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?