The recently published Kingdom of Olive and Ash is a collection of essays written by high-profile literary types—including Mario Vargas Llosa—who report on their visits to Israel and the horrible misdeeds they saw being committed by “the occupation.” Organized by the husband-and-wife team of Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman, the tours took place under the auspices of Breaking the Silence, an unscrupulous Israeli organization dedicated to defaming the IDF. In their introduction Chabon and Waldman describe themselves as belonging to “the ambivalent middle” with regard to the Israel-Palestinian conflict and disingenuously confess to having “averted [their] gaze from its details.” Daniella Greenbaum points to the dishonesty in these statements—a dishonesty that permeates the entire volume:
This claim [to ambivalence about Israel] is belied by the fact that Chabon wrote a novel ten years ago featuring an entire counter-history of the Jewish state, while Waldman, the daughter of a sabra émigré, has spent a decade fulminating about Israel’s misdeeds on social media.
No, Chabon and Waldman are neither ambivalent nor in the middle. Their insistence to the contrary is an attempt to gull the uninformed reader into believing they came into the project in innocence and came away sadder and wiser and ready to speak truth to power. . . .
[Glaring] omissions are peppered throughout the book. In her essay, “Mr. Nice Guy,” the novelist Rachel Kushner profiles Baha Nababta, whom she describes as a “twenty-nine-year-old Palestinian community organizer beloved by the kids of Shuafat.” . . . Less than a month after Kushner left Shuafat, Nababta was murdered in front of a crowd of people. She ends her essay with a heartbreaking account of the widow and newborn baby who will live the rest of their lives without their husband and father.
Kushner’s vague conclusion creates the impression that the Israelis were responsible for Nababta’s murder. Reporting has been scarce, but there seems to be a working theory that the murderer was Palestinian. Kushner’s omission of this theory, in a book determined to blame Israel for anything and everything, is morally unforgivable.
Needless to say, the book pays scant attention to the murderous violence of the second intifada, Palestinian terrorism, or Hamas’s rockets, not to mention the corruption and tyranny of Palestinian rulers.