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Polakow-Suransky may have conducted interviews and pored over documents but he has little knowledge of the layered and convoluted history of the Holy Land. His regarding Israel as a colonial implant like South Africa is a willful distortion of its millennial history. His citing of the Zionist enterprise as involving the dispossession of an indigenous population pays no heed to the Jewish population already in place, dismisses the legal purchase of land, forgets about the vast influx of Arabs from the surrounding Arab nations who then, mirabile dictu, became “Palestinians,” misreads the 1948 War of Independence and Ben-Gurion’s stated intention to incorporate the Arab population as citizens of the new state, and seems to think that dispossession goes only one way.
He forgets the massacre and expulsion of the Jewish inhabitants of Hebron and skims right over the fact that Jewish East Jerusalemites were ethnically cleansed by an invading Jordanian army, just as the approximately one million Jews expelled from their homes in Arab countries do not impinge upon his consciousness. His wringing of hands over the “circumscribed existence for Palestinians” extenuates Palestinian suicide-bombings and terror attacks that left thousands of Israeli civilians dead or maimed and necessitated the construction of check-points and a separation barrier. This skewing of the larger context in which the beleaguered country finds itself can only be deliberate since the relevant information is abundantly available.
In dealing with these larger issues, Polakow-Suransky appears to have derived much of his material not from reputable sources but from Baylis Thomas’ aforementioned The Dark Side of Zionism, published a year earlier in 2009. Israel, for Thomas, is obviously the Darth Vader among nations. “The state of Israel,” he writes, “was achieved by means of a Zionist colonization of Palestine…that continues today on remaining Palestinian land.” From Thomas’s perspective, Israelis simply replaced the native population—a canard that has become widespread and reveals an insuperable ignorance of the history of the region. Thomas’ insertion of the word “replacement” into this part of the text without foundation is also an instance of standard interpellation at work, as is the guiding implication of “remaining Palestinian land.” All this is old stuff indeed, the usual anti-Israeli boilerplate we have become so accustomed to, which Polakow-Suransky, Thomas and many others do not scruple to recycle.
Polakow-Suransky is certain that Israel has suffered “moral decay,” betrayed “its founding ideals” and unforgivably “abandoned socialist Zionist principles” (italics mine). This latter accusation informs us about what side of the political spectrum the author hails from—he is, incidentally, an editor at the left-leaning Foreign Affairs Magazine—and why the writ he has composed should itself be stigmatized as emitting an haut goût of “moral decay.” He is not just another leftist junkie high on socialist crack, but part of a left-wing fifth column that has given up on the West’s most imperiled outpost. It is as if every tap on the keyboard is meant to drive another nail into Israel’s coffin. Naturally, he will affect a profound and sympathetic concern over Israel’s problematic future, which is the ostensible reason he embarked upon his project. The underlying dynamic of the book suggests otherwise. Both lack of context and a surreptitious subtext impact negatively upon the actual text so that one is tempted to set the entire performance in scare quotes.
This particular stance or attitude is maintained throughout, sometimes overtly but mostly covertly, until the author reaches his concluding pages in which he condemns Israel for its “use of devastating force against seemingly powerless civilians, most recently during the Gaza offensive of January 2009.” The “seemingly” doesn’t go far enough to acquit the author of partisanship—it is only an artful hedge against the possible embarrassment of truth. What is “offensive” is not Israel’s incursion into Gaza after many years of ceaseless and indiscriminate rocket attacks against its own civilians by Hamas operatives, but Polakow-Suransky’s erasure of all explanatory context, his obliviousness of Hamas and its genocidal Charter (Hamas is not even mentioned in the book’s Index), his winking at terror, his indifference to 7000 missiles exploding on Israeli soil since the Gaza disengagement, and his implicit endorsement of anti-Israeli bigots like Naomi Klein and Richard Goldstone who deliberately misrepresent the facts and fault the Jewish state for the temerity of existing.
Ah, but if Israel would only reconsider, “heed the criticism of friends”—where have we heard this before?—and “reinvent its foreign policy,” its image would be enhanced “in the eyes of the old left that once supported it.” The trouble is, the old left, like the new left, is precisely what weakens Israel’s unity, vigor and coherence in the face of its vastly more numerous and implacable “neighbors.” “We are tired of winning,” said former prime minister Ehud Olmert, one of the author’s heroes. But the left is never tired of appeasing determined belligerents and of twisting or leaving out facts to advance its agenda.
It doesn’t stop there. Polakow-Suransky’s proclaimed fear that Israel is in mortal danger of becoming “an apartheid social order in which a Jewish minority rules over millions of disenfranchised Palestinians” is the most arrant farrago of nonsense imaginable. Note once again the sly use of interpellation smuggled in to orient the reader in a preconceived direction. “Disenfranchised” is a groundless hypothesis presented as an actual state of affairs. Israel’s Arab citizens are not “disenfranchised”; they have the vote, send members to the Knesset and the Cabinet, profit from social security and educational opportunities, and more often than not receive favorable decisions from the Israeli Supreme Court. The word “disenfranchised” sneaks right by and lodges in the reader’s mind as a given. A false assumption is suddenly transformed into an unquestioned datum and the interpellation is permitted to stand as an “unspoken alliance” between author and reader.
Moreover, Polakow-Suransky is dead wrong about the state of current diplomatic transactions. Negotiations toward a two-state solution have long been accepted by Israel under successive administrations but constantly frustrated by an intractable and rejectionist Palestinian leadership and by the rather indigestible fact that Hamas-ruled Gaza deliberately remains outside the process, guaranteeing its failure. Additionally, Israeli Arabs number around 20% of the census and Israel has no desire to absorb the millions of Arabs in the West Bank. Thus there is no likelihood of the Palestinians “nearing an absolute majority,” as Polakow-Suransky disingenuously asserts as a warning to Israel to get its act together. Another blatant factoid. Israel may have more to worry about from its hugely fecund, economically unproductive and poorly educated ultra-Orthodox Haredi community draining the public treasury and averse to military service, but this is not a prospect that lubricates the anti-Israeli propaganda mill.
And so the argument proceeds. Interpellation supplemented by elimination of context and suppression of detail is how the textual campaign against the Jewish state works best since it operates via stealth infiltration—although this does not rule out crude slander and outright lying. (See flotilla.) It also seems evident that the pretext of ensuring Israel’s future is only the prelude to its wished-for disappearance. Whatever genuine facts are adduced are sandwiched between interpellation and misrepresentation. And whatever truths may be mustered in the pursuit of an ideologically contaminated message, the bigger picture is made to conform to an antecedent prejudice: the Israel that is must be reinvented as the Israel its enemies want it to be.
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