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Great and Less than Great Writers Make Themselves Dishonest Tools of Anti-Israel Propaganda

June 19 2017

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.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Anti-Zionism, Breaking the Silence, Israel & Zionism, Literature

A New Book Tries, and Fails, to Understand the West Bank’s Jews

Aug. 22 2017

In City on a Hilltop, Sara Yael Hirschhorn seeks to explain Israel’s settler movement, rejecting the common misconception that its members are fanatics uniformly motivated by religious zeal and ferocious nationalism. Nonetheless, writes Evelyn Gordon, Hirschhorn fails to look past her own political assumptions:

[R]eaders emerge from [the book] with no clear understanding of what drives the settlement movement. This isn’t surprising, since Hirschhorn admits in her conclusion that she herself has no such understanding: “After discussions with dozens of Jewish-American immigrants in the occupied territories, I still struggled to understand how they saw themselves and their role within the Israeli settlement enterprise.”

Consequently, she’s produced an entire book about settlers that virtually ignores the twin beliefs at the heart of their enterprise: Israel has a right to be in the territories, whether based on religious and historical ties, international law, or both, and Israel has a need to be there, whether for religious and historical reasons, security ones, or both.

This glaring omission seems to stem largely from her inability to take such beliefs seriously. In one noteworthy example, she writes, “While their religio-historical claims to the Gush Etzion area are highly contentious, many settler activists over the past 50 years have asserted Biblical ties to the region.” But what exactly is contentious about that assertion? No serious person would deny that many significant events in the Bible took place in what is now called the West Bank. . . . One could argue that this doesn’t justify Jews living there today, but if you can’t acknowledge that this area is Judaism’s religious and historical heartland, and that many Jews consequently believe that giving it up would tear the heart out of the Jewish state, you can’t understand a major driver of the settlement movement.

Similarly, Hirschhorn pays scant attention to the security arguments for retaining the West Bank, and none at all to Israel’s strong claim to the area under international law. . . . The result is that while most of her settlers don’t come off as fanatics, they often do come off as simpletons—people who became “colonialist occupiers” for no apparent reason, without ever really thinking about it.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Israel & Zionism, Settlements, West Bank