Sunday, January 29, 2012

Finkelstein, the holocaust and Harry's Place

Help me make a Middle East reading list

This is a guest post by Matt Hill

Writing about the Middle East at Harry’s Place can feel like putting your hand in a pool full of flesh-stripping piranhas – and I mean that as a compliment. One of the milder criticisms I’ve received is that I may be unduly influenced by authors with a pro-Palestinian bias. Insofar as moderate Palestinians (like Sari Nusseibeh and Raja Shehadeh) and liberal Zionists (like Tom Segev and David Grossman predominate on my bookshelves, it’s true they display something of a leftward tilt.

I’m the kind of person who likes to stay home on Friday night and read (yes, I’m as exciting as I sound), but I still buy books faster than I can finish them. My bedroom looks a bit like a warehouse in a pulping plant. I half expect to end up like Leonard Bast from Howards End, killed by an exemplary avalanche of books.

So I’m planning to use an upcoming spell in Israel as a kind of study break. Fond as I am of my second home, Nazareth, it  offers relatively few distractions, barring a sudden outbreak of war (not, mind you, an altogether trivial caveat, as I discovered in July 2006). A few titles, as they say of footballers vying for a World Cup call-up, have already booked their seat on the plane. I’d be grateful if Harry’s Place readers could help me choose the rest by suggesting some of their favourites.

I have just two criteria as a reader: hedonism and promiscuity. My first loves were fiction and poetry, and while I no longer spend whole nights tangled in the bedsheets with Philip Roth, my undergraduate passion has ripened into long-term dependency. Meanwhile it’s usually history, polemic and biography that raise my pulse nowadays. Nonfiction may be less sexy and glamorous than its rival, but it has a worldly quality, a frisson of the real, that’s hard to beat.

So I’m looking for good writing of all kinds, especially history and political argument. My focus is on Israel-Palestine, but I’d like to read more about the wider Middle East too. I’m particularly interested in the ‘peace process’ up to the present day, and the status of Israel’s Palestinian citizens. And it’s axiomatic to me that some of the best books are those you can have a profitable argument with: there’s no point seeking out your own opinions repackaged between two covers. The only blacklisted books should be those that are hateful, or boring.

So, with those wide parameters in mind, what would you recommend I take to Israel? Which books on the subject do you consider indispensable; have changed the way you see the conflict; or have simply given you the most pleasure?  Feel free to explain why, in as much or as little detail as you like.

I’ll get the ball rolling with some titles that have already claimed a coveted place in the squad. Any views on the following?

Gershom Gorenberg, The Unmaking of Israel

Edward Said, Out of Place: A Memoir


Whatever happened to YIISA?

YIISA was the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism. I ask whatever happened to it because I noticed just recently that Dr David Hirsh, the main man at the Israel advocacy site, Engage, has posted a paper he produced for YIISA back in 2007 on the Engage website thus:

Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism: Cosmopolitan Reflections – David Hirsh

Hirsh, David. 2007. Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism: Cosmopolitan Reflections. Working Paper. Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YIISA) Occasional Papers, New Haven, CT.
This paper aims to disentangle the difficult relationship between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. On one side, antisemitism appears as a pressing contemporary problem, intimately connected to an intensification of hostility to Israel. Opposing accounts downplay the fact of antisemitism and tend to treat the charge as an instrumental attempt to de-legitimize criticism of Israel. I address the central relationship both conceptually and through a number of empirical case studies which lie in the disputed territory between criticism and demonization. The paper focuses on current debates in the British public sphere and in particular on the campaign to boycott Israeli academia. Sociologically the paper seeks to develop a cosmopolitan framework to confront the methodological nationalism of both Zionism and anti-Zionism. It does not assume that exaggerated hostility to Israel is caused by underlying antisemitism but it explores the possibility that antisemitism may be an effect even of some antiracist forms of anti-Zionism.
Well, the link takes you to Goldsmiths University, Dr Hirsh's employer and the GU page has two links back to Yale, this: Official URL: and this, Publisher (or this: ).

Neither link works. Now it could be that they simply don't work or it could be that they have been removed because, as reported here last year, Yale no longer supports or hosts YIISA.  But if the latter is the reason for the broken links, why are they still in place on Dr Hirsh's Goldsmiths page?