JERUSALEM (Dec. 13)
President Saddam Hussein of Iraq, a sworn enemy of Israel and currently an arch-villain to most of the world because of his invasion of Kuwait, is fond of the remaining handful of Jews in his country, according to the chairman of the Institute for Babylonian Jewish Heritage, Mordechai Ben-Porat.
Ben-Porat, an independent Knesset member formerly of the Labor Party, has been an activist on behalf of the Iraqi Jewish community in Israel.
Discussing the condition of Jews still in Iraq, Ben-Porat said their numbers are indeed minuscule — 130 Jews live in Baghdad, the capital, and there is one elderly Jewish woman in Basra, an oil port on the Persian Gulf.
One remaining Jew in Baghdad told The New York Times, in an interview published Thursday, that he thinks that perhaps 1,000 Jews still remain in Iraq. The country’s population is 17.6 million.
Ben-Porat said that earlier this year, several dozen passports were issued to Baghdadi Jews, and about 20 took the opportunity to leave the country and settle in Europe.
Hussein personally intervened to expedite their passports after the Jews complained of bureaucratic delays, Ben-Porat said.
Hussein’s mother has been quoted as saying that Baghdadi Jews were responsible for the safe, healthy delivery of the infant Saddam.
She was sick during pregnancy, and her parents sent her to the capital for treatment, where she resided with a Jewish family for two months.
Subsequently, Hussein’s stepfather had a successful business partnership with a Baghdadi Jew.
A report from Baghdad in Thursday’s Times quoted an interview with 65-year-old Tawfik sofair, caretaker of Synagogue Mair Abraham Toag, the last Jewish house of worship in Iraq.
Sofair, who said his family has lived in Baghdad for 350 years, said that unlike most of his predecessors, Hussein allows Iraqi Jews and Christians to worship without harassment in that Moslem nation.
“Saddam has given Jews liberty to do business again, to become doctors, engineers. There is no problem for Jews in Iraq,” the Times quoted Sofair as saying.