Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, January 2011
The Palestinian and Zionist Causes Through the Eyes of their Spokespersons
By Lawrence Davidson
Redress, Al-Jazeera, CCUN, January 3, 2011
However, it should never be forgotten that at ground level all of this is carried on by real people, each with their own interests, some more sane than others, but always flesh and blood folks. It is these individuals who are responsible and ought to be held accountable for how their struggles play out. There are, of course, far too many of them for us to know about. But those we can know as individuals, particularly the public advocates, we should pay serious attention to and consider them as representative of their causes – representative not only as spokespersons, but also as reflections of the causes themselves.
It is in this sense that I present below a brief description of three people, one protagonist and two antagonists. Each of them are unofficial spokespersons involved in the shaping of the West’s popular understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – one of the defining struggles of our time. This contest will help settle not only the fate of the Palestinians and the Israelis, but the future course of US and European relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds. In manner and nature of their arguments, these particular three can be seen as reflecting, for a Western audience, the collective character of their respective causes. They are among the "human faces" we are likely to encounter. Here they are:
Playgrounds for Palestine, an organization that arranges for the construction of playgrounds in Palestine and Lebanese refugee camps.is a resourceful, principled and talented Palestinian-American novelist. She is the daughter of Palestinian refugees of the 1967 war and spent her youth in Kuwait, Jordan and occupied East Jerusalem, finally settling in the United States. In 2001 she founded
In 2006 Ms Abulhawa published the novel The Scar of David, which has now been retitled Mornings in Jenin (Bloomsbury USA, 2010). As she describes it, this is a book of "historic fiction, where fictional characters live through real history". The work is impeccably researched and moved by a principled objection to all states and institutions that judge human worth by race, religion or other social constructions. It carries the reader through the horrors and sadness of loss and displacement due to just such enforced judgments. In the novel the Palestinians are the victims that grab our sympathy, but Israeli Jews are also recognizable sufferers. They are products of their historical suffering, which they tragically transfer on to Palestinians. In both cases, it is a novel about victims made real and human. The book has been well received worldwide and translated into a many languages. One can fairly say that this novel has become, for many in the West, the most accessible gateway to a conflict that, for all too long, could only be approached through biased newspaper reporting. Yet, due to Ms Abulhawa’s very success, her novel has predictably triggered the wrath of prominent supporters of Israel.
Alan Dershowitz was born in 1938 to an Orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York. According to Dershowitz, his father was a religious man who took from Jewish teaching the notion that one should "defend the underdog". This may have encouraged his son to become a successful defence attorney. This career choice seems also to fit Alan Dershowitz’s personality, which is pugnacious. Dershowitz is not just a practising lawyer. He also holds the Felix Frankfurter professorship of law at Harvard University where he has taught since 1964.
Alan Dershowitz is a strident defender of Israel. Indeed, more than any other issue, it is Israel that brings out the pugnacious side of Dershowitz’s personality. For instance, those who support Palestinian rights and resistance and/or the boycott of Israel, he automatically labels "anti-Semitic bigots who know nothing about the Middle East". In contrast, President Jimmy Carter once noted that Alan Dershowitz knows nothing about the plight of the Palestinians. Of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s assessment of the role of the Zionist lobby in the US, Dershowitz says their position is "one-sided" and these authors are themselves "liars" and "bigots". Letting his anger get the better of him when it comes to Israel, Dershowitz often employs the tactic of switching subjects. So if a defender of the Palestinians brings up Israeli human rights violations, Dershowitz wants to talk about Arab persecution of homosexuals. He is notorious for trying to shout down opponents and for making satirical asides to the audience. In other words, the famous and successful trial lawyer seems incapable of arguing calmly and objectively about a subject to which he is passionately attached, Israel. Here he has also obviously lost touch with his father’s advice about the defending the underdog.
Among the many folks who have brought out the pugnacious, name-calling side of Alan Dershowitz is Susan Abulhawa. On 16 October 2010 the two found themselves on the same stage at the Boston Book Fair. They were there to discuss their respective novels that deal with Palestine, for Mr Dershowitz has also written one entitled The Trials of Zion, which he tells us describes peace coming to the Holy Land only to be sabotaged by Muslim fanatics. Due to Dershowitz’s essential pugnacity, he proved incapable of sparing Ms Abulhawa, or the audience, the darker side of his nature. Because Mornings in Jenin depicts the Palestinians as having rights taken away from them by Zionist Jews, Deshowitz was soon labelling Abulahawa an "extremist" and her book a "barrier to peace".
is a French philosopher and journalist. He was born in 1948 to a wealthy family of colons in Algeria who are also Sephardic Jews. Levy grew up in France after his family left Algeria along with most of the pre-independence European community. One can surmise that Levy’s family background left him with a distaste for Arab society and a strong Euro-centric preference. This has translated into an equally strong support for Israel.
As is the case with Alan Dershowitz, the Israel that Levy supports is an idealized state that is hard to recognize if your are not a true believer in the Zionist paradigm. Thus, in his recent essay, "The Antisemitism to Come", Levy insists that Israel is "the sole democracy in the Middle East". What of Turkey and Lebanon? They are invisible to Levy. He goes on to assert that Israel is "the only state in the region where political differences can be solved by compromise". The fact that 20 per cent of Israel’s population (the non-Jewish part) has an historically demonstrated zero chance of a compromise settlement of its differences with the discriminatory policies of the state is, apparently, not part of Levy’s conception of things. Criticism of Israel based on these and other problems is interpreted by him as "the demonization of Israel". It must be so because, in Levy’s world, the problems do not exist and Israel’s leaders and Jewish population are open to "any and all concessions". Thus, the critics must be motivated by something other than genuine grievances. Their real motivation must be "the most irrational, the craziest and the most rabid of hatreds". Levy, and Dershowitz too, are good examples of the fact that intelligence in one sphere of life does not prevent the failure of intelligence in another.
And who does Levy include among the irrational and crazy haters of
Israel? Well, for one, he points to Susan Abulhawa and her novel, Mornings
in Jenin. For most reviewers Abulhawa’s novel is a
"unforgettable" story (The Independent UK 8 March 2010). For Levy it is
"a concentration of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish cliches masquerading as
fiction." Did he actually read the book? If he did, he was incapable of
getting past the fact that his heros were heros no longer. When it comes to
Israel there is really no debate for Levy and Dershowitz. There can be no
criticism, no censure, that is not essentially anti-Semitic. They can get
away with this sort of malignant reductionism because the balance of power
is presently on their side.
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