MESA Book Awards

Orit Bashkin

The University of Chicago

2018 Nikki Keddie Book Award Co-winner

Orit Bashkin

Orit Bashkin

In Impossible Exodus, Orit Bashkin evokes the traumatic ruptures that faced Iraqi Jews after their relocation to Israel during the early 1950s. Written in a compelling style, her book traces a clear and dynamic narrative for these Mizrahim – a narrative marked by material dispossession, social demotion, and discrimination.  She connects the challenges they faced in early transit camps to their ongoing struggles to achieve integration, political equality, and cultural recognition in Ashkenazi-dominated Israel while coming to terms with their own conflicted identities. Impossible Exodus conjures the sad experiences of Iraqi Jews with vivid details.  One of the book’s strengths is its attention to the history of children – how young people, especially girls, experienced displacement, impoverishment, and Zionist indoctrination in schools, while trying to navigate their new social worlds.  Bashkin dismantles still-prevalent myths regarding the egalitarianism and Jewish inclusiveness of the Zionist enterprise.  She never stops punching down to her last paragraph, where she considers the likelihood of the heirs of the “marginalized Jews” of her study to “ignore (or even cheer) [Palestinians’] segregation [in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza], while battling against the discrimination they still face in the state”. “They will not argue,” she adds, “as Golda Meir [did], that a tent in Israel is better than a house in Baghdad.  They will simply battle to attain a better house in Israel” (p. 229).  In this way, she illuminates the relevance of the Iraqi Jewish “exodus” to contemporary Israeli history and politics.  The Committee is proud to recognize Orit Bashkin’s Impossible Exodus as Co-Winner of this year’s Nikki Keddie Book Prize.

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