The 1941 Farhud and the Palestinian ‘cause’


Have you heard of the Farhud? A recent poll found that only 7 percent of Israelis have heard about it. This anti-Jewish massacre — Farhud means “forced dispossession” in Arabic — took place 82 years ago in Iraq. 

On June 1–2, 1941, at least 180 Jews were murdered in Baghdad and Basra — the figure could have been as many as 600 — 2,000 were wounded and 900 homes and 586 Jewish-owned businesses were destroyed. There was looting, rape and mutilation. Stories abound of babies murdered and Jewish hospital patients being refused treatment or poisoned. The dead were hurriedly buried in a mass grave.

The Farhudsounded the death knell for the ancient Jewish community of Iraq. More “Farhuds” decimated other Jewish communities in Arab countries, leading to a mass exodus. Most of these Jews fled to Israel, where they and their descendants comprise over half the Jewish population.

Besides the general ignorance of the Farhud, the Palestinian role in it is almost unknown. In fact, the infamous Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, helped lay the groundwork for the massacre.

The Farhud, in other words, was proof that anti-Zionist “resistance” to the Jews of Palestine had spilled over into unabashed antisemitism directed against the Jews of the Arab world.

The Mufti himself spent two years in Iraq beginning in 1939. He arrived with 400 Syrians and Palestinians, most of them teachers. In April1941, the Mufti backed a pro-Nazi coup led by Rashid Ali al-Gilani and four military officers. Theirs was the only Arab regime to sign a treaty with Nazi Germany.

Throughout the Middle East, Arab public opinion was mostly pro-German. A poll carried out on behalf of the US consulate in Jerusalem in Feb. 1941 found that 88 percent of Palestinian Arabs wanted the Nazis to win the war.

Although the pro-Nazi government in Iraq was defeated and the ringleaders put to flight, the Mufti escaped to Berlin, where he became Hitler’s lavishly-funded wartime guest. The Mufti enjoyed an entourage of 60 Arab exiles and pumped out poisonous propaganda from the shortwave Radio Berlin transmitter at Zeesen, fusing anti-Jewish verses from the Quran with contemporary antisemitic conspiracy theories. “Kill the Jews wherever you find them. This pleases God, history and religion,” he exhorted over the airwaves.

At a meeting with Hitler in Nov. 1941, the Mufti pledged to help the Nazis win the war and demanded that he be allowed to manage the extermination of the Jews within his sphere of influence.

The Mufti’s collaboration with the Nazis, despite strenuous Arab efforts to downplay it, is well-documented. During his stay in Berlin, he met all the senior Nazis: Himmler, Goebbels and Eichmann among them.

His overall contribution to the Nazi cause was twofold. In order to stop Jews from fleeing to Palestine, he persuaded the Nazis to abandon their plans to expel the Jews of Europe. Given Nazi ideology, once the expulsion option was abandoned, the only thing to be done with the Jews was to exterminate them. The Mufti also set up SS units of Muslim troops in Bosnia and Albania, who committed terrible atrocities.

The Mufti was, according to the scholar Matthias Kuentzel, the point of convergence between the Nazis’ great war against the Jews and the Arabs’ small war against the Jewish community of Palestine. The Mufti’s top military commanders in the small war against the Jews were Fawzi al-Qawuqji, Abdel Qader al-Husseini and Hassan Salama. They had all been Nazi collaborators. There are reports that Palestinian Arab forces had ex-Nazi advisers in the field.

The Mufti was, for various realpolitik reasons, never tried at Nuremberg. This meant that, unlike in Europe, Nazi-inspired antisemitism was never discredited in the Arab and Muslim world. In fact, Egypt and Syria became havens for Nazi war criminals.

The postwar influence of ex-Nazis in Cairo was a contributing factor in extending the Arabs’ ideological, territorial and race war against Israel into the 1950s and beyond. Adolf Eichmann, for example, saw the Muslim world’s war on Israel as a continuation of the Nazi struggle against the Jews.

“I have not managed to complete the task of total annihilation of the Jews, but I hope that the Muslims will complete it for me,” he wrote in his memoirs.

The Arab League, founded in 1945, was filled with ex-Axis collaborators. Abdel Rahman Azzam, its first secretary-general, was one of the Mufti’s agents who had worked with the Nazis. He promised “a war of extermination not seen since the Mongolian massacres” if a Jewish state were established. Indeed, the Mufti-inspired charter of the Arab League would soon form the basis of the League’s declaration of a war of annihilation on the nascent State of Israel in 1948.

A byproduct of the Arabs’ failure to win the small war against the Jews and their new state was the mass ethnic cleansing of almost a million Jews from Arab countries. Early on, Arab League states drafted antisemitic decrees eerily reminiscent of the Nazis’ Nuremberg laws, stripping Jews of their rights and stealing their property.

What, you might ask, has the Mufti got to do with the Palestinians of today? While several Arab states have made peace with Israel, the “moderate” leadership of the Palestinian Authority remains determined to continue the Mufti’s tradition of total war against Israel.

In his recent speech to the UN marking the 75th anniversary of the nakba — the derogatory Palestinian term for Israel’s creation — PA chief Mahmoud Abbas, whose doctoral thesis denied the Holocaust, did not attempt to disguise his eliminationist aims with talk of a “two-state solution” or withdrawal from post-1967 settlements. Israel must be thrown out of the UN, he said. It has no place or history in the Middle East.

Abbas’s call for the return of Palestinian Arab refugees would, at best, turn the Jews of Israel into a subjugated minority under Arab rule.

It is clear that the spirit of the Farhud still hovers over the Palestinian “cause.”