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Browsing the Shadow Library By: David Solway
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, September 11, 2009


It’s an old story by this time. Everywhere we look we see that Jews are once again being garrotted, either as warmongering Israelis, conniving Zionists or members of some immoral “lobby” subtly dominating the public arena. There is now a rapidly growing library of anti-Israeli articles, essays and books which abound with such malevolent tropes. Indeed, it would require a veritable Bodleian to accommodate them all. Here I have only the space to mention a few of these tainted diatribes. 

Who can forget Tony Judt’s article in The Nation (January 3, 2005), “Goodbye to All That?”—one among many of his disreputable comminations—in which he asserted that contemporary U.S. foreign policy “is in some respects mortgaged to Israel” and that “to say that Israel and its lobbyists have an excessive and disastrous influence on the policies of the world’s superpower is a statement of fact”? The discrepancy between the moderate “in some respects” and the intemperate “excessive and disastrous” is typical of Judt’s writerly stance, in which a raw personal animus breaks through the veneer of scholarly pretence. The initial deference to his subject was always a sham and disqualifies him as a respectable analyst who might be taken seriously. And in any case, President Obama’s Middle East policy has clearly put the lie to what was indisputably a gross exaggeration to begin with. But Judt is obviously learn-proof.

Then, of course, we have John Mearsheimer’s and Stephen Walt’s brazen propaganda essay, “The Israel Lobby,” which proceeded via the age-old techniques of omission, exaggeration, factual error and selective quotation. This cloacal effort was expanded and published in 2007 as The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy on, of all mensual dates, September 11.

No better was Michael Massing’s wretched screed in The New York Review of Books (June 8, 2006), stressing Jewish money, listing the names of Jewish neoconservatives, and charring the Jewish Lobby for backing Israeli policies in the (so-called) “occupied” Territories.

Another example of this tendency to besmirch the Jewish state and to call the loyalty of American Jews into question is provided by Max Rodenbeck, the Economist’s Middle East correspondent and author of Cairo: The City Victorious.

Rodenbeck’s review/article in the New York Review of Books (November 30, 2006) attacked what he regards as the grandiose folly of the American-led “war on terror.” Among a long list of indictments, he managed to slip in his anti-Israeli/anti-Jewish bias under cover of chastising America for its sins and misconceptions, while shriving Islam of its violent propensities, which are rooted in surah after surah of the Koran and in the hadith, as “a product not of Islamic scripture but of the current historical circumstance.”

One of the most prominent instances of this reptilian literature is former president Jimmy Carter’s Palestine Peace Not Apartheid. The weave of lies that binds its pages is shocking: UN Resolution 242 demands that Israel return to Palestinians all land captured in the 1967 war (false), the PLO has never advocated the annihilation of Israel (false), the security barrier is a “great wall” (false) and is built “entirely within Palestinian territory” (false), no Israeli-Arabs are in the governing cabinet (false), Hamas has “meticulously observed a cease-fire commitment” (false) and has refrained from terrorist activity since 2004 (false), Israel is responsible for the exodus of Christians from the Holy Land (false), Israel is guilty for the breakdown of the Camp David peace talks (false), “Palestinian leaders unequivocally accepted” the road map (false), among many other consummate mendacities.

Carter has just produced a follow-up book, We Can Have Peace In The Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work. Its gravamen, though perhaps somewhat less offensive, is not appreciably different from that of its predecessor and is not worth wasting paper on. Considering what we already knew and given the remarks he made about Israel’s “persecution of the Palestinians” in a panel discussion at his Peace Center on January 3, 2008, when he announced his book’s forthcoming publication, we should not have been surprised by the appearance of the same hackneyed fustian.

The lies and slanders continue to spread like wildfire in the dry season. Harvard professor Patrice Higonnet has tossed another lighted match into the stake-tinder, entitled Attendant Cruelties, in which he compares the Jewish conservative philospher Leo Strauss to the Muslim Brotherhood’s leading theorist and propagandist Sayyid Qutb, lacquers Iran’s nuclear ambitions as self-defense, misdescribes Benjamin Netanyahu as a “Jewish fundamentalist,” and deplores the influence of—here we go again—the “pro-Israeli lobby” on the conduct of American foreign policy. Higonnet, who was born in Paris and has written several volumes on the history of France, including Paris: Capital of the World, should have been better placed than most to detect the ways in which the anti-Dreyfus libel lends itself to transplantation Certainly his knowledge of  Jewish and Israeli history seems copied verbatim out of the Left’s ideological playbook.

The same agenda has recently been reinforced by Augustus Richard Norton, a prolific writer on the Middle East, whose Hezbollah: A Short History goes out of its way to launder the Islamic terrorist organization. While providing much useful data on the formation of the Lebanese state, Norton contextualizes Hizbullah as a legitimate expression of the socially deprived Shi’a community “linked to the dispossessed Palestinians, Islamism, and reformism.” Norton dismisses the word “terrorist” as a “rhetorical bludgeon” whose purpose is to “dehumanize radical or revolutionary groups,” proceeds to describe Hizbullah’s victims, aka Israelis, as “legitimate resistance targets,” and—if my eyes are not deceiving me—accounts for the rockets falling on Israel as merely anti-aircraft fire which missed their targets.

Another salient example comes from best-selling detective novelist Steve Berry who, in developing a character for his The Alexandria Link, which begins in 1948, takes it as given that: “Just yesterday the Jewish underground had attacked a nearby village. Forty Palestinian men and women were herded into a quarry and shot. Nothing unusual. Arabs were being systematically murdered and expelled. Land that their families had occupied for sixteen hundred years was being confiscated” (emphasis added). There is no sense that the author is employing the technique of “free indirect speech,” expressive of his character’s own thought processes. When such selective exaggerations and one-sided historical abridgments as I have excerpted here are understood as part of a character’s beliefs, as part of the fiction, the technique is perfectly acceptable. But when such distortions are presented as an objective fact on which to ground a character’s motives, then we have either straight propaganda or unforgiveable ignorance.

Paul McGeough’s Kill Khalid: The Failed Assassination of Khalid Mishal and the Rise of Hamas, which has just come out, is another such corrupt and misleading tract, idealizing one of the bloodiest of terrorist masterminds. Among its many, probably deliberate howlers, McGeough claims that the Zionists “demanded all of historical Palestine” when the documented truth is that they accepted partition, as witness the 1937 Peel Commission and the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan, which mapped out two independent states. Both proposals were assented to by the Zionists and rejected by the Arabs. McGeough goes on to paint a roseate picture of Palestinian farmers which properly belongs in a fairy tale, cannot refrain from sniping at the Jewish Lobby, and focuses on Israeli “brutality” while glorifying Palestinian “resistance.” That McGeough earns his living as a journalist is pro forma.

Poets have been no less complicit in demonizing Israel, perhaps the most conspicuous example being Amiri Baraka (formerly Leroi Jones) who used his podium as Poet Laureate of New Jersey to blame Israel for 9/11:

            Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers

            To stay home that day…

Not Israeli workers, of course. Baraka meant Jewish workers. And nataurally, there is no allusion in this sorry facsimile of a poem to the Jews who died in the inferno.

Now we have the gentler voice of American-Palestinian poet Naomi Shihab Nye, whose growing reputation belies the slender competence of her verse. When she memorializes

            My father, the fathers and mothers

            who lifted no weapon, bending solemnly to tasks

            despite trembling lip and hand…

she writes not only in ignorance of the facts, but conveniently forgets the pogroms, riots, slaughter frenzies and military operations that the surrounding Arab nations and the Palestinian Arabs inflicted on thousands of Jews who also “lifted no weapon, bending solemnly to tasks/despite trembling lip and hand.”

Of course, self-loathing Jewish anti-Zionists, such as the aforementioned Tony Judt, are among the worst offenders, proliferating like ticks and lice on the body of their people. Their names could fill an almanac of the damned—I have listed a considerable number of these in my forthcoming Hear, O Israel!. A recent case in point, adding to this litany of ignominy, is Max Blumenthal, posting in the Huffington Post for July 1, 2009. Blumenthal has the chutzpah to claim that Israel is “as brutal as Iran” and that the fate of the young woman Neda Agha-Sultan, murdered in cold blood by Iranian security forces during the recent protests in Tehran, is a common one among the Palestinians. That people actually believe such unbelievable trash is itself almost beyond belief.

Blumenthal may be Jewish but he is just another antisemitic hack, wielding his pen to help fill the shelves of the shadow library. Perhaps even more demoralizing is the sight of a reputable historical thinker, who also happens to be Jewish, joining the crowd of duplicitous scriveners. One might have thought better of Jacob Heilbrunn who, in They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons, laments the imputed Jewish influence in determining the direction of the neoconservative movement. Either deleting or downplaying the resonant names of its non-Jewish proponents—names like William Bennett, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Michael Novak, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to mention only a few—he argues that the non-Jewish members of the coterie  “were largely bound to the group by a shared commitment to the largest, most important Jewish cause: the survival of Israel.”

This is utterly tendentious and one could compile a list of  such names for whom Israel was, at best, a tertiary preoccupation. Nevertheless, Heilbrunn goes on to assert that neoconservatism is “a Jewish phenomenon, reflecting a subset of Jewish concerns” and that it is “a cultural proclivity specific to American Jews of a certain generation”—there is no mention of the rather telling fact that American Jews vote Democrat over Republican by a ratio of almost 4:1. And we know which of the two parties wavers on Israel and which tends to support it. Heilbrunn’s accredited intellectual stature, despite the measured tones and archival spadework that lends authority and lustre to his work, should have precluded so evident a historical bias. The nimbus begins to flicker when even the better minds—if that is what they are—enrol in what we might call The Anti-Israel Lobby.

This perversion has now become standard procedure—I have enumerated only a bare handful of offending names. The shadow library grows by the day, it’s latest contributor being former member of the Israeli Knesset, Uri Avnery, who, in his memoir 1948, in the part entitled “The Other Side of the Coin,” puts these words into the mouth of a dead friend: “But what have you achieved? The state you dreamed of in the trenches is dead, even before it was born.”

But there may be a certain ironic justice inexorably at work in the Devil’s athenaeum I have described. Israel and its people, whom Isaiah called “a light unto the nations,” are now threatened by an encroaching darkness. But so, as it turns out, are we all. Intellectual maturity and a careful reading of the geopolitical map would help us to understand that, as Eric Hoffer put it in a famous article for the Los Angeles Times in 1968, “as it goes with Israel, so it will go with all of us.” For Israel is the West’s frontline army in the war against militant Islam, its “forlorn hope” (from the Dutch verleren hoop, soldiers placed in the most dangerous position or leading the charge).

We know the old saw about the canary in the coal mine, which we should do well to keep in mind. It has rarely been more appropriate than now. For the shadow library ultimately casts its stygian murk over Jews and non-Jews alike.  

David Solway is the award-winning author of over twenty-five books of poetry, criticism, educational theory, and travel. He is a contributor to magazines as varied as the Atlantic, the Sewanee Review, Books in Canada, and the Partisan Review. He is the author of The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, and Identity. A new book on Jewish and Israeli themes, Hear, O Israel!, will be released by CanadianValuesPress this fall.


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