Re-Inventing Israel


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My purpose here is not to provide a review of Sasha Polakow-Suransky’s controversial The Unspoken Alliance, a curious amalgam of facts, factoids, conjectures and leading assumptions. There will be plenty of reviews pro and con. My intention rather is to furnish a kind of overview of the mindset at work in a production of this nature, and to indicate how a certain parti pris has already been adopted before the book scarcely gets started, continuing all the way through to the Epilogue. It insinuates itself in a manner that is far more supple than, say, Jimmy Carter’s Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, with which it shares the A-word. Whatever virtues Polakow-Suransky’s book may possess, it is only a kind of handsel—the dollar on the wall—of what is bound to increase in the coming years, that is, studies and depositions by purported “scholars” and biased observers who claim to be disinterested, who affect only to advance the “peace process” in the Middle East and who insist that they have Israel’s ultimate well-being at heart. For simplicity’s sake, we can name this devious attitude the J Street syndrome.

That Polakow-Suransky offers thanks to Naomi Chazan, head of the now-sullied New Israel Fund which supports demonstrably anti-Israeli NGOs, speaks volumes. His expression of gratitude to Avi Shlaim, a revisionist Israeli historian whose textual corruptions and dubious scholarship were decisively exposed by Efraim Karsh in his masterful Fabricating Israeli History, does not surprise. It is obvious from the get-go that Polakow-Suransky is no friend of the Jewish state. Israel, he contends, is a “far cry from the ‘light unto the nations’ that was once revered by the African liberation heroes and American civil rights leaders,” a cheap lament that glosses over the darkness which has always threatened to foreclose upon this vulnerable little state and the means it must inevitably, and often unfortunately, undertake to secure its existence.

Polakow-Suransky relies on declassified documents and multiple interviews to tell a troubling story of Israeli complicity with apartheid South Africa, a narrative denied by Israeli president Shimon Peres and which should, in any case, be put firmly in the context of internal divisions within and between Israel’s diplomatic corps and its military establishment, often at loggerheads with one another. To his credit, Polakow-Suransky does acknowledge such in-house dissension. But there’s no doubt that his archival digging has yielded a powerful denunciation of Israel’s cold war policies, revealing many disturbing items about the clandestine relationship between South Africa and Israel when the latter was struggling to repair its damaged economy after the 1973 concerted Arab attack and to compensate for its growing estrangement among the nations. Admittedly, no country is pure and Israel is no exception to the rule.

But there are many problems with his account, not the least of which is his clearly anti-Israeli agenda. He plainly had no compunction in publishing an essentially damning book at one of the most precarious moments in Israel’s hazardous existence, in the very midst of a worldwide boycott and demonization campaign and a veritable tsunami of anti-Semitic feeling. True, he has lots of company. One thinks of Keith Whitelan’s The Invention of Ancient Israel which claims that even Israel’s ancient past is a scholarly construction devised to displace the Palestinians from the historical register; of Baylis Thomas who in The Dark Side of Zionism (a follow-up to the earlier How Israel Was Won) has also added his revisionist voice to the venal and tractarian assault on the Jewish state; and most recently of Shlomo Sand whose The Invention of the Jewish People is perhaps even more brazen and absurd. But none of this absolves Polakow-Suransky of contributing a highly inflammable fuel to the fire.

His rhetorical technique is no less insidious. For example, we have scarcely opened the book before we read of Israel’s victory “over its Arab neighbors” in the 1967 war. There is a disturbing hint of semiotic skullduggery here. Note that he doesn’t use the word “enemies,” “attackers,” “adversaries” or “assailants,” but neighbors, as if Israel had launched an invasion against innocent and unoffending regional acquaintances. “Neighbors” is a dual-use word; it can slide all too readily from the merely descriptive to the craftily illusive. This is a subtle shift of implication that may not be immediately detectable, but it beats beneath the floorboards like Poe’s tell-tale heart.

Israel’s Arab “neighbors,” after all, were not so neighborly when five Arab armies attacked the fledgling nation the day after it declared its independence on May 14, 1948. They were manifestly unneighborly from that time until 1967 (and, of course, afterward as well). The massing of armies on Israel’s borders in 1967 and Nasser’s closing of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping—an Act of War that precipitated the conflict—were somewhat less than neighborly as well.

Polakow-Suransky then mentions that as a result of the war Israel “tripled” its territory, which sounds duly outrageous, an enormous swath of territorial aggrandizement. (Similarly, Bernard Porter, in his influential and fawning review of The Unspoken Alliance in the London Review of Books, parrots his subject by refering to Israel’s “massive territorial expansion at the cost of its Arab neighbors”) (italics mine). What unbridled chutzpah Israel displays! But there is something tilted about the formulation. We forget that so apparently egregious an expansion occurred in what remains a rather confined portion of the globe and, by comparison with the truncated sliver of land that finally became Israel, a relatively minimal acquisition. As Louis Harovitz, a frequent contributor to the letters pages of the New York Review of Books and the London Review of Books, points out it in an unpublished letter to the LRB, “Israel is so tiny that maps of the Middle East use magnified insets just to make it visible” (personal communication). Imagine if Canada had gone to war and “tripled” its territory.

This slippery tactic of veiled indictment has become common currency in the pejorative assessment of Israeli policy and statecraft, an attention-shifter meant to position the reader within the frame of the author’s prejudice. The rhetorical term for this clever device is “interpellation,” whose effect is to identify the individual with a pre-existent viewpoint or conviction. (E.g.: When did you stop beating your wife?) Polakow-Suransky and his ilk appear to have drunk deep from Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser’s Lenin and Philosophy where the notion is elaborated and entrenched. Further, the efficacy of interpellation is obviously reinforced by the calculated omission of salient detail. Thus Polakow-Suransky lays no particular emphasis on the fact that Israel acted in self-defense and that the sudden and unexpected gain of comparative acreage constituted the legitimate spoils of war and was in the course of time gradually surrendered bit by bit anyway. For his real purpose is to reinvent Israel as a conquistador society whose policies render it suspect among the community of nations.

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  • Jim Johnson

    Having lived amongst the Arabs for eight years I have become acquainted with their two opinions.

    First they claim not to hate Jews but only Israel and it's supporters. That statement is for public consumption.

    In private they are intensely anti Jewish. Some of the Saudis who do not like the royal family go so far as to claim the royal family is Jewish. To re consider their claim; they blame every thing they do not like on Jews.

    These people like Polakow-Suransky do not see that no matter how nice they are to Muslims the Muslims still see a target on EVERY Jewish back.

    • philgee

      —A scholarly article which, no doubt but for brevity would have been masterful in all ways, . . .
      A-a-n-nd—partly for sheer laziness, partly for lack of maturity—the Arab types just l-l-o-o-o-o-ve to practice even so little as they may have of a cleverness with words—you know how it is in the child's world whiling away long moments with: "I said this, but you thought I said that; you should've known what I was talking about because, . . . well next time, you know to, . . .", on and on, until it's time for lunch, say. Of course, the jig is up when one or the other claims the higher authority: "No, that's not what that means—you can ask Mom. You're wrong.".
      Whether to the positive or, to the negative of definition, in have maintained in scholary dignity, "neighbor" always must be easily referenced to that classic definition—and yet standing, lo, these thousands of years—which was given in answer to the pretensive: "So, who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10).
      When children do it, it's said to be childlike; when adults promulgate in that vein, and think to rely upon the fruits of such negotiations, they're said to have involved themselves in a mere childishness, . . .

    • muchiboy

      "in private they are intensely anti Jewish. no matter how nice they are to Muslims the Muslims still see a target on EVERY Jewish back."

      We are the human family.We are all extended family including Palestinians and Jews.
      There are random and not so random acts of violence.We know them too well.We must never forget the random and not so random acts of kindness.One such act follows.Only the cynical and jaded man could qualify such an act.Muchiboy
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HtSjSMALfHI

      • MixMChess
        • muchiboy

          " http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOPfia8Dx5k&fe

          I would expect nothing less, MixMChess from Israelis or Jews.This type of behavior should be the default behavior of our human family.

          As it should be amongst our extended family,MixMChest.We should all promise not to dehumanize,not to demonize another group or people. Easier said then done,I know.Muchiboy

      • ziontruth

        Didn't you say you were giving up posting on FP? Can't shake off the anti-Israel addiction, huh?

        "We are the human family."

        More classical Marxist platitudes from the one who claims he's no Marxist. "We are Citizens of the World, united in Kommon Humanity." Progressivist, Communist, Utopian drivel!

        My largest family is the Jewish nation. People of other nations are members of their own families and that's how it should be. People really ought to take care only of their own. "Every man under his vine" is the ideal picture of humanity in the Bible. To care about the entire world, to see all humanity as your brothers and sisters, is contrary to human nature. It's unrealistic and leads to disaster when people try it.

        • muchiboy

          "Didn't you say you were giving up posting on FP?"

          I am weaning myself off FP,like any bad addiction,MixMChess.I thought the extraordinarily good deed shown in "Heart of Jenin" was worthy of sharing,especially given the irrational and unhealthy opinions endemic on FP and I assume elsewhere.I do not think I will argue my political views here again,rather wade in now and again on a more human(e) basis.And there is something to be said for keeping your enemies close(r).I do like the beginning stanza of Desiderata:

          "Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
          and remember what peace there may be in silence.
          As far as possible without surrender
          be on good terms with all persons.
          Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
          and listen to others,
          even the dull and the ignorant;
          they too have their story.

          Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
          they are vexations to the spirit."

          "to see all humanity as your brothers and sisters, is contrary to human nature. It's unrealistic and leads to disaster when people try it."

          Really,MixMChess?And the converse philosophy has been any more successful?If you don't see humanity as your brothers and sisters,maybe seeing them as your extended family is less threatening.Shalom,Brother.Muchiboy

          • MixMChess

            Is there a reason why you are addressing me when responding to Ziontruth's comment?

          • muchiboy

            "Is there a reason why you are addressing me when responding to Ziontruth's comment?"

            Too much sun and/or alcohol.I shouldn't type under the influence.Sorry,MixMChess.Muchiboy

          • ziontruth

            I take it that "converse philosophy" means nationalism-based imperialisms like Nazism. They only prove my point. Multiculturalists often say, "The Nazis too thought every nation had the right to decide on the ethnic composition of their state," but this is not true: the Nazis didn't want to determine the ethnic composition of merely the German state, the wanted to do so for the ENTIRE WORLD. That's imperialism. The problem is imperialism. Imperialism, and not nationalism per se. And imperialism can be based on other doctrines than nationalism: on class-warfare doctrine like Marxism, or on religious doctrine like Islam.

            Proper nationalism, free of imperialism–nationalism of the form that has every nation live in well-defined borders, every state in the role of the nation's castle–is a source of both liberty and security. Imperialism is the detriment of liberty and security. I'm a staunch nationalist, and I oppose imperialism no matter what form it takes: Nazism, Marxism or Islam. In the long run, my "parochial" view is much better for humanity as a whole than ostensibly altruistic internationalism.

          • muchiboy

            Firstly,while a strong case for linking Zionism and colonialism can be and has been made by myself and others,including on FP,there are links to imperialism ,Zionism and Israel that need be examined.

            "The primary goal of Zionist foreign policy was achieved on November 2, 1917, when the British Government made public the Balfour Declaration, recognizing the right of the Zionists to establish a Jewish “homeland” in Palestine and making a vague promise of support. It is evident, even at this early stage, that die pro-imperialist orientation of Zionist foreign policy was inherent in its aims, since Zionism could not possibly begin to carry out its plan if the ruler of Palestine did not approve. It was this internal logic that drove Zionism into the imperialist camp. It simply had no choice."
            http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/mid

            "Consider the U.S. reaction to Israel's conquest of the Sinai in 1956 and in 1967. In 1956, the U.S. strongly opposed that action. Eisenhower and Dulles were quite forthright and outspoken about it a few days before the presidential election, allegedly a time when political considerations are paramount. Political considerations aside, the U.S. openly compelled Israel to withdraw from the Sinai, not caring about its impact in the presidential election. In contrast, the U.S. supported Israel's conquest of the Sinai in 1967 and has been backing it since that time.

            What was the difference between 1956 and 1967? In 1956, Israel was allied with France and England who were trying to reestablish some position of significance in the Middle East, believing still they had some role to play in regulating the affairs of the region. Since Israel was collaborating with rivals of the U.S. in the region, the conquest became illegitimate.

            In 1967, Israel was closely allied to the U.S. directly. As a result, the conquest was quite legitimate. U.S. government support of Israel is more or less in accord with the American perception of Israel's strength. The stronger Israel becomes, the more it is able to assist the U.S. in maintaining control of the region, so the more the U.S. will support it. Though the pretense has always been that we're supporting Israel because it is in danger, the opposite would be a much more accurate statement. American support for Israel is contingent upon its strength and ability to aid in maintaining American domination of the Middle East."
            http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/197703–.htm

            Today,there are clear advantages as well as trends and movements towards regional political and economic communities e.g. the EU.Likely,in time,as demographics change within Israel (already with an increased Arab birthrate) Israel itself will change.Hopefully as the region becomes less hostile and the states more integrated a community will develop where economic and other links promote or force useful and beneficial changes for one and all.For the sake of the children one can only hope,Ziontruth.Muchiboy

          • MixMChess

            As I have previously proven, Zionism isn't comparable to colonialism even at the most basic level. Nor is Zionism comparable to Imperialism…

            "It was this internal logic that drove Zionism into the imperialist camp."

            Try actually reading the Balfour Declaration, it refers to "the historical connections of the Jewish people with Palestine" and to the "moral validity" of "RECONSTITUTING their National Home in that country." The term "reconstituting" is key, in that it "shows recognition of the fact that Palestine had been the Jews' home."

            Additionally, how can imperialism exist when the Jews PURCHASED lands (despite owning them historically) that were used to build the state of Israel?

            "Israel was allied with France and England who were trying to reestablish some position of significance in the Middle East, believing still they had some role to play in regulating the affairs of the region."

            As usual, this is just Chomsky rubbish… The Suez affair had nothing to do with Israel trying to "regulate" or establish "dominance" in the region. Egypt had instituted a blockade of the Suez Canal and Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping. Additionally, Egypt trained and equipped the "fedayeen" to engage in "hostile" cross-border terrorism by infiltrating Israel "to commit acts of sabotage and murder." This prompted Israel, with backing of Britain and France, to attack Egypt in 1956.

            "In 1967, Israel was closely allied to the U.S. directly. As a result, the conquest was quite legitimate. "

            More Chomsky nonsense. Israel was not closely allied with the US in 1967. The US position in the 1967 war was NEUTRALITY. The US (as did France) imposed an arms embargo on the ENTIRE REGION (including Israel). Interestingly, "the Soviets were supplying massive amounts of arms to the Arabs." According to Chomsky its only OK for Marxists to instigate war and get involved in the foreign affairs of other regions.

            Ron, you need to seriously try thinking for yourself for once, not that it will get you much further but at least you won't be peddling Chomsky/Marxist nonsense.

          • muchiboy

            "Ron, you need to seriously try thinking for yourself for once, not that it will get you much further but at least you won't be peddling Chomsky/Marxist nonsense. "

            Years ago this very same "Chomsky/Marxist nonsense" you speak of wouldn't have been available to us,MixMChess,unless we were/are scholars.The internet,and Google too,increase our access to such information,good or bad,for good or bad.True, we need be more vigilant with such masses of readily available knowledge but to ignore it all together would be foolish.
            The trick is to know how to access the information and then apply good rules in using it.I try,MixMChess.And I am not always responsible for the outcomes or conclusions,favorable or not.Furthermore ,I don't have a problem with the sources i.e.Chomsky/Marxist but am open to revisiting them upon good reason.Shalom,MixMChess.Muchiboy.

          • ziontruth

            By definition, Zionism cannot be classed as imperialism, because it is an indigenous people's movement to reclaim its land (the Jews are the indigenous people of Palestine).

            By definition, any Arab opposition to Zionism does constitute imperialism, because it wishes to obstruct the rightful actions of the aforementioned indigenous people, and because it wishes to maintain Arab hegemony over lands to which the Arab nation is not indigenous. The Arab nation is indigenous to the Arabian peninsula, therefore any demands the Arab nation has of lands outside the Arabian peninsula constitute imperialism and are therefore illegitimate.

            (Again, preempting the counter-attack: the "Palestinians" are not a real nation, they are only the marketing front-end of Arab/Islamic imperialism to their useful idiot allies in the Western world; some samples of whom can be seen posting right here on this blog.)

          • muchiboy

            "By definition, Zionism cannot be classed as imperialism,"

            Admittedly the charge of imperialism is a stretch,but I again refer you to the sources I quoted.

            "By definition, any Arab opposition to Zionism does constitute imperialism,"

            Even more of a stretch then the Chomsky/Marxist claims,Ziontruth.The tricks one can play with logic.!

            "the "Palestinians" are not a real nation"

            Lets agree to disagree on this one,Ziontruth.

            Again,your arguments all have merit and are not readily dismissed.They are the stuff of good and fruitful debate.However,I am trying to stay true to my earlier commitment to refrain from debating such contentious issues to the point of insult.And it's been a long and busy day at the prison.Muchiboy

        • muchiboy

          "More classical Marxist platitudes from the one who claims he's no Marxist. "We are Citizens of the World, united in Kommon Humanity." Progressivist, Communist, Utopian drivel! "

          If it weren't for the perhaps unfortunate fact that Communism and Marxism don't work,they might be beautiful doctrines.Maybe man just isn't ready for such lofty and ideal concepts.Hey,maybe I am a Marxist at heart ! Muchiboy

  • http://www.soyoucantell.com Simon Wajcer

    Q. Where does J Street lead to? A. J Street merges with Himmelstrasse, in Treblinka, Poland. (Himmelstrasse/ Heaven Street, was the euphemistic name the Nazis and their Ukrainian collaborators gave to the short route the stripped naked, detrained Jews had to walk to their extermination.)

    It would be more than appropriate to its mission to rename J Street as Juden Strasse. That would strip it of its hip, leftist, rock bandish moniker and reveal its grinning death's head.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    Muslims in the White House, leftists swinging from every tree, anti-Jewish droids
    poping up everywhere, MSM destroying the free press with leftist activists in
    charge. Anti-American zelots being trained in all of America's Universities, death
    to Israel and death to America in full swing, doesn't look to good. As for me and my
    house we support Israel. America needs a war against the left, full prosecution and
    nothing less to regain true freedom……………………………..William

  • AL__
  • Olivepit3

    The Jews have their hands full. The Arabs would be easy to defeat, but the leftist attacks on Israel from every corner of the world is another thing.
    My thoughts: The Jewish populations of the world must remain united in their resolve to stand up for Israel. They must seek friends in the Christian community to stand firm against Arab hatred. They must be ready to use maximum force when necessary to defeat their adversary despite what the United Nations says–it is just a tool of the Organization of Islamic Countries anyway.