Three Worlds: Memoir of an Arab-Jew by Avi Shlaim - review by David Pryce-Jones

David Pryce-Jones

They Came from Baghdad

Three Worlds: Memoir of an Arab-Jew


Oneworld Publications 336pp £25

Avi Shlaim is one of a number of disaffected Israeli intellectuals who blame Israel’s interminable dispute with the Palestinians on Zionism, the ideology empowering the Jewish state. For him, the very idea of a Jewish state is a European conceit inapplicable to Jews living in Muslim countries. Most of them had adapted to Arab customs and the Arab language, knew the local ways of doing business and lived lives much like those of Arabs; indeed they are fully characterised by Shlaim as Arab-Jews.

Born in Baghdad in 1945, Shlaim was five years old when he, his two sisters and his mother, Saida, left for Israel. Yusef, his father, came later. According to Shlaim, they were replacing an idyll with hardship. Matchmakers had arranged his parents’ marriage when Saida was seventeen and Yusef was in his forties. He was one of the richest and most eligible bachelors in the Jewish community in Baghdad, running a company selling building materials and tools; one of his customers was the king of Iraq. They and their relations lived in big villas in the best parts of Baghdad and prominent Muslims, even the prime minister, came to their parties. Farouk, king of Egypt, tried to pick up the beautiful Saida when she was on a visit to Egypt.

In reality, Iraq at the time was in a state of upheaval. The country was in the hands of a double-dealing Hashemite king, imposed by the British and a Sunni Muslim to boot. The massacre of the Assyrian minority and the suppression of Shia and Kurdish rebellions had

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