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'High-minded culture' is now rife with antisemitism

High-minded well-known literary types have the chattering classes in thrall with Jew hatred which has, octopus-like, permeated every nook and cranny of what was formerly considered “high” culture.

by Phyllis Chesler 

Scene fron Gentleman's Agreement (1947)

People say that it is usually calm before a storm but I feel uneasy, unbalanced, uprooted, and set adrift in a dangerously familiar sea.

An American rabbi put it this way: “I never thought it could happen here. The Pittsburgh shooting made me angry. The San Diego shooting made me afraid.”

Wherever I turn, Israel and the Jews are being falsely accused, defamed, and attacked. Some of us cover the campuses, others cover the media, the internet, national and international politics, the Islamic world, and increasingly, the local attacks on American Jews who are visibly Jewish.

Tragically, those American Jews who are not, have not sprung to the defense of the haredi Jews who are being thrown to the ground and pummeled by young men, usually men of color; or shot down on the Sabbath while at prayer by white supremacists.

As for myself? I cover what high-minded literary types as well as feminists have to say. Doing so never fails to break my heart or strengthen my resolve. Jew hatred has, octopus-like, permeated every nook and cranny of what was formerly considered “high” culture.

The London Review of Books (LRB) and the New York Review of Books (NYRB) almost always have at least one anti-Israel/pro-Palestine piece. Here’s something by Adam Shatz in the May 9, 2019 edition of the high-toned LRB. Shatz is a contributing editor to the LRB, a contributor to the New York Times and the New Yorker, and the former literary critic of The Nation. Titled “Trump’s America, Netanyahu’s Israel” Shatz opens with this:

"Israel’s legislative elections on 9 April were a tribute to Binyamin Netanyahu’s transformation of the political landscape. At no point were they discussed in terms of which candidates might be persuaded by (non-existent) American pressure, or the ‘international community’, to end the occupation. This time the question was which party leader could be trusted by Israeli Jews – Palestinian citizens of Israel are now officially second-class – to manage the occupation, and to expedite the various tasks the Jewish state has mastered: killing Gazans, bulldozing homes, combating the scourge of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS), and conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism. With his promise to annex the West Bank, Netanyahu had won even before the election was held. It wasn’t simply Trump’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights that sped the incumbent on his way; it was the nature of the conversation – and the fact that the leader of the opposition was Benny Gantz, the IDF commander who presided over the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, in which more than two thousand Gazans were killed."

Almost every point is a lie. For example, “killing Gazans” should read: “fighting back in self-defense against thousands of rocket attacks launched by Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists.” 

The rest of Shatz’s piece is largely not factual, lacks context, has little historical memory, and is, quite simply, vicious. Here he is in the same piece on anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism:

“Is there an antisemitism of the left? Certainly. Antisemitism, like anti-black racism, is a virus in Western society. But it is one thing to acknowledge its existence in movements that want to see an end to Israel’s occupation – which tend to be left-leaning – and another to claim that it is their defining feature. Israel has recast antisemitism in such a self-serving way that it has become difficult to distinguish between those who take Israel to task as a Jewish state, and those who criticise it as a Jewish state: as an exclusionary ethnocracy and an occupying power."

Israel is not an “exclusionary ethnocracy” or an “occupying power.” There are far better ways of describing the situation, the “matzav.” in Hebrw. Hamas-controlled Gaza is an “exclusionary ethnocracy” as well as a barbaric tyranny. You won’t hear that from Shatz.

A 2019 April issue of the New York Review of Books has a review of “Palestine: A Four Thousand Year History” by Nur Masalha. Titled “The Many Lives of Palestine,” the reviewer, G.W. Bowersock, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton, damns the Balfour Declaration, insists on the absolutely false statement that an “ancient Palestine” once existed and that it “embraced some of the old territory of the Phoenicians.” Bowersock faults Masalha for not focusing more on the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, “the truly great poet of the Palestinian people...(and from whose poetry) one learns what it meant, and still means, to be a Palestinian with cultural roots that reach far back in time.”

Bowersock condemns the “appropriation of Arabic place names after 1948” (actually mostly biblical) and finally praises Masalha for “striving to keep alight the flame of Palestinian culture that despite every attempt to snuff it out, still burns brightly in the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish and in the world he never left behind.”

My point: These boldly biased reviewers are both Mandarins, and are the gate-keepers of High Culture. Although that Culture now traffics in gutter “tropes,” the professional chattering classes remain in their thrall.

First published in Israel National News

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