A Gingerly Step Middle-East-Wards
Posted by Stephen Lewis on January 27, 2009
Ever since the start of Israel’s heavy-handed military incursion into Gaza, I’ve debated writing on the subject. At first, I considered it beyond the purview of this weblog and that of my alter-ego site Bubkes.Org — and also a Pandora’s box that, in the face of my other interests and commitments, I did not want to open — but after a few weeks of agonizing I realize it is not. And by “it,” I mean both the sobering effects and consequences of Israel’s indiscriminate, and possibly cynically timed, unleashing of weaponry and the excuse this has given to disturbing numbers of people in Europe and the Muslim world (I am writing this from Istanbul) to turn anew to that venerable but always toxic “socialism of fools” … antisemitism.
Whatever I write on the Middle East crisis will certainly not provide definitive insights or explanations but will only point to alternative viewpoints. But, what I write about antisemitism will reflect my years of study on its origins, manifestations, and relation to the identities of most modern nation states, as well as my unavoidable lifelong commitment to go to the front line in fighting against it.
I’ll begin with this coincidence: The other morning, Anu Garg’s excellent A.Word.A.Day mailing contained this timely quote from George Orwell:
“The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”
Part two of the coincidence is that just the night before I had begun to read a slim volume of reprints of essays by Orwell published by Penguin as part of its “Great Ideas” series under the title “Why I Write.” The cover of the volume contains this quote from the Orwell:
“Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
The third part of the coincidence is that around the same time I came across an article introducing the book version of Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman’s award-winning animated documentary “Waltz With Bashir,” a memoir of his repressed memories of his military service during the Israeli incursion into Lebanon during the early-1980s. The article is on the weblog Tom Dispatch, which this past Saturday ran a long excerpt from Folman’s book and which will run a second excerpt next week. Folman’s work and the struggle it embodies suggests even to this cynical writer that there are still Israelis who passionately seek to break through the all too frequently truthful failings described by Orwell’s quotes. Other recent pieces on Folman’s film and its relevance to present events include this article and this interview, both on Salon.Com.
For iconoclastic, ethically-driven, and analytic takes on Israel and the Middle East, I recommend Gershom Gorenberg’s and Haim Watzman’s “Progressive, Skeptical Blog on Israel, Judaism, Culture, Politics, and Literature” South Jerusalem. Also recommended: the writings of Haaretz writer Amira Hass, not least this recent piece and this.
More on this subject from time to time over the next couple of weeks.