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Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
by Reza Aslan
Edition: Hardcover
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28 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No new thing under the sun., July 23, 2013
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Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Reza Aslan is a vividly written book. Not burdened by tedious polemics or by too many lengthy quotes from Greek, Aramaic or Hebrew sources, the book is an easy reading on par with a well researched historical novel. It has the potential to kindle the imagination of the reader interested in the story of the `real Jesus'.

The book is less of a godsend for a reader who expected an original research about Jesus `the Zealot'. The argument itself is not new. But it could have been further enriched if Reza Aslan would provide wider background on Zealots - the Liberation Movement going back to the times of Maccabees.
It is understood and accepted that Reza Aslan had no choice but to rely on others to read Aramaic and Hebrew sources. However, there is no excuse in converting the Aramaic Yeshu bar Mariam into ridiculously sounding English Jesus bar Mary spoiling the authenticity of the story. It is unacceptable to bring forward the ancient canard of Yehoshua ben Panthera without explaining that it was maliciously corrupted Greek expression Yisus yos Parthenos, or Jesus son of a Virgin.

Author provides an impressive list of sources which he used in his twenty years long research. But the list doesn't include the Talmuds (both Talmuds, Bavli and Yerushalmi, were translated into English) - an important research source about Zealots. Such research is indescribably more complicated but it was done in the past.

Here is the list of books where the reader could find much more about the `real Jesus'. The books are rare, but worth the effort of getting them:

a) "Jesus of Nazareth. His life, Times and Teaching" by Joseph Klausner of Hebrew Univeristy. The book was written in 1922 and is, in my opinion, among the most comprehensive books about the 'real Jesus'.

b) "The Trial and Death of Jesus" by Chief Justice of Israel Haim Cohn. It was first presented in 1967 in Hebrew University as series of lectures. Deeply proficient in Jewish and Roman Law, Chef Justice Cohn presented the legal aspects of the Jesus story as described in Gospels and explained how tragically incorrect were the conclusions drawn by the Church.

c) Josephus Trilogy by Lion Feuchtwanger. Three historical novels about the life of Josephus Flavius.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 14, 2014 7:57 PM PDT


One Hundred Philistine Foreskins: A Novel
One Hundred Philistine Foreskins: A Novel
by Tova Reich
Edition: Hardcover
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Queen Messiah of Tova Reich., May 7, 2013
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The provocative title of the book One Hundred Philistine Foreskins, by Tova Reich, matches perfectly the content which could be funny and sad at the same time. The book is a merciless feminist satire on the modern Jewish Ultra-Orthodox community and the place of the woman in that society. It is written in a form of phantasmagoric tale of the Queen Messiah, whose tragic persona emanates from the pages of the book one farcical story after another, culminating in the dramatic splendor of death and hope of eventual return.

Formerly Tema Bavli from BoroPark, Brooklyn, the renown guru Ima Temima Ba'alat Ov (Hebrew for Innocent Mother, Mistress of Spirits) and her friends, the chief priestess Aish Zarah (Essie Pappaport) and her prophetess and scribe Kol Isha Erva (Shira Silver, the Julliard dropout from Queens) establish a Hasidic female cult in a defunct `leper colony' in Jerusalem. Witty and amusing, the tale of Ima Temima leads to the real story - the tempestuous lives of Tema and her groupies Essie, Shira and other girls from different Hasidic communities of Brooklyn.
A child prodigy, Tema suffers her first loss at age eleven. Her mother commits suicide upon learning that Tema's father, the kosher butcher, was raping Tema. Life is not getting better for her. After marrying a simpleton, Howie Stern from Queens, Tema settles with him in the Jewish quarter of Hebron, to leave Howie seven pregnancies and five miscarriages later. She ends up in a `post-rabbinical' Bnei Elohim (Children of God) compound in Judean Desert, as one of many wives and concubines of a virile black guru Abba Kadosh (Holy Father, formerly Elmore Clinton from Selma, Alabama). The guru restores Tema's peace of mind and rewards her with another child- a black girl named Zippi, who grew up to become a skillful mohel- circumciser. It is in the Bnei Elohim compound, were Tema reinvents herself as a healer Ima Temima. She travels all over Israel to perform Taharah (purification of the body for burial) for abandoned women, demonstrating so much loving kindness that the purified bodies of the deceased are rumored to raise voices of thanks to Ima Temima earning her accusations in witchcraft and a punishment by Fiery Lashes (Pulsa d'Nura)- kabbalistic ceremony performed against the sinner. Her fame grows and so does the number of her followers. She establishes Temima synagogue in Bucharim quarter of Jerusalem. Feeling `the end of life squeezing her', she decides to make her last move and leads her entire congregation to the abandoned `leper colony'. Then, all hell breaks loose and the action starts.

The book One Hundred Philistine Foreskins is rich in episodes of such wit, depth and power, that Nora Ephron's `talking vaginas' would have to respectfully fall silent and let Tova Reich speak. Sholem Aleichem would be proud of her. Even Mikhail Bulgakov would tip his hat to her in respect for witticisms, like: "For the messiah, death is not an option," or "The chosen has no choice". The narrative turns easily from harsh satire to harrowing, seven pages long description of child birth, followed by the scenes of Tahara ceremony, all in high detail and of exceptional intensity, but never without a wink to the reader. The sentences are long (the longest one of 33 lines can be found on p.36), but put together well enough not to lose the track and forget the beginning.
Rich in biblical stories, excerpts from Talmudic rulings, Jewish folkloric sayings the book is saturated with transliterated Yiddish and Hebrew expressions, aphorisms and jokes. Real fun for Hebrew speakers, they might be confusing for the rest.

The tale ends in a powerful ode to the dream of messianic age to come. The dream has a feminist twist: "Should the messianic age ever truly arrive, there will be nothing in it for women, it is a male fantasy. But what if the messiah is a woman- a mother? Therein lies true salvation. It is for our mother we always cry out of the darkest night and deepest pain and always in the end our mother comes...she will never forsake us."
Impressed by the ode, it dawned on me that the real reason Tova Reich wrote her book was to proclaim the vision of Mother, the Queen Messiah, rather than to satirize the entire Hasidic community. But then what One Hundred Philistine Foreskins have to do with the Queen Messiah? I have no idea and would like to know what other readers might think.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 9, 2013 3:39 PM PDT


Vera Gran-The Accused
Vera Gran-The Accused
by Agata Tuszyńska
Edition: Hardcover
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The wages of survival., March 16, 2013
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This review is from: Vera Gran-The Accused (Hardcover)
Many remember The Pianist, Roman Polansky's Oscar-winning movie about the renowned Polish concert pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, who, against all odds, survived the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto. The movie was based on a book of the same name written by Szpilamn himself. The book, which is among the most moving memoires of survival in the Holocaust era, misses one captivating story from the Ghetto.

The story of a young singer Vera Gran, a rising star of Polish cabaret and Polish motion pictures, is a story of another survival which, however, didn't have such an emotionally uplifting end, as that of Szpilman's. Like the rest of the Warsaw Jews, Vera Gran and her family were moved to the Ghetto shortly after the beginning of Nazi occupation. But, unlike the most of Ghetto inhabitants, she was able to support herself singing in few remaining cafes of the Ghetto zone. Among them was a stint in cafe Sztuka were she was accompanied by Wladysalw Szpilman. A young, striking woman with a sexy low voice, Vera Gran attracted a lot of attention, evoked desires and aroused envy of her less fortunate neighbors. She would show herself off in furs long after furs disappeared from the streets of the Ghetto. She had enough food to run, as she later claimed, an orphanage at her apartment. But nobody seemed to remember that fact after the war. What was not forgotten, however, was that Vera Gran was invited to sing in parties thrown by members of the notorious "Group Thirteen", the Nazi collaborators also known as the Jewish Gestapo. Refusing to sing there meant deportation to Treblinka death camp with the next transport.
Eventually, with the help of her Polish husband, Vera Gran escaped from the Ghetto. The couple was hiding under adopted name in a Warsaw suburb till the Liberation. In 1945 she applied for work at the Polish Radio, where the newly appointed director of the Musical Department was non-other than Wladyslaw Szpilman, her accompanist from cafe Sztuka. He told Vera Gran, to her shock and dismay, that she can't work for the Radio because she is accused in collaboration with the Gestapo. She attempted to clear her name. The Citizen's Court of the Central Committee of Polish Jews heard the case and found her not guilty for lack of incriminating evidence. But the rumor mill didn't stop accusing her of collaboration. Not able to perform, she left Poland for Israel then moved to France, Venezuela, back to France. The rumors followed her wherever she went.

It has to be mentioned that "you-were-a collaborator-because-you-are-not-dead" syndrome lingered among the Holocaust survivors for many years after the War. Clearing one's name was a daunting task since the proofs were destroyed and witnesses were often dead. The book Vera Gran-The Accused by Polish journalist, poet and biographer Agata Tuszynska doesn't try to find answers and resolve the tragedy of the `fallen' star. The author had befriended Vera Gran and spent a lot of time in her company interviewing her about the past and present life, reading her letters and documents. The result is a portrait of an interesting and talented person whose spectacular carrier was destroyed by perhaps not so groundless accusations. The book is also a story of the bygone era of survivors, heroes, collaborators trying to rebuild their lives after the War. Agata Tuszynska calls The Accused - the book of memory. Indeed, the book raises profound questions on the value and reliability of human memory poisoned by hostile public opinion and years of undying gossip. The story of Vera Gran evokes feelings of sadness, and brings up more questions. Why, for instance, Maurice Chevalier was forgiven, but Vera Gran remained accused for life. Chevalier performed at request of the Nazis, while his life was never in danger. Vera Gran, by performing for collaborators, was saving her life. What would one do in the similar situation? What would it take to refuse collaboration in the name of survival? Is one's survival worth collaboration with the enemy?

The Accused will inevitably compel the reader to grapple with those disturbing questions making the reading of that book worth every moment spent on it.


The Invention of the Land of Israel: From Holy Land to Homeland
The Invention of the Land of Israel: From Holy Land to Homeland
by Shlomo Sand
Edition: Hardcover
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13 of 43 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Second invention of Professor Sand., February 1, 2013
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The book The Invention of The Land of Israel, by Professor Shlomo Sand, as well as his previous book The Invention of Jewish People, published three years ago, has a goal "...to deconstruct the concept of Jewish `historical right' to the Land of Israel and its associated nationalist narratives whose only purpose was to establish moral legitimacy for appropriation of territory..."

In the first book Professor Sand argued that the Jewish People is a theological concept, not a nation. In the second book he argued that the Land of Israel is a Talmudic term, which was "...converted and refined into a geonational concept..." by Zionist linguistic engineering. The Zionist claim of "historical right" on Palestine was immoral and illegal.

It takes a lot of chutzpah and a strong motivation to claim that the Jewish People don't exist. A Marxist, educated in Israel and in Europe, Professor Sand has both attributes. He believes in old Marxian dogma, which denies the Jewish people-hood. He has adopted the mentality of contempt, which the classic European culture holds toward the Jewish Tradition. A sad illustration to such a contempt was a guest appearance of Professor Sand on the Frontline show (see YouTube), where he called Israel a `child of rape, who turned into Rosemary's baby'.

No wonder, that in taking on the Jewish history, Professor Sand didn't hesitate to use amazingly offensive arguments and contrived theses like the one were Professor Sand claims that the `Jews of Diaspora never had an interest in returning to the Land of Israel.' He writes "... during millennium between the end of Bar Kokhba revolt in135 CE ..., and the Crusaders' conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 we know of no attempts by the followers of rabbinical Judaism to make pilgrimages to the holy city." Later he adds: "... all comparisons between numbers of Christian and Jewish pilgrims reflect that Jewish trips to the Holy Land were a drop in the ocean. We know of approximately thirty texts that provide accounts of Jewish pilgrimage during the seventeen hundred years between 135CE and the mid-nineteen century. By contrast, for the fifteen hundred years between 333CE and 1878 we have some 3500 reports of Christian pilgrimages to the holy Land..."

Instead of scoffing at the fact that only thirty texts survived, Professor Sand should have investigated how many Jewish communities perished and their communal records destroyed in endless devastations starting from the Visigothic kingdoms of Spain in 5th century and ending with the Holocaust in Europe in 20th century.
Plenty of texts survived in the communities which escaped destruction. The famous Cairo genizah (repository of documents and sacred books) had many reports and letters of Jews who traveled to the Land of Israel. The story of Cairo genizah is not mentioned in the book. And what about the proto-Zionist movement of Sabbetai Zevi who in 17th century, by declaring himself a messiah, aroused Jewish hopes of miraculous return to Zion. The tragically failed Sabbatean exodus gets barely one third of a page, while whole chapters of the book have been dedicated to absurd theses of 'the exile than never happened', or of the `Puritanism, as a precursor of modern Zionism'.

Another offensive thesis is the one which disputes the Jewish historical right to the Land of Israel, because chronologically that name appears for the first time in the gospel of Mathew (see Mat. 2:21, 22), not in the Jewish scriptures. That led some researchers to believe that that the term Land of Israel is a Christian idea. Professor Sand picks up the `helpful' opinion, and, using his casuistry, attempts to build an argument invalidating Jewish rights on the Land, as if adopting a Christian idea by Jews would make it wrong.

Luckily, the Early Church sources clarified the situation. Thus, Eusebius of Caesarea, the first historian of the Church, quoting the theologian Origen, writes that "Matthew published a written gospel for the Hebrews in their own tongue." It makes sense to assume that using the name Land of Israel, in preaching to Jewish audience, was natural, both, for Mattew and for his contemporary audience, which was one of the sects in the Land of Israel. That name, therefore, was not 'invented' at much later date, as Professor Sand opinionates, but was in use by the people who lived there before the Judean Revolt of 66-73 CE.

The book The Invention of The Land of Israel ends with an elegy "In Memory of the Village" of Sheikh Munis. Professor Sand writes:
"...remembering and acknowledging victims that we ourselves create is much more effective in bringing about human reconciliation and the living of an ethical life than incessantly recalling that we are the descendants of people who were once victimized by others..."

It should have been obvious to Professor Sand that the uprooted villagers, dragged into the 1948 conflict by their leadership, were not just victims. They were, first and foremost, participants in the war, which has no end in sight. To this very day the stateless grandchildren of Palestinian villagers, who anguish in the UN administered refugee ghettos of the Arab world, are conditioned by Palestinian leadership as cannon fodder for the `liberation of Palestine.' The 1948 Independence War was not waged by the poorly armed Yishuv (Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine) against powerless Arab villagers, but was a war of the Arab World against the Yishuv. Admitting the guilt and compensating the descendants would not suffice to bring peace to Israel and to Palestininas. Admission of guilt and recognition of suffering must be mutual.

The village of Sheikh Munis (see the map of Tel Aviv University) is not forgotten by Israelis. Articles in newspapers and demonstrations in memory of the village take place there from time to time. The Palestinian community in Israel grew from 150000 Arab villagers, who didn't flee in 1947-1948, to a 2 million-strong population. The village of Jaljulia, where many of Sheih Munis villagers fled, grew into a town. Al Bahr Mosque in Jaffa was never closed. The mosque Hassan Beck, located less than hundred yards from the Tel Aviv Dolphinarium discotheque (the scene of the 2001 suicide bombing that killed 22 teenagers and wounded 132) was rebuilt several years ago. Despite (sometimes justified) complaints of discrimination, the Israeli Palestinians left far behind economically not only the stateless Palestinians of the Arab world, but most of the Arab countries. Failure of Professor Sand to mention the obvious facts is annoying, but not surprising, since, despite the numerous references and quotes, the book The Invention of The Land of Israel belongs to the domain of anti-Zionist propaganda literature rather than to a conscientious historical research.
Comment Comments (9) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 28, 2014 8:31 AM PST


The Crisis of Zionism
The Crisis of Zionism
by Peter Beinart
Edition: Hardcover
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40 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Open Letter to Peter Beinart, March 28, 2012
This review is from: The Crisis of Zionism (Hardcover)
Preparing to write my review of Crisis of Zionism, I saw the Open Letter to Peter Beinart by Carlo Strenger (Haaretz of 03/28/12). While I am not in complete agreement with the Letter (I am not too fond of Israeli lefties), my own assessment of the situation is fairly similar. My writing skills, however, are not as nearly good as that of the experienced Israeli journalist. In firm desire to spare the patience of the reading public from my own dull writing, I propose the Open Letter by Carlo Strenger in hope that I am doing the right thing.

Open Letter to Peter Beinart: Boycotting the settlements will not save the two-state solution

We need to look at the situation as it is now: no Israeli politician will be able to retreat to the 1967 lines as long as Hamas will not radically change its views, and this is not likely to happen soon.
By Carlo Strenger

Dear Peter Beinart, I read your book The Crisis of Zionism with as much interest as I read your New York Review of Books Essay two years ago. Both struck a deep chord in me, because you and I share a set of basic values: ethical universalism and a firm belief that the lesson of Jewish history and Jewish suffering is that only an uncompromising defense of human rights for everybody, anywhere, can prevent the type of horrors that the Jewish people went through.
Furthermore I share your feeling that Obama is, as you say in the book, the first `Jewish' President. He reflects Jewish-progressive ethical universalism in his identity, his worldview and in his modus operandi. I also agree with you that the chasm between Obama and Netanyahu is not just about personalities: it is about two utterly different conceptions of history in general and Jewish history in particular. Obama believes in creating win-win situations; Netanyahu believes that only power will make the good (as he understands it) triumph over the bad - a worldview embodied for him in the way he (in the tradition of Jabotinsky and his own father, Benzion Netanyahu) conceives of the Arabs.
But pitching Obama against Netanyahu creates the wrong impression that the current situation is a showdown between two personalities, whereas it reflects the mindset of Israel's mainstream, including the moderate left. Most Israelis don't like the occupation. Two thirds of Israeli citizens would leave the West Bank tomorrow if they thought they would get peace in return. But the combination between the second intifada and the shelling of southern Israel has made Israelis unwilling to take further risks for peace. They think that Palestinians cannot be trusted to maintain the safety of Israel, particularly since Hamas continues to be officially committed to Israel's destruction.
As you very well know, unlike Netanyahu, I do not say this to justify Israel's occupation of the West Bank or the settlements. I think that the settlement project is Israel's historical catastrophe: it contradicts everything I stand for as a human being and as a Jew and it has shattered the liberal Zionist vision to which both you and I are committed.
Nevertheless, I think you make two mistakes. The first is that, even though you acknowledge the security implications of the second intifada in your book, you underestimate its impact and that of the shelling of southern Israel from the Gaza Strip on mainstream Israelis. In your interview with Chemi Shalev you compare the traumata of 9/11 and the second intifada. Israel's experience of the second intifada and the shelling of southern Israel from Gaza is very different from the American experience of 9/11. The latter was a terrible trauma and it shattered the American experience of invulnerability; but Americans never thought that the existence of their home country was in danger or felt that terror would become part of their daily lives. As opposed to this the second intifada and the shelling of southern Israel made Israelis question how Israel can survive in an environment that, at least in part, doesn't accept Israel's existence and keeps returning to violence.
Secondly you perpetuate the mistake that has led Israel's electorate to vote the peace-camp out of the Knesset. We used two arguments to push for a quick implementation of the two-state solution. The first was that Israel's ethical fiber was being harmed irrevocably by the occupation. The second was that the longer we wait, the lower chances of still finding a moderate Palestinian leadership willing to even talk about the two-state solution. Israel's electorate didn't buy our line - they said, "If moderate Palestinians are so weak, if we can get Hamas any time soon again, we would be crazy to take the risk of retreating to the 1967 borders. We'll worry about ethical ideals after security is guaranteed."
The reason for this is, as I have argued, Hamas. Some Israelis appreciate the tremendous work that Mahmoud Abbas and Salaam Fayyad have put into Palestinian state building. But they have a simple question: how can anybody guarantee that Hamas will not return to power, as it did in the Palestinian 2006 elections? And if Hamas takes power, how can anybody guarantee that rockets will not keep falling on Tel Aviv, Netanya and Ra'anana?
The truth is that nobody can guarantee this. And Israelis' fears that life will become impossible in Israel if it is attacked from within the 1967 borders are not paranoid, just pessimistic. So Israelis say: if the choice is between continuing the occupation for the time being and the possibility that Israel's population centers will be under fire, they choose the former. I think it is difficult to reject these concerns of mainstream Israelis as overblown. Let us not forget that even Olmert required long-term security arrangements that Mahmoud Abbas accepted.
The problem is that the settler movement has capitalized on these fears skillfully: in the shadow of the justifiable security concerns of Israelis, the settlement project has continued to grow, gradually making the two state solution impossible.
Netanyahu doesn't believe in a viable Palestinian state; and he is deftly manipulating public opinion by paying lip-service to the two state solution while doing everything to make it impossible in the long run.
Where does this leave us now? You have suggested both in the book and in your recent NYT op-ed, to boycott the settlements under title `boycott the settlements to save Israel's democracy'. I wonder whether you actually mean this as a move of realpolitik, or whether this is motivated by your need to justify towards your children that you did what you could to defend the liberal Zionist dream, as you told Chemi Shalev.
I think that such a boycott is no more than a symbolic expression of your - in itself justified - rejection of the settlement project. It will sharpen the debate within U.S. Jewry, but it will only embitter mainstream Israelis. They will say that it is easy for you to pitch lofty ideals against their security, and that they do not need U.S. Jews to take care of Israel's democracy, but of its security. So your move will neither have any real impact on Israeli policy, nor do anything to strengthen Israel's democracy.
This brings me to the final point of disagreement. You hope to save the two state solution. But I think you try to save spilt milk. You probably know the wisdom of every investment advisor. It is profoundly wrong to handle your investment portfolio reacting to previous losses. You need to look at it as if you were creating it now.
There is little use for us to decry the folly of Israel's policy of the last forty years. We need to look at the situation as it is now: no Israeli politician will be able to retreat to the 1967 lines as long as Hamas will not radically change its views, and this, researchers familiar with the movement tell me, is not likely to happen soon.
The problem is that the longer the status quo continues, the more impossible the two state solution will become. In fact, it may already be dead. Hence the real question for liberal Jews and gentile friends of Israel is where we need to aim now.
A year ago philosopher Sari Nusseibeh, a leading Palestinian peace activist for three decades, published a profoundly disturbing book entitled What is a Palestinian State Worth? Nusseibeh argues that on the basis of the Jewish traumatization by the holocaust and the Israeli traumas from the 1948 war to the second intifada it is not to be realistically expected that Israel will return to the 1967 borders and relinquish control over the Jordan valley. Nor, he says, will Israelis accept in the near future that the state will be bi-national.
In a profound philosophical meditation on the nature of the state, he argues that the founder of modern political philosophy, Thomas Hobbes, correctly described the most basic function of the state. It is to guarantee the safety and basic well being of its population. Nusseibeh claims that the expressive function of the state, i.e. national self-determination, is secondary.
He therefore calls upon his Palestinian compatriots to renounce the dream of a Palestinian state; and in no case should they return to armed resistance, because it will create terrible suffering for them. For the time being, he says, Palestinians should acquiesce with a status quo in which they will not have political rights. They should focus on improving on their human rights situation, quality of life and freedom of movement.
At first I rejected its argument completely, and I refused to accept his reasoning. I felt that the status quo must not continue. Like you I was appalled by the idea of caving in to the settler movement. It has taken me some time to realize the depth of its pessimistic realism and to come to the conclusion that Nusseibeh is probably right: Israelis will not take further risks for peace in the current constellation. All polls indicate that Netanyahu will gain a further term, and by the end of this term, the two state solution will be history.
I think we liberal Zionists need to accept Nousseibeh's advice, too. For the time being, in addition to safeguarding Israel's civic institutions, the most important thing is to make every effort for Palestinians to live in dignity. We must focus on demanding that Israel should retreat as far as possible from Palestinian population centers to minimize interference with their lives, and that ways be found to allow Palestinians to travel abroad without having to go through the humiliating procedures today.
Where will all this lead? I have argued against the one state solution time and again; both in the version of the greater Land of Israel propagated by Israel's right, and in the version advocated by many Palestinian intellectuals and activists and some Jewish intellectuals on the far left. I didn't see how such a state could conceivably function, and I thought the two state solution, imperfect as it is, was preferable to all alternatives. But history has moved on, and the two state solution is nothing but a mirage of the past.
We will have to think deeply and creatively about the future. Let me just give one pointer: I have argued a number of times that even within Israel's Jewish population there is at this point no consensus about fundamental questions, particularly on the relation between religion and state. It might well be that Israel will have to move towards a confederative structure to avoid growing tensions between ultra-orthodoxy, national-religious and secular Jews. If cantons or states (in the U.S. sense) will have growing autonomy, this might in the long run also provide Palestinians with the political self-determination they seek.
Carlo Strenger.

F.Brauer adds the following: Despite my sharp disagreement with Peter Beinart, I gave 5 stars to The Crisis of Zionism, since the book kindles the fires of continuously ongoing discussion in Israel and the Jewish communities of USA and the rest of the world.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 21, 2013 11:18 AM PDT


The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives
The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives
by Gilbert Achcar
Edition: Paperback
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6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Apogee of Absurdity, March 21, 2012
The book The Arabs and the Holocaust: Arab-Israeli War Narratives provides, according to its author Professor Gilbert Achcar, "...indispensable contextualization of Arab attitudes toward Jews and the Holocaust." Unfortunately the context Professor Achcar relies upon is made up of Marxist anti-colonialist ideology and the dispossession narrative developed by Palestinian activists-historians and sympathetic Israeli academics. The Zionist narrative is derided or dismissed resulting in a lopsided context which virtually guarantees a merciless anti-Israeli slant. That is not surprising since Professor Achcar belongs to the same Anarchist/Marxist blogosphere as his colleagues Professors Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappe and late Edward Said, the inventor of pseudo-theory of Orientalism.

Professor Achcar opens the book with a discussion of the Zionist "cooperation" with the Nazis. He reaches the apogee of absurdity when he alleges several Nazi "contributions" to creation of the State of Israel. One such "contribution" was creating the Jewish refugees, another- imbuing them with determination to fight. According to Achcar, the governments of the USA, USSR and the Europeans collaborated in the conspiracy by closing their borders to Jewish refugees, who were than lured by Zionists into Palestine in order to expel Arabs and create "arabenrein" Israel. Wow! With such arguments Professor Achcar might as well propose a new thesis of `National Socialism as a Zionist Conspiracy'.

Part I of the book, The Time of the Shoa, discusses the views of the Arab Nationalists, Marxists and Liberal Westernizers before WWII. The position of George Antonius, one of the Liberal Westernizers and an author of the influential-in-his-time book The Arab Awakening, is worthy of attention. He wrote in October 1938 that "...no room can be made in Palestine for a second nation except by dislodging or exterminating the nation in possession..." Actually Professor Achcar provides a different, and more benign, quote of Antonius to conceal the fact that even the most liberal and westernized Arab intellectuals did not call for acceptance and peaceful coexistence with the Jews. Indeed, the "dislodging" or even "extermination" was the grim spectre the Jewish population of Palestine was facing if defeated in 1948.
The rest of the Part I analyzes at length the ideology of Rashid Rida, Shakib Arslan, Hassan al-Banna - the precursors of modern Islamism. Of particular interest is the political biography of Haj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti of Jerusalem, whose leadership led the Palestinians into Nakba. Professor Achcar actually calls him "the architect of Nakba" - compromising his own thesis of Zionist conspiracy to dispossess Palestinian Arabs.

The second Part of the book, The Time of the Nakba, describes the development and transformations of the Palestinian Arab narrative after 1948. Here Professor Achcar prepares a new context - the myth of unarmed Palestinian victims facing the Zionist 'juggernaut'. Rejecting the conclusion of Israeli historian Benny Morris that Jews faced annihilation in 1948, Professor Achcar writes: "How could the Palestinians have mustered the strength to perpetrate genocide when they lacked even the strength to prevent their expulsion and were not prepared for war?" Apparently Professor has forgotten that the Egyptian army came close to Tel-Aviv, or that the disciplined and well armed Arab Legion expelled the Jewish population from the Jerisalem Old City.

The obvious merit of the book (and the reason I have graded it 5 stars) is in the eye-opening and exceptionally wide coverage of the mostly negative Arab attitudes toward the Jews, the Holocaust and the State of Israel. The discussion of the Hamas Charter and the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood is of particular importance in view of the electoral success the Arab Spring granted to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties in all Arab countries where free elections were held. However, as important as that coverage might be, it is not easily digested since many parts of the book are quite dense. The text includes many long quotes, which if contested by Professor Achcar, are argued using more quotes and quotes of quotes. One needs an "elephant skin, ass of stone and nerves of steel" to get through the deconstructionist casuistry of arguments devoid of minimal compassion toward the Jewish predicament, but rich in vulgar anti-Zionism.

During book promoting interview Professor Achcar have said "I don't claim to be neutral or even `objective,' whatever this means... I mean, my approach to this is intellectual honesty."
The writer of this review has decided to include selected quotes, which will permit the reader to appreciate Professor Achcar's "approach," as well as the context he made up to present the Arab point of view:

-" When all said and done, it is obvious that National Socialism, by substantially boosting Jewish immigration to Palestine, allowed the movement to attain the critical mass that enabled it to triumph politically and militarily in 1948."

- "Finally, the National Socialist enterprise steeled the Yishuv for war in both the physical sense, since Palestinian Jews took part in the British war effort, and also the psychological sense, since it imbued Zionist militants with great determination, born of feeling (the illusion, in the view of critics and skeptics) that they were fighting to establish the definitive response to the Holocaust."

- "The rising tide of refugees to Palestine was not Nazism's only contribution to creation of the State of Israel. In1947 there also existed a mass of concentration camp and other Jewish survivors of Hitler's genocidal enterprise who had been reduced to a state of extreme poverty and profound distress. Supporting the creation of the State of Israel was the way that North America, Europe and the Soviet Union solved, on the cheap, the embarrassing problem represented by this multitude of unfortunates whom neither Americans nor the Europeans nor the USSR wished to take in."

- "Once the war ended and the horror of the camps had been fully revealed, the desire [by Western powers] to get rid of the devastated Jews by sending them elsewhere persisted. The foundation of the State of Israel directly served the end: two hundred thousand Holocaust survivors settled there in the year following its creation."


Emma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life (Jewish Lives)
Emma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life (Jewish Lives)
by Vivian Gornick
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $24.94
80 used & new from $3.22

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Legacy of Red Emma., February 1, 2012
Emma Goldman: Revolution as a Way of Life by Vivian Gornick, though only 142 pages, turns out to be an interesting and educating book. The tumultuous life and turbulent times of Red Emma, as she was nicknamed by the press, are skillfully shaped by the biographer into an engaging narrative. Possessing good command of history, Vivian Gornick explains Emma Goldman's ideological make-up. With eloquent brevity she presents the tenets of Anarchism and sketches the political profiles of its founding fathers- Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin. Nor does she skip Chernyshevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov or Maxim Gorky - the luminaries of Russian literature, who filled the minds of Emma Goldman's generation with a mélange of romantic ideas from self-improvement and free love to struggle against the czarist regime. A feminist leader in her own right, Vivian Gornick did not hesitate to criticize Goldman's unorthodox views on marriage and free love.

Emma Goldman was born a rebel. Possessed from childhood by a dibbuk of defiance, she was seeking fulfillment in any struggle - be it against capitalist exploitation of workers, oppression by state bureaucracy, military conscription, or inequality of women. She helped her comrade-in-arms Sasha Berkman to organize the revenge assassination of H.C. Frick in 1892. Frick survived, Berkamn was imprisoned for 14 years, but Goldman got off for the lack of evidence. The anarchist assassin of President McKinley, L. Czolgosz, was inspired by the fiery rhetoric of Goldman's and Berkman's speeches. After organizing a campaign against military conscription in 1917 the couple was imprisoned for two years. Upon release from prison, in December 1919, they were deported to Soviet Russia.
That deportation turned to be a blessing in disguise. Horrified by the coercive nature and genocidal politics of the Soviet regime, Goldman and Berkman became among the few revolutionaries who not only understood the evil nature of Bolshevism, but had the courage to tell the truth about it to the rest of the world. The book My Disillusionment in Russia published in 1924 is a powerful document which, at least to some degree, vindicated Red Emma's legacy as an anarchist agitator and preacher of free love. Unfortunately, Vivian Gornick, following the earlier biographers, criticizes Goldman's "...negative...depiction of what was still revolution in trouble" failing to realize that it was the Russian people who were in trouble. The mass executions in Petrograd were already a routine by October 1918.

It is logical to assume that to qualify for inclusion in the Jewish Lives series, the biographer should have examined the effect the `revolutionary life' of Emma Goldman had on the Jewish People. Sadly, that part, arguably the most tragic part of Goldman's legacy, is missing.
Having enough of the anti-American activities of red goldmans and berkamns, the US authorities introduced the Immigration Act of 1924, which reflected the discriminatory sentiments surfaced in the public during the Red Scare of 1919-1920. This Act, reversing the policy of unlimited immigration from Eastern Europe, resulted in de-facto cessation of Jewish immigration. Hundreds of thousands of Jews, who were later trapped in Nazi dominated Europe and eventually perished in Holocaust, could have been saved had the gates of the USA remain open.


Jerusalem: The Biography
Jerusalem: The Biography
by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Edition: Hardcover
81 used & new from $5.88

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mazal Tov, Yerushalaim!, January 9, 2012
Mazal tov, Yerushalaim! Finally, the city believed by many to be the Center of the World, got a biography as captivating, provocative and exciting as her history. It was written by British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, a scion of Moses Montefiore- the great philanthropist, who pioneered the Jewish revival in Jerusalem in the 19th century.

The book Jerusalem:The Biography consists of 53 chapters, each one containing several short stories of amazing characters, historic battles, devastating plagues and wondrous miracles. This format permitted Montefiore to condense the 3000-year history of Jerusalem into 600 pages creating a dramatic historical perspective.

The book takes the reader for a breathtaking ride on an emotional roller-coaster from one historical period into another through Jewish, Roman, Muslim, Christian and Ottoman times to modernity as the capital city of Israel.

Of particular importance is the last part of the book -Zionism - where the vagaries of the Jewish return to Jerusalem are told in clear and simple language, putting to shame the "alternative narratives" which have proliferated in the last 25 years. The author's deep personal involvement with Jerusalem (some of his family served the British Palestine Mandatory administration) and his expert knowledge of Russian history (and Russian involvement in Jerusalem) make him uniquely equipped to understand and interpret the complicated topics of modern history of the city.

Sebag Montefiore used close to 600 bibliographical sources. Each page of the book is loaded with names (occasionally misspelt) and dates. But don't be intimidated. He has a good feel for what to zoom in and what to leave out. The literary talent of Sebag Montefiore (he is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature) makes this epic story of wars and peace surprisingly easy to read. Absorbing and compelling, once started, the book is difficult to put aside.


Miral: A Novel
Miral: A Novel
by Rula Jebreal
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.34
216 used & new from $0.01

5 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Miral- the wasted opportunity of Rula Jebreal, August 22, 2011
This review is from: Miral: A Novel (Paperback)
Miral is a fictionalized life story of Rula Jebreal, an Italian/Palestinian journalist who was born in Haifa, Israel in 1973. After the suicide of her mother, she and her sister were put by their father into a Jerusalem orphanage for Arab girls, Dar-El-Teifel. The book is series of short stories about Miral, her family and friends whose lives were deeply affected by the turmoil of the First Intifada.

Growing up in Jerusalem in tempestuous time, falling in love, gaining and losing friends, are fascinating themes, which could have resulted in a compelling novel. But it didn't happen. The writing in the book is quite uneven. The dialogue feels like it came off the splash balloons of a graphic novel. Several stories feel like reports from a battlefield, others - like texts for travelogue photos. They distort the political reality more than revealing and explaining it. The descriptions of tanks shelling crowds, or sharpshooters on rooftops might feel reasonably convincing, except that the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) never shelled children in camps or shot them from rooftops. Plenty of similar stuff, published in the world press during the First Intifada, became potent propaganda symbols kindling the fires of never ending conflict.

The story of Hind Husseini, the founder of Dar-El-Teifel is a story with a twist and among the few stories worth reading. It starts with the story of Deir-Yassin - the bloody fight in April of 1948 which was amplified by Arab propaganda into a massacre of 250 women and children. The manufactured rumors of rape and murder scared the Arab population triggering the mass flight called today the "naqba". It was a surprise therefore, to read in Miral that 55 children from Deir-Yassin survived the massacre, which purportedly left nobody alive. They were brought to relative safety of Jerusalem, apparently, by the same combatants who were accused in perpetrating the massacre. According to the book, Hind Husseini found the children wandering in the street and brought them to her house, which eventually became the orphanage Der-El-Teifel. On the whole, the story of Hind appears to be authentic, following closely the history of the orphanage, as published on its internet site.

The story of 13-years boy Khaldun, on the other hand, is a silly sham. The boy is smuggled from Kalandia refugee camp to a terrorist training camp in Lebanon in a truck loaded with oranges via the Israeli port of Accre. In the book: `... the truck reached the quay in the port of Accre and drove into the hold of a small cargo ship from Cyprus.' But in reality the Accre harbor has a tiny fishing port with no ship loading facilities. If Rula Jebreal would only google 'Accre(Acco) port'...!

Rula's geography and history is not much better. The distance between Jerusalem and Nablus is not 200 km, but 63 km. The road from Tel-Aviv to Nazareth runs along the Mediterranean coast, not via Judea and Samaria. One doesn't have to cross the Armenian quarter in order to enter the Old City of Jerusalem, because Armenian Quarter is the part of the Old City. And it was not a military convoy, which deliberately crashed into a group of Gazan workers, triggering the First Intifada, but a lonely truck attempting to escape the scene of the crash. To correct all erroneous or offensive passages in Miral one has to write, it's seems, another book of similar size.

Rula Jebreal dedicated Miral to `... to all the Israelis and Palestinians who still believe peace is possible...' With such a lofty dedication in mind, one should be very careful with facts and avoid malevolent stereotyping. Unfortunately, Miral did not rise above the level of usual Mid-Eastern propaganda and Rula Jebreal wasted the opportunity to cheer up the hopeful and encourage the believers in peace.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 2, 2011 6:13 AM PST


The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism
The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism
by Deborah Baker
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $2.91
106 used & new from $0.01

29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Whom God wants to punish he makes crazy, July 20, 2011
Judging by her website Maryam Jameelah was one of the chief ideologists of Jamaati Islami (Pakistani Party of Islam). Her books on the superiority of Islam over the West and articles in defense of Islamist values gained prominence among the Muslim conservatives around the world. The unerring and intransigent tone of Jameelah's writings is quite convincing. Her arguments are not easy to dismiss. Reading her articles, however, is as sad and chilling experience, as reading Mein Kampf. Except that MeinKampf was dispatched long time ago to the dustbin of History, while Islamist ideas continue to gain acceptance.

In her book, The Convert, Debora Baker recreated Jameelah's life from an archive she chanced upon in the reading room of Manuscripts and Archives Department of NY Public library. Leafing through the archive register Deborah Baker spotted a `...lonely Muslim name...' of Maryam Jameelah hidden among the many Christian and Jewish ones. Intrigued, she requested to examine the archive. What she uncovered, sorting through the boxes full of letters, drawings, published articles and books, was a trough of human misery, the real life `...agony of unquiet soul...'

Maryam Jameelah was born Margaret (Peggy) Marcus in 1934 in America of Reform-Jewish parentage. A talented, but "difficult child" who, according to her mother, "wouldn't shut up", she grew up without friends. Peggy turned the life of her parents and everybody else who happened to fall into her orbit, into sheer hell. After years of dedicated attempts to satisfy the needs of their special child, Peggy's parents had to surrender her to a mental institution, were she spent close to two years. Her diagnosis was schizophrenia.
Interest in the Arab lore and, later, in the Muslim culture started when Peggy was ten years old. Immersion into Islam came much later. In her article `Why I Embraced Islam', she vividly described how her search for new identity brought her to Islam. But there was another motive. The unbearable misery and loneliness she suffered in the mental institution culminated in a vow to convert to Islam upon the release from asylum. She converted in 1961, taking the name Maryam Jameelah.
Unable to find a meaningful job in New-York, Jameelah, being a prolific and gifted pamphleteer, easily found foreign Muslim magazines willing to publish her articles in support of Islamist ideas. She initiated and carried on extensive correspondence with Muslim intellectuals and political functionaries. One of them was no less than Mawlana Abul Ala Mowdudi, the founder and chief ideologue of Islam revivalist movement Jamaati Islami. Familiar with Jameelah articles, he was impressed by the fervor of her ideas. At Jameelah's request, Mowdudi invited her to live with his family in Lahore with an aim to instruct her in the etiquette of Muslim family life. He soon understood his mistake. Jameelah turned the life of his family upside down as she did to her parents. The rest of Jameelah's story, which includes time spent in Pakistani asylum, is not less exciting.

The Convert is based on letters Deborah Baker selected from Jameelah's archive. Twenty-thirty pages long, they were heavily abbreviated and rewritten by her in order to make them more intriguing and readable than they, apparently, are. The letters are accompanied by stories of Deborah Baker's own adventures undertaken to investigate the real Jameelah. Being well versed in Islam, Baker explains Jameelah's religious beliefs, some tenets of Islam, social norms in modern Muslim society and Islamist politics. Both parts of the book are nicely interlaced resulting in a compelling story.
The weaker part of the book is in Baker's own uncritical approach, even sympathy to Jameelah's anti-Judaistic and anti-American positions. Too forgiving to Jameelah, Deborha Baker concentrated on the story of her suffering much more than on the harm that monomaniacal apostate caused to the task of peace and reconciliation between peoples. Sympathy to misery of the misfit from New York was extended to her extremist views.

The appeal of Myriam Jameelah dimmed in recent years. The extremist Islam found new powerful voices to call for Jihad. But the story of a convert from New-York, who so vividly articulated the basis for Muslim Rejection of the West, is a unique story of suspense. As Jewish proverb has it: Whom God wants to punish he makes crazy. But who in the end was punished, the Muslims - by gaining fanatical Jameelah, or the Jews - by loosing crazy Peggy? The Convert might have an answer.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 21, 2014 2:53 PM PDT


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