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Avi Shlaim FBA (born 31 October 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, a group of Israeli scholars who put forward critical interpretations of the history of Zionism and Israel.
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. 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.
Shlaim left Israel for England at the age of 16 to study at a Jewish school. 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.
He obtained an MSc (Econ.) in International Relations in 1970 from the London School of Economics, and his PhD from the University of Reading. He was a lecturer, then reader, in politics at the University of Reading from 1970 to 1987.
Shlaim taught International Relations at Reading University, specialising 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. 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.
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."
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.
According to Gelber, Shlaim's claim that there was a deliberate and pre-meditated anti-Palestinian “collusion” between the Jewish Agency and King Abdullah, is unequivocally refuted by the documentary evidence on the development of contacts between Israel and Jordan before, during and after the war. Marc Lynch however wrote that "the voluminous evidence in [Gelber's] book does not allow so conclusive a verdict".
Shlaim’s conjecture of a deliberate and pre-meditated anti-Palestinian “collusion” does not stand up to a critical examination. The documentary evidence on the development of contacts between Israel and Jordan before, during and after the war unequivocally refutes Shlaim’s conclusions. If there was any collusion against the Palestinians in 1948, it was not concocted by Israel and Abdullah but rather, by Britain and Transjordan. The outcomes reveal that the British acquiescence to a Transjordanian takeover of Arab Palestine was merely a choice by default rather than a plot.