To the Editor:
Edward Alexander’s vicious attack on the book Anatoly and Avital Shcharansky: The Journey Home [“Shcharansky's Secret,” October 1986] is not only mean-spirited but also incompetent; I am amazed that COMMENTARY gave the book for “review” to a man who is unqualified to judge such a journalistic work. The book, which I edited and co-authored with seven other Jerusalem Post reporters, is not free of flaws, naturally. . . . But I do think that Mr. Alexander should have been frank with COMMENTARY, and said something like, “I have this insane hatred for journalists, and this obsession about the Jerusalem Post. I cannot in good conscience accept an assignment to review a book written by those secular leftist infidels.”
In previous articles, Mr. Alexander has shown almost a compulsive need to attack various Jerusalem Post writers. Mr. Alexander is simply an ideologue (as, unfortunately, are many journalists), one who puts West Bank in quotation marks, defends the Jewish terrorist underground and Rabbi Kahane, and strikes out repeatedly at “liberal journalists” and the “jaundiced” Jerusalem Post. His cranky prose and frequent diatribes tell us more about him than about his subjects: in one article, he rants about “sweaty Jewish ‘peace’ groups and Conservative and Reform rabbis”; in another he lashes out at “this smelly little orthodoxy of leftist criminology,” and in his hatchet job in COMMENTARY, he advises readers of our book to approach it with “a generous supply of antiseptic soap.” That sounds like a toilet-training problem, not criticism.
It is simply outrageous for this man not to mention any part of the book other than the chapter that offended him so much and one sentence from the preface. He found a place to mention his own heroic anti-Soviet efforts (“the present author, interrogated by Soviet authorities in December 1976 for carrying Jewish books into the USSR . . . ,” blah blah blah). But not one word about our chapter on the diplomatic negotiations that led to Shcharansky’s release—the first time this had been chronicled in depth. Not one word about the epilogue (a long report from Russia on the refuseniks, including the first in-depth interview with Ida Nudel). It is a major portion of the book, which has been reprinted around the world and praised by Ida Nudel, Shcharansky, Isaiah Berlin, and Martin Gilbert, who recently cited the articles on which the epilogue was based in front of an audience of 5,000 at Albert Hall. But this is small potatoes to Mr. Alexander, who is the kind of Jew more interested in not getting into the Soviet Union. (Yes, he proudly defended those Jewish books, and was therefore turned back. Upon his arrival in London, the AP, duly informed, photographed the indignant professor and his wife.) . . .
In a pompous lecture tone, he shows nothing but disdain for journalists. . . . Only we are so craven as to call the Rav Kook Institute in Jerusalem “Merkaz Harav Yeshiva,” Mr. Alexander says. “The full name of the yeshiva in question is Merkaz Harav Kook. The name lopped off by the secularist zeal of the Jerusalem Post team is that of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook,” blah blah blah. I understand that Mr. Alexander is a new immigrant to Israel, one who still divides his time between the U.S. and Israel. Perhaps when he is more familiar with the country, he will learn that religious and secular alike refer to the yeshiva as we did. I do not need Mr. Alexander to tell me who Rabbi Kook was—I spent four years on a biography of a prominent member of the Kook family. Nor do I appreciate the ignorance he displays in referring to all the Jerusalem Post writers as “secularists.” Many members of the Post staff are observant—including one of the writers of the book. Others are probably as close to God as Mr. Alexander apparently is. There are lefists on the Post, and rightists, and people in the Center as well. It is an aspersion to cast them all as Bolshevik traitors to the Jewish people.
Edward Alexander writes:
Only someone busily contemplating his own navel, and eager to inform the world that his scribblings have been “cited . . . in front of an audience of 5,000 at Albert Hall,” could have mistaken my essay on Anatoly Shcharansky for a review of his book, to which I devoted three paragraphs. I restricted my remarks specifically to that section of the book by Mr. Rapoport and his colleagues which dealt, inadequately and foolishly, with the reception of Shcharansky in Israel.
I am sorry that Mr. Rapoport took these remarks as an occasion for the release of small, untidy, hitherto pent-up resentments, but also gratified that they spurred him to do a little research. Unfortunately, no amount of research will rescue a person from the snares laid by an unruly temper and the pitfalls that await those who cannot read English.
I offer as one representative example of Mr. Rapoport’s acumen and probity his allegation that I have “defend[ed] the Jewish terrorist underground and Rabbi Kahane” and have “lashed out at ‘this smelly little orthodoxy of leftist criminology.’” In the only article I have ever published about the Jewish underground, I wrote as follows: “The apologia for the underground resembles nothing so much as the liberal-Left justification of terrorist violence: everybody is guilty of the crime except the poor fellow who happens to commit it. . . . This smelly little orthodoxy of leftist criminology has now been adopted by the Jewish underground. According to old wisdom, extremes meet.” That is how I defended the Jewish terrorists. Similarly, the only article I have ever written about Kahane contains not one single word in defense of him, and I challenge the loose-tongued Mr. Rapoport to prove otherwise. That article does contain many words of criticism of those at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Kahane who perversely chose to see good coming from his election in 1984.
I am not sure where Mr. Rapoport gets his idea of my “insane hatred” for journalists of the Jerusalem Post. The “evidence” he offers for this outlandish generalization sinks of its own inanition. I doubt, for example, that my reference to the “secularist zeal” of Mr. Rapoport’s chapter on Shcharansky’s arrival in Israel will be read by any rational person as “referring to all the Jerusalem Post writers as ‘secularists.’” I would also be astounded if my allusion, in an article of 1984, to the “jaundiced eye” of the Post’s “West Bank” specialist were read by anyone who has retained the balance of his mind as a reference to “the ‘jaundiced’ Jerusalem Post.” I have good friends on the Jerusalem Post; I have published several articles and reviews in its pages; I published in COMMENTARY in 1985 an article on Ethiopian Jewry that favorably cited two Post writers, one of them named Louis Rapoport. I have read work by David Krivine and Shmuel Katz and Wolf Blitzer and Yosef Goell with pleasure, profit, and even admiration.
But none of this is sufficient to satisfy Mr. Rapoport’s idea of the unflinching loyalty and adoration due from Post readers to him and his colleagues. Indeed, the world of journalism is for him so much that Ursa Minor of all things visible that he actually appears to believe my wife and I traveled to the Soviet Union and artfully arranged to get ourselves interrogated for six hours and then locked up for nineteen just so we could get our pictures in the papers—perhaps in order one day to steal away some of the publicity rightfully owing to a fellow “cited . . . in front of an audience of 5,000 at Albert Hall”? Mr. Rapoport’s self-fascination is such as to recall Trollope’s portrait (in The Warden) of the journalist Tom Towers, “studiously trying to look like a man, but knowing within his breast that he was a god.”