Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)
Avi Shlaim has long been one of the foremost Israeli historians, but his contribution has been within the field of diplomatic history. The history of Israel is also personal for him. In this memoir, Shlaim convincingly tells his family’s story as a microcosm of Israeli history. Shlaim, unlike what many readers might expect, primarily identifies as an Arab-Jew from Iraq. The transition from being the young son of wealthy Jews in Iraq to growing up in a poor family of estranged Iraqis in Israel leads the young Avi to briefly dabble with right-wing Israeli politics, before moving to England and gradually becoming the academic we know as Avi Shlaim. Three Worlds combines emotionally charged personal reflections on this experience with serious academic analyses of how and why the Jews were uprooted from Iraq and what this experience did to the Iraqi community in Israel. The book’s coverage of this important topic allows the reader to understand the complexities of Israeli society. Avi Shlaim does not shy away from tackling difficult issues head on. In what many will consider a controversial chapter, he lays out evidence for the argument that Israeli agents played a significant role in triggering the Jewish flight from Iraq to Israel in order to secure Israel’s demographic growth. In the Epilogue he also goes further than previously in criticizing Israeli policy, arguing that Israel is an Apartheid state and that the only real way forward is to opt for a single democratic state. Despite it all, Shlaim argues, the history of pre-Israel Jewish life in Iraq should be used as a positive example of what can be possible in the Middle East.