A few months ago, a publisher canceled its plans to release a novel by the journalist Hesh Kestin because of its pro-Israel sympathies. More recently, the distinguished British writer Richard Zimler found out from a friend that two important organizations had declined to invite him to speak about his latest book when they learned he is Jewish. Zimler’s publicist, anonymously expressing shock about the incident to a journalist, noted that, “everyone who knows Richard knows he is his own person.” Abe Greenwald comments:
Zimler “is his own person”? That’s a curious defense, isn’t it? It’s hard not to think that what he meant was that Zimler, while Jewish, isn’t a Zionist puppet and can, therefore, be tolerated. It might behoove Zimler to exercise his individual personhood and fire his publicist—at the very least for remaining anonymous while commenting on the matter. And it would be helpful, too, if he revealed the names of the two blatantly anti-Semitic organizations that shot him down. . . .
What’s scariest, however, is the concerted effort to push Jews, Jewish ideas, and any expression of sympathy for Israel out of popular culture. Jewish writers face a perfect storm of hatred, especially if they dare to write positively about Israel. There’s the rise of the anti-Semitic boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) movement; a book industry marked by “sensitivity readers,” who assess works based on how closely they hew to leftist notions of identity-based victimhood (in which Jews always come in last); and the “cancel culture,” which automatically sinks the careers of those who don’t play by the rules of intersectionality. In the case of Zimler, there’s also the triumph of anti-Semitism among the British left.
Think of this: Zimler is a bestselling novelist. He’s written eleven novels and received multiple prestigious awards. Kestin’s novel was praised by Stephen King. If those two are facing late-career cancelations, imagine what awaits young Jewish writers and artists who may have some unpopular things to say but who haven’t yet made their mark: at this rate, we will never hear their voices. It doesn’t bode well for the next Bellows, Roths, and Malamuds, none of whom would come close to making it through today’s identitarian obstacle course to publication. And it’s going to get worse.
For a Jewish writer—or any writer who’s not slavishly politically correct—to be truly his or her own person will increasingly mean standing up to the bigots who seek to excise them from the world of arts and letters.