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Lecture to explore Iraqi Jews in Israel

Orit Bashkin

In the 1950s, 123,000 Iraqi Jews arrived in Israel. Harsh conditions and a shared background united them. Orit Bashkin, Ph.D., a University of Chicago associate professor of modern Middle Eastern history, will highlight this era in the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies’ 2019 Jeffrey Plevan Memorial Lecture, “Israeli Babylonians: The Birth of Iraqi Israeli Identity,” at the Tucson Jewish Community Center on Monday, April 29.

Although Iraqi Jews saw themselves as Iraqi patriots, their community — which had existed in Iraq for more than 2,500 years — was displaced when the state of Israel was established. Bashkin’s book, “New Babylonians: A History of Jews in Modern Iraq” chronicles the lives of these Jews, their urban Arab culture, and their hopes for a democratic nation-state. It highlights their ideas about Judaism, Islam, secularism, modernity, and reform, focusing on Iraqi Jews who internalized narratives of Arab and Iraqi nationalisms, and on those who turned to communism in the 1940s.

The ultimate displacement of this community wasn’t from perpetual persecution, but from misguided state policies during the late 1940s and early 1950s, Bashkin says. Despite a desire for coexistence, friendship, and partnership, the impossibility of Arab-Jewish coexistence prevailed, dominating the current narrative.

Bashkin also is the author of “The Other Iraq: Pluralism and Culture in Hashemite Iraq” and “Impossible Exodus: Iraqi Jews in Israel.”

Betsy and Ken Plevan endowed the Plevan lectureship in their late son’s memory in 2013, to honor his contributions to University of Arizona Judaic studies and promote the key values he cherished.

The free lecture, which begins at 6:30 p.m., will be preceded by a light refreshments at 5:30 p.m. For more information, visit or call