Nora Gold’s newest book; Fields of Exile will really make you take a step back and think. In the first novel written about BDS on campus you really get a view from the ground of how BDS can tear apart a Jewish student’s campus life.
The protagonist, Judith, is a Canadian olah who returns to Canada to complete an MA in social work after 10 years in Israel. She is a left wing activist who participates in Peace Now and demonstrates against the occupation. The novel is set in 2000 during the 2nd Intifada. The reason that Gold makes her heroine a lefty is clear. On campus it doesn’t matter where you are on the Israeli political spectrum. If you are Zionist you are the bad guy.
The reason Judith is studying in Canada is in order to fulfill her father’s dying wish. She yearns throughout the book to go back to Israel and she only wants to keep her head down and get through her studies. But of course she can’t. As anti Israel rhetoric and activism grows stronger and stronger she is sucked into a world where everything is backwards. A world where even someone who is against the Israeli occupation is portrayed as a imperialist.
There are glimpses of real life here. I remember when two Israeli academics were sacked from a university journal. One of them was even a former director of Peace Now. It meant nothing to the BDS activist who fired her.
And this is really the important thing about Fields of Exile, the Orwellian world that Judith falls into has little about it that reflects the actual Israel Palestine conflict. There is simply the weird vortex through which these academics view the Middle East from thousands of miles away.
In truth a novel like this one has been a long time coming. I would argue that there are very few Jewish students in the UK who haven’t been exposed to this kind of bizarre view of Israel while studying for their degrees. The year after I left Manchester the Jewish Society was very nearly banned for being Zionist (and therefore racist). I think the only reason it wasn’t was because of a procedural issue. The votes were there for the ban to take effect.
I had to take a break when reading some of the conversations in which, in the name of expressing all views, a terrorist supporter was allowed to speak on campus. When the speaker did take to the podium he was greeted with rapturous applause. It reminded me of when Hezbollah’s Ibrahim Mousawi spoke at the School of Oriental and African Studies. In fact that was worse than was portrayed in the book, showing just how little there is to distinguish reality from fiction.
Throughout, our protagonist is helpless to do anything at all to stand up for her beloved Israel. Mirroring the fact that despite often wanting to have a positive impact for Israel students often feel hamstrung. Called racists for attempting to explain the Israeli side of the story.
I think that Dr Gold has done something really important by writing this book.