Avi Shlaim

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Avi Shlaim FBA (born October 31, 1945) is an Iraqi-born British/Israeli historian. He is emeritus professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford and a fellow of the British Academy. Shlaim is considered one of Israel's New Historians,[1] a group of Israeli scholars who put forward critical interpretations of the history of Zionism and Israel.[2]


Avraham (Avi) Shlaim was born to wealthy Jewish parents in Baghdad, Iraq. The family lived in a mansion with ten servants. His father was an importer of building materials with ties to the Iraqi leadership, including then-prime minister Nuri al-Said.[3] After a grenade was thrown into the central synagogue in Baghdad in 1951, Shlaim's father was one of 100,000 Jews who registered to leave the country and surrender their citizenship. A subsequent law ruled that all those who left forfeited all rights, including property rights. The Shlaim family lost all their assets. His father crossed the border illegally on a mule, while Shlaim, his mother and sisters flew to Cyprus, reuniting in Israel.[3]

Shlaim left Israel for England at the age of 16 to study at a Jewish school.[3][4] He returned to Israel in the mid-1960s to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, then moved back to England in 1966 to read history at Jesus College, Cambridge. He obtained his MA and married the great-granddaughter of David Lloyd George, who was the British prime minister at the time of the Balfour Declaration. He has lived in England ever since, and holds dual British and Israeli nationality.[5]

He obtained an MSc (Econ.) in International Relations in 1970 from the London School of Economics, and his PhD from the University of Reading.[6] He was a lecturer, then reader, in politics at the University of Reading from 1970 to 1987.[7]


Shlaim taught International Relations at Reading University, specializing in European issues. His academic interest in the history of Israel began in 1982, when Israeli government archives about the 1948 Arab–Israeli War were opened, an interest that deepened when he became a fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford in 1987.[3] He was the Alastair Buchan Reader in International Relations at Oxford from 1987 to 1996, and the Director of Graduate Studies in that subject in 1993–1995 and 1998–2001. In 1995–97, he held a British Academy Research Readership in 1995–97, a Research Professorship in 2003–2006. In 2006, he was elected Fellow of the British Academy.[7]

Shlaim served as an outside examiner on the doctoral thesis of Ilan Pappé, another notable New Historian. Shlaim's approach to the study of history is informed by his belief that, "[t]he job of the historian is to judge."[3]

He is a regular contributor to The Guardian newspaper, and signed an open letter to that paper in January 2009 condemning Israel's role in the Gaza War.[8]


Josef Heller and Yehoshua Porath have stated that Shlaim "misleads his readers with arguments that Israel had missed the opportunity for peace while the Arabs are strictly peace seekers".[9][10] 1 In a 2012 article in the academic journal Shofar, Shai Afsai criticised Shlaim for repeating a story "The bride is beautiful but she is married to another man," for which Afsai could not trace an original source, in his 2001 book The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World.[11]

Shlaim writes that at 1947 the Yishuv and King Abdullah had reached an agreement on the division of the projected Arab state.[12] However, Gelber writes that the Yishuv, through wariness of being seen as a partner in thwarting the partition plan, was unwilling to commit to such an agreement.[13] Gelber could find no evidence for collusion.[14] Tal writes that the Jews wanted a Jewish state. Thus they advanced the partition and "were not bothered about the prospect of an Arab Palestinian state" or if Abdullah would temporarily maintain law and order until the UN could establish a government in that area.[15]

Referring to a meeting between Ernest Bevin and Tawfik Abu al-Huda, the Prime Minister of Jordan, at the Foreign Office on February 7, 1948, Shlaim writes that Bevin told Abul Huda that invading the Arab parts of Palestine was "the obvious thing to do", as claimed by Glubb, and that he warned him off invading the Jewish areas. However, Gelber and Morris say that Bevin, without voicing any opinion, promised that he "would study the statement".[16] Bevin later telegraphed to Kirkbride that he was satisfied with the assurances that the Arab Legion had no intentions to enter the Jewish area unless the Jews invaded Arab territories. The reason for avoiding the Jewish area was the limited resources of the Jordanians.[17] Regarding the planned Jordanian invasion into Palestine, Bevin wrote that, in order to avoid problems with the United Nations, it would be better not to send the Arab Legion into the Jewish state. But if the invasion were limited to the Palestinian state only, it would antagonize the other Arab states.[18]

Published works

  • Collusion across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement and the Partition of Palestine (winner of the 1988 Political Studies Association's W. J. M. Mackenzie Prize)
  • The Politics of Partition (1990 and 1998)
  • War and Peace in the Middle East: A Concise History (1995)
  • The Cold War and the Middle East (co-editor, 1997)
  • The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001)
  • Lion of Jordan: The Life of King Hussein in War and Peace (London: Allen Lane, 2007)
  • Israel and Palestine: Reappraisals, Revisions, Refutations (London: Verso, 2009)

See also


  1. ^ Ethan Bronner (November 14, 1999). "Israel: The Revised Edition: Two historians offer re-examinations of the Zionist–Arab conflict.". The New York Times. Retrieved March 23, 2014.  Review of The Iron Wall by Avi Shlaim and Righteous Victims by Benny Morris, with links to the first chapters of each.
  2. ^ Morris, Benny. "The New Historiography" in Morris, Benny. (ed) Making Israel. 1987, pp. 11–28.
  3. ^ a b c d e Rapaport, Meron (August 11, 2005). "No peaceful solution". Haaretz Friday Supplement. 
  4. ^ Shlaim, Avi (January 7, 2009). "How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe". The Guardian. Retrieved March 23, 2014. 
  5. ^ Avi Shlaim: "And for the last forty years, I have lived in Britain, and I teach at Oxford," in "It Takes an Enormous Amount of Courage to Speak the Truth When No One Else is Out There" — World-Renowned Holocaust, Israel Scholars Defend DePaul Professor Norman Finkelstein as He Fights for Tenur. Shlaim's interview; democracynow.org, May 9, 2007, accessed March 23, 2014.
  6. ^ Governing Body Fellows
  7. ^ a b Professor Avi Shlaim, University of Oxford.
  8. ^ "Growing outrage at the killings in Gaza". The Guardian. January 16, 2009. Retrieved March 23, 2014. . Letter to the editor signed by over 300 academics, writers, and others.
  9. ^ Joseph Heller; Yehoshua Porat (August 18, 2005). "The wonders of the new history". Haaretz. Retrieved March 23, 2014. 
  10. ^ Joseph Heller (2000). The Birth of Israel, 1945–1949: Ben-Gurion and His Critics. University Press of Florida. p. 306. ISBN 0813017327. 
  11. ^ "'The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man': Historical Fabrication and an Anti-Zionist Myth", Shai Afsai, Shofar, Vol. 30, No. 3; 2012, pp. 35–61
  12. ^ Avi Shlaim (1998). Collusion Across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist movement and the partition of Palestine. University of Michigan. p. 1. ISBN 9780198278313. "In 1947 an explicit agreement was reached between the Hashemites and the Zionists on the carving up of Palestine following the termination of the British mandate ... it was consciously and deliberately intended to frustrate the will of the international community, as expressed through the United Nations General Assembly, in favour of creating an independent Arab state in part of Palestine." 
  13. ^ Yoav Gelber (1997). Jewish Transjordanian Relations: 1921–48. Frank Cass. p. 235. ISBN 9780714646756. "the conversation then focused on the likely Jewish reaction to Abdullah's take over of Palestine's Arab area. The Jewish agency expected the United Nations Assembly to vote for the establishment of a Palestinian state. It hesitated to appear as Abdullah's accomplice in sabotaging the probable resolution. Myerson suggested that Abdullah should arrange a referendum in advance in favour of annexation, but the king rejected the idea." 
  14. ^ Gelber, Yoav (2004). Israeli-Jordanian dialogue, 1948–1953: cooperation, conspiracy, or collusion?. Sussex Academic Press. ISBN 9781845190446. "This book is a refutation of Professor Avi Shlaim's theory of an alleged collusion between the Jews and king Abdullah.... Gelber finds no evidence of an alleged collusion between the Jews and king Abdullah—just a tragic unfolding of events that inflamed the still unresolved Arab–Israeli conflict."" 
  15. ^ David Tal (2004). War in Palestine, 1948: Strategy and Diplomacy. Routledge. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-7146-5275-7. "The Jews were not bothered about the prospect of an Arab Palestinian state. Their main concern was their ability to establish a Jewish state, and to ensure that Palestinian resistance would not prevent this."  Also p. 13, Incursion into Palestine. Meyerson 'said she was hoping for a [UN] resolution that would establish two states, one Jewish and one Arab, and that they wished to speak to the King only about an agreement based on such a resolution.' As to Abdullah's query about Jewish reaction to his seizure of the Arab part of Palestine, Meyerson said that the Jews: "would view such an attempt in a favorable light, especially if he did not interfere with the establishment of their state and avoided a clash between his forces and theirs and, secondly if he could declare that his sole purpose was to maintain law and order until the UN could establish a government in that area."
  16. ^ Benny Morris (2003). The Road to Jerusalem: Glubb Pasha, Palestine and the Jews. I.B. Tauris. p. 114. ISBN 978-1860649899. 
  17. ^ Gelber Yoav (1997). Jewish Transjordanian Relations: 1921–48. Frank Cass. p. 255. ISBN 9780714646756. 
  18. ^ Benny Morris (2003). The Road to Jerusalem: Glubb Pasha, Palestine and the Jews. I.B. Tauris. pp. 106–114. ISBN 978-1860649899. 

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