- Exilarchs Ruled Vast Domain From TIme of Babylon And
(British-Jew) Naim Dangoor Wants It Back
- The Wall Street Journal June 30, 2003 pp. A1, A6.
- British-Jew real estate tycoon Naim Dangoor declared
himself Exilarch of the Babylonian Jews in 1970, after the position was
vacant for 700 years. His initial demand is $20 billion that he estimates
the Iraqi-Jews lost after WWII. British-Jew Edwin Shuker, who is trying
to form a Truth & Reconciliation Commission that would address the
question of Iraqi reparations to Jews states that the claims of Dangoor
- Last week at the United Nations, a new organization,
Jews for Justice from Arab Countries, was established to seek reparations
for Jewish refugees and for centuries of Muslim racism. Abraham Sofaer,
himself an Iraqi-Jew, states the claims of Iraqi Jews are legitimate: He
notes that much of the real estate of Baghdad and central Iraq is really
Jewish owned. The Israeli Ministry of Justice has set up the World Organization
for Jews of Arab Countries (WOJAC) to collect reparations claims against
all Arab countries: So far 25000 forms have been filed. At the Congregation
Kahal Joseph Synagogue in Los Angeles, a dozen families have filed claims;
the claim of one family that fled Baghdad in 1967 is a 13 page listing
of buildings, factories and plantations. The billionaire Zilkha family
of Los Angeles and Houston are planning a lawsuit and claims ownership
of much of the banking sector in the Middle East, including hundreds of
banks in Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus and Beirut. Ezra Zilkha, president of
Zilkha & Sons Inc., the family holding company, notes: "Whatever
we can get now we'll take".
- In Baghdad, Muslims are becoming aware of the game that
is afoot: One local newspaper, Al-Saah, has noted that "returning
Jews" are trying to seize Baghdad real estate. A sign on a factory
bulletin board in Baghdad warns Muslims to "resist the temptation
to sell anything to the Jews [lest] the money they make to be turned into
bullets to be used against the Palestinians." Iraqis who endured Saddam's
rule have contempt for the Jews and Kurds now clamouring for property after
years of comfortable exile.
- Iraq's Forgotten Exiles Seek Redress
- By Joel Millman The Guardian - UK 7-9-3
- A reports on the movement to restore Iraq's Jewry to
its former glory...
- For 1,500 years, from the era of Alexander the Great
to the late 13th century, a high Mesopotamian priest in Babylon ruled as
the supreme leader of Eastern Jewry. Known as the Exilarch, he settled
all disputes brought before him by Jews living as far away as India and
Spain. His authority ended only when Mongol hordes sacked Babylon, for
centuries [home to] the world's largest Jewish community.
- The year was 1270. Seven centuries later, a Jew named
Naim Dangoor, once a Baghdad merchant but now operating one of London's
largest property companies, re-established the office of Exilarch, naming
himself to the position. The year was 1970.
- "Exactly 700 years," smiles Mr Dangoor. "Interesting,
- Padding about in a Sabbath robe of silver and crimson
brocade, the 89-year-old is ... relentlessly [pushing] toward his goal:
to re-establish the glory that was Iraqi Jewry ...
- He wants the $20bn [£12bn] he estimates Iraq's
new leaders - whoever they may be - owe his people for the calamity that
befell the world's oldest and wealthiest Jewish community when radical
Arab nationalists began ruling Iraq after the second world war.
- Today, descendants of Iraq's Jews are scattered around
the globe ... [But] despite Mr Dangoor's efforts, few are packing their
bags for Baghdad. And some worry that the spectre of an old man living
in splendour here dunning war-ravaged Iraq for lost wealth will hardly
improve Arab-Jewish relations.
- "He definitely has the right to sit at the table,"
says Edwin Shuker, another Jewish exile in London who is working ... to
establish a truth and reconciliation commission that might address reparations.
"But really should he speak for all of us?"
- There's a lot of money to go around. The US Treasury
has frozen some $3bn [£1.8bn] in Saddam Hussein-era Iraqi assets,
while US officials estimate another $10bn [£6bn] may be within reach
in other countries and Iraq itself.
- Last week at the UN, an organisation called Justice for
Jews from Arab Countries launched a campaign to present the legal grounds
for redressing grievances of more than three quarters of a million Jewish
refugees from all Arab lands ...
- Abraham Sofaer, former chief counsel of Ronald Reagan's
State Department and himself the son of a Bagh dad-born Jew, says the claims
of Iraqi Jews are legitimate ... but thinks bringing [them] to court won't
be easy. None the less, thousands of Iraqi exiles have been filling out
forms prepared by the World Organisation for Jews of Arab Countries, to
be compiled for a possible class-action suit ...
- In a land beset by rivalries between Kurds and Arabs
and between Shias and Sunnis, Jewish claims may seem beside the point.
Yet until the 1950s, Jewish and Iraqi histories were entwined. In 597 BC,
after King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Israel, captive Jews were exiled to
Babylon. Decades later, Cyrus of Persia permitted their return to Jerusalem
but few did, so prosperous had Babylon's Jews become.
- Mr Dangoor's grandfather was Iraq's chief rabbi; his
father was reputedly the world's largest printer of books in Arabic.
- During the second world war, Naim Dangoor turned Baghdad
into a trading hub ... [but] suddenly, it all fell apart. With the birth
of Israel in 1948, anti-Jewish riots swept the Arab world. In Iraq, regulations
modelled on Nazi Germany's Nuremberg laws restricted the role of Jews in
commerce. By 1952, most Iraqi Jews were in Israel ...
- Naim Dangoor stayed in Baghdad until 1964. While visiting
London that year, he got word he should return immediately or have his
property confiscated as a "denationalised Jew". Fearing an even
worse fate awaited him, he chose exile in England, where he prospered buying
distressed real estate.
- Today the only distressed real estate he is interested
in is his old home, a stately, two-story building on Baghdad's famed Abu
- Recovering that lost property is likely to be tough ...
One local newspaper, al-Saah, has speculated that "returning Jews"
are behind the rise in Baghdad's real-estate prices since the fall of Saddam
Hussein. Muslims, a sign on a factory bulletin board warns, should "resist
the temptation to sell anything to the Jews [lest] the money they make
be turned into bullets to be used against the Palestinians".
- Baghdad residents hope the street will return to its
glory days. But that may not include a role for its former denizens. One
of Mr Dangoor's former neighbours refuses to give his name ... but doesn't
hide his contempt for Kurdish and Jewish exiles who say now they wish to
come back. Of Mr Dangoor he asks, "Did he expect anyone to remember
him after all these years?"
- · From the Wall Street Journal Europe, June 30