Iraqi Jews. Bilingualism, nationalism and racism
The Saladin lecture 2015 by Orit Bashkin
What was the relationship among Iraqi Jews, Muslims and Christians in Baghdad, Iraq, in the early 20th century? What for many years made it possible for members of these groups to forge friendships and show good neighbourliness across ethnicities and beliefs? What was the reason why this period saw a stronger national than ethnic or religious affiliation? In 1948 Israel declared itself a Jewish state, whereupon the country was attacked by the neighbouring Arab countries Syria, Egypt, Transjordan, Lebanon and Iraq. In the aftermath of this war the status of Iraqi Jews was suddenly changed to that of “Zionist traitors”, and between 1950 and 1951 approximately 120,000 Iraqi Jews left Iraq for Israel. Here, however, their welcome was less than hearty. Their culture, language and background were too closely connected to the Arab enemy and they experienced discrimination compared to European-born Jews. What can this double tragedy tell us about how we should think about religion and coexistence today?
This year’s Saladin Lecture is given by Orit Bashkin, professor of Modern Middle Eastern History at the University of Chicago. Her last publication is New Babylonians: A History of Jews in Modern Iraq.