ARNOLD AGES: A REVIEW OF EDWARD ALEXANDER’S “THE STATE OF THE JEWS: A CRITICAL APPRAISAL” ****
A powerful polemicist in defense of Jews, Israel By ARNOLD AGES
From Chicago Jewish Star Vol. 22 (Aug. 17-30, 2012), p. 9
I must confess to have experienced an initial disquiet upon approaching Edward Alexander’s collection of very literate reviews, essays and think pieces, some of the latter based on books and articles which he has analyzed.
This is a genre which, in past encounters with several examples, has inevitably left me somewhat disappointed because of the lack of internal unity in the themes explored.
Alexander’s book, The State of the Jews: A Critical Appraisal (Transaction Publishers, 2012, 248 pp., $34.95), however, is a welcome exception because he has, in each exquisitely polished entry, identified what Rabelais used to call la substantifique moelle (“the essential marrow”) of the issue.
The marrow here is the disgraceful assault on Jews and the State of Israel coming from both gentiles and Jews in the last decade.
In the 10 full-length book reviews and the 17 essays and think pieces (derived in part from his Gargantuan reading habits) Alexander proceeds first, in an orderly fashion, to document the anti-Semitic rot which courses through the thinking of some of the luminaries of English literature, before moving to the more current war against Jews and Israel, a war aided and abetted by misguided members of the Jewish tribe.
Some of those tribal members who live in Israel are also the special target of the author’s critical volleys.
“The other country, right or wrong” is the way Alexander characterizes the attitudes of some of the more repugnant representatives of the Israeli left.
Alexander is a powerful polemicist who possesses a biting sense of humor, which he deploys in an essay about how deceased Jewish grandmothers are being converted to radical anti-Israel positions by extreme Jewish leftists today and made to parrot anti-Zionist and anti-Israel tropes. (And we thought that only the Mormons were engaged, mutatis mutandi, in this kind of mischief!)
The author (who is professor emeritus of English at the University of Washington in Seattle, and whose original articles have appeared in these pages since 2008) decided to research the real political proclivities of these grandmothers and discovered they were inevitably warm supporters of Israel!
Alexander advises the reader that in yesteryear it was said that when an individual felt he could no longer be a Jew, he became a Zionist; today the fashion dictates that the same individual becomes an anti-Zionist.
That is not surprising given the high decibel count of some of the voices of current Jewish critics of Israel; what is surprising is Alexander’s revelation, in his review of Anthony Julius’s book on English anti-Semitism, Trials of the Diaspora (Jewish Star, April 30, 2010) that the three most anti-Semitic writers in that “green and pleasant land” are Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dickens, whose collective genius gave us the “Prioress’s Tale”, The Merchant of Venice and Fagin in Oliver Twist.
The high reputation of these writers and the sway they have held over English literature tends to reduce England’s reputation as a foyer for philosemitism, as Alexander astutely observes.
Alexander is meticulous in disclosing the whole story about England’s literary traditions. We learn in his survey that Matthew Arnold, the prototypical English critic, was favorably disposed to Jews, as Mark Twain was wont to say, mostly.
Despite his largesse in evaluating the Hebrew Bible, he was still bound (like Milton) to the uncongenial Christian supercessionist bias against Judaism.
It is possible that some of Dr. Thomas Arnold’s religious DNA which carried the imprint of a virulent anti-Judaism was transmitted to his son, who was able, happily, to liberate himself from most of his father’s zoological anti-Semitism but apparently retained more than a dollop of the old man’s supercessionism.
Alexander also suggests that John Stuart Mill, the eminent Victorian political theorist, was also infected with the supercessionist virus where Judaism was concerned.
But anti-Semitism, as Alexander notes, is not necessarily fueled by religious biases, although its etiology may derive from them.
The example of the American university campus in the years leading up to World War II yields plentiful evidence of high-minded American academics and administrators at prestigious universities anxious to consort, entertain and hobnob with Nazi representatives even after the Nazis’s genocidal fury against Jews became transparent.
The link between the blatant Jew hatred in some aspects of the American university scene in the 1930s and the current boycott campaign against the State of Israel in the same sector is as outrageous as it is dangerous.
That boycott activity has produced the especially repugnant example of Tom Paulin, and Alexander zeroes in with considerable justification on this English “poet” who has used his verse (doggerel might be a better term) to advocate the shooting of settlers in Judea and Samaria.
Alexander wonders whether — in view of the murder of the Fogel family in Itamar in 2011 — Paulin might be prosecuted as an “accessory before the fact.”
What is especially disconcerting is that Paulin has been invited by several American institutions of higher learning to advertise his blatantly murderous message to students.
Diaspora Jews, for a thousand years, have been victimized by this kind of insidious rhetoric but in this millennium, a new stereotype is now afoot and it is manufactured by a small clique of Jews so strident in their discomfort with the State of Israel that they have piggy-backed on Jewish critiques of Zionism from the 19th and early 20th centuries to advance their sympathy for what amounts to “politicide” for the current Jewish state.
One of these people is Jacqueline Rose, a London University English professor and literary critic who has expressed the wish that Israel “abolish itself” (one might suggest that she consider that option for herself).
Alexander is particularly fierce in his combat with these new Jewish anti-Israel knights of morality who cite the anti-Zionist rhetoric of yester-year, apparently unconscious of the fact that whereas there was no Jewish state when the words flew over theoretical concepts in that epoch, today there is an entity with seven million souls whose lives are precious and who face real threats of physical extermination from diverse enemies.
In this collection of essays, all of which display Alexander’s matchless English prose style, it is difficult to single out favorites. I found, however, that the author’s expert parsing of Ephraim Karsh’s book on the Palestinian refugees — and the slanders against Israel which have been hatched by Arab propagandists and their supporters — is especially worthwhile.
“In a striking prefigurement of today’s Middle East impasse, the Arabs gave much higher priority to destroying someone else’s society than to building their own.”
This syndrome is also shared by that coterie of current anti-Israel fanatics, advocates of the boycotting of Israel and the defenders of the suicide bombing — all of whom come under Alexander’s withering scrutiny in this volume.
In contrast to this nauseous syndrome, it is also important to note that in his collection, the author lends a felicitous interpretation to the constructive (if complicated) talents of people like Abba Kovner, Saul Bellow, Irving Howe, Cynthia Ozick, Howard Jacobson and some members of the Commentary magazine crowd. ¤
The State of the Jews: A Critical Appraisal by Edward Alexander (Jun 14, 2012)
Arnold Ages is Distinguished Professor emeritus of French Language and Literature, University of Waterloo (Ontario).
Comments are closed.