Photo Credit: Trocaire via Flickr
Catholic Communications Office representatives share a meal in the illegal shantytown of Susiya with members of Rabbis for Human rights and B'Tselem.

The New York Review of Books is not renowned for embracing Israel unless it is with a literary choke-hold.

Fifteen years ago, historian Tony Judt labeled the Jewish state an “anachronism” that is “bad for the Jews” in its pages. The mantle of Israel-bashing, however, has since been passed to other Jewish academics who, like Judt, believe that the Jewish state is worthy of their loathing.


The March 7th issue of The New York Review of Books features a review of a book by historian David Shulman who immigrated to Israel from Iowa following his graduation from high school after the Six-Day War. Serving in the IDF during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, he subsequently became an expert on the languages of India and enjoyed a distinguished academic career at the Hebrew University.

Winner of the Israel Prize in 2016, Shulman donated his award funds to Ta’ayush, which supports Palestinian farmers living in the South Hebron hills. There, for many years, he has spent every Shabbat protecting besieged Palestinian shepherds and farmers from the Jewish settlers whom he despises. Describing them as “sociopathetic” Israelis who enjoy “unfettered freedom to terrorize the local Palestinian population,” Shulman feels “responsible for the atrocities committed in my name” by settlers and the soldiers who protect them.

In his book, Freedom and Despair, Shulman confesses to a “nagging sense of futility and despair.” He once imagining that the peace camp was the catalyst for “a mass movement for peace,” but his dream was shattered by “the vast machinery of the Occupation,” a “systemic wickedness” that is an “insult to human dignity on a mass scale.” Realizing that he could “never be free in any meaningful way if [Palestinians] are not free,” he laments “the brutal harassment by soldiers and settlers” of innocent shepherds as the Israeli government pursues its “greater annexationist goal.”

Nowhere in his book, focused on the South Hebron hills, does Shulman mention the horrific 1929 massacre in Hebron in which 67 Jewish residents and yeshivah students were murdered by Arabs for the crime of being Jews. Hebron became Judenrein until, after the Six-Day War, Jews began to return to their ancient holy city, burial place of the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people and King David’s first capital city. But Shulman lacerates Hebron (where several hundred Jews are surrounded by 200,000 Palestinians) and other settlements as a “corrupt regime of theft and dispossession.”

Among Shulman’s favorite targets is the besieged Palestinian mountain village of Susya. Had Shulman bothered to google Susya, he would have learned that it is “the site of an ancient Jewish village” with archeological remains from a fourth- to fifth-century synagogue. Who, then, are the “occupiers”: Jews or the Islamic warriors who converted the site into a mosque and their Muslim disciples?

A frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books, Shulman received a glowing review of his work by Raja Shehadeh, a prominent Palestinian lawyer who founded the human-rights group Al-Haq. Shehadeh focuses on violence (“almost weekly”) by settlers against West Bank Palestinians. Palestinian violence against Jews is ignored, of course. The recent shooting of a pregnant Israel woman whose premature baby died three days later, and the rape and murder of a 19-year-old Israeli woman by a Hebron Muslim yearning to be a martyr occurred too late for inclusion (or evasion) in his article.

Shehadeh, like Shulman, believes that settler claims to biblical Judea and Samaria are “mythical.” Drawing upon Shulman’s narrative, Shehadeh concludes that “in this battle against [Israeli] fascism,” Palestinians and Israelis ”must fight together.” Shulman and Shehadeh are their self-appointed verbal warriors.

JNS recently published a brief account of the destruction by Arabs of 200 cherry trees and grapevines in Kfar Etzion, at the edge of Shulman’s beloved Palestinian enclave. Perhaps Shulman (and Shehadeh) should consider condemning the rampage the next time they write for The New York Review of Books.



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Jerold S. Auerbach, professor emeritus of history at Wellesley College, is the author of “Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel, 1896-2016."