Kirkus Reviews QR Code


The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives

by Gilbert Achcar

Pub Date: May 1st, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-8050-8954-7
Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

A scholarly reappraisal of the diverse Arab responses to the Holocaust and Zionism.

In the wake of recent scandalous proclamations by Holocaust deniers, Beirut-born historian Achcar (Development Studies and International Relations/School of Oriental and African Studies, London; The Clash of Barbarisms: The Making of the New World Disorder, 2006, etc.) is distressed by the evidence of Arab “intellectual regression.” Examining the archives—he takes English-language “experts” to task for not learning Arabic—from the rise of Nazism in the early 1930s through the eras of Nasser, the PLO and the present-day efflorescence of Islamic fundamentalism, the author emphasizes that the Arab response has involved an enormously convoluted “symbolic tit for tat” over the centuries, stating, in effect, that the Jewish people are not the only victims, and refusing to be saddled with the responsibility for what was in fact a Christian evil. Achcar repeatedly stresses that “the Arabs” do not act in unison, but are diverse peoples, and as such there is no single response. In terms of the reaction to the Zionist incursions in Palestine and increased immigration during the ’30s and ’40s, he carefully distinguishes among four groups of Arabs: the liberal Westerners, the Marxists, the nationalists and the reactionary/fundamentalist Pan-Islamists. Achcar acknowledges the bad apples over the decades—e.g., the pro-Nazi Baath Party and Amin al-Husseini, aka the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem—while much of this record continues to play into “the stock themes of Israeli propaganda” by the Zionist state. At times the author scrambles to portray the Arab reaction in a favorable light, but he does a fine service pointing out holes in previous research. Moreover, he never loses sight of the irony that Israel is widely regarded as a racist state.

A spirited defense and a plea to both Arabs and Jews, “motivated by the same humanism yet situated on opposite sides of the wall of hatred.”