An Anti-Zionist Historian’s Memoir Rests on a Fantastical Portrait of Jewish Iraq

One of Israel’s leading “new historians,” the Oxford professor Avi Shlaim has spent most of his career writing tendentious books arguing that the Jewish state was created in cruelty and colonialism. He has also frequently denounced Israel’s contemporary policies. In his most recent work, Three Worlds: Memoirs of an Arab-Jew, he describes his idyllic childhood in a wealthy Jewish household in Baghdad, and the trauma of moving to Israel. Benny Morris, a fellow new historian, writes in his review:

[Shlaim] interweaves his personal story (until the age of twenty) with the history of Iraq and the Arab-Israeli conflict. His personal story is moving, and it is told with atypical, engrossing candor. . . . Shlaim writes that he has placed his family’s story “within the broader context . . . [of] the history of the Jewish community in Iraq.” Indeed, at various points in Three Worlds he seems to say that he is relating the story of all the Arab world’s Jewish communities, not just Baghdad’s or Iraq’s.

But he isn’t. Three Worlds tells the story only of a wafer-thin layer of rich Baghdadi Jewish families. There is almost nothing in the book about the majority of Baghdad’s 80,000-100,000-strong Jewish population, the middle or lower-middle classes and the poor. And it tells us nothing at all about the tens of thousands of Jews who lived in the Iraqi hinterland, especially in the Kurdish north.

How did Iraq’s Jews fare? In a gross understatement, Shlaim concedes that “the status of the Jews of Islam could be contentious at times.” He hardly mentions the bloody pogroms, the bouts of oppression, and the permanent subordinate status and humiliation of the Jewish communities that lived between Morocco and Persia in the fourteen centuries since the rise of Islam.

While it does appear that the Jews of Mesopotamia fared better than most of their sister communities, Shlaim exaggerates to the point of distortion: “Iraq was a land of pluralism and coexistence.” . . . In 1333 and 1344 Baghdad’s synagogues were destroyed. By the 15th century, almost no Jews remained in the city. . . . Eli Amir, an Iraqi Israeli writer of Shlaim’s generation, has described how Muslim children regularly beat and chased him and his friends down Baghdad’s alleyways as they made their way home from school.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, Iraqi Jewry, New historians


Hizballah Is Learning Israel’s Weak Spots

On Tuesday, a Hizballah drone attack injured three people in northern Israel. The next day, another attack, targeting an IDF base, injured eighteen people, six of them seriously, in Arab al-Amshe, also in the north. This second attack involved the simultaneous use of drones carrying explosives and guided antitank missiles. In both cases, the defensive systems that performed so successfully last weekend failed to stop the drones and missiles. Ron Ben-Yishai has a straightforward explanation as to why: the Lebanon-backed terrorist group is getting better at evading Israel defenses. He explains the three basis systems used to pilot these unmanned aircraft, and their practical effects:

These systems allow drones to act similarly to fighter jets, using “dead zones”—areas not visible to radar or other optical detection—to approach targets. They fly low initially, then ascend just before crashing and detonating on the target. The terrain of southern Lebanon is particularly conducive to such attacks.

But this requires skills that the terror group has honed over months of fighting against Israel. The latest attacks involved a large drone capable of carrying over 50 kg (110 lbs.) of explosives. The terrorists have likely analyzed Israel’s alert and interception systems, recognizing that shooting down their drones requires early detection to allow sufficient time for launching interceptors.

The IDF tries to detect any incoming drones on its radar, as it had done prior to the war. Despite Hizballah’s learning curve, the IDF’s technological edge offers an advantage. However, the military must recognize that any measure it takes is quickly observed and analyzed, and even the most effective defenses can be incomplete. The terrain near the Lebanon-Israel border continues to pose a challenge, necessitating technological solutions and significant financial investment.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Hizballah, Iron Dome, Israeli Security