In Committing “Heresy,” a Collection of New Hebrew Writing Plays Dumb

July 30 2015

In a recent issue, the magazine World Literature Today featured translations of fourteen pieces of new Hebrew writing. Introducing the collection, the guest editors explain their decision to avoid Israel’s grand political questions and instead to commit the “heresy of normalcy.” For Erika Dreifus, there’s something decidedly “un-heretical” about the entire collection:

Among the prose selections . . . I found that two pieces did, in fact, deal substantively with the matzav [i.e., Israel’s political and security situation]. And I couldn’t help concluding that they were utterly un-heretical in ways that I’m not sure the guest editors fully anticipated. . . .

If you perhaps thought it problematic that the only part of Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land most (non-synagogue/JCC members) would be likely to read was the guilt-infused “Lydda” chapter that ran in the New Yorker, and if you happened to read and find resonance in Matti Friedman’s recent Mosaic article on “Israel and the Moral Striptease,” you may also struggle with Tomer Gardi’s “Rock, Paper.” Suffice it to say that it’s not exactly a tribute to the Jewish state. Another powerful piece, Ayman Sikseck’s “To Jaffa,” depicts the anxiety of living with the anticipation of a Palestinian terror attack; the narrator, however, is an Arab Israeli, not a Jew.

Now, I’m not that naive. I hardly expect to find outright sympathy for, say, the residents of Sderot or the families of [the terror victims] Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach, let alone any remote appreciation for anything about the Jewish state, in the pages of a literary magazine published by an American university. . . .

But if they were, in fact, going to include writing about war and terrorism in their feature after all, would it have been so very difficult to include something to counterbalance Gardi’s “self-flagellation” (to borrow Friedman’s term)? Or to acknowledge that Palestinian terrorists are typically aiming to kill Jews? For that matter, wouldn’t it have been possible, perhaps, to contextualize the references to Jewish emigration from Arab countries between 1948 and the early 1970s, as alluded to in [two of the] pieces? The dismal truth is that for too many readers in the United States today—including, I’m sorry to say, many ostensibly well-educated readers among the American literati—that would be the most heretical reading of all.

Read more at Erika Dreifus

More about: Ari Shavit, Arts & Culture, Hebrew literature, Israel & Zionism, Israeli literature

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount