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Jewish Sheep

SIR:Professor Edward Said is one of the Palestinians’ most eloquent spokesmen. The call in his review article (LRB, 16 February) for both Palestinians and Jews to recognise the validity of each other’s national identity is timely and welcome. However, one basic weakness runs throughout the article. This is demonstrated first by the tragi-comic story of ‘Jewish sheep’, of which he makes so much. My inquiries show that the facts are not as Professor Said would have us believe. The Israeli Sheepraisers Association does not exclude Arabs. In the early days of Jewish agriculture in Palestine it was called the Association of Jewish Sheepraisers in Israel (and why shouldn’t any group form any association it wants?). Since then the word ‘Jewish’ has been dropped and Arabs have been invited to join: to state that they are deliberately excluded is patently false. Nor was there any attempt to charge a fee on ‘Jewish sheep’. The Ministry of Agriculture spent millions of shekels to step up immunisation checks. In order to recover part of the cost they requested the Sheepraisers Association to tax their members, who, as said, are almost entirely in the ‘Jewish sector’ (their usual phrase). The immunisation service is specifically for all sheepfarmers, Jewish and Arab, but the latter are not required to pay. Now, whether Professor Said was wilfully mischievous or was simply misled is immaterial. The point is that according to his preconceived notions about Israel the story made sense; it ‘proved’ what he already ‘knew’, even if totally false. Incidentally, Professor Said accuses others of sloppiness yet himself refers (twice), in connection with the sheep, to ‘Never Shalom’, surely the most unlikely of names for a Jewish-Arab co-operative venture! The real name is Neveh Shalom, Oasis of Peace.

Any Israeli reading Professor Said’s assertion that the Western media are biased in favour of Israel and indulge in some kind of self-imposed censorship would exclaim that exactly the reverse is true. Israelis and Palestinians are equally convinced that their case is inadequately presented in the media; that their misdemeanours are disproportionately pounced upon, while the other side’s are glossed over; and that blatantly inaccurate statements are made. The difficulty with Professor Said’s article is that for all the cogency of his arguments he himself does precisely these things. It may be that he is simply attempting to provide balance, as he sees it, to pro-Israeli/anti-Palestinian sentiment in the West, but in so doing he creates an imbalance of his own. He also contradicts himself. He claims, in effect, that the Western media turn a blind eye to Israeli wrongdoing. Yet he refers to the nightly scenes we viewed on television of the carnage in Lebanon during the Israeli invasion. The extent of the coverage and of the invective directed against Israel hardly suggests censorship or pro-Israel bias.

Professor Said proceeds to argue that ‘the Palestinians’ have long accepted the principle of partition of the land west of the River Jordan. Who precisely accepted this principle? Professor Said is on record as endorsing the PLO as the ‘sole, legitimate representatives’ of the Palestinian people and their Covenant. In the latter, they specifically and categorically deny that the Jews are a nation (they are a religious grouping) and that Israel has a right to exist; they say that only Jews who have lived in Palestine since before ‘the Zionist invasion’ (usually understood to mean 1917) can remain. No one from the Palestinian leadership has rejected these notions. At times they accept the idea of a Palestinian mini-state on the West Bank – but then only as a first stage to Israel’s ultimate liquidation. None of this is even discussed by Professor Said. Whatever the extremism, inflexibility and lack of sensitivity shown by some Israelis, Professor Said would have us believe that none of these exist amongst the Palestinians. Surely his task is to condemn them on both sides, rather than accusing the one side and condoning the other, even if only by omission.

Two final examples of this. He refers to Israeli violation of human rights in the West Bank. To the extent that such violations exist, any condemnation that he voices is justified. Yet, if he believes, as he appears to, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be removed from the wider Arab-Israel conflict, why no reference to human rights in the Middle East generally, where Syria in particular has one of the worst human rights records in the world? He also refers to books by Mikdadi and by Clifton and Leroy on the siege of Beirut. They are compelling books and both include references to or photographs of the massacres of Palestinians in the 1976 civil war. Surely Arab inhumanity to the Palestinians and Palestinian slaughter of Palestinians are to be condemned at least as much as anything the Israelis have done? Professor Said tells of the 20,000 who died in 1982; nothing of the 40,000 who died in 1976.

Professor Said is too serious a writer to be dismissed lightly. His arguments are sophisticated and perceptive. However, as he points out regarding Chomsky, the methodology of the argument is part of the argument itself, and unless he is aware of his own contribution to the imbalance he rightly condemns, his case will be weaker than it need otherwise be.

Barry Shenker
London Nl

Defender of the Faith

SIR:I must ask space for a reply to C.H. Sisson’s review of my Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh (LRB, 16 February), because Sisson goes altogether too far in falsifying my words. Explaining why Waugh was virtually silent about the Spanish Civil War, when most conservative Catholics were stridently pro-Franco, I wrote: ‘It would be reasonable to suppose that Waugh was restrained by prudent consideration for his sales, for, having made himself unpopular over Abyssinia, he had taken care … in 1937 to promise “No more Fascist propaganda.” But the truth is that he genuinely disliked Franco and Fascism, a dislike vividly expressed in the sour picture of Spanish government in Scott-King’s Modern Europe and by his diary covering the visit on which the novel is based.’ This passage is, quite obviously, a single statement. The first part of it cannot be read on its own without reversing my meaning. But Sisson quotes the preliminary supposition as though it were my view. He does not even refer to my main statement: that Waugh was silent about Franco because he did not like him. And I am thus made responsible for his ill-natured claim that ‘prudential considerations’ determined Waugh’s silence. Argument such as this falls to the level of the hack who rips a convenient phrase out of its context, uses it to make the author say the opposite of what he intended, and then pleads: ‘I was only using his own words.’

I regret to have to say, and do so only after reflection, that the misquotation I have cited is not an isolated slip. It is part of a pattern in which every reference to my editorial material, and almost every reference to Waugh, is disingenuous. Sisson’s final point is that Waugh’s journalism was all a matter of business, not conviction: ‘This volume shows him as a performer in the trade of emitting opinions for money’ etc. Sisson has read quite enough to know that, while much of the journalism was frankly written for money, much, and the most interesting part, was given free to the Tablet and the Month, or written for the low-paying Spectator; and that when he had something he particularly wanted to say, money did not enter into calculation at all. A reasonable criticism would be that he held his convictions too passionately and expressed them too recklessly. But Sisson conceals these facts – an understandable precaution when inventing a monstrosity as improbable as a conviction-less Waugh. I must again say that this instance of concealment is typical of Sisson’s method of argument.

Sisson calls me an ‘apologist’ for Waugh. And yet he repeatedly takes information from my work to use against Waugh. Fair-minded readers will gather from this that I have presented the facts as I knew them, whether favourable to my subject or not. If I am an ‘apologist’, what is a reviewer who tortures every quotation out of its natural meaning and conceals evidence?

Please allow me to deal with at least one point of substance in this necessarily long letter. Sisson asserts that Waugh’s opinions about the Italo-Abyssinia conflict were ‘simply pro-Italian, by identification of Italy with the Roman Catholic cause’; and that he merely ‘set one prejudice against another, not developing what could be called a serious line of thought’. Anyone who bothers to read only Waugh’s letter to the Times of 19 May 1936 and his review ‘Through European Eyes’ will find Waugh arguing, against immensely powerful public opinion to the contrary, that diplomatic and economic sanctions against Italy, not backed by force, would 1. strengthen the war party in Italy, 2. lead the Abyssinians into the appalling sufferings of military defeat, 3. drive Mussolini into alliance with Hitler, and 4. thus upset the balance of power in Central Europe, allowing Hitler to annexe Austria. ‘Simply pro-Italian’ writers, of whom there were a number in England, were concerned with the success of Italy. Waugh was concerned with the consequences for Abyssinia, Europe and England of the British Government’s muddled policies. The ‘Roman Catholic cause’ does not enter his argument (except in so far as Austria was threatened with an anti-Catholic Nazi regime). Both Archbishop Bourne’s Tablet and the Jesuits’ Month opposed Italian aggression and supported the League, and the Tablet twice attacked Waugh personally over Abyssinia. Waugh wrote as a political conservative, not as a Catholic.

As for ‘no serious line of thought’, I can only present Waugh’s analysis, remarking that each of his predictions was tragically fulfilled, and ask readers to judge whether or not his case (however little they might agree with it) amounts to mere ‘prejudice’.

Because Sisson is absolutely wrong about Waugh’s policy and attitude, and equally wrong about his motives, it is not surprising that he finds him totally incapable of thought. But the fault is Sisson’s, not Waugh’s. My simple point is that the exaggeration, bias and malice that we instinctively associate with the publicist side of Waugh were generally balanced by gravity and intelligence in his basic position. If this is true of the Abyssinia writings, it is very much more true of areas of discussion better suited to Waugh’s talents. Literature and art, and some aspect of Catholicism, brought out his best work. I compared Waugh to his greater predecessor Swift because the bitterness and self-destructive follies of both drew attention from their underlying common sense and basic good will.

Donat Gallagher
James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland

C.H. Sisson writes: I am sorry if I offended Dr Gallagher. Certainly I intended no innuendo against his editorial attitudes. I was concerned with Waugh, whom he evidently finds more sympathetic than I do. As to Waugh’s silence over the Spanish Civil War, the conclusion that ‘the prudential considerations were indeed the determining ones’ was meant as my own – a different emphasis, as I realised, from Dr Gallagher’s.

The Venetian Exhibition

SIR: How could we fail to be seduced (as the French would say) by Lawrence Gowing’s eloquent evocation of the Venice exhibition (LRB, 2 February)? I am saddened by his apparent inability to see how misplaced has been the effort of exhibitors and visitors alike. The exhibition is for several reasons a failure, despite the eminence of the many luminaries involved in its creation, despite the generosity of owners lending their works of art, of which some will no doubt be damaged as a result, and despite the public’s enthusiasm. To take the last first: I think the public are impressed but also dazed, most of them have learnt almost nothing, their visits are too short and the exhibition far too big to leave any but the most fleeting traces of sensation, feeling or thought. Worse still, the event is inflated by the inclusion of mediocre work which does not bear the kind of close examination which could be given to it by someone who, like Gowing, made repeated selective visits. For example, were the risks and costs involved in transporting all the works presented by Girolamo da Treviso or Girolamo Romanino or Bernardino Licinio justified? My third doubt arises from the choice of this particular period: the absence of Giorgione is fitting, because during the century much of what he must have stood for was transmuted into an utterly different approach to art, as Gowing implies. Venetian art became prized for its decorative effects and its architectural properties as well as the brilliant use of colour. The meaning which lies behind the few known works by Giorgione – a meaning which is now lost to us in most cases – was no longer so important to his Venetian successors. For these reasons, it seems a mistake to peer closely (as one does in such contexts) at many of the exhibits in Burlington House; their lack of finish, visual distortions and cavalier way with meaning are only too well-known. Unfortunately, they are often hung at the wrong height; in other cases, nothing compensates for the inappropriate setting, and the eye finds neither repose nor enjoyment.

Gowing’s enthusiasm about Titian’s Marsyas is almost persuasive: but doesn’t he find it rather a strain trying to warm up this pagan story, as alien to the 16th as to the 20th century? The picture is visually remarkable, but is the ‘story’ any more than Titian’s pretext? And were the ‘knots of visitors’ which Gowing saw too close to see this extraordinary vision? Has Gowing overestimated what the public can learn of this assembly of works which are neither shown to their best effect nor able in all cases to impart the sense of mystery which he rightly values?

C.W. Robbins
Strasbourg, France