cover image Three Worlds: Memoir of an Arab-Jew

Three Worlds: Memoir of an Arab-Jew

Avi Shlaim. Oneworld, $29.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-86154-463-9

In this detailed, resonant account, historian Shlaim (The Iron Wall) recalls the complexities of growing up as an Arab Jew in Iraq and Israel. Born in 1945 Baghdad, Shlaim grew up in an affluent Jewish family that had little interest in Zionism, until antisemitic violence following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War forced them to flee to the newly created state of Israel. The move destabilized Shlaim, who had to learn Hebrew (Arabic was considered a “primitive,” “ugly” language) and find a place in an Ashkenazi-dominated society that often looked down on Arab Jews. He left for secondary school in England and returned to serve in the Israeli army, though the 1967 Six-Day War soured his perspective on Israel, as he began to view the country as a colonial power. Shlaim uses his narrative to illustrate the larger story of Arab Jews’ exodus from Iraq, arguing that Israel’s creation morphed the formerly protected minority into an “alien and usurping” presence in Arab spaces. While not all of Shlaim’s claims are equally persuasive—his contention that “the Zionist underground” was behind multiple bombings in Iraq that forced Jews to flee, for example, relies heavily on a document of uncertain provenance—he makes a convincing case that the creation of Israel had sometimes dire consequences for Jews in Arab countries. Those interested in alternative Jewish attitudes toward Zionism will find this illuminating. (July)