The Corner


Baghdad and Beyond

Bedouins in Jordan, January 2016 (Muhammad Hamed / Reuters)

Alon Ben-Meir has lived a very interesting and useful life. It began in Baghdad, in 1937. Then he went to Palestine, and lived in refugee camps. Later on a kibbutz. He was educated in Tel Aviv and Oxford. He has long lived in America, as a citizen. He teaches international relations at New York University. He has been involved in international negotiations for many years. He knows the Middle East intimately.

I have done a podcast with him — a Q&Ahere. We talk about Turkey, Syria, the Yazidis, the Arab–Israeli conflict, and other important issues. We also talk personally.

“Do you feel at home everywhere?” I ask him. “Or nowhere?” He gives an interesting answer. When he was a little boy, in Iraq, Arab men would call him a “dirty Jew” or a “dog” or a “son of a dog.” In Israel, he got an “upgrade,” as he says: He was a “black Jew,” i.e., a Jew from the Arab world. There was “intense discrimination” against such Jews, he says. When he went to England, he was simply a foreigner, with an accent.

But when he arrived in America? He was no more and no less than Alon Ben-Meir. “No one called me a dog or a Jew or a black or a white” — he was just himself. He is pained by what he sees in America today: social disintegration, political polarization, tribalization. “Pained” is too mild a word, actually.

No listener will like everything Ben-Meir says, probably, but all can learn from him, as I have. Again, our podcast is here.


The Latest