Former Miss Iraq speaks out at UN about Jewish
By David E. Kaplan
While focus on the Palestinian refugees of 1948 has remained steadfast, there has been scant global interest of the massive plight of Jewish refugees. There were over 850,000 Jews living in Arab countries and Iran at the time of Israel’s independence. Some scholars even think the number is closer to one million and yet few in the Arab world talk about why Jews suddenly left lands they had lived in for over 2500 years.
One Muslim Arab who talking about it, is Sarah Idan (Arabic: سارة عيدان), an Iraqi beauty queen who represented her country at the Miss Universe pageant in 2017. A self-described “secular Muslim”, Idan received death threats after she posted a selfie with Miss Israel, Adar Gandelsman, and then had her citizenship revoked.
On the 4th December 2019, the former Miss Iraq spoke at the United Nations headquarters in New York City about Jewish refugees from the Middle East “being largely forgotten”, and that there needs to be more awareness of their plight. The UN event was held in coordination with JIMENA (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa), and was attended by ambassadors from around the world and UN officials.
“It’s about time,” Idan told JNS. “That decision should have happened many, many years ago. We always talk about Palestinian refugees and other countries, but we never talk about the Jewish refugees.”
Idan’s native Iraq once boasted a large community of Jews having lived there for over 2600 years. That came to a tragic and traumatic end with the exile of 135,000 Jews during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Few outside the Jewish community recall the violent riots known as the Farhud that erupted in June 1941 – mainly in Bagdad – targeting the Jewish population. Dejected soldiers of a failed coup took advantage of a power vacuum and swarmed into Jewish communities together with a bloodthirsty mob, murdering 179 Jews, injuring more than 2,100, and leaving 242 children as orphans. This act of violence was celebrated across the Arab world and in Nazi Germany.
Similar tragedies unfolded across Muslim lands over the same period , which Idan was bold enough to speak about and at the very forum that perennially attacks Israel – the UN.
While familiar with the plight of the Palestinians, it is doubtful that the esteemed diplomatic representatives to the world body are as familiar that in the North African region:
– 259,000 Jews fled from Morocco
– 140,000 from Algeria
-100,000 from Tunisia
– 75,000 from Egypt
– 38,000 from Libya
Or that in the Middle East, apart from the 135,000 Jews exiled from Sarah Idan’s Iraq:
– 55,000 fled from Yemen
– 34,000 from Turkey
– 20,000 from Lebanon
-18,000 from Syria
– 25,000 from Iran
In most of these country there were pogroms resulting in the mass murder of Jews.
In her speech, Idan, spoke about the history of Iraqi Jewish refugees, the kinship she has always felt for them, and how she could personally relate to the struggles they faced by being expelled from Iraq.
She also spoke about her trip to Israel in 2018, where she met Iraqi Jewish refugees in Jerusalem and connected with them. She said they welcomed her “with open arms and with so much love, even though my country treated them unfairly.”
“When I saw Iraqi government stamps on their passports saying, ‘one-way exit—not allowed to return,’ I started crying,” she said.
“I told them I was utterly ashamed. Not because of dirty politics, which led to the ethnic cleaning of 135,000 Jews from Iraq, but by my own people, who watched this happen and didn’t have the courage nor sympathy to stand with the Jewish community.”
She also stated how antisemitism paved the way for the expulsion of Jews from Iraq.
“As an Iraqi, I learned so much from parents and grandparents about how the Jews played a pivotal role in the development of our country. What I always heard from my family was that they had such good hearts, were well educated, respected and loved. Sadly, a 3,000-year chapter of Jewish life in Iraq, along with the larger Middle East and North Africa, came to an abrupt and traumatic end — and much of this is the result of antisemitism.”
The Baghdad-born model and human-rights activist concluded by saying:
“It is only by recognizing and facing the historical injustice endured by the 1 million Jewish refugees from North Africa and the Middle East that we can move forward to a better place of humility and healing.”
Correcting The historic Injustice
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon announced that Israel will submit a resolution to formally recognize Jewish refugees from Arab countries. He aims to “put Jewish refugees in the right place in history and change the narrative so in the future, one day, when the issue of the Palestinian refugees will be brought up, we will be able to bring our issues as well.”
The ambassador is all too familiar with the history as his late father, Joseph Danon had been a Jewish refugee from Egypt who moved to Israel shortly after the establishment of the Jewish state.
During the 1948 War of Independence, thousands of Egyptian Jews were put into internment camps, forced from their jobs, and arrested. Jewish synagogues, homes, and businesses were bombed, and many Jews were killed and wounded. Between 1948 and 1958, more than 35,000 Jews fled Egypt. Danny Danon’s father arrived in 1950.
Like the Iraqis that Idan met in Jerusalem, Joseph Danon was among the 850,000 Jews who were expelled or fled from their homes in Muslim lands during the mid-20th century.
Recognising that Jewish communities existed in Arab countries for more than 2,500 years, Ambassador Danon lamented that “Every time the U.N. talks about the refugees of Israel’s war of Independence, they speak only of the Palestinian refugees!”
What about the Jewish refugees?
The ambassador emphasized that Jewish refugees should not be forgotten; denying the rights of Jewish refugees and attempting to erase them from the narrative is an antisemitic historic injustice. “We must work to correct the historic injustice that has left the Jewish refugees out of the narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said.
From Iraq With Love
Kudos to Sara Idan in speaking out at the UN despite the threats to her life and those of her family who today live in the USA. She remains undaunted.
When snapping and posting online the first photo with Miss Israel, Adar Gandelsman at the 2017 pageant in Las Vegas, Idan added the caption:
“Peace and Love from Miss Iraq and Miss Israel“.
But some people in Iraq did not see it that way and sent her death threats.
“When I posted the picture, I didn’t think for a second there would be blowback,” she told CNN at the time. “I woke up to calls from my family and the Miss Iraq Organization going insane. The death threats I got online were so scary.”
The intimidation did not stop the beauty queen reuniting with Gandelsman the following year in Israel, when she again posted fresh pictures online. Idan posted a photograph and a video on her Instagram page, with the caption: “Sisters reunion“
Despite the pressure from the Miss Iraq organisation, a defiant Idan refused to remove the selfie, and added a follow up post saying:
“I would like to apologise to anyone who considered the photo to be offensive to the Palestinian cause as this was not the aim behind the post, it was merely a call to peace and hope for a solution to the crisis.”
Like most visitors to Israel, Idan toured Jerusalem’s famed Mahane Yehuda Market where she was warmly received.
She believed that “there are a lot of Iraqi people who don’t have a problem with Israel or with the Jewish people. There are a lot of Iraqi people on my side, and I believe they are happy I am here.”
If only the sisterhood developed between the former Miss Israel and Miss Iraq could evolve into a brotherhood of their respective countries.
*Feature Picture: Miss Iraq Sarah Idan—recently designated as an Ambassador for Peace by UN Watch, which invited her to the United Nations—took the floor at the United Nations to support peace with Israel. Following two speeches to the UN’s highest human rights body, the Iraqi Parliament’s Security and Defense Committee reportedly called for her Iraqi citizenship to be revoked, labeling her advocacy a “crime.”