By Michael Alexander
In this climate of hostility between certain
parts of the Middle East and the west, the last thing you
might expect to hear is of an Iraqi donating £1 million
to British universities. But on the other hand, perhaps
it's a reminder that more than moustached tyrants are born
in Iraqi lands.
Seventy years ago, Naim Dangoor decided that
if he ever made a lot of money, he would give a chunk of
it away to support education projects. Now, with the setting
up of the scholarship fund to help British students pay
their way through university, the 91-year-old multi- millionaire
Iraqi Jew says he is fulfilling this, and a 40-year old
promise, to give something back to the country that granted
him asylum after he fled Iraq when the Baath party took
control in the 1960s.
The life story of Naim Dangoor is certainly
a fascinating one. His grandfather was the chief rabbi in
Baghdad when the city's population was 40% Jewish and owned
95% of the business. He came to Britain in the 1930s to
study engineering at Queen Mary College in London and returned
to Iraq to join the army and then set up his business empire.
He spent the 1950s running the Coca Cola franchise in Iraq
with a Muslim business partner.
His wife Renee was voted Miss Iraq in 1947.
He jokes that since 1947 was the only year Iraq ever held
the competition, she technically still holds the record!
He kept his base in Iraq right up to 1964, but then he and
his family fled back to England to escape anti- Semitic
persecution when the Baath Party, later to be led by Saddam
Hussein, came to power. The Baath Party issued a decree
that the Iraqi Jewish Diaspora must return to the country
or risk losing their property and money. While thousands
of Jews back home perished (there is only a handful of Jews
in Iraq today), Mr Dangoor decided to forfeit his Coca Cola
franchise and Britain granted him asylum.
Today, Mr Dangoor still lives in London where
he and his wife have made a successful living as property
dealers. He made £1 million from the sale of the first
house he invested in when he arrived in Britain in 1964.
Since then he has bit up a property empire- now worth millions,
which he spends on his charitable foundation the Exilarch
Foundation, which supports education. He retains a strong
interest in charity work and is the self-appointed leader
of the Iraqi Jews in Britain- the Exilarch. Despite his
Iraqi roots, it's clear he now sees himself as a British
patriot. "As a university student 70 years ago, I felt
a desire to help other university students if my future
circumstances would allow. Fortunately I now find I have
the opportunity to make good my wish" he told The Courier
from his office in central London.
It's almost a year since Mr Dangoor's scholarships
were launched at a high-profile ceremony attended by then
Education Secretary Charles Clarke. Unusually for such a
big donation, Mr Dangoor has opted to donate the money to
students of the so-called 1994 group of universities, which
includes a large swathe of the top universities in the sector,
but not the elite research-led Russell group, in a bid to
give more students access to the money. Beneficiaries so
far have included East Anglia, Sussex, the London School
of Economics, and now St Andrews where 41 Dangoor scholarship
students are embarking upon undergraduate courses including
history, medicine, English, physics and sustainable development.
St Andrews University director of admissions Stephen Magee
said, "We are delighted that the Dangoor family has
chosen to support 41 students at St Andrews, and we are
certain that these awards will make a significant difference
to the way these students are able to start their studies".
Mr Dangoor has publicly expressed his support for Britain's
Labour Government. At his office, he has a series of pictured
including one of him main Chancellor Gordon Brown, as well
as him with the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles. However,
he hesitates when giving an opinion on the Iraq war.
"The war in Iraq has revealed the multi-ethnic composition
of the country, establishing the federal structure of government,
allowing the holding of dual nationalities and establishing
the principle that the mineral wealth of the country should
be divided among the whole population and not solely for
the benefit of the regions where it is found" he states.
"These ideas should now be aimed at the
whole region, possibly including Turkey. This region is
the home of 20 million Kurds, 12 million Jews-counting the
living and the martyred, 10 million Lebanese Christians,
including the diaspora, plus a score of smaller ethnic groups.
"As regards Turkey (and whether or not it should join
the European Union), the question arises-should Turkey become
the unwanted tail of a hostile Europe or the honoured head
of a nonfederal Middle East? Perhaps there is room for both
"Am I trying to revive and restore the old Ottoman
Empire? Not an empire but a confederal structure. And why
not? The Ottoman regime lasted 400 years giving the region
a degree of stability.
"It is necessary to redress the romantic folly of Lawrence
of Arabia who promised the whole region to an unknown cleric,
Shareef Hussein of Mecca, thus creating the conflict of
interest with the Balfour Declaration which was in favour
of restoring a national home for the Jewish people, which
has resulted in the ongoing Israeli-Arab conflict for 90
"Years ago I held, with the help of the
Minorities Rights Group, two symposia on Middle East federation
at St Antony's College, Oxford.
"That idea it seems was premature. The Jews belong
to the Middle East. They and not the Arabs are the direct
descendants of the Hebrew- speaking original inhabitants
of Canaan. As the chosen people the Jews suffer for God
the wickedness of mankind. In that capacity they should
be glad to be of service to the Almighty''!
The Scribe adds:
The Tel El Amarna letters prove that Hebrew
was spoken in Palestine before the Israelite conquest. It
was the language that the people of the Exodus and Moses
you would like to make any comments or contribute to The
Scribe please contact