Wrong Target for a Pretend Philosopher

December 26, 2010 § 4 Comments

French Zionist and celebrity Islamophobe Bernard-Henri Levy recently accused Susan Abulhawa’s novel Mornings in Jenin of contributing to anti-Semitism. Levy picked the wrong target. Abulhawa has already proved herself more than a match for the ranting Alan Dershowitz. In the Huffington Post she responds to Levy’s anti-Semitism charge: “This word — with its profound gravity of marginalization, humiliation, dispossession, oppression, and ultimately, genocide of human beings for no other reason but their religion — is so irresponsibly used by the likes of Levy that it truly besmirches the memory of those who were murdered in death camps solely for being Jewish.” Then she reminds us that “the people who today are being marginalized, humiliated, dispossessed, and oppressed for the sole reason of their religion are Palestinian Christians and Muslims.

The entire, excellent rejoinder to Levy’s attempt at intimidation is over the fold. Meanwhile, if you haven’t yet bought a copy of Abulhawa’s wonderful novel, do so.

Bernard-Henri Levy, the French pop star of philosophy and intellectual elitism, authored an essay that featured my novel, Mornings in Jenin, as one of three distressing developments that led him to ask “is there no end to the demonization of Israel?” It was titled: “The Antisemitism to Come.” The other two happenings that concern him, he says, are the growing boycott of Israel and an acclaimed documentary film called Tears of Gaza.

First, a look at Mr Levy’s targets:

1) Mornings in Jenin is a work of historic fiction, where fictional characters live through real history; and I encourage anyone to do their own research to verify the accuracy of the historic events that form the backdrop for the novel. 2) Tears of Gaza is a documentary film by Vibeke Lokkeberg, in which she reveals the horrific impact of Israel’s bombing of Gaza in 2008 to 2009, especially on children and women. 3) The activists participating in and encouraging an economic boycott of Israel are ordinary citizens all over the world who are heeding the call of their conscience to take a moral stand against a grave injustice that has gone on far too long against the indigenous population of Israel and Palestine; namely, the Palestinian people.

Rather than offer an intelligent analysis of any one of these three things that trouble him, Levy essentially resorts to name-calling. He simply slaps on the word “antisemitism” to discredit any negative portrayal of Israel. This word — with its profound gravity of marginalization, humiliation, dispossession, oppression, and ultimately, genocide of human beings for no other reason but their religion — is so irresponsibly used by the likes of Levy that it truly besmirches the memory of those who were murdered in death camps solely for being Jewish. And I thank Kurt Brainin, a Holocaust survivor who wrote a touching letter expressing exactly that in response to Levy.

Nowhere in Levy’s essay does he identify anything truly antisemitic in any of the three elements to which he refers. Because he cannot. If he could, I think he would. In fact, the people who today are being marginalized, humiliated, dispossessed, and oppressed for the sole reason of their religion are Palestinian Christians and Muslims. That is the real antisemitism of today.

Israel has been wiping Palestine off the map, expelling us and stealing everything we have. All that remains to us is less than 11 percent of our historic homeland, now in the form of isolated Bantustans, surrounded by menacing walls, snipers, checkpoints, settler-only roads and the ever-expanding Jewish-only settlements built on confiscated Palestinian property. We have no control over our own natural resources. The amount of water one receives is based on one’s religion, such that Palestinians must share bathing water, while their Jewish neighbors water their lawns and enjoy private swimming pools. According to Defence for Children International, in Jerusalem alone, Israel has imprisoned 1,200 Palestinian children this year, who are routinely abused and forced to sign confessions in Hebrew, which they do not understand. Israel routinely targets Palestinian schools and has created a full generation of lost souls in Gaza, who are growing up knowing only fear, insecurity, and hunger. Documents pertaining to Israel’s brutal siege of Gaza and its merciless attacks on that civilian population show the cold mathematical formulas designed intentionally to produce food shortages and hunger in Gaza. Christian Palestinians have all but been wholly removed from the place of Jesus’ birth. And on goes the inhumanity — the constant expulsions, home demolitions, systematic theft, destruction of livelihoods, uprooting of trees — especially olive trees which are so precious to Palestinian culture — curfews, closures, institutional discrimination, and on and on.

Instead of upholding the best of Jewish ideals that champion justice and the uplifting of the oppressed, Mr. Levy rushes to Israel’s defense, repeating the tired mantra of “the only democracy in the Middle East.” Apartheid South Africa, too, called itself a democracy, while it mowed down little boys in Soweto (with arms, incidentally, supplied by Israel). So did the United States, during a time when at least 20 percent of its population lived as slaves, bought and sold like cattle.

Equally outrageous is Mr. Levy’s wholesale labeling of anyone who criticizes Israel as “antisemitic”. For exposing Israel’s extensive crimes, we must face the defamation that we are immoral, racist, and hateful. In the case of Vibeke Lokkeberg, Levy makes it a point to inform the reader that she is a former model, ignoring her accomplishments as an experienced filmmaker and author. Apparently, in addition to suggesting she is racist, he perhaps wants readers to think she is also not intellectually qualified to create anything of merit. This tactic of attacking and trying to discredit the messenger rather than address the actual message is an age-old propaganda method.

Mr. Levy accuses us of “demonizing Israel”, when in fact, all we do is pull back the curtain, however slightly, to show a dark truth he wishes to keep hidden. I suspect that Mr Levy feels, as most Jewish supporters of Israel do, that he is more entitled to my grandfather’s farms than I am. After all, that is really the foundation of Israel, isn’t it? The question that should be asked is “why?” and “how?” Why should Jews from all over the world be entitled to enjoy dual citizenship, both in their own homeland and in mine, while we, the natives of Palestine, languish in refugee camps, a diaspora, or patrolled ghettos and bantustans? How is it that a country with one of the most powerful militaries in the world, that has been committing well-documented war crimes against a principally unarmed civilian native population for six decades now, is depicted as the victim? And worse, the real victims, who are trying to resist their own extinction, are depicted as the aggressors?

Nelson Mandela once said: “We know all too well, that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.” Now, in addition to such notable personalities speaking out, people all over the world are slowly joining the struggle for justice and freedom for Palestinians; and it seems inevitable that Israel’s systematic ethnic cleansing will at last be opposed by a critical mass of people that will compel Israel to abandon its institutional racism, such that the native non-Jewish population might at last live with the same legal and human rights as Jews in the Holy Land. This is clearly what really worries Mr. Levy.

Susan Abulhawa is the author of Mornings in Jenin (Bloomsbury 2010)

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§ 4 Responses to Wrong Target for a Pretend Philosopher

  • Excellent response to this French pseudo intellectual whose media fame is based on a penchant for wearing his shirt unbuttoned to the waist and in being married to a celebrity starlet, Arielle Dombasle. His laughable attempt at filmaking a few years ago was treated with derision by movie critics from both right and left. AS regards his books, Gaby Wood wrote in the Observer “Some of Lévy’s critics have long considered even his most solidly non-fictional books to contain elements of untruth. Twenty years ago he was taken to task by Pierre Vidal-Nacquet for gross factual errors, the most patent of which was having Himmler stand trial at Nuremberg, when he had already committed suicide.”

  • Zafar says:

    Absolutely brilliant piece.

  • rosemerry says:

    great. I am about to buy Susan’s book, in French or English (pity about the title change!). I, too, find BHL a pain in the neck. Philosopher implies he thinks. He and Dersh make a lovely pair of fools, and Susan makes a marvellous response to them both.

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