THE WHYS AND WHEREFORES OF ISRAEL’S CRITICS
By Leon Reich
We may have given up looking for a fresh take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When not prescribing policy, commentators either make a case for Israel or tweak, twist and invent its faults, and on every count hand down their target market’s demand for a guilty verdict. Other commentators look to fill the neutral space in between. It’s all covered.
But a writer perceptive enough to break the conflict into three parts – physical, diplomatic and propaganda – then worry the guts out of the third, might just hit a rich unexplored vein. In those terms the market will judge Steve Apfel’s new book.
His Preface, a gem of an essay on its own, relates that the book’s title might well have been “How the West was won.” The Palestinian camp, it argues, has won the contest of “words, images and manipulation” hands down. But even in victory they have an image to sustain.
To be caught trumping Israel in manipulating opinion would deal a blow to the Palestinian camp – even a fatal blow. It would ruin the narrative. The Palestinian camp must play the underdog in this as in every other battle, or risk the whole war.
Hadrian’s Echo is a long way from being a Dershowitz type book. In The Case for Israel the great advocate tackles the prosecution’s case. Apfel tackles the prosecutors.
He does this (and it accounts for the spark of originality sustained throughout the book) through models. Into these he fits the propaganda mongers: journalists, NGOs, political and civil activists, legal fraternity, UN agencies, anti-Zionist Jews – all foot soldiers in the anti-Israel brigade.
The overall model – I would say the book’s constant theme – comes from the unlikely mouth of Willy Sutton. When asked why he robbed banks Sutton, tongue in cheek, shot back: “That’s where the money is.” Apfel takes this homily to formulate a ‘Sutton principle.’ Why do people and whole nations obsess overIsrael? Because, he argues, that’s where the Jews are. And the book goes on to demonstrate that.
Another model is named Louis Farrakhan and his Shadow. The million-man marcher represents the real deal Israel-hater. But critics for the serious market, their hidden hatred raw like Farrakhan’s, have to put on a professional front. By interrogating a group of media personalities (Robert Fisk is one of them) Apfel strips away their front until the men stand naked, and we see them for what they are. Another model is the ‘Worm Catcher,’ which finally slams and locks the door on anti-Semites who protest their bona fides.
Apfel’s model to understand anti-Zionist Jews like Pappe, or Zapiro, or Finkelstein, relies on that seminal work by the Frenchmen Jean-Paul Sartre: Anti-Semite and Jew.Israel was not born when the philosopher-playwright wrote the book; but Apfel adapts it to the conflict of words, images and manipulation:
Media types who have their eyes fixed severely upon Israel have not much in common with Jews who have their eyes similarly fixed. Both it is true, camp on the Palestinian side, but their equipment is quite different. For their part Jews find themselves in that camp out of feelings partly conditioned by the media… Applying the insight of Sartre, these Jews “have allowed themselves to be poisoned by the stereo-type of Israel.” Another thing …Jews against Israel have taken a circuitous and tortuous route by way of the desert, a route not taken by other groups. They had to over-adjust in order (applying Sartre) to be distinguished radically from acts catalogued as Israeli.
The book contains many original insights. Take the difference between critics of Israeland activists against Israel. “They are alike in being concerned with Israel’s behaviour, and unlike in the behaviour that concerns them. The clearest way to separate the two is by considering the sort of demands they make on Israel.”
Perhaps the most detailed and thought-provoking chapter would be ‘Games the media play.’ As an op-ed in the Times of Israel, it attracted global attention. I would have to agree with at least one comment, out of the scores posted, that of Maurice Ostroff, well-known defender of Israel:
This cogent essay should be on the recommended reading list for all who wish to avoid being misinformed by the media. You ably confirm Mark Twain’s quip “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.
For me the compelling chapter of the book is titled “The Lawman of Leiden.” Apfel takes on a UN edifice and its Special Rapporteur, Professor John Dugard. After acknowledging Dugard’s credentials, he rips into his facade as expert on International and Humanitarian Law who throws the law book at Israel. By the end of three chapters of evidence, interrogation and analysis, Dugard’s reputation lies in tatters.
The cover promises that Hadrian’s Echo is a “book that will entertain while it enlightens.” I shall only add that it’s worth reading, again and again.
Alderman Leon Reich is National Chairman of Likud, SA, a former hotelier, Councilor of Rhodes University, and the only Jewish Mayor in the 200 year history of Grahamstown.