Iraq Bars Jews From Pope’s Interfaith Event

News: World News
by Jules Gomes  •  •  March 8, 2021   

Jews furious at Vatican silence on exclusion from Abraham's birthplace

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NASSIRIYA, Iraq ( - Jewish leaders are slamming Pope Francis' silence on Iraq's anti-Semitic policies after it emerged that the Iraqi government blocked Jews from attending the pontiff's interfaith service at the birthplace of Abraham.

Iraqi-born Jewish leader Edwin Shuker  

A delegation of Jews was unable to attend the "Abrahamic" event even though the Vatican had invited the representatives to be present because "the Iraqi government stymied efforts for any Jews to travel to Iraq," the Jerusalem Post reported Sunday.

Multiple Jewish sources confirmed to Church Militant the veracity of the Jerusalem Post's report explaining that Iraq may have barred the Jewish delegation because Iraq does not officially recognize Israel and there are no relations between the two states.

Vatican Questioned for Its Silence

Freddie Dalah, an Iraqi Jew who fled Iraq for Britain years ago, asked Church Militant why "the pope, using this great opportunity, did not take the Iraqi government to task regarding the conspicuous absence of any prominent Jews as a delegation for their community?"

"The absence of Jews from the event confirms the Vatican's historic silence when it comes to the ethnic cleansing of the Jews not only from Europe but from the Middle East as well," Dalah observed. "Sincerely, a bit more shrewdness in managing the diplomatic situation regarding the absence of the Jewish community would not have gone amiss."

Speaking to Church Militant, Iraqi-born Edwin Shuker, vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said he "genuinely believed that the Vatican was misled by the Iraqi government into thinking that there will be a Jewish presence in Ur."

How could you possibly want the Yezedis and the Christians to accept to be living under a constitution that doesn't recognize them?

"The Iraqi government, who intended to do so, recently changed their mind in case the Jewish delegation has links with Israel," Shuker said, "but they could not find local Jewish representatives and ended up with a wasted opportunity."

Shuker and his family fled to the United Kingdom in 1971 amid rising tensions, with dozens of Iraqi Jews executed on spurious charges, but regularly travels back to Iraq, working to preserve Jewish shrines and sites to maintain links between Iraq and its displaced Jewish community.

The Vatican "made it a point of telling journalists" that it had invited representatives of Iraq's Jewish community to attend "despite the fact that Muslims violently purged the Jews from the country decades ago," wrote Yakir Benzion.

"The Vatican didn't bother telling the reporters why none showed up," remarked Benzion, from United with Israel — the world's largest pro-Israel online community.

"I am sad that the Iraqi government prevented Jews, Abraham's children, from participating in what was meant to be a prayer for peace," lamented well-known Rabbi Elchanan Poupko of the Rabbinical Council of America.

Asking why a rabbi was not present at the birthplace of Abraham as part of the papal event, Middle East analyst, writer and peace activist Yoni Michanie said Francis should have spoken up and also remembered the "tens of thousands of Iraqi Jews who were ethnically cleansed in the late 1940s."

Why did the pope, using this great opportunity, not take the Iraqi government to task regarding the conspicuous absence of any prominent Jews?

On Saturday, Church Militant reported the conspicuous absence of Jews from the Ur event, quoting Jewish anthropologist Karen Harradine, who said she found it "insulting to us Jews that we were not included by those who used the birthplace of our first patriarch, Abraham, to virtue signal and mumble meaningless platitudes about healing."

Mosul-born historian Omar Mohammed added his voice to leaders questioning the absence of Jews on the Plain of Ur.

"Where are the Jews? They are not here," Mohammed, who now lives in exile in Europe questioned. "You are speaking about diversity, but this is not complete, the picture is not complete," he told The Algemeiner.

Pope Francis without a mask, meeting Kurdish leaders  

"Without recognizing the Jewish history of Iraq, without recognizing the Jewish part of Iraq, without recognizing the Jewish contributions to Iraq from thousands of years ago until now ... there will be no real diversity or inclusion at all. And this prayer will have no meaning at all," the historian added.

Mohammed, who documented life under the Islamic State through his blog Mosul Eye stressed that "there is almost no recognition of the non-Muslim societies," under Iraq's constitution because the country's laws are grounded in Islamic tradition.

"This is completely against the meaning of diversity and inclusion. How could you possibly want the Yezedis and the Christians to accept to be living under a constitution that doesn't recognize them?" Mohammed asked.

Iraq Ignores Peace Deal

Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, has historically been home to Christians, Jews, Yezedis, Circassians, Shias, Sunnis and other communities.

While the Muslim nations of Bahrain, Morocco, United Arab Emirates and Sudan signed the historic Abraham Accords with Israel under the initiative of former president Donald Trump, Iraq has refused to normalize relations with the Jewish state.

Despite the explicit reference to the patriarch Abraham in the title of the treaties and the groundbreaking success heralding peace in the Middle East, Pope Francis and senior diplomatic officials in the Vatican have maintained a stony silence on the Abraham Accords.

Iraq's parliament unanimously passed a law criminalizing the display of the Israeli flag after the flags were seen at Kurdish rallies in the run-up to the Kurdish referendum in 2017.

Church Militant contacted the Holy See Press Office asking why the Vatican did not use its diplomatic offices to ensure the passage of the Jewish delegation to the interfaith event but received no response as of press time.

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