An astute study of how the political cauldron of the Middle East has generated fierce responses from the left.
Linfield (Journalism/New York Univ.; The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence, 2010) offers a trenchant analysis of the seemingly intractable Palestinian-Israeli conflict through an examination of eight prominent left-wing intellectuals: Hannah Arendt, Arthur Koestler, Maxime Rodinson, Isaac Deutscher, Albert Memmi, Fred Halliday, I.F. Stone, and Noam Chomsky. Each professed strong views on Zionism, which Linfield defines as “support for a democratic state for the Jewish people.” In a series of linked, deftly delineated portraits, the author reveals fraught debate marked by both “fearless intellectual energy” and, too often, the dismaying imposition of “fantasy, symbol, metaphor, and theory overtaking reality and history.” Many of her subjects, like Arendt, held an “ideological antipathy to sovereignty” that made them critical of Zionism. Some, like the combative Koestler, a self-loathing Jew, “insisted that there was no Jewish history and culture” to merit statehood for “a chosen people.” Rodinson, a French scholar of Islam, believed that Palestinians, as victims of colonial oppression, were justified in their one unifying stance: hostility to Israel. That stance was echoed by Chomsky, whose hatred for Israel and championing of Palestine Linfield criticizes as arrogant and ignorant, based on “manufactured history” and “staggering” misrepresentations. In contrast, she praises Memmi and Halliday for their principled, humane analyses. Memmi saw Zionism as “the national liberation movement of an oppressed people,” worthy of support by the left. Halliday, an activist, journalist, multilinguist, and scholar, condemned the “profound mistakes” and crimes committed by both Zionist and Palestinian movements. Both Memmi and Halliday concurred that support for terrorism was indefensible: “a short circuit that substitutes immediate fear and panicky responses for long-term solutions.” Like Linfield, Halliday advocated the establishment of two democratic states of Israel and Palestine. Besides presenting an unusually clear and informed history of the Arab-Israeli struggle, the author throws a glaring light on the perils of fanaticism and insularity.
A significant contribution to contemporary political discourse.