Vol. 27 No. 16 · 18 August 2005

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How to Criticise Zionism

Anthony Julius (Letters, 21 July) objects to the link between Messianism and Israeli identity that I suggest in The Question of Zion, as well as to the idea that Israel may be bent on a path of self-destruction, a fear which has been expressed inside Israel by writers such as David Grossman, and by the former head of Shin Bet, Yaakov Perry. As regards Messianism, the issue is how far Israeli society as a whole has been complicit with the settlers and their ideology. In their recent book, Lords of the Land: The Settlers and the State of Israel, Idith Zertal and Akiva Elder describe how every Israeli government, every branch of the legal establishment and of the Israeli army have helped the settlement enterprise to flourish. In 1982, a group from Gush Emunim, the settlers’ movement, plotted to blow up the Dome of the Rock in messianic counterpoint to the felt desecration represented by the Egypt-Israel peace treaty of 1979 which handed part of the Sinai back to Egypt. Judge Finkelman described Yeshua Ben-Shushan, the brains behind the plot, as a Jewish hero. No one would suggest that Messianism is characteristic of the whole of Israeli society, but this complicity with the settlers is something for which the whole nation, in the violence of the evacuation from Gaza, is now paying the price.

Julius is a distinguished lawyer. It is therefore surprising that, in his history of the conflict which makes up the substantial part of his letter, he does not feel the need to acknowledge, let alone address, the arguments of the new historians – Tom Segev, Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappe, Nur Musalha and Benny Morris – whose work of the past two decades has decisively challenged every single detail of the narrative he proposes.

Finally, why does Julius give a figure only for the Israeli war dead of 1948? The Palestinian dead are unmentioned, the refugees unnumbered (‘many Palestinians left – some willingly, many not’). The omission makes clear who really counts in this conflict, a fact which is itself playing a huge and tragic part in its continuation.

Julius’s letter is another demonstration of the difficulty those who rush to the defence of Israel have in seeing it as a powerful state capable of aggression towards another people. It will be impossible to resolve this conflict and secure the better future for Israel and the Palestinians which Julius and I both wish for as long as Jewish people continue, against all historical evidence, to view themselves always as victims.

Jacqueline Rose
Queen Mary, University of London

Anthony Julius asserts that Zionists fought for a single binational state between 1881 and 1948, when their idealist vision foundered in the face of Arab hostility. Although the single state ideal was put forward in Herzl’s The Jewish State (1896) and Altneuland (1902), it was displaced by the ‘practical Zionism’ of Weizmann, the ultra-nationalism of Jabotinsky and the ‘pragmatic Zionism’ of Ben-Gurion. All of them advocated, to varying degrees, the economic, cultural and political disempowerment of the Arab majority in Palestine. To no one’s surprise (least of all the Zionists’), the Arabs were hostile to this offer of ‘shared’ polity.

Julius says that there was room in Palestine for both peoples, and that the Arabs rejected statehood in 1937 and 1947. The Arab rejection was not simply about land-sharing. The 1937 rebellion followed a dramatic increase in illegal Jewish immigration into Palestine, a steady increase in Jewish ownership of land, the Peel commission’s proposals for ‘partition’ and the ‘transfer’ of Arab majorities, and was also influenced by regional anti-imperialist feeling. The 1947 rejection of UN Resolution 181 was based on the sound logic that a Jewish minority of 37 per cent was not entitled to 55 per cent of the land, of which they owned about 7 per cent.

Julius makes much of Palestinian Arab anti-semitism but nothing of the equally virulent and entrenched Zionist racism towards Arabs. As early as the 1880s, the Zionist settlers Yosef Vitkin and Chaim Hissin referred to Arabs as ‘submissive servants’ and ‘degenerates’. This attitude survives, and has become respectable in the current climate of Islamophobia.

Finally, Julius blames Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza on the Six-Day War, which he says was instigated by Egyptian hostilities in the Gulf of Aqaba and Sinai. In fact, the Six-Day War was precipitated by the Samu raid carried out by Israel against Jordan on 13 November 1966, and by Israeli escalation on the Syrian front. Moshe Dayan told the journalist Rami Tal in 1976 that more than 80 per cent of the clashes that led to the war were started by his army. The ‘peace offerings’ made by the Israeli cabinet on 19 June did not include an offer to withdraw from Gaza. There are no records of Israel telling any Arab states in 1967, directly or indirectly, that it would make a conditional withdrawal.

Pablo Mukherjee

Two UN subcommittees on the question of Palestine were established in 1947. The first, UNSCOP (United Nations Special Committee on Palestine), dominated by Western and European powers and established explicitly to consider partition, generated the report that became Resolution 181. The second subcommittee, established to consider ‘alternatives to partition’, was composed mostly of Arab or Muslim states: Afghanistan, Colombia, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen. Its carefully documented and legally rigorous final report concluded that the only legal and just solution in Palestine was a binational state. It held that while a ‘national home for the Jewish people’ was admissible under the terms of the British Mandate, a Jewish state was not, because it would violate the political rights of the indigenous population which the Mandate was also charged to protect. The subcommittee called instead for a unitary democratic state in which minority rights (clearly understood here as those of the Jewish community) would be secured by constitutional guarantees.

The subcommittee concluded that ‘it is a matter for regret’ that UNSCOP ‘should have evolved a scheme which would, in fact, destroy whatever prospects still exist of friendly co-operation between the two communities and lead to most tragic consequences.’ Instead, it argued presciently, a Jewish state that came into being ‘against the bitter opposition of the Arabs of Palestine and of the inhabitants of the adjoining countries’ would only ‘jeopardise peace and international security throughout the Middle East’.

Virginia Tilley
Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, New York State


In his review of Christopher Browning’s The Origins of the Final Solution, John Connelly says that in early 1941 the Nazis were still, ‘in all seriousness’, intending to get rid of Europe’s Jews by shipping them to Madagascar (LRB, 7 July). How could it have been practicable to send masses of people from Eastern Europe to Madagascar while Britain still held the Suez Canal – not to mention Aden, the Sudan, Kenya and Tanganyika? The notion is so bizarre that I have often wondered whether ‘Madagascar’ was not another Nazi euphemism.

Tony French
Heidelberg, Victoria


I should like to make a few comments on Nicholas Horsfall’s review of my translation of Horace’s Odes (LRB, 23 June). The purpose of the Loeb series is to help the student who has some Latin (or Greek); that is why the original is printed en face. I also chose to translate certain names or titles which might not mean anything to the British or American reader. Thus the craggy Acroceraunia appear as ‘Thunder Peaks’, a name which few, apart from Horsfall, will associate with soap operas. Similarly, Carmen Saeculare, according to Horsfall, ought not to be rendered as ‘Hymn for a New Age’, because ‘new age’ carries all manner of inappropriate associations. But that is what the title means. And what is the alternative? ‘Secular Hymn’, in addition to being seriously misleading, might suggest something like ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. How appropriate would that be? The name Rhode is translated as ‘Rosy’, which is what it meant to educated Roman readers. Whether it is appropriate to a fashionable courtesan is perhaps debatable; I think it is.

I am also taken to task for referring to Maecenas and Horace as patron and client. In English terms that is what they were. Granted, they did not refer to one another as patronus and cliens. They were amici, and the evolution of their relationship, which came to transcend their positions in society, is a remarkable story. Yet even when Horace no longer needed Maecenas’ support he often called him rex and pater.

Finally, Horsfall congratulates me on having ‘chosen my time well’ because the abundance of works available (in particular those of Nisbet, West and Watson) meant that, whenever I got stuck, help was ‘not more than a couple of phone-calls away’. In fact I did not choose my time: I was invited to do the translation. My typescript was sent in before the appearance of Watson’s Epodes, West and I agreed to work independently, and while I naturally used Nisbet and Hubbard’s commentaries on Odes 1 and 2, and collaborated with the former on Odes 3, I did not consult him on anything else. But no doubt some of the slime of the insinuation will stick. I continue to admire Horsfall’s erudition, but not always his judgment or his manners.

Niall Rudd
Meols, Wirral

Genuine Great Captains

Andrew Bacevich writes that the name of Douglas Haig ‘became a byword for mindless slaughter and soldierly incompetence’ (LRB, 21 July). My grandfather remembered hearing cheering break out somewhere east of his position (‘it began near Switzerland’) and move along the trenches. His company thought peace had broken out, but were almost as pleased to learn that Haig had been made junior to Marshal Foche. He said the cheering ended ‘somewhere in the North Sea’.

Martin Axford
Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire

Benjamin Spencer mentions Ulysses S. Grant’s drinking habits (Letters, 4 August). On receiving reports about them from Grant’s enemies, Abraham Lincoln said that he would like to know the brand of whiskey Grant drank so that he could send a barrel to each of his other generals.

Jack Pole

Where is the internet?

Thomas Jones credits the invention of ‘the web browser as we know it’ to Marc Andreessen of the University of Illinois in 1992 (LRB, 4 August). He should have mentioned Tim Berners-Lee, who pioneered the use of hypertext for sharing information, created the first web browser, the WorldWideWeb, in 1990, and introduced it to colleagues at CERN in March 1991. Berners-Lee is British. His achievement goes against the thrust of Jones’s argument, which is that more or less everything to do with the internet is American. That’s undoubtedly true, but it’s good to know that there are exceptions.

Chris Sansom
London E5

Do you have my book?

As well as the copies of Donald Gardner’s collection For the Flames which are listed by Don Share (Letters, 21 July), there is one in the Poetry Library. Floods in 1999 and 2000 damaged most of the books on the G-H shelves of our reference section. Miraculously, Gardner’s book survived and is now comfortably in storage, waiting for the Royal Festival Hall to reopen in 2007.

Chris McCabe
The Poetry Library, London SW1

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