Colin Shindler reviews Avi Shlaim’s collection of writing

Israel and Palestine: Reappraisals, Refutations, Revisions

This review is from the Jewish Chronicle

In this interesting collection of past writings, Avi Shlaim emotionally takes the side of the Palestinians, yet intellectually and rationally views the conflict as a clash between two national movements. While this balance is maintained in his earlier work, more recent writings are coloured by selective outrage.

The expansion of the settlements, Rabin’s assassination, Netanyahu’s disastrous administration in the 1990s are all dissected in the book, yet little attention is paid to the rise of Hamas and its rejectionist ideology. Hamas’s decision to send suicide bombers into Israel in March 1994 to destroy the Oslo accord is not recorded. It was designed to prevent normalisation between ordinary Israelis and Palestinians and to undermine the Israeli peace camp.

Shlaim makes no distinction between Palestinian nationalists and Islamists. Mere assertion rather than concrete evidence informs the contention that disengagement from Gaza was “a victory for Hamas and a humiliation for the IDF”. The depiction of the Gaza conflict earlier this year fits the template version with lip service paid to “primitive rocket attacks”.

Shlaim features Zionism descriptively in his early chapter on the Balfour Declaration but, by the end of the book, the settlement drive has become “a Zionist colonial project”. So, are settlers the only Zionists? Peace Now, Yossi Beilin, the architect of Oslo, and even refuseniks who will not serve in the West Bank have not disavowed Zionism.

Shlaim reiterates his belief in a two-state solution — a proper, contiguous Palestinian state, side by side with Israel. Not the Sharon version of enclaves surrounded by Jewish settlements. Yet he writes that he wished to draw attention to this by agreeing to speak to the Oxford Union in 2007 in support of the motion that “this House believes that one state is the only solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict”. The logic escapes me.

The demise of the Oslo process, the intifada and the presence of recycled, failed politicians at the helm in Israel have created deep fissures within the Israeli peace camp. Shlaim’s later writings bear testimony to this frustration. He remarks disparagingly on Benny Morris’s change of view, but Shlaim himself has renounced his support for the Oslo accord. There is no dishonour in recognising that the situation has changed. Better to grasp the hard reality than the wishful thinking that Hamas’s Khalid Meshal is really a latter-day Arafat, ready for a compromise.

The final chapter argues for the right freely to criticise Israeli government policy, as if there were no platforms around to expound different views, as if Jonathan Freedland, Howard Jacobson and David Aaronovitch did not exist.

Shlaim’s is a selective, partial view of the complex Israel-Palestine situation. As President Obama’s excellent Cairo speech demonstrated, the road to peace can be travelled only by recognising that there are two sides to this terrible, apparently interminable conflict.

Colin Shindler is Professor of Israeli Studies at SOAS, University of London

This review is from the Jewish Chronicle

11 Responses to “Colin Shindler reviews Avi Shlaim’s collection of writing”

  1. letsgeteven Says:

    “…Better to grasp the hard reality than the wishful thinking that Hamas’s Khalid Meshal is really a latter-day Arafat, ready for a compromise…”

    Shindler is no less delusional than Shlaim if he believes that Arafat was ready for compromise. The entire history of the period following the 1993 Oslo Accord is the story of how Israel’s politicians deluded themselves into believing this falsehood, and how they painfully realized that they had been duped. It is adding insult to injury for Shindler to sneer at “the presence of recycled, failed politicians at the helm in Israel” – most of these politicians have risked life and limb for Israel, and dedicated their entire lives to the struggle against Israel’s enemies. To describe them as failed is to blame them for the absence of peace, a charge that is insupportible in fact.

  2. zkharya Says:

    Thank you for a critical, non-gushing appraisal of Shlaim.

  3. zkharya Says:

    “The final chapter argues for the right freely to criticise Israeli government policy, as if there were no platforms around to expound different views, as if Jonathan Freedland, Howard Jacobson and David Aaronovitch did not exist.”

    Well, Shlaim never has really been part of the Anglo-, if any, Jewish community, despite living in Britain for over 40 of his 60 years. He and Pappé belong to the community of British professional ex-Israelis.

  4. Absolute Observer Says:

    “The final chapter argues for the right freely to criticise Israeli government policy, as if there were no platforms around to expound different views, as if Jonathan Freedland, Howard Jacobson and David Aaronovitch did not exist.”

    That is soooooo IJV.

    From its incpetion IJV have linked Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank and of Gaza with the nonsense of “Jewish conspiracy” (the idea that you can’t criticise Israel because of the omnipotence of the “Jewish establishment”).

    That this was the case was clear with the double meaning of the slogan “Enough” when IJV first announded itself in the Guardian on the 40th anniversary of the Occupation.

    “Enough” referred to the Occupation and at the same time to confront (the myth of) those powerful Jews who were “silencing debate”.

    This mix of political comment on the one hand and pandering to antisemitism on the other hand, continues to be a marked characteristic of IJV and those who think like them (See David Rosenberg’s recent comment of Engage about how the Chief Rabbi and Board of Deputies “corall” Jews).

    From the review, it seems that Shlaim is carrying on that shameful tradition

    In pandering to the most reactionary populist currents, IJV
    not only contribute to the general antisemitic climate but also alienate the vast majority of diasporic Jews who should have been their natural signatories.

    Rather than recognise their own complicity and their own failures to convince anyone but themselves, they spend their whole time blaming others and inventing scenarios that don’t exist and wonder why, outside of their own refied circles, most Jews have never heard of them, and when they have, roll their eyes.

  5. 701 Says:

    Absolute Observer,

    It is interesting that Shlaim’s and IJV’s myth of Jewish power is a reflection of the very real power and control over debates on both Israel and antisemitism that they exert within UK universities.

    One need only compare this,
    http://www.bbk.ac.uk/bisr/news/Psychopolitical
    with this,
    https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/05/14/ucu-publishes-the-boycott-motion-but-with-a-lame-legal-disclaimer/

    It would seem that Colin Schindler’s experience is testament to this authoritarianism,
    https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/01/14/tel-aviv-is-not-allowed-to-celebrate-picket-the-tel-avivian-academics/

    Again, one need only look at IJV’s Jacqueline Rose and Anthony Lerman’s vulgar and insulting treatment meted out to a fellow-academic who dare criticise their thinking.
    https://engageonline.wordpress.com/2009/04/24/antony-lerman-jacqueline-rose-and-david-hirsh/
    As such comments indicate, it would indeed be a brave person to “speak out” and say “Enough” against the IJV line at UK universties.

    As so often the case, whilst those who ground their views on the fantasies of Jewish power have to portray themselves as victims, the reality is is the complete opposite.

  6. Absolute Observer Says:

    701,
    I note also the final theme for the pscho-conference

    “Diasporic and all other Forms of Support for Peace from Afar.”

    Maybe it would help if they actually spoke they spoke to diasporic Jews (outside their own self-reinforcing circle)?Whoops, I forget, all those disasporic Jews are either under the mind control of the Chief Rabbi and the Board of Deputies or are so intimidated that the dare not “speak out” in public, or are simply too parochial to understand the necessity of colluding with antisemitic imagery in order to express a view about Israel.

  7. Alex Says:

    “The final chapter argues for the right freely to criticise Israeli government policy, as if there were no platforms around to expound different views, as if Jonathan Freedland, Howard Jacobson and David Aaronovitch did not exist.”

    Added to that, I do remember reading a full page Shlaim article in the JC, the crux of which was that he had no platform to criticise Israel (and yet, with a full page in the JC, couldn’t seem to fit in any reasoned criticism of Israel)

  8. zkharya Says:

    Shlaim must be talking of the stifling of debate amid his dreaming Oxford spires.

  9. Karl Pfeifer Says:

    @zkharya@ I liked: “British professional ex-Israelis”.
    One could say also, people who made a profession out of being “courageous” ex-Israelis, who “dare” to describe, what is in their eyes the most evil movement in the world, Zionism

  10. Yaniv Says:

    I recommend this review of a collection Shlaim edited in 2000 together with Rogan

    http://azure.org.il/article.php?id=258

    It is unfortunately available only to Azure subscribers these days. I remember that Yehushua Porath, this review’s author, harshly criticized the editors for stating in the introduction that all universities in the region are run by the state and that Professors cannot, therefore, criticize their government. Porath noted that entangling Israeli universities together with Arab ones is a clear indication for the editors’ dishonesty.

    Porath keeps mentioning this lie of Shlaim once in a while. Here is an example (for Hebrew readers only):

    http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/pages/ShArtPE.jhtml?itemNo=613300&contrassID=2&subContrassID=13&sbSubContrassID=0

    He even demanded that Israeli universities would stop inviting Shlaim till he apologizes. Shlaim has never responded to the criticism.

  11. zkharya Says:

    “I remember that Yehushua Porath, this review’s author, harshly criticized the editors for stating in the introduction that all universities in the region are run by the state and that Professors cannot, therefore, criticize their government.”

    Well, that is surely the USP of Shlaim?


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