Iraq Allows Jews to Leave
A group of young Iraqi Jews who fled to Palestine following the 1941 Farhud pogrom in Baghdad, Iraq. Photo: Museum of the Jewish People at Beit ha’Tfutsot
March 3, 1950

The Iraqi government retracts a policy banning emigration to move to Israel, on the condition that Jews give up their Iraqi citizenship when they leave the country. In addition, those who previously fled Iraq illegally are given two months to surrender their Iraqi citizenship. Iraq, which declared Zionism a capital offense in 1947, has sent hundreds of Jews to jail for trying to leave the country. Iraq’s change comes two days after Iran declares that it will not restrict Jewish emigration to Israel.

The Iraqi Senate approves the policy change, in the form of an amendment to the Denaturalization Act, with some opposition. Ezra Menahem Daniel, the only Jewish member of the Senate, voices the concern that Jewish emigration is a response to discriminatory Iraqi laws. He says the emigration law should not be changed without first giving Jews equal rights and abolishing the restrictions imposed on Jews during a period of martial law Iraq observed during its war against Israel’s independence.

The approval for an exit visa can take up to two months, and only about 1,000 Jews receive clearance to leave by the end of June. Nonetheless, Israel launches Operation Ezra and Nehemia, also known as Operation Ali Baba, to facilitate the registration of Jewish emigrants and fly them to Israel. The first two flights from Iraq to Israel via Cyprus leave May 19, 1950. Nearly 120,000 Iraqi Jews are airlifted to Israel by the end of the operation in January 1952.

On July 5, 1950 — the 46th anniversary of the Hebrew date of Theodor Herzl’s death — the Knesset enacts Israel’s Law of Return to enshrine the right of Jews anywhere to immigrate to Israel and claim citizenship upon arrival. The law supports the aspirations of Iraqi Jews to make aliyah.