A Publishing House Withdraws a Novel after It Was Attacked for Being Pro-Israel

In April, a small publishing house called Dzanc Books announced a new novel, by the former journalist Hesh Kestin, that imagines a successful invasion of the Jewish state. Blurbed by the best-selling author Stephen King, The Siege of Tel Aviv seemed poised for success when critics rushed to Twitter to denounce it as “racist,” “Islamophobic,” and so forth. Dzanc mounted a feeble defense, but then withdrew the book. Mark Horowitz comments on what he calls an “all-too-familiar scene in American publishing”:

Unfortunately for the book burners, their auto-da-fé was a bust. Kestin’s response was neither to hide or concede, but to run toward the sound of the guns. He is now self-publishing his novel with the help of Amazon and is likely to sell more copies thanks to the controversy than he would have without it. As the plot of his own novel illustrates, fighting against the odds is what Jews are good at. The problem with Kestin’s novel was never racism or Islamophobia. What enraged the Twitter mob was the book’s unreconstructed Zionism.

The premise of The Siege of Tel Aviv is an intentional echo of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when multiple Arab armies, led by Egypt and Syria, nearly finished off the Jewish state. In this version, set in an unspecified future, Iran leads the invasion, and what tips the balance is the failure of the United States to come to Israel’s aid, as it had in real life in 1973. After the defeat, Israel’s surviving citizens are herded into central Tel Aviv, which becomes an overcrowded ghetto where they await either evacuation or annihilation.

Against this horrifying backdrop, Kestin mobilizes a slightly comical bunch of misfits and rebels—including a cross-dressing fighter pilot, a smooth-talking Russian gangster, and a resourceful Bedouin scout—who rally to undo the disaster before it’s too late.

What the novel is not is Islamophobic. Kestin did not have to invent Iranian threats to wipe Israel off the map. The mullahs and generals of Iran have been threatening that for decades. . . . The subversive joke of the novel is that it indulges Israel’s enemies and take seriously their rhetoric of annihilation. Does Israel have a right to exist? Anti-Zionists and anti-Semites think it’s a fair question. Kestin obliges them. From al-Aqsa preachers and Hamas leaders to Iranian mullahs and anti-Zionist op-eds—what if they all got their wish?

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Read more at Commentary

More about: Anti-Zionism, Fiction, Islamophobia, Israel & Zionism

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy