Bill also forbids ‘financial or moral assistance’ to Israel, UK’s Jewish News reports, raising concern for Iraq’s Jewish community; UK Jewish leader from Iraq calls bill ‘barbaric’
By TOI STAFFToday, 3:03 pm
Illustrative: Session at a newly elected parliament during its first session in Baghdad, Iraq, September 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)
A drastic anti-Israel law set to come into effect in Iraq will see citizens who communicate with Israelis in any way sentenced to death, the UK’s Jewish News reported Monday.
The bill will apply to all Iraqi citizens, foreigners visiting Iraq, and Iraqis abroad, and will extend to Israeli-linked organizations and online communication via social media.
Titled “Banning Normalization and Establishment of Relations with the Zionist Entity,” the bill strictly forbids “contact and communication of any kind and means with the occupying Zionist entity, its nationals, and representatives, whether individuals or institutions or organizations, for any reason.”
The bill, which was introduced by anti-Western Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, also forbids the “promotion of any ideas, ideologies, principles, or Israeli or Zionist conduct, in any form,” with transgressors facing potential “execution or lifelong imprisonment.”
On a more practical level, the bill bans any form of “financial or moral assistance” to Israel or any institution affiliated with it, raising concerns for Iraqi Jews living in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan — once home to a vibrant Jewish community that has largely relocated to Israel since its establishment.
Populist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr speaks during a press conference in Najaf, Iraq, Nov. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil, File)
The bill means that any form of contact between Jewish relatives from Kurdistan and Israel could result in the death penalty.
The bill still needs to receive the approval of a parliamentary subcommittee, but the Jewish News cited sources saying it would likely become law.
Across Iraq, Jewish roots run deep: Ur in the southern plains is the traditional birthplace of biblical Abraham, and the Babylonian Talmud, a central text of Judaism, was compiled in the town of the same name in the present-day Arab state.
A Kurdish Jewish grandfather and child en route to Israel in Tehran, Iran, 1950 (public domain)
In the north, the Kurdish regional capital of Erbil was once the heart of the ancient kingdom of Adiabene, which converted to Judaism in the 1st century and helped fund the building of the Temple of Jerusalem.
Jews once comprised 40 percent of Baghdad’s population, according to a 1917 Ottoman census. But after the creation of Israel in 1948, regional tensions skyrocketed and anti-Semitic campaigns took hold, pushing most of Iraq’s Jews to flee.
The roughly 150,000 Jews still in Iraq during the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 fled fast: by 1951, 96 percent were gone. Staying meant facing growing discrimination and property expropriation.
The threat of facing execution for communicating with Israel is merely the latest attack on Iraq’s small remaining Jewish community, according to the Jewish News report, which cited “great disappointment” among Iraq’s Jewish community over being excluded from the country’s Citizenship Act of 2006 — seen by the Jewish community as a reflection of the country’s continued policy of “ethnic cleansing.”
A plane arriving at Lod Airport carrying Jewish immigrants from Iraq and Kurdistan via Tehran, May 1951. (GPO)
Originally from Iraq, British Jewish leader Edwin Shuker told the Jewish News that the proposed bill was “barbaric” and argued it posed “an affront to Iraq and the good people of Iraq with whom we grew up, who desire peace, and to reconnect with Iraqi Jews wherever they have been displaced.”
“These and others are now threatened with execution. This is state-sponsored terrorism against civilians and I for one have shelved any plans to visit the country or to connect with it, even though I am a British citizen,” Shuker said, calling on the British government “to demand clarifications and to take the appropriate measures against such brutality.”
The report about the draconian bill came as London is set to host the Iraq Britain Business Council (IBBC) Spring Conference, which attracts both Iraq and British diplomatic and business officials and is sponsored by major British companies such as BP, Shell, PWC, and Serco.
Last year, a group of 300 Iraqi officials gathered at a conference in the Kurdish capital of Erbil, where speakers called for peace and reconciliation with Israel. However, they soon recanted their remarks after being subjected to death threats and arrest warrants, with Iraq’s government condemning the event as illegal and vowing to prosecute those who attended.
AFP contributed to this report.