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Letters

Vol. 4 No. 5 · 18 March 1982

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America and Israel

SIR: Ian Gilmour (LRB, 18 February) misconstrues Abba Eban as implying rejection of the right of the Palestinian people to a homeland. Eban was referring solely to the conception of a unified bi-national state, and has firmly advocated the establishment of a separate Palestinian homeland in the area. On this error and upon a single quotation from as long ago as 1917, Gilmour develops an insinuating and derogatory analysis of Israeli behaviour. Furthermore his unproblematic presentation of the simplicity of establishing a Palestinian state and of the acceptance of the PLO must be questioned. The doctrine of the PLO is not analysed (does Gilmour condone the IRA?), and his confidence in ‘demilitarised zones and peace-keeping forces and other necessary safeguards’ shows a substantial disregard for historical experience. He fails to appreciate that the PLO has, embodied in its charter, a commitment to the destruction of Israel. Gilmour also places Khomeini and Gaddafi (why not Arafat?) with Begin as ‘fundamentalist fanatics’. Nevertheless he is forced – we might suppose by a rare modicum of objectivity – to recognise, if only in passing, the absolutely central point that Israel is a democracy. We are reminded of Deir Yassin but of no PLO atrocities (Lod, Ma’alot, Munich etc). He asks why Israel has since 1967 ‘refused’ peace and yet fails to acknowledge the intransigence of Arab leaders as explanation. Blame is thus squarely placed on Israel for the failure of the peace process. We are not led to ponder on the potential of Camp David if it had met with wider support from the other Arab nations. The complex and tense relationship between America and Israel is fictitiously described in terms of Zionist conspiracy.

Laurence Jacobs
Queen’s College, Oxford

SIR: What a shame it is that the vast majority of Americans will never see Ian Gilmour’s statement of simple truths. Most of them will go on as ignorant of Zionist activities in Palestine as so many Germans ‘went on’ knowing nothing about Buchenwald; and not much wanting to know, either. The political opponents of these activities will be dealt with swiftly, as Mr Gilmour says, by the Jewish Lobby in Washington; the local critics will be taken care of as ‘anti-semites’ in smear-campaigns; and the ‘Lumpenproletariat’ will remain too busy hating blacks to care what happens to either Jews or Arabs. The Europeans, who have suffered more than anyone else from the oil prices, the oil embargoes and the resulting unemployment spawned by the policy of the United States, can do little to put pressure on a country whose Mr Haig can so easily dismiss Lord Carrington as ‘a liar’. The only hope lies within America’s own Jewish community. Many of them are aware enough of history to recognise the untold suffering that Zionism has brought upon Jewish communities from Rabat to Russia: people who formed an integral part of their countries and had to leave them, for a country where most of their US counterparts didn’t even want to go. They will remember that their famous ‘hold on the media’ also existed under the Weimar Republic: and they will know that the fate of Mr Begin’s policies might well be decided at a time when the United States is busy in its more familiar playgrounds of Central America and the Far East. Whether they will speak up – and a few indeed have done so – remains to be seen.

Peter Todd Mitchell
Sitges, Spain

Jewish Heart

SIR: While I agree with your reviewer’s disdain for the author of Elvis (LRB, 21 January), I cannot agree with his sadness at seeing a Jewish writer deride another race. I spent fifty years looking for the ‘Jewish heart’, as I was raised to believe it was the most wonderful thing in the world. My whole family was murdered by Jews, for profit or for spite; no German has ever done me any harm. I see no reason why your reviewer is under the impression that my co-religionists are too saintly to hate other races. Contrary to the implication in the review, I see nothing wrong with Goldman’s prosemitism: in fact, I view that as his only redeeming feature. In my experience, the first thought of most Jews is as stated in your review of the Timerman book (LRB, 3 September 1981) – that the one unpardonable sin is to draw attention to the Jewish community. This has led to silence and betrayal, as each tries to save himself by selling his fellow.

I have always felt that the Jews who were uninhibited by honesty, kindness, decency, openness and intelligence, and therefore successful, owed something to those of us who spent too much time with books, and not enough with people; and do not have resources enough to pay our heat, taxes, and subscription to the London Review of Books. As a general rule, the so-called ‘smart’ Jew reserves his utmost hate and contempt for the Jew ‘without sechel (smartness)’ such as myself. Therefore, I find Mr Goldman’s ‘mechanical pro-semitism’ praiseworthy, and the conclusion of your reviewer thereupon mechanically English.

Joseph Ginsburg
Summit, New Jersey

A Polish Notebook

SIR: David Lodge writes (LRB, 4 February) that the Church is ‘the main focus of spiritual and ideological resistance to Soviet Communism in Poland’. But just as Warsaw Radio censored any mention of the Independence Day demonstration organised by Solidarity, so too the Church censors demonstrations of independence, since its influence prevents the publication in Poland of Lodge’s Church-criticising novel. Such censorship does not encourage me to see the Church’s role as ‘steadying and inspiring’.

Matthew Tagney
London W2

SIR: With regard to David Lodge’s remark about Poland, ‘It seems incredible that anti-semitism could survive in a country in which the camps are preserved as monuments,’ may I offer a passage from Nicholas Bethell’s The Palestine Triangle, which is certainly not an anti-semitic record? In explaining the 1946 pogrom at Kielce, Bethell writes: ‘There was resentment against Jews who returned from deportation and reclaimed their property. There was even greater resentment against the Jews who formed a large part of Poland’s new communist administration.’ He cites US Embassy official Gerald Keith: ‘When the Jews in government have by their being there linked themselves with the Russian influence, which is unquestionably not desired by at least 85 per cent of the Poles, it is not surprising that feeling against the Jews is extremely strong in many quarters.’ The fact that, as Mr Lodge reports, Jews are now blamed for Solidarity extremism in this most anti-semitic of nations simply forces one to wonder whether another chain of preserved monuments might not be a more potent influence on Polish feeling on this matter – namely, the Catholic cathedrals.

Roland Morgan
Uzes

David Lodge writes: I would not wish to exonerate the Church in Poland from some responsibility for the tradition of anti-semitism in that country, but there is plenty of evidence that recent manifestations of anti-semitism – in 1968, and during the period of Solidarity’s success – were deliberately generated from within the Party for political purposes (see, for example, Neal Ascherson’s The Polish August, and Maxine Pollack’s article ‘Anti-Semitism in Poland’ the Tablet, 30 January 1982). Similarly it was not the ‘censorship’ of the Church, but the political and ideological climate that made an ironic novel about Catholicism ‘unpublishable’ in Poland between August 1980 and December 1981. One might compare the difficulty George Orwell experienced in getting Animal Farm published in this country at a time when Soviet Russia was still our ‘friendly ally’.

Sexist Language

SIR: In defending the use of male generic terms, Brigid Brophy makes a simple, yet serious logical error (LRB, 4 February). She notes that Hungarian is a non-sexist language in a sexist society and concludes: ‘Given that it has no hope of reforming society, there is no useful point in the enterprise’ – of reforming language along non-sexist lines. But the example of Hungarian only demonstrates that reforming language is not sufficient, in itself, to reform society. It may very well be the case that reforming language is a necessary step toward reforming society. That is, sexist language may be one of several aspects of our culture that serve to perpetuate sexual stereotyping and discrimination.

Experimental psychologists have demonstrated, and most writers know, that word ‘selection’ can have subtle influences on readers or listeners. It is not only credible but probable that sexist language is an obstacle to overcoming prejudice. Not all constructions will yield to elegant substitutes, as Brigid Brophy points out, but the attempt to find neutral alternatives is worthwhile. Expressions that do not come to feel comfortable with time will drop away. It is wrong to conclude that writers and editors can ‘accomplish nothing whatever for the cause of sex-equality’ by avoiding biased expressions. By making a good-spirited effort, they can do their part for a cause we all must support.

Jonathan Grudin
Cambridge

Brigid Brophy writes: ‘Logical error’, my foot – an expression that should, by this doctrine, be censored, because that may well be (though it may equally well not be) a ‘necessary step’ towards justice for the disabled (another ‘cause we all must support’).

Law Lords

SIR: The judges are ‘accountable to the law itself: indeed their single function is to apply that law, regardless of whether they agree with it – “without fear or favour, affection or ill-will" ’, writes Paul Sieghart (LRB, 18 February). But what is this law? ‘The law is what the Law Lords say it is’? A nice circularity: and for this I should be grateful? I am surprised to find such an article in a literary review. If I wished to read this sort of propaganda I’d buy the Spectator.

Jean Hill
London SW17

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