Avi Shlaim says he has ‘proof of Zionist involvement’ in 1950s attack on Iraqi Jews

British-Israeli historian claims in new memoir that Mossad carried out bombings to drive Jews out of Iraq and hasten their transfer to Israel

17 June 2023

British-Israeli historian Avi Shlaim has claimed in his new book to have uncovered “undeniable proof” of Israeli involvement in attacks on Jewish communities in Iraq in the early 1950s.

Shlaim’s autobiography, Three Worlds: Memoirs of an Arab-Jew, which details his childhood as an Iraqi Jew and subsequent exile to Israel, was published last week.

According to a review of the memoir printed on Saturday in the Spectator magazine, Shlaim unveils in his book “undeniable proof of Zionist involvement in the terrorist attacks” which prompted a mass exodus of Jews from Iraq between 1950 and 1951.

The historian concluded, after extensive personal research, that while a grenade assault on the Masuda Shemtov synagogue in Baghdad – which killed four Jews in January 1951 – was carried out by an Arab, other bombings were allegedly the work of Mossad, Israel’s spy agency.

These were carried out to quicken the transfer of 110,000 Jews in Iraq to the then-newly created state of Israel, he said.

Middle East Eye has reached out to Shlaim for comment.

Over 800,000 Jews either left or were expelled from countries in the Middle East and North Africa between 1948 and the early 1980s. The majority of them settled in Israel.

As of 2005, 61 percent of Israeli Jews were of full or partial Mizrahi ancestry – the sociological term coined to refer to Jews from the region following the creation of Israel.

Family fled Iraq

In his book, Shlaim describes how he was one of those who fled violence in the region.

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Born in 1945 in Baghdad, his parents were well-connected and well-to-do members of Iraq’s millennia-old Jewish minority.

But at the age of five, Shlaim was forced to flee with his family following the bombings targeting Jews in the Iraqi capital.

The attacks came less than two years after the ethnic cleansing that took place in what Palestinians call the Nakba (catastrophe), which led to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

Zionist forces killed 13,000 Palestinians, destroyed and depopulated around 530 villages and towns, committed at least 30 massacres, and expelled 750,000 people during the Nakba.

More than 6,000 Israeli Jews, including 4,000 soldiers and 2,000 civilians, were killed, as well as around 2,000 troops from Arab countries.

Shlaim states in the book that Iraqi Jews did not face antisemitism until the 1940s, when they were suspected of being complicit in the British invasion of Iraq in 1941 and in the Nakba.

He adds that the Zionist project led to Jews from all across Arab countries going from respected fellow citizens to akin to a fifth column allied with the new Jewish state.

Shlaim discusses how Jews, like himself, who originated from the region faced discrimination from Ashkenazi Jews, who came from Europe.

Mizrahi Israelis remain among some of the poorest communities in Israel, living in developing towns and underprivileged neighbourhoods.

Shlaim, who is emeritus professor of international relations at the University of Oxford, later migrated to the United Kingdom as a teenager, returning to Israel temporarily to complete military service.

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