Commentary Magazine


Topic: the Book Review

Comic Book Hate: a New Chapter in Anti-Israel Bias at the New York Times

The debate about the extent of the New York Times’ anti-Israel bias was revived this past weekend in the book-review treatment of Joe Sacco’s Footnotes From Gaza, a volume that purports to tell the story of massacres of innocent Palestinian Arabs in Gaza by evil Israelis in 1956 during the Sinai Campaign.

The review is notable for two reasons.

First is the fact that the review is a rave for what can only be described as a 418-page piece of anti-Israel propaganda. Masquerading as history, this graphic novel is a detailed compendium of slanders against Israeli forces engaged in a counteroffensive against Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, an area used as a base for murderous terror raids into Israel since the 1949 armistice. But that fact is ignored by the reviewer, who accepts the author’s single-minded obsession with placing all of the blame on the Jews for the fighting in Gaza at that time and for the entire duration of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The piece claims that it is a “bias against history” that has prevented the publication of more such accounts of Israeli brutality. Yet this book has nothing to do with a genuine search for historical truth and everything to do with anti-Israel bias. Indeed, the core accusation of Sacco’s book—that these incidents in 1956 “planted hatred” in Palestinian hearts against Israelis—is absurd.

The fighting in that year had been precipitated by Arab cross-border murder raids, whose brutality was rooted in anti-Jewish hatred and intolerance for the Jewish presence in the land, which long predated the events this cartoon purports to explain. The point of Sacco’s cartoons is not very different from more recent attempts to portray last year’s invasion of Gaza as aggression when, in fact, it was merely a response to missile attacks on Israel. But as with other such examples of “journalism” aimed at vilifying the Israelis, Sacco’s only goal is to paint Israeli self-defense as illegitimate and to portray the Palestinians as innocent victims whose agenda to destroy the Jewish state cannot be mentioned.

Sacco’s use of crude pictures to tell a one-sided story of Jewish evil will, no doubt, remind some readers of similarly crude anti-Semitic graphics employed by the Nazis. We need not linger on this obvious comparison to dismiss Footnotes from Gaza as the nastiest sort of polemic that sheds little light on either the origins of the current conflict or the nature of war. At a time when anti-Israel invective and Jew-hatred is on the rise around the world, the publication of works like this is far from unique. But when the Times’s prestigious Sunday Book Review not only treats books like Sacco’s as worthy of consideration but also lauds their use of cartoons as “highly informed and intelligent” and raves that “it is difficult to imagine how any other form of journalism could make these events so interesting,” it must be acknowledged that a tipping point has been reached.

The second important fact about this review is the choice of the reviewer: Patrick Cockburn, a virulent critic of Israel who has used his post as Middle East correspondent of Britain’s the Independent (as well as occasional pieces at CounterPunch, a leftist rag edited by his equally anti-Israel brother Alexander) to skewer every effort of Israel to defend itself and to delegitimize its people. You have to wonder what was going through the mind of Sam Tanenhaus, the Book Review editor, when he made such a choice. If his goal was to publish a sympathetic review of this vile book, then certainly Cockburn could be counted on because his writings about current Israeli efforts to stop Gaza-based terrorism have been as biased as Sacco’s book. But one would think that if the credibility of his section were his priority, Tanenhaus would have chosen a less obviously prejudiced reviewer.

That he felt free to choose a creature such as Cockburn to give a rave to this disgusting tract rather than selecting someone not already identified with hatred of Israel speaks volumes about the atmosphere at the Times. Based on the excellent biography that he penned of Whittaker Chambers, Tanenhaus himself has a reputation as a fine historian, though his most recent effort predicting the end of American conservatism was, as criticism of the Obama administration has mounted, obviously premature. But his championing of Sacco’s picture propaganda and his decision to allow Cockburn, of all people, to proclaim it a praiseworthy work of history, ought to debunk Tanenhaus’s claim to any distinction in either history or fair-minded journalism.

The debate about the extent of the New York Times’ anti-Israel bias was revived this past weekend in the book-review treatment of Joe Sacco’s Footnotes From Gaza, a volume that purports to tell the story of massacres of innocent Palestinian Arabs in Gaza by evil Israelis in 1956 during the Sinai Campaign.

The review is notable for two reasons.

First is the fact that the review is a rave for what can only be described as a 418-page piece of anti-Israel propaganda. Masquerading as history, this graphic novel is a detailed compendium of slanders against Israeli forces engaged in a counteroffensive against Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, an area used as a base for murderous terror raids into Israel since the 1949 armistice. But that fact is ignored by the reviewer, who accepts the author’s single-minded obsession with placing all of the blame on the Jews for the fighting in Gaza at that time and for the entire duration of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The piece claims that it is a “bias against history” that has prevented the publication of more such accounts of Israeli brutality. Yet this book has nothing to do with a genuine search for historical truth and everything to do with anti-Israel bias. Indeed, the core accusation of Sacco’s book—that these incidents in 1956 “planted hatred” in Palestinian hearts against Israelis—is absurd.

The fighting in that year had been precipitated by Arab cross-border murder raids, whose brutality was rooted in anti-Jewish hatred and intolerance for the Jewish presence in the land, which long predated the events this cartoon purports to explain. The point of Sacco’s cartoons is not very different from more recent attempts to portray last year’s invasion of Gaza as aggression when, in fact, it was merely a response to missile attacks on Israel. But as with other such examples of “journalism” aimed at vilifying the Israelis, Sacco’s only goal is to paint Israeli self-defense as illegitimate and to portray the Palestinians as innocent victims whose agenda to destroy the Jewish state cannot be mentioned.

Sacco’s use of crude pictures to tell a one-sided story of Jewish evil will, no doubt, remind some readers of similarly crude anti-Semitic graphics employed by the Nazis. We need not linger on this obvious comparison to dismiss Footnotes from Gaza as the nastiest sort of polemic that sheds little light on either the origins of the current conflict or the nature of war. At a time when anti-Israel invective and Jew-hatred is on the rise around the world, the publication of works like this is far from unique. But when the Times’s prestigious Sunday Book Review not only treats books like Sacco’s as worthy of consideration but also lauds their use of cartoons as “highly informed and intelligent” and raves that “it is difficult to imagine how any other form of journalism could make these events so interesting,” it must be acknowledged that a tipping point has been reached.

The second important fact about this review is the choice of the reviewer: Patrick Cockburn, a virulent critic of Israel who has used his post as Middle East correspondent of Britain’s the Independent (as well as occasional pieces at CounterPunch, a leftist rag edited by his equally anti-Israel brother Alexander) to skewer every effort of Israel to defend itself and to delegitimize its people. You have to wonder what was going through the mind of Sam Tanenhaus, the Book Review editor, when he made such a choice. If his goal was to publish a sympathetic review of this vile book, then certainly Cockburn could be counted on because his writings about current Israeli efforts to stop Gaza-based terrorism have been as biased as Sacco’s book. But one would think that if the credibility of his section were his priority, Tanenhaus would have chosen a less obviously prejudiced reviewer.

That he felt free to choose a creature such as Cockburn to give a rave to this disgusting tract rather than selecting someone not already identified with hatred of Israel speaks volumes about the atmosphere at the Times. Based on the excellent biography that he penned of Whittaker Chambers, Tanenhaus himself has a reputation as a fine historian, though his most recent effort predicting the end of American conservatism was, as criticism of the Obama administration has mounted, obviously premature. But his championing of Sacco’s picture propaganda and his decision to allow Cockburn, of all people, to proclaim it a praiseworthy work of history, ought to debunk Tanenhaus’s claim to any distinction in either history or fair-minded journalism.

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The Difference Between Drefyus and al-Qaeda

I have not read novelist Louis Begley’s new book Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters, which received a favorable review in today’s New York Times Book Review section. However, there are some things that may be confidently asserted even without having perused that tome.

One is that there is absolutely no analogy to be drawn between Captain Alfred Dreyfus on the one hand, and Khalid Sheik Muhammad and the other al-Qaeda operatives on the other, who have been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay over the last several years.

A second is that there is no analogy between the machinations of the French Army’s High Command, which covered up the identity of the real German spy in Paris in the 1890s and instead chose to place the blame for a security breach on a loyal French Jew, and the efforts of the Bush administration to defend the United States against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.

A third would be to note that if there is any common thread between the actors of 9/11 and those of the Dreyfus affair, it is not between the anti-Dreyfusards and the Bush administration but rather between the former and their fellow Jew haters in al-Qaeda, not to mention the lunatic Left, which has rationalized Islamist terrorism and attacked those who fight it.

One would think that such elemental facts would be known to the editors of the Book Review or to Ruth Scurr, who gave Begley’s book a rave. But apparently in this case political prejudices trump even the barest knowledge of history. Scurr applauds Begley when he asks: “Will some day in the near future the crimes of the Bush administration, like … the crimes against Dreyfus, disappear under the scar tissue of silence and indifference?” She goes on to note approvingly his desire for the emergence of “an American Zola or Proust” to speak up against Bush as those French writers did against the Dreyfus persecutors.

What can one say about such nonsense? Most Americans probably know little of the Dreyfus Affair. So it’s worth pointing out a few facts about the difference between our contemporary war on terror and the political and cultural conflict that turned France upside down over 100 years ago.

Unlike the al-Qaeda murderers who planned and executed 9/11, Dreyfus was innocent. One may criticize the zealousness of the Bush administration in their counter-offensive against al Qaeda. One may even criticize Guantanamo though when compared to the Devil’s Island accommodations offered Dreyfus, it looks more like a stay at the Waldorf than a prison. But in the end, the notion that KSM and other al-Qaeda members are the victims of persecution and, as Scurr put it, of “kangaroo trials,” is beyond absurd.

Unlike Bush’s critics, those who defended Dreyfus were speaking up for a genuine victim of injustice, a patriot wrongly accused and convicted solely because he was a Jew. But it is a telling insight into the depth of the political bias that Bush-haters have descended to observe that some are even prepared to analogize Dreyfus and al-Qaeda. The bizarre notion that virtually everything done by Bush after 9/11 was an attack on American liberty has become so firmly ingrained in the popular imagination that anything can and will be said to besmirch his administration. That it occurs to neither Begley nor Scurr that the anti-Semitism of the anti-Dreyfusards finds its echo in the forces that Bush sought to fight speaks volumes about the tone-deaf nature of their political vendetta.

Of course, the Dreyfus Affair does matter. For those who want to actually learn about the Dreyfus Affair, there is still no better place to turn to than Jean Louis Bredin’s 1986 The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus.

But it matters not just because speaking out against injustice is the duty of all decent persons but also because the forces that sought to delegitimize Jewish identity in the 1890s are once again on the march in Europe. The rise of anti-Semitism in Europe in our time is due, in no small measure, to the influence of political Islam and the unwillingness of many Westerners to defend their democratic traditions. If any analogy is to be found today for the persecution of Dreyfus, it is in the lies that are hurled by Europeans and their Islamist friends against the State of Israel.

The spectacle of Dreyfus’s degradation in the courtyard of the Ecole Militaire in Paris – as Dreyfus’s pitiful cries of his innocence and loyalty to France were drowned out by a mob screaming for the death of the Jews — helped motivate Theodor Herzl to write “The Jewish State” and launch the modern Zionist movement. Today, as then, there are many in Europe and elsewhere who cry out for Jewish blood or attempt to portray Israel’s terrorist foes as innocent victims. Those like Begley and Scurr — who seem to think the fight against Islamist terrorists is the real evil of the day – have the bully pulpit of venues such as the Times from which to vent their spleen against Bush. But there is no resemblance between such jeremiads and a defense of Western values or of the Jews for which Zola is better remembered than his novels.

I have not read novelist Louis Begley’s new book Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters, which received a favorable review in today’s New York Times Book Review section. However, there are some things that may be confidently asserted even without having perused that tome.

One is that there is absolutely no analogy to be drawn between Captain Alfred Dreyfus on the one hand, and Khalid Sheik Muhammad and the other al-Qaeda operatives on the other, who have been imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay over the last several years.

A second is that there is no analogy between the machinations of the French Army’s High Command, which covered up the identity of the real German spy in Paris in the 1890s and instead chose to place the blame for a security breach on a loyal French Jew, and the efforts of the Bush administration to defend the United States against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks.

A third would be to note that if there is any common thread between the actors of 9/11 and those of the Dreyfus affair, it is not between the anti-Dreyfusards and the Bush administration but rather between the former and their fellow Jew haters in al-Qaeda, not to mention the lunatic Left, which has rationalized Islamist terrorism and attacked those who fight it.

One would think that such elemental facts would be known to the editors of the Book Review or to Ruth Scurr, who gave Begley’s book a rave. But apparently in this case political prejudices trump even the barest knowledge of history. Scurr applauds Begley when he asks: “Will some day in the near future the crimes of the Bush administration, like … the crimes against Dreyfus, disappear under the scar tissue of silence and indifference?” She goes on to note approvingly his desire for the emergence of “an American Zola or Proust” to speak up against Bush as those French writers did against the Dreyfus persecutors.

What can one say about such nonsense? Most Americans probably know little of the Dreyfus Affair. So it’s worth pointing out a few facts about the difference between our contemporary war on terror and the political and cultural conflict that turned France upside down over 100 years ago.

Unlike the al-Qaeda murderers who planned and executed 9/11, Dreyfus was innocent. One may criticize the zealousness of the Bush administration in their counter-offensive against al Qaeda. One may even criticize Guantanamo though when compared to the Devil’s Island accommodations offered Dreyfus, it looks more like a stay at the Waldorf than a prison. But in the end, the notion that KSM and other al-Qaeda members are the victims of persecution and, as Scurr put it, of “kangaroo trials,” is beyond absurd.

Unlike Bush’s critics, those who defended Dreyfus were speaking up for a genuine victim of injustice, a patriot wrongly accused and convicted solely because he was a Jew. But it is a telling insight into the depth of the political bias that Bush-haters have descended to observe that some are even prepared to analogize Dreyfus and al-Qaeda. The bizarre notion that virtually everything done by Bush after 9/11 was an attack on American liberty has become so firmly ingrained in the popular imagination that anything can and will be said to besmirch his administration. That it occurs to neither Begley nor Scurr that the anti-Semitism of the anti-Dreyfusards finds its echo in the forces that Bush sought to fight speaks volumes about the tone-deaf nature of their political vendetta.

Of course, the Dreyfus Affair does matter. For those who want to actually learn about the Dreyfus Affair, there is still no better place to turn to than Jean Louis Bredin’s 1986 The Affair: The Case of Alfred Dreyfus.

But it matters not just because speaking out against injustice is the duty of all decent persons but also because the forces that sought to delegitimize Jewish identity in the 1890s are once again on the march in Europe. The rise of anti-Semitism in Europe in our time is due, in no small measure, to the influence of political Islam and the unwillingness of many Westerners to defend their democratic traditions. If any analogy is to be found today for the persecution of Dreyfus, it is in the lies that are hurled by Europeans and their Islamist friends against the State of Israel.

The spectacle of Dreyfus’s degradation in the courtyard of the Ecole Militaire in Paris – as Dreyfus’s pitiful cries of his innocence and loyalty to France were drowned out by a mob screaming for the death of the Jews — helped motivate Theodor Herzl to write “The Jewish State” and launch the modern Zionist movement. Today, as then, there are many in Europe and elsewhere who cry out for Jewish blood or attempt to portray Israel’s terrorist foes as innocent victims. Those like Begley and Scurr — who seem to think the fight against Islamist terrorists is the real evil of the day – have the bully pulpit of venues such as the Times from which to vent their spleen against Bush. But there is no resemblance between such jeremiads and a defense of Western values or of the Jews for which Zola is better remembered than his novels.

Read Less




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