Commentary Magazine


Topic: Cambridge University

On the Offense Against Israel’s Delegitimizers

A pro-Israel activist passes on this transcript of “the most brilliantly audacious defence of Israel since Moses parted the Red Sea.” The topic is whether Israel is a “rogue” state. The defense emphatically replies: it sure is. The key to the argument is reminding Israel’s critics as to the precise meaning of rogue — “The Oxford English Dictionary defines rogue as ‘aberrant, anomalous; misplaced, occurring (esp. in isolation) at an unexpected place or time,’ while a dictionary from a far greater institution gives this definition: ‘behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a destructive way.’”

So if you want “rogue” — how about this:

The IDF sends out soldiers and medics to patrol the Egyptian border. They are sent looking for refugees attempting to cross into Israel. Not to send them back into Egypt, but to save them from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and Egyptian bullets.

Compare that to the U.S.’s reaction to illegal immigration across their border with Mexico. The American government has arrested private individuals for giving water to border crossers who were dying of thirst — and here the Israeli government is sending out its soldiers to save illegal immigrants. To call that sort of behaviour anomalous is an understatement.

Or how about this:

Another part of the dictionary definition is behaviour or activity “occurring at an unexpected place or time.” When you compare Israel to its regional neighbours, it becomes clear just how roguish Israel is. And here is the fourth argument: Israel has a better human rights record than any of its neighbours. At no point in history, has there ever been a liberal democratic state in the Middle East — except for Israel. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Israel is the only one where the LGBT community enjoys even a small measure of equality.

In Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Syria, homosexual conduct is punishable by flogging, imprisonment, or both. But homosexuals there get off pretty lightly compared to their counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, who are put to death. Israeli homosexuals can adopt, openly serve in the army, enter civil unions, and are protected by exceptionally strongly worded ant-discrimination legislation. Beats a death sentence. In fact, it beats America.

The speaker is a 19-year-old Cambridge University law student. Perhaps he should forget about law school and run the Israel government’s press operation. It seems he has figured out the key to combating Israel’s delegitimizers: go on the offense.

A pro-Israel activist passes on this transcript of “the most brilliantly audacious defence of Israel since Moses parted the Red Sea.” The topic is whether Israel is a “rogue” state. The defense emphatically replies: it sure is. The key to the argument is reminding Israel’s critics as to the precise meaning of rogue — “The Oxford English Dictionary defines rogue as ‘aberrant, anomalous; misplaced, occurring (esp. in isolation) at an unexpected place or time,’ while a dictionary from a far greater institution gives this definition: ‘behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a destructive way.’”

So if you want “rogue” — how about this:

The IDF sends out soldiers and medics to patrol the Egyptian border. They are sent looking for refugees attempting to cross into Israel. Not to send them back into Egypt, but to save them from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and Egyptian bullets.

Compare that to the U.S.’s reaction to illegal immigration across their border with Mexico. The American government has arrested private individuals for giving water to border crossers who were dying of thirst — and here the Israeli government is sending out its soldiers to save illegal immigrants. To call that sort of behaviour anomalous is an understatement.

Or how about this:

Another part of the dictionary definition is behaviour or activity “occurring at an unexpected place or time.” When you compare Israel to its regional neighbours, it becomes clear just how roguish Israel is. And here is the fourth argument: Israel has a better human rights record than any of its neighbours. At no point in history, has there ever been a liberal democratic state in the Middle East — except for Israel. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Israel is the only one where the LGBT community enjoys even a small measure of equality.

In Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Syria, homosexual conduct is punishable by flogging, imprisonment, or both. But homosexuals there get off pretty lightly compared to their counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, who are put to death. Israeli homosexuals can adopt, openly serve in the army, enter civil unions, and are protected by exceptionally strongly worded ant-discrimination legislation. Beats a death sentence. In fact, it beats America.

The speaker is a 19-year-old Cambridge University law student. Perhaps he should forget about law school and run the Israel government’s press operation. It seems he has figured out the key to combating Israel’s delegitimizers: go on the offense.

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Don’t Get the Word Out

It’s commonly believed that, compared with other countries, the U.S. enjoys an exceptional measure of freedom of the press and, closely allied to it, exceptionally liberal libel laws. The comparison with Britain is particularly marked, and the Index on Censorship and English PEN have launched a libel-reform campaign that describes British libel law as “a global disgrace” and refers glowingly to American freedoms.

The Adam Smith Institute has also weighed in, observing that “English libel laws are used by the rich and influential to deflect attention, while discouraging serious journalism and the spread of ideas to the UK.” American Rachel Ehrenfeld, whose 2003 book, Funding Evil, was targeted by a Saudi critic, would likely agree, as would the American authors of the 2007 Alms for Jihad, published by the Cambridge University Press.

But perhaps we in the U.S. should stop patting ourselves on the back. Last month, the Centre for Social Cohesion in Britain produced a well-documented study of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Islamist ideology and strategy. The report details HuT’s activities outside and, especially, inside Britain and documents the disturbing extent to which it has been accepted as a legitimate partner for engagement by mainstream British political institutions. The study is available through CSC: notably, Britain’s strict libel laws did not prevent it from being published there.

It did not, though, get much press in the U.S. That may be because PR Newswire, the CSC’s press agency, refused to carry a news release announcing the report, stating — in e-mails I have read — that its U.S. office would “reject the release based on its inflammatory content” and that it owed a “a duty of care to the newswire providers we work with.” The U.S. office weighed in, too, with a statement that “due to the unsubstantiated allegations of criminal activities and inflammatory language,” they would not be able to run the release.

“Unsubstantiated” is a curious word to describe a report of more than 100 pages and 600 footnotes with extensive quotations from original sources. But more broadly, this is precisely the problem that bedevils Britain: the real damage done by its libel laws is not caused so much by the courtroom challenges to authors but by the fear the laws create among publishers that they may be next.

In the British context, it is at least encouraging that Justice Secretary Jack Straw is now publicly committed to libel reform, though his observation that the danger derives mostly from lawsuits by “big corporations” ignores who has done most of the suing so far. But the remedy when press agencies in the U.S. refuse to run news releases that might anger jihadis is less clear: we already have the First Amendment; yet in this instance, we appear to be less able than Britain to bear the burden of publishing on terrorism.

It’s commonly believed that, compared with other countries, the U.S. enjoys an exceptional measure of freedom of the press and, closely allied to it, exceptionally liberal libel laws. The comparison with Britain is particularly marked, and the Index on Censorship and English PEN have launched a libel-reform campaign that describes British libel law as “a global disgrace” and refers glowingly to American freedoms.

The Adam Smith Institute has also weighed in, observing that “English libel laws are used by the rich and influential to deflect attention, while discouraging serious journalism and the spread of ideas to the UK.” American Rachel Ehrenfeld, whose 2003 book, Funding Evil, was targeted by a Saudi critic, would likely agree, as would the American authors of the 2007 Alms for Jihad, published by the Cambridge University Press.

But perhaps we in the U.S. should stop patting ourselves on the back. Last month, the Centre for Social Cohesion in Britain produced a well-documented study of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Islamist ideology and strategy. The report details HuT’s activities outside and, especially, inside Britain and documents the disturbing extent to which it has been accepted as a legitimate partner for engagement by mainstream British political institutions. The study is available through CSC: notably, Britain’s strict libel laws did not prevent it from being published there.

It did not, though, get much press in the U.S. That may be because PR Newswire, the CSC’s press agency, refused to carry a news release announcing the report, stating — in e-mails I have read — that its U.S. office would “reject the release based on its inflammatory content” and that it owed a “a duty of care to the newswire providers we work with.” The U.S. office weighed in, too, with a statement that “due to the unsubstantiated allegations of criminal activities and inflammatory language,” they would not be able to run the release.

“Unsubstantiated” is a curious word to describe a report of more than 100 pages and 600 footnotes with extensive quotations from original sources. But more broadly, this is precisely the problem that bedevils Britain: the real damage done by its libel laws is not caused so much by the courtroom challenges to authors but by the fear the laws create among publishers that they may be next.

In the British context, it is at least encouraging that Justice Secretary Jack Straw is now publicly committed to libel reform, though his observation that the danger derives mostly from lawsuits by “big corporations” ignores who has done most of the suing so far. But the remedy when press agencies in the U.S. refuse to run news releases that might anger jihadis is less clear: we already have the First Amendment; yet in this instance, we appear to be less able than Britain to bear the burden of publishing on terrorism.

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Cambridge University of Saud

England’s Cambridge University and Edinburgh University have accepted a £16 million endowment from Saudi Prince Al-Walid to create Islamic study centers that “aim to carry out research and public engagements designed to increase understanding between the Muslim world and the West.”

What exactly does “understanding” mean? A month after 9/11, when the same Prince Al-Walid tried to purchase New York City’s “understanding” for $10 million, he said it meant the attacks were to cause the United States to “re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stand toward the Palestinian cause.” Then Mayor Rudy Giuliani made himself understood by rejecting the “re-examination,” the “balance,”and the check.

No such luck in England. And now two of the West’s finest universities have been bankrolled in the “understanding” racket.

But perhaps we shouldn’t worry, after all. In Al-Walid’s 2001 check memo to the U.S., he called for Israel to withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank. It’s been almost three years since Israel has withdrawn from Gaza and two years since Kadima–the Israeli political party founded on the very basis of giving land to Palestinians–became the largest party in the Knesset. With that out of the way, maybe Al-Walid just wants the West to “understand” why teenage Muslim girls go missing from Bradford, England, or what it is that offends British Muslim pupils about their teachers assertion that the Holocaust happened, or why British Muslim clerics say “We have to rule ourselves and we have to rule the others.” You know, Islam/West “understanding” stuff.

England’s Cambridge University and Edinburgh University have accepted a £16 million endowment from Saudi Prince Al-Walid to create Islamic study centers that “aim to carry out research and public engagements designed to increase understanding between the Muslim world and the West.”

What exactly does “understanding” mean? A month after 9/11, when the same Prince Al-Walid tried to purchase New York City’s “understanding” for $10 million, he said it meant the attacks were to cause the United States to “re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stand toward the Palestinian cause.” Then Mayor Rudy Giuliani made himself understood by rejecting the “re-examination,” the “balance,”and the check.

No such luck in England. And now two of the West’s finest universities have been bankrolled in the “understanding” racket.

But perhaps we shouldn’t worry, after all. In Al-Walid’s 2001 check memo to the U.S., he called for Israel to withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank. It’s been almost three years since Israel has withdrawn from Gaza and two years since Kadima–the Israeli political party founded on the very basis of giving land to Palestinians–became the largest party in the Knesset. With that out of the way, maybe Al-Walid just wants the West to “understand” why teenage Muslim girls go missing from Bradford, England, or what it is that offends British Muslim pupils about their teachers assertion that the Holocaust happened, or why British Muslim clerics say “We have to rule ourselves and we have to rule the others.” You know, Islam/West “understanding” stuff.

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Hello, Arrabal!

I recently sat down for a chat with the Spanish playwright and filmmaker Fernando Arrabal, who was in town to give an October 31 lecture at St. John’s University and introduce his 1992 film Goodbye, Babylon! at a downtown arts foundation on November 2. A diminutive, bubbly 75-year-old, Arrabal is prone to sudden enthusiasms, whether for mathematicians like Alexander Grothendieck and Benoît Mandelbrot; chess-players like Gata Kamsky; or toreadors like Diego Bardon. He is currently reading Saint Isidore of Seville, a 7th century etymologist whose Etymologiae, Arrabal announces with delight, recently has appeared in English from Cambridge University Press.

A confirmed bookworm, Arrabal has lived with his wife and children in Paris since 1955, but is defiantly unfashionable among French intellectuals for his staunch opposition to Communism and support for Israel. In 1999 his play Love Letter had its world premiere at Israel’s Habimah Theatre, performed by the acclaimed actress Orna Porat. Love Letter, so far unperformed in New York (although Liv Ullmann has been rumored to be considering the play for Broadway), is a monologue by a mother who may have denounced her husband to tyrannical authorities. Arrabal’s own father disappeared in 1941, after being jailed by Franco’s regime in Spain. Arrabal himself was imprisoned during a 1967 visit to Spain (he was born in Spanish Morocco in 1932), allegedly for “blasphemy.” After protests by famous writers including Samuel Beckett, François Mauriac, and Eugène Ionesco, Arrabal soon was freed.

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I recently sat down for a chat with the Spanish playwright and filmmaker Fernando Arrabal, who was in town to give an October 31 lecture at St. John’s University and introduce his 1992 film Goodbye, Babylon! at a downtown arts foundation on November 2. A diminutive, bubbly 75-year-old, Arrabal is prone to sudden enthusiasms, whether for mathematicians like Alexander Grothendieck and Benoît Mandelbrot; chess-players like Gata Kamsky; or toreadors like Diego Bardon. He is currently reading Saint Isidore of Seville, a 7th century etymologist whose Etymologiae, Arrabal announces with delight, recently has appeared in English from Cambridge University Press.

A confirmed bookworm, Arrabal has lived with his wife and children in Paris since 1955, but is defiantly unfashionable among French intellectuals for his staunch opposition to Communism and support for Israel. In 1999 his play Love Letter had its world premiere at Israel’s Habimah Theatre, performed by the acclaimed actress Orna Porat. Love Letter, so far unperformed in New York (although Liv Ullmann has been rumored to be considering the play for Broadway), is a monologue by a mother who may have denounced her husband to tyrannical authorities. Arrabal’s own father disappeared in 1941, after being jailed by Franco’s regime in Spain. Arrabal himself was imprisoned during a 1967 visit to Spain (he was born in Spanish Morocco in 1932), allegedly for “blasphemy.” After protests by famous writers including Samuel Beckett, François Mauriac, and Eugène Ionesco, Arrabal soon was freed.

For decades the Spanish playwright has been admirably industrious, creating seven full-length films, five books on his obsessive pastime of chess, and numerous polemics. These include his admonitory Letters to Franco (1972); Castro (1984); and Stalin (2003). This lively anti-Communist invective has not been translated into English, nor have Arrabal’s amusing biographical fantasias of El Greco and Cervantes. Of course, most American publishers are appalling slaves to fashion, and Arrabal may be seen as a 1960’s figure, since he first won fame in that decade, especially by those who have not bothered to read anything he has published since.

Beyond new books, which continue to appear in France, Spain, and elsewhere, Arrabal has shown rare courage in speaking his mind publicly. In 2002 he testified in Paris on behalf of the novelist Michel Houellebecq, who told an interviewer the previous year that Islam is the “most stupid religion. When you read the Koran, it’s appalling, appalling!” France’s Human Rights League, the Mecca-based World Islamic League, and others accused Houellebecq of hate speech, a crime in France that is punishable by a fine and jail time. Houellebecq was acquitted, at least in part due to Arrabal’s remarkable court appearance; the elderly Spaniard replied to a judge who asked his profession: “I am a pedestrian.” Then Arrabal pulled out a miniature bottle of cognac from his pocket and offered it to the same judge, who declined politely. This was one of the most drolly convincing theatrical moments of an author who has published over one hundred plays.

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Appeasing the Imam?

It is not easy for a non-Muslim to gain the approval of Sheikh Abdal-Hakim Murad. A prominent British convert to Islam, he is the secretary of the Muslim Academic Trust in London and director of the Sunna Project at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge University. He is also the imam of the Cambridge mosque and an influential commentator on the BBC and in the British press.

Abdal-Hakim regards himself as a moderate, and is taken at his own valuation by the British media. A careful study of his website (which, as it happens, shares its name with this one) causes me to doubt the sheikh’s moderation. This, after all, is a man who sees the Bush administration as “theocratic” but who warns the West that “the Caliph’s first task will be to flog those who call Islam an ideology.” It is clear that the years he spent at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and later in Saudi Arabia, have left their mark: Abdal-Hakim is a Sunni fundamentalist.

He is, however, broad-minded enough to write for a Christian newspaper, the Catholic Herald. Last week he reviewed Islam: Past, Present, and Future, the new book on Islam by Hans Küng. Küng is a controversial Swiss theologian who has been in conflict with the Catholic Church for some 30 years, but remains a Catholic priest “in good standing,” as he likes to remind his critics.

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It is not easy for a non-Muslim to gain the approval of Sheikh Abdal-Hakim Murad. A prominent British convert to Islam, he is the secretary of the Muslim Academic Trust in London and director of the Sunna Project at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge University. He is also the imam of the Cambridge mosque and an influential commentator on the BBC and in the British press.

Abdal-Hakim regards himself as a moderate, and is taken at his own valuation by the British media. A careful study of his website (which, as it happens, shares its name with this one) causes me to doubt the sheikh’s moderation. This, after all, is a man who sees the Bush administration as “theocratic” but who warns the West that “the Caliph’s first task will be to flog those who call Islam an ideology.” It is clear that the years he spent at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and later in Saudi Arabia, have left their mark: Abdal-Hakim is a Sunni fundamentalist.

He is, however, broad-minded enough to write for a Christian newspaper, the Catholic Herald. Last week he reviewed Islam: Past, Present, and Future, the new book on Islam by Hans Küng. Küng is a controversial Swiss theologian who has been in conflict with the Catholic Church for some 30 years, but remains a Catholic priest “in good standing,” as he likes to remind his critics.

Here is Abdal-Hakim’s approving summary of Küng’s treatment of Islam:

Its bearer, the Prophet Mohammed, must be regarded by Christians as a true messenger from God. The Qu’ran is, “in principle,” God’s word. Islam was not imposed at the point of a scimitar; on the contrary, the early Muslim conquests were generally welcomed by Christians and Jews who had been oppressed by Byzantine officialdom. Jihad is not “holy war,” but is comparable to Christian just-war traditions. Islamist terrorism is not organically related to the religion, but is denounced by the religion’s leaders, being the consequence of external factors, chief among them being the creation of the state of Israel.

What a meeting of minds between the “moderate” Muslim and the “liberal” Catholic who asserts the truth of Islam! (Though I think it unlikely that the sheikh will be writing a book any time soon that returns any of these favors.)

And yet, not even this obeisance before Islam is enough. Küng is a theologian notorious for scathing attacks on his own church leadership, particularly the last pope and the present one, and has nothing but praise for “the Other.” But Murad denounces his book’s “huge crop of factual errors,” its “disengagement from Muslims,” and its repetition of “old myths” that “will make this book useless to historians of ideas despite some moments of profound and, some would say, long-overdue insight.”

It is reasonable to conclude from this rebuff that Küng’s attempt at appeasement is not only intellectually disreputable but almost entirely ineffectual. It seems that nothing other than an abjuration of Küng’s minimalist Catholicism in favor of a full-scale embrace of Islam—in short, conversion—would satisfy Abdal-Hakim Murad. The literal meaning of “Islam” is “submission,” and that is what it demands from the infidel—nothing more but certainly nothing less.

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Churchill’s Ghost(writer)

One can react in various ways to the unearthing by a Cambridge University researcher of a never-published 1937 article by Winston Churchill. This article, entitled “How The Jews Can Combat Persecution,” may actually have been, we are told, the work of a pro-fascist ghostwriter named Adam Marshall Diston.

One can, for instance, be disappointed to find out that Churchill used ghostwriters. Et tu, Winston?

One can accept Churchill’s use of ghostwriters but still wonder: a fascist ghostwriter? In 1937? And even if for some inexplicable reason Churchill saw nothing wrong with this, why on earth would he have asked such a person to write about the Jews?

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One can react in various ways to the unearthing by a Cambridge University researcher of a never-published 1937 article by Winston Churchill. This article, entitled “How The Jews Can Combat Persecution,” may actually have been, we are told, the work of a pro-fascist ghostwriter named Adam Marshall Diston.

One can, for instance, be disappointed to find out that Churchill used ghostwriters. Et tu, Winston?

One can accept Churchill’s use of ghostwriters but still wonder: a fascist ghostwriter? In 1937? And even if for some inexplicable reason Churchill saw nothing wrong with this, why on earth would he have asked such a person to write about the Jews?

One can reflect that if Diston really wrote the article, he made a genuine effort—knowing what Churchill’s views were—to appear even-handed. True, he attacked Jewish sweatshop owners. True, he wrote that, by being “different,” the Jews “have been partly responsible for the antagonism from which they suffer.” But he also condemned Nazi policies toward the Jews and called them “as cruel, as relentless, and as vindictive as any in [the Jews'] long history.”

One can even entertain the possibility that Diston was faithfully reflecting Churchill’s opinions. We know by now that decent men before and even after the Holocaust were capable of thinking things that we would consider anti-Semitic today. When Harry Truman, whose immediate recognition of the state of Israel in 1948 was heroic from a Jewish point of view, wrote in his diary in 1947 that Jews were “very, very selfish” and that “neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the underdog,” he was simply reflecting prejudices that many Americans of his generation took for granted—prejudices that they would have been startled to be told were prejudices.

But there is yet another way of reacting to the judgment expressed in Churchill’s article that the “separateness of the Jew[s]” is one of the causes of anti-Semitism. Perhaps the article was simply saying something self-evidently true.

After all, Jewish looks aside—and many religiously observant Jews do make a point of looking different—who would deny that Jews often do “think differently,” have “a different tradition and background,” and “refuse to be absorbed?” Aren’t these all things that not only religious Jews, but proud secular Jews too, like to think about themselves? Aren’t these the qualities to which they attribute their survival? And if so, why should it be anti-Semitic for them to be pointed out by non-Jews?

To be continued in my next post.

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Bookshelf

• Brian Friel, who is widely and rightly thought to be the greatest living English-language playwright, has had two good Broadway seasons in a row. Last season’s brilliant revival of Faith Healer was followed a couple of weeks ago by a similarly impressive production of Translations. (If you haven’t seen it, do so as soon as possible.) Alas, fewer than a half-dozen of Friel’s two dozen-odd plays are staged with any frequency in this country, and the main purpose of The Cambridge Companion to Brian Friel (Cambridge University Press, 177 pp., $29.99 paper), edited by Anthony Roche, is to introduce non-Irish readers to a wider range of his work than they are likely to have encountered on their own. Most of the essays are good, a few superlatively so, and I unhesitatingly recommend Patrick Burke’s “Friel and Performance History” and Richard Allen Cave’s “Friel’s Dramaturgy: The Visual Dimension” to anyone even slightly interested in the author of Philadelphia, Here I Come! and Dancing at Lughnasa.

Warning: Cambridge Companions usually contain a couple of ultra-academic duds, and this one is no exception. I read “Performativity, Unruly Bodies, and Gender in Brian Friel’s Drama” and “Brian Friel as Postcolonial Playwright” so you wouldn’t have to. Forewarned is forearmed!

• Barbara M. Fisher, professor emerita of English at the City University of New York, is the author of Wallace Stevens: The Intensest Rendezvous and Noble Numbers, Subtle Words: The Art of Mathematics in the Science of Storytelling. She is also an alumna of New York City Ballet, for which she danced between 1947 and 1958, back in the days when she was known as Barbara Milberg. She splits the difference and bills herself as Barbara Milberg Fisher on the dust jacket of In Balanchine’s Company: A Dancer’s Memoir (Wesleyan University Press, 211 pp., $24.95), a splendid little memoir of her professional association with the greatest choreographer of the 20th century.

Surprisingly few dancers who worked with George Balanchine have left behind book-length memoirs, and Fisher is the first one to write in any detail about the late 1940’s and 50’s, during which she danced in the premieres of such major Balanchine ballets as Agon, Divertimento No. 15, Firebird, Ivesiana, The Nutcracker, Orpheus, and Western Symphony. Her recollections are exact, vivid, well written, and illustrated by a fine selection of photos. I very much wish they had been available when I wrote All in the Dances, my own brief life of Balanchine.

In addition to providing an indispensable account of Balanchine at work, Fisher tells a wonderful story about his politics. Having grown up in a hard-Left New York family, she made the mistake of wearing a Henry Wallace campaign button to a New York City Ballet rehearsal in the fall of 1948. Balanchine, having fled the Soviet Union a quarter-century earlier, took one look at her and exploded: “Barbara, take off bahton, please! Don’t wear that. You don’t understand. Communist country is lousy place! Can’t say what you want. People spy, talk behind back. Friend disappear. Nobody free. Everybody hungry, all the time hungry. Here is good. Best place. Do what you want. Say what you like, vote how you like. Wonderful country, not like Communist.” I couldn’t have put it better.

Incidentally, Fisher didn’t take off her Wallace “bahton”—and Balanchine didn’t fire her.

• Brian Friel, who is widely and rightly thought to be the greatest living English-language playwright, has had two good Broadway seasons in a row. Last season’s brilliant revival of Faith Healer was followed a couple of weeks ago by a similarly impressive production of Translations. (If you haven’t seen it, do so as soon as possible.) Alas, fewer than a half-dozen of Friel’s two dozen-odd plays are staged with any frequency in this country, and the main purpose of The Cambridge Companion to Brian Friel (Cambridge University Press, 177 pp., $29.99 paper), edited by Anthony Roche, is to introduce non-Irish readers to a wider range of his work than they are likely to have encountered on their own. Most of the essays are good, a few superlatively so, and I unhesitatingly recommend Patrick Burke’s “Friel and Performance History” and Richard Allen Cave’s “Friel’s Dramaturgy: The Visual Dimension” to anyone even slightly interested in the author of Philadelphia, Here I Come! and Dancing at Lughnasa.

Warning: Cambridge Companions usually contain a couple of ultra-academic duds, and this one is no exception. I read “Performativity, Unruly Bodies, and Gender in Brian Friel’s Drama” and “Brian Friel as Postcolonial Playwright” so you wouldn’t have to. Forewarned is forearmed!

• Barbara M. Fisher, professor emerita of English at the City University of New York, is the author of Wallace Stevens: The Intensest Rendezvous and Noble Numbers, Subtle Words: The Art of Mathematics in the Science of Storytelling. She is also an alumna of New York City Ballet, for which she danced between 1947 and 1958, back in the days when she was known as Barbara Milberg. She splits the difference and bills herself as Barbara Milberg Fisher on the dust jacket of In Balanchine’s Company: A Dancer’s Memoir (Wesleyan University Press, 211 pp., $24.95), a splendid little memoir of her professional association with the greatest choreographer of the 20th century.

Surprisingly few dancers who worked with George Balanchine have left behind book-length memoirs, and Fisher is the first one to write in any detail about the late 1940’s and 50’s, during which she danced in the premieres of such major Balanchine ballets as Agon, Divertimento No. 15, Firebird, Ivesiana, The Nutcracker, Orpheus, and Western Symphony. Her recollections are exact, vivid, well written, and illustrated by a fine selection of photos. I very much wish they had been available when I wrote All in the Dances, my own brief life of Balanchine.

In addition to providing an indispensable account of Balanchine at work, Fisher tells a wonderful story about his politics. Having grown up in a hard-Left New York family, she made the mistake of wearing a Henry Wallace campaign button to a New York City Ballet rehearsal in the fall of 1948. Balanchine, having fled the Soviet Union a quarter-century earlier, took one look at her and exploded: “Barbara, take off bahton, please! Don’t wear that. You don’t understand. Communist country is lousy place! Can’t say what you want. People spy, talk behind back. Friend disappear. Nobody free. Everybody hungry, all the time hungry. Here is good. Best place. Do what you want. Say what you like, vote how you like. Wonderful country, not like Communist.” I couldn’t have put it better.

Incidentally, Fisher didn’t take off her Wallace “bahton”—and Balanchine didn’t fire her.

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