As people around the world demonstrate for Palestinian rights, we shouldn’t overlook another group of Middle Eastern refugees who also have suffered for decades but whose plight is seldom discussed: the displaced Jewish refugees from Arab lands. I should know; I am one of them. Our story needs to be told.
I was born in Baghdad, Iraq, as were my parents and grandparents. When Cyrus the Great liberated Babylon in 538 B.C. and gave Jews the choice to leave, my ancestors stayed. By 1948 an estimated 135,000 Jews lived in Baghdad, comprising one-third of the city’s population—more Jews by proportion than Warsaw or New York at the time. Iraqi Jews were active in government, launched businesses and held prominent positions. Iraq’s first finance minister, Sassoon Eskell, was Jewish. He insisted that the British pay for Iraq’s oil in gold rather than pounds sterling, a prescient move that salvaged the country’s finances after sterling crumbled.
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