Iraqi Home Away from Home – Jewish Reflections on Iraq in the Diaspora

By Orit Bashkin
Submitted to Session P4776 (Iraq's Many Pasts, Iraq's Many Presents: Memory, Archive, and Representation, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
My paper asks what happens to Iraqi identity when Iraqis leave their homeland. I propose that memories of Iraq, even by displaced individuals, can serve as a defense mechanism in new exilic surroundings. As Peter Wien and Zeinab Saleh showed, the response of diasporic Iraqis to their new homes is directly attributable to their understanding of their Iraqi homeland. In Israel, Iraqi patriotism and nostalgia to Iraq enabled Iraqi Jewish migrants to cope with, and understand, Israeli realities. When Iraqi Jews arrived to Israel in the 1950s they were settled in tents and shacks in transit camps; some rotted there for nearly a decade. Suffering from poverty and exploitation in Israel, Iraqi Jews strove to maintain their connections to Iraq; they spoke the Iraqi Arabic dialect, they celebrated Iraqi music and culture, and they cherished their memories of their Iraqi family-life in the inhospitable Israeli space, typified by destitution and discrimination. Politically, left-leaning organizations used their experience in Iraq as a model. Iraqi Jewish communists identified ethnic nationalism with rightwing Arab chauvinism and sectarianism in Iraq and therefore took a critical position towards Jewish ethnic nationalism, i.e., Zionism, and professed their solidarity with the Palestinians. My paper is based on autobiographies, short stories written in the Iraqi dialect by Samir Naqqash, and the Arabic Israeli press of the 1950s.