Avi Shlaim, an emeritus professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford, has been chairing sessions at a conference in London called 'Jews of Iraq: Engagement with Modernities'. Shlaim, who was born in Iraq but left for Israel as a five-year-old, revealed to the audience he has nearly completed a memoir. Its provisional title is : From Baghdad to Jerusalem: Memoir of an Arab-Jew. The main focus, he said, was on 'The Baghdad Bombs and the Jewish exodus from Iraq, 1950 - 51.' Waving a piece of paper, he then presented 'new evidence of Israeli involvement in the bombs'.
There followed uproar, as Shlaim's claim was fiercely disputed by members of the audience. (There was also some controversy over the expression 'Arab-Jew'.)
The venerable professor is no stranger to controversy. He has moved from mildly critical of Israel to becoming a staunch anti-Zionist during his career. Now that he has resurrected the old 'Baghdad bombs' chestnut, it is perhaps time to dig into Point of No Return's archives and revisit the subject.
Mordechai Ben Porat, Mossad's leading operative in Baghdad, had his name cleared in an Israeli court when he sued an Israeli magazine for libel. The court heard evidence in support of the theory that non - Jews threw the January 1951 bombs and that Muslim peddlars were tipped off to clear the scene just before grenades were thrown at the Messouda Shemtob synagogue, which was being used as a registration centre for would-be emigrants. This was the only fatal bombing (four were killed).
The so-called new historian Tom Segev refuted the charge that Zionists were behind the bombs.
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It is a mystery why the Mossad might have thought it necessary to set off bombs when by late 1950 there was a backlog of tens of thousands of Jews stranded in Iraq who had already registered to leave. When the Massouda Shemtob bombing occurred, there were only six weeks still to go before the deadline for emigration expired. Indeed, the Iraqi government toyed with the idea of dumping these Jews on Israel's borders or in the Kuwaiti desert because Israel was not shipping them out fast enough.
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