The Question of Zion, by Jacqueline Rose
By Ted Lapkin
Being assailed by one’s ideological enemies is all in a day’s work for a political writer. But when an author’s ideological allies are forced to concede that a particular scribe has writing problems, the reader becomes aware that something must be seriously amiss.
So as I read Dennis Altman’s review of The Question of Zion by Jacqueline Rose in the Australian Book Review, I inwardly groaned in anticipation of the task that lay ahead. Altman, a politics professor who specializes in gay liberation theory, is supportive of Rose’s anti-Zionist thesis. But he describes The Question of Zion as “not an easy book to read” that is plagued by “overly academic language.” Such damning faint praise from a sympathetic reviewer indicated that the long hard slog through this book would represent a triumph of tenacity over tedium. And so it turned out to be.
But the stilted literary style of its author is just the least of this book’s worries. Not only is The Question of Zion rife with factual errors, but its primary thesis rests on the notion that Zionism is synonymous with psychosis. It seems that pop psychology has become the latest front in the ongoing anti-Zionist campaign to delegitimise Israel as a Jewish state.
But upon reflection, the most remarkable thing about Jacqueline Rose’s book is that it has attracted such attention in Australia. The road to academic fame and fortune usually lies along the path of groundbreaking factual research, or the presentation of new and innovative ways of understanding an established issue. The Question of Zion, however, satisfies neither of those criteria. The book, instead, is simply a deeply flawed leftist polemic masquerading in the guise of serious scholarship. It is nothing more than a cunning farrago of tendentiously selective quotations and outright factual inaccuracies that are woven around a hackneyed, pseudo-psychological thesis. And, quite frankly, even the psychology angle has been done to death.
Jacqueline Rose makes much of the fact that the modern state of Israel is strongly influenced by the national Jewish history of oppression and persecution. But this is simply a statement of the glaringly obvious. After all, what people, nation or ethnic group is not a product of its particular historical experience?
Is not modern Australian political culture still strongly influenced by the trauma of Gallipoli and the fear of Japanese invasion in 1942? The idea that unique ethnic Weltanshauungen — or world views — are forged by the vicissitudes of history has been around since Johann Gottfried Herder in the late 18th century.
And there is nothing new to Jacqueline Rose’s application of this thesis to the Israeli experience. As she treads the well worn path blazed by the anti-Zionist ideologues who have gone before, Rose is seduced by the same canards that have become stock in trade of the hard-leftist assault on Israel. She does not quote from primary Hebrew sources, relying instead on translations that are carefully chosen on the basis of ideological affinity rather than academic rigour. And the secondary sources she uses come almost exclusively from Arab authors, or from that small coterie of anti-Zionist Israeli academics who are known as the “New Historians.”
Thus, Rose cites the work of Palestinian author Nur Masalha to support her contention that Ben Gurion was dedicated to the forcible ethnic cleansing of all Arabs from the Holy Land. She lauds Oxford historian Avi Shlaim, who has written that the Zionists were in cahoots with King Abdullah of Jordan to divide up Mandatory Palestine between them.
Yet the scholarship of the New Historians has been decisively eviscerated by Efraim Karsh in his book Fabricating Israeli History. In a chapter entitled ‘The Collusion that Never Was,’ Karsh gives short shrift to the theory of Jewish-Jordanian conspiracy that is the centrepiece of Shlaim’s book Collusion Across the Jordan. And even Benny Morris, arguably the most prominent New Historian, conceded that Efraim Karsh’s rebuttal of his ‘transfer’ thesis was overwhelming. Both Morris and Nur Masalha had propagated the myth that David Ben Gurion favoured the ‘transfer’ — expulsion — of Palestine’s Arab population. But in the Times Literary Supplement Morris was forced to admit: “Karsh has a point. My treatment of transfer thinking before 1948 was, indeed, superficial.” And with Benny Morris throwing in the towel, the even more strident Masalha is dismissed by Karsh as a “propagandist” whose “list of distortions is infinite.”
The sciolistic essence of Jacqueline Rose’s scholarship is compounded by her explicit political agenda to produce the many factually absurd assertions that litter her book. One of most nonsensical arguments appears in Chapter 3, where she makes the assertion that: “we know that the Holocaust fully enters the [Israeli] national memory only after the 1967 Six Day War.” Rose apparently never heard of the Eichman trial in 1961, which cast Israeli society into a paroxysm of torment as the horrors of the Shoah were resurrected in a Jerusalem courtroom.
At a certain point in The Question of Zion, Jacqueline Rose progresses down the slippery slope from simple sloppiness to seemingly malicious dishonesty. By means of a slyly constructed quote of an unnamed “commander in Gaza,” she implies that the Israeli army deliberately kills Palestinian children. Yet this is simply not true.
As opposed to Palestinian terrorists who deliberately seek out civilian targets, the Israeli army makes a concerted effort to limit its strikes to its armed enemies. And a comparative look at the casualty figures bears this out.
Almost 80% of the Israelis killed over the past five years have been civilians. By contrast, two thirds of Palestinian deaths have come from the ranks of armed combatants, or were killed by fellow Palestinians during internecine disputes.
And, to the extent that young Palestinians have died in this conflict, it is in large part attributable to the culture of death that has come to dominate the West Bank and Gaza. In October 2000, Palestinian journalist Huda al-Husseini wrote a scathing column in London’s Arabic language al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper that denounced this phenomenon of deliberate child sacrifice:
“While UN Organisations save child-soldiers, especially in Africa, from the control of militia leaders who hurl them into the furnace of gang-fighting, Palestinian leaders consciously issue orders with the purpose of ending their [Palestinian children’s] childhood, even if it means their last breath…”
When that same Israeli army officer states his belief that he is fighting an enemy bent on the destruction of his nation, Jacqueline Rose proceeds to deride that concern as an “hallucination” of the Holocaust. But one only has to read the Hamas Covenant, or to listen to the statements of Palestinian Islamic Jihad leaders, to understand that in the world of Islamic radicalism, a Jewish state has no place.
And one only has to look at the vile Judeophobic cartoons that so regularly grace the pages of newspapers throughout the Arab world, to realise that hatred towards Israel is not caused by the occupation of the West Bank.
From Teheran to Tulkarm, the Jewish State is surrounded by people who make no bones about their desire to erase it from the map. The Jews may indeed be strongly influenced by their history of persecution.
But just because you are paranoid, doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you. But the real problem is that Jacqueline Rose agrees with those who believe that a Jewish state is an exercise in injustice. In her previous book, States of Fantasy, Rose clearly indicates her preference for a bi-national Arab-Jewish state to take the place of Israel.
Jacqueline Rose seems to be confident that such an arrangement would sow the seeds of inter-ethnic comity rather than conflict. She appears to be convinced that an idyllic state of peaceful coexistence could reign supreme, if only Israel’s Judaic character were eradicated. Against all logic and evidence, Jacqueline Rose clings to her bi-national fantasy with all the chiliastic fervour of the Zionist messianists she so dearly loves to hate.
But a more sober perusal of the Middle East’s past and present raises serious concerns about how ethnic and religious minorities fare under Islamic rule. As a matter of fact, violent Judeophobia is a venerable tradition throughout the Arab world. From Mosul to Marrakesh, Jews were being slaughtered and synagogues were being burned long before the first glint of Zionist fervour appeared in Theodore Herzl’s eyes.
Historian Bat Ye’or has documented how the institution of ‘dhimmitude’ brought about the eradication of countless Jewish communities throughout the Middle East during the aftermath of the Muslim conquest. And even the medieval ‘golden age’ of Muslim-Jewish comity in Spain had a dark and seamy underside. In the year 1066, the Jewish community in the Islamic Spanish capital of Granada was wiped out during a pogrom fomented by Muslim clerics who feared that Jewish officials had accrued excessive power. When the Berber Almohads seized control of Muslim Spain a century later, Jews (and Christians) were offered the bleak choice of conversion or death.
And things did not improve with time. Eminent Middle East historian Bernard Lewis identified the latter 18th and entire 19th centuries as “the lowest point in the existence of the Jews in the Muslim lands.”
And in the 21st century, the Baha’i of Iran, the Kurds of Syria and many Christian communities throughout the Middle East are currently being subjected to severe intimidation and persecution. Thus the patterns of history would not bode well for the fate of a rump Jewish population within a predominantly Arab Palestinian state.
The Palestinian push to requisition a ‘right’ of return is categorically rejected by most Israeli Jews because it is considered tantamount to a demand for their national suicide. And for Israelis, their opposition to this Palestinian policy is rendered all the more absolute by the chronic dysfunction of the Arab society into which anti-Zionists desire the Jewish state to be subsumed.
The political tyranny and socio-economic stagnation that pervade the Islamic Middle East was recounted in depressing detail by the UN’s landmark Arab Human Development Report – 2002. The Report found: “out of seven world regions, the Arab countries had the lowest freedom score in the late 1990s.”
And the picture on the gender equity front wasn’t any prettier. The UN revealed that: “women [in the Arab world] also suffer from unequal citizenship and legal entitlements, often evident in voting rights and legal codes.”
This dearth of political liberty and gender equality has wrought disastrous social and economic consequences for the Islamic Middle East. Illiteracy rates throughout the Arab world are much higher than in poorer non-Arab nations. And despite access to one of the world’s richest concentrations of natural resources, the GDP of all 22 Arab countries combined is lower than that of Spain.
By contrast, Israel is a progressive Western democracy in a global region that has hitherto been dominated by cultural backwardness and autocratic tyranny. Despite tremendous adversity, Israel has managed to build a first-world nation that combines the political values of liberty with cutting edge technological sophistication.
It would be absurd to think that Israelis could ever be induced to hitch their wagon to the stalled locomotive that is Arab society.
The Question of Zion is Rose’s poorly researched and badly written prosecutor’s brief for sacrificing the Jewish state on the altar of her utopian pipedream. But only a delusional dogmatist could believe that it would be desirable to destroy the Middle East’s only democracy in order to create another failed Arab state. The Palestinian ‘right’ of return to Tel Aviv would serve as a monumental rebuff to the cause of human freedom, and constitute a Jewish catastrophe of historic proportions.
Anti-Zionism, which is what lies at the core of The Question of Zion, is nothing more than the most recent iteration of an antisemitic virus that has been around for over two millennia. It is a pernicious creed that must not be allowed to triumph. Fortunately, this book will convince few people who are not already overwhelmingly infected with the anti-Zionist bug.