prime Minister of Iraq, proposed that a convoy of Iraqi Jews should be brought over in army lorries, taken to the Jordanian-Israeli frontier and forced to cross the border.Nuri al-Said [23] Said had warned the Jewish community of Baghdad to make haste; otherwise, he would take the Jews to the Borders himself.Nuri al-Said issued a manifesto calling on the Jews to sign up for immigration. It started with the following: "O, Zion, flee, daughter of Babylon," and concluded thus: "Jews! Israel is calling you — come out of Babylon!". Zionist movement was a tense and difficult period. Some 50,000 Jews signed up in one month, and two months later there were 90,000 on the list. This mass movement stunned the Iraqi Government, which had not expected the number of immigrants to exceed 8,000, and feared that administrative institutions run by Jews might collapse. At the same time, the Baghdad Waiting in [22]

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