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Letters

Vol. 19 No. 1 · 2 January 1997

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Arafat’s Palestine

Many Jews, including myself, are outraged at the way you malign Zionism. Over the years you have given extensive space, in articles and letters, for Edward Said to fulminate against Israel, while those who have rebutted him have had little space. It takes some chutzpah for you to give six books about Israel for review to Ian Gilmour, who is virulently hostile to it (LRB, 31 October 1996). His analysis of War and Peace in the Middle East, by Avi Shlaim, an Israeli of the extreme left (LRB, 22 December 1994), made very plain his venom against Israel. It is even more offensive that two of the books, which are anti-Zionist, Jewish History, Jewish Religion, by Israel Shahak, and Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, by Norman Finkelstein, were not offered for review to an objective scholar of the Middle East. Most would say that the former’s book is also anti-Judaism; all will find obscene the comparisons between Israelis and Nazis in the latter’s book.

Gilmour is highly selective with his facts. He claims that in the late Forties Israel instigated a massive operation to induce Jews in Arab countries to emigrate to Israel. They needed no such persuasion. There was hostility to Jews which had nothing to do with the Zionists: there were massacres in Fez in 1912 and in Constantine in 1934, and harsh persecution in Yemen. To be fair, this was far less than their brethren suffered in Christian Europe.

Gilmour points out the massacres of Palestinians by Israelis without mentioning that it was the Palestinians who initiated these bloodbaths in the earlier years: those in Jerusalem in 1920, Jaffa in 1921, Hebron in 1929 and throughout Palestine in 1936. Furthermore, when he states that ‘the Palestinians have committed a number of crimes, including terrorist atrocities,’ it is as if he were to say that Thomas Hamilton killed a number of schoolchildren in Dunblane. Never mind the endless horrific slaughter of Israeli civilians, Palestinians massacred Europeans at Rome airport in 1973 and at Rome and Vienna airports in 1985; perpetrated numerous hijackings of airplanes from many countries; bombed the World Trade Center in New York in 1993; are prime suspects in the bombing of an airplane over Lockerbie in 1988; and a Palestinian assassinated Robert Kennedy in 1968.

Gilmour, while glorifying Arab rule of Jerusalem, denounces Israel’s. However, he omits Jordan’s sovereignty over the holy city from 1948 to 1967, when it destroyed the Jewish quarter and refused access to all Jews. Not only is Jerusalem an open city under the Israelis, but they have acted with Gandhian restraint in the face of relentless violence by Arabs since 1967. Indeed, if Israelis were as barbaric and racist as Gilmour constantly tells us, they would have thrown out the Arabs from the captured territories immediately after the 1967 war (perpetrated by the Arabs who vowed to throw the Jews into the sea).

Jacob Mendlovic
Toronto

I hope that you will permit me to rebut the claims of Ira Katznelson in his dispute with Edward Said about what can, or cannot, be called ‘moderate’ in Zionism (Letters, 31 October 1996). In the first place, Zionism, exactly like its mirror image, anti-semitism, is a discriminatory movement. It is not necessary to speak of the Occupied Territories in order to establish this irrefutable fact. In Israel itself, 92 per cent of the so-called ‘national land’ can be used (for living, business etc) only by the Jews. A major Zionist organisation, the Jewish National Fund, is trying to enlarge ‘national land’ and close it to Palestinians. Try to imagine that Jews would be denied the use of 92 per cent of Britain and a ‘Christian Fund’ would buy Jewish shops to rent them exclusively to Christians, and you will see some of the routine discrimination practised by the ‘Jewish state’. Thus, in respect of both Zionism and anti-semitism the real question is which part of an evil movement is less evil than the other parts. If we ignore religious Zionists, who are by far the worst, it can be shown that Labour or ‘left’ Zionists have been and are much worse than right-wing Zionists, in spite of the fact that the latter bluster more than the former. Let me illustrate this fact with two basic examples.

The explicit wish to expel all or most Palestinians from the ‘Land of Israel’, known as ‘transfer’, is associated especially with Labour Zionism. Most of the major leaders of this tendency expressed themselves in favour of expelling as many Palestinians as possible, and tried to realise this wish in times of both war and peace. It may interest British readers that in 1944 the British Labour Party passed a resolution in favour of ‘transferring’ Palestinians out of Palestine and this recommendation has never been rescinded. Labour took this step on the recommendation of Mr Katznelson’s friends. Just as I am conscious, as a Jew, of the difference between the anti-semites who ‘only’ want to discriminate against the Jews, and those who want to expel them, so I distinguish between Likud Zionists, who ‘only’ oppress and discriminate against, and Labour Zionists, who wish to establish apartheid, which will lead to expulsion.

Second, let us look at the structure of the two major secular Zionist parties, Labour and Likud. Likud, and its parent party, Herut, has, since 1949, accepted into its membership any Israeli citizen. For many years Labour only accepted Jews as members and relegated Palestinians to vassal parties which it dominated from the outside. Even now, it does not accept Palestinians as members in its branches. A Palestinian living in, say, Haifa cannot belong to the local Labour Party branch, but is relegated to ‘an Arab district’ to which all Arabs, wherever they reside, belong. Imagine the Jews being forbidden to belong to local branches of a British party and, instead, no matter where they live, relegated to ‘a Jewish district’ for Jews only, and you will grasp the ‘moderation’ recommended by Labour Zionists. Let me add that the kibbutz movement, of which they are so proud, is only for Jews. Non-Jews must convert to Judaism to become kibbutz members.

With all Netanyahu’s faults, Labour Zionism, as exemplified by Rabin and Peres and recommended by Mr Katznelson, is much worse. There will be no progress on anything if this basic fact is not understood.

Israel Shahak
Jerusalem

Prussian Blues

As Glenn Wood observes (Letters, 12 December 1996), the fictional University of Rummidge in my novel, Changing Places (1975), has a Paternoster lift in its new Arts Faculty building. It is an object of fascination to the visiting American professor, Morris Zapp, and excites in him thoughts and feelings similar, it would seem, to those described in Grass’s novel, and in Heinrich Böll’s short story cited by Alison Leonard (Letters, 14 November 1996). This is the passage briefly alluded to by Glenn Wood:

Morris … loved the Paternoster. Perhaps it was a throwback to his childhood delight in carousels and suchlike; but he also found it a profoundly poetic machine, especially if one stayed on for the round trip, disappearing into darkness at the top and bottom and rising or dropping into the light again, perpetual motion readily symbolising all systems and cosmologies based on the principle of eternal recurrence, vegetation myths, death and rebirth archetypes, cyclic theories of history, metempsychosis and Northrop Frye’s theory of literary modes.

This and other relevant passages in the novel were inspired by the Paternoster in the Muirhead Tower of Birmingham University, constructed in the Sixties. Another of these convenient and wonderfully suggestive machines was installed a little later in the University’s Main Library. Alas, they are no longer in operation. I understand that the cost of meeting the increasingly stringent safety regulations governing their use became prohibitive. The one in the Muirhead Tower has been replaced by a conventional lift, and the one in the Library is concealed behind panels displaying paintings borrowed from the Arts Council.

David Lodge
Birmingham

Philadelphian

It is true, as Christine Stansell says in her admirable review of Metropolitan Lives: The Ashcan School and Their New York (LRB, 3 October 1996), that the Ashcan artists George Luks, Everett Shinn, William Glackens and John Sloan started as newspaper sketch-artists in Philadelphia. But more important, these newspaper sketch-artists, as well as Robert Henri, were students of the Philadelphia School of Painting, which had recently been conceived at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The Academy was once again establishing itself as the leading institution for artists interested in the ‘real’ depiction of American life. Thomas Eakins, who, more than anyone else, was responsible for this rekindling of aesthetic and intellectual excitement, was no longer teaching there but his presence was felt not only in the curriculum he founded but also through his protégé, the remarkable painter Thomas Anshutz, who was teaching there. The teachings and work of Anshutz would lay the aesthetic foundation of what was to become known as the Ashcan School. One only has to look at Anshutz’s major painting, The Steel Workers, Noontime, to realise where Henri and the others sought their inspiration.

It is in their early mature work, which also happens to be their best work, that we see depicted their Philadelphian artistic heritage. Perhaps this is the reason Stansell, like so many others, thought that Henri was a native of Philadelphia: he was not.

Patrick David Connors
Philadelphia

Gossip v. Scandal

Harry Mathews’s Olympian claim that potin (which I translate as ‘scandal’) must mean ‘gossip’ and ‘has never meant anything else’ (LRB, 28 November 1996) is simply wrong, as witnessed by the Dictionnaire du Français contemporain’s inclusion of two entries for the word. Under the second, the equivalent given for faire du potin is faire un scandale. It is equally false that I treat the sexual themes of Duchamp’s early pictures ‘as if the artist had no idea of what he was doing’. Quite the contrary, I argue that what makes the mood of regret and disillusionment in Paradise so powerful and affecting is the self-conscious contrast between the scene we witness and the title Duchamp gave to it, and my readings of The Chess Game and Young Man and Young Girl in Spring focus on elements too intricately worked out to have been unintended. The merits of my account of Raymond Roussel and his influence on Duchamp cannot be decided by reference to the ‘open and unassuming’ impression Duchamp made on Mathews when the two met. Matter-of-fact as the maker of Given may have wanted to appear at times, The Large Glass stands close by to remind us how much the appearance of transparency can conceal. Of course Duchamp wanted to live in the present. The question is: how, in what spirit? The euphoria he said he achieved cannot have been ‘readiness … to perceive and respond’, since he sought it precisely by leaving such ordinary manners of being an artist behind. His ways of passing time and the objects he either chose or made were all vehicles for his project of investing imagination in life, and living off the proceeds.

Jerrold Seigel
New York

Shame!

Christopher Hitchens says of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: ‘Nor was Jackie sentimental about money … she cancelled at least one betrothal on fiduciary grounds alone’ (LRB, 14 November 1996). You can’t cancel a betrothal. Betrothal implies a promise. Promises can be broken, but they can’t be cancelled. ‘Fiduciary’ is also the wrong word. From the context it is apparent that Mr Hitchens thinks ‘fiduciary’ means more or less the same as ‘financial’. It doesn’t. Fiduciary matters have to do with trust and faithfulness. Aeneas’s companion was ‘fidus Achates’. Theirs was not a relationship in which cash was involved.

Richard Boston
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