The Dangers of John le Carré’s Moral Sophistication

Near the end of last year, the famed British author of spy novels David Cornwell—known by the pen name John le Carré—died at the age of eighty-nine. In his fiction, and to a much greater extent in his public pronouncements, le Carré indulged in fashionable anti-Americanism, and, at the beginning of this century, blamed “neoconservatives” for “appointing the state of Israel as the purpose of all [U.S.] Middle Eastern and practically all global policy.” He also claimed that that “the Jewish lobby in America” tried to “claw him apart” following the publication of his 1983 novel on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, The Little Drummer Girl. Yet in 2019 he signed an open letter vowing not to vote for the Labor party on account of Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-Semitism. And he gave a long interview in 1998 in which he professed an admiration for Jews dating back to his childhood, boasted of his sensitivity toward the “repulsive . . . anti-Semitism” of the British “chattering classes,” and spoke of Israel in glowing terms.

“So where,” asks Melanie Phillips, “lay the truth about John le Carré?

He wrote The Little Drummer Girl, he said, to educate himself about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. To that end, he visited the Middle East to learn about it firsthand from both sides. However, from his description of this visit in his memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel, it was the Palestinians who entranced himHe writes of being embraced by their terrorist leader, Yasir Arafat, who placed le Carré’s hand on Arafat’s “Palestinian heart.”

He was clearly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. Yet that cause is the destruction of Israel. Ignoring this, he invested both sides with moral equivalence which he appeared to think was a fair and just approach. Such equivalence was also the hallmark of his fiction, in which he presented Western intelligence services as just as amoral, cynical, and squalid as those of the Communist world.

But in any battle between good and evil, moral equivalence is neither fair nor just. Instead, it actually gives victory to the forces of evil. That’s because creating a morally level playing field inescapably makes the bad guys better than they actually are and the good guys worse. So injustice is inevitably done to the good guys, who lose out while the bad guys get rewarded.

In Britain, a number of people who eulogized le Carré after his death praised him for the moral sense they claimed illuminated his fiction. They did not mean by that his contempt for Soviet Communism. They meant instead his contempt for the West.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at JNS

More about: Anti-Semitism, Fiction, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Philo-Semitism, Soviet espionage

Terror Returns to Israel

Nov. 28 2022

On Wednesday, a double bombing in Jerusalem left two dead, and many others injured—an attack the likes of which has not been seen since 2016. In a Jenin hospital, meanwhile, armed Palestinians removed an Israeli who had been injured in a car accident, reportedly murdering him in the process, and held his body hostage for two days. All this comes as a year that has seen numerous stabbings, shootings, and other terrorist attacks is drawing to a close. Yaakov Lappin comments:

Unlike the individual or small groups of terrorists who, acting on radical ideology and incitement to violence, picked up a gun, a knife, or embarked on a car-ramming attack, this time a better organized terrorist cell detonated two bombs—apparently by remote control—at bus stops in the capital. Police and the Shin Bet have exhausted their immediate physical searches, and the hunt for the perpetrators will now move to the intelligence front.

It is too soon to know who, or which organization, conducted the attack, but it is possible to note that in recent years, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has taken a lead in remote-control-bombing terrorism. Last week, a car bomb that likely contained explosives detonated by remote control was discovered by the Israel Defense Forces in Samaria, after it caught fire prematurely. In August 2019, a PFLP cell detonated a remote-control bomb in Dolev, seventeen miles northwest of Jerusalem, killing a seventeen-year-old Israeli girl and seriously wounding her father and brother. Members of that terror cell were later arrested.

With the Palestinian Authority (PA) losing its grip in parts of Samaria to armed terror gangs, and the image of the PA at an all-time low among Palestinians, in no small part due to corruption, nepotism, and its violation of human rights . . . the current situation does not look promising.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Jerusalem, Palestinian terror