In the library’s history section all the shelves are crowded together. In the Middle East, opposing polemics are wedged up against each other. Alan Dershowitz rubs shoulders with Tony Judt who leans onto George Gilder who balances out Norman Finkelstein who flakes bits of paper on Benjamin Netanyahu. Though located in the history section, most of these books are not history. They are long opinion pieces, arguments for and against the Jewish State.
On the left there are vituperative diatribes and on the right there are earnest defenses. The Holocaust Industry contends with The Case for Israel, The Jewish Lobby with Start Up Nation. Every few months brings new combatants to the shelves. Shlomo Sand is swapped out with Peter Beinart who is swapped out with Noam Chomsky like a baseball team that is forever calling the same players off the bench to make the same plays.
Next year there will be another four books denouncing Israel for its settlements and its trickery in making the terrorists look like they don’t want peace by negotiating with them for twenty years. And next to them another four books asserting that Israel wants peace and has the right to self-defense.
The four-hundred thousand word argument can be summed up as, “Israel is bad and those who live there are bad people” and “No, they aren’t.”
The first argument is easier to make then the second, because all countries and people have their flaws, but the second argument has gotten easier to make once the first argument switched off to, “Israel is the worst country that ever existed (with the possible exception of South Africa) and those who live there are the worst people that ever existed.”
When the torchbearers of the Anti-Israel argument are the likes of Norman Finkelstein and Tony Judt, then anyone who appears less filled with violent hatred suddenly seems moderate by comparison. It allows opponents of Israel like Peter Beinart to rebrand themselves as Liberal Zionists because at least they aren’t claiming that the Prime Minister of Israel ritually eats four babies for breakfast every morning.
Few of the books are concerned with the reality of Israel. They are concerned with it as an ideal. The left tears apart the ideal. The right defends the ideal. There is a growing body of books by Jewish leftists who visit Israel, stop by a supermarket outside their hotel, visit one or two sites, cringe at the guns, take in a nightspot, visit the Western Wall, visit the Separation Wall, and transmit the whole thing into a miniature memoir expressing their disappointment with the experience.
The latest such offering, Harvey Pekar’s Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me, a 70 year-old son of a Communist mother and Orthodox father who visited Israel for the first time and discovered that it didn’t live up to whatever mixed-up ideal his parents promised him. Pekar is already dead, but there is an entire conveyor belt along which the younger set rides to write critical books, graphic novels, blogs and tweets about their disappointing experience in the Jewish State.
Whatever books are on the shelves two years from now, it is likely that very little will have changed. The world as a whole, not just the occasional liberal brat, will continue being disappointed in Israel for not having magically and non-violently resolved the dilemma of people shooting at it no matter what it does. After all there’s already a book titled, How to Make Peace in the Middle East in Six Months or Less on the shelf. Why not just read it and do what it says?
Regardless of who wins the presidential election, two years from now a Secretary of State will be icily dressing down Israel for building houses in provocative places, using drones to kill terrorists and refusing to make peace. As the history section will bulge with eight more pro and con books; another member will have joined the choir invisible of James Baker, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. While the Democrats have been worse on Israel, each administration regardless of its affiliation, has accepted the precedents of the previous administration and eventually managed to top its attacks on Israel’s sovereignty.