March 4, 2014
Thirty years ago next month I came across a copy of Joan Peters’s book, From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine.
The book carried lavish endorsements from the Who’s Who of American Jews, garnered rave notices in influential venues of American Jewish life, and became a national bestseller.
As it happens, the book was a hoax. In order to prove her claim that Palestine was empty on the eve of Zionist colonization, Peters falsified data and mangled citations.
At the time I was a graduate student at Princeton writing my dissertation on Zionism. It didn’t take me long to figure out that something was awry in Peters’s book.
I eventually exposed the hoax, which made my name but, alas, also destroyed my professional career.
Three decades later, American Jews know much more about the Israel-Palestine conflict. A lot of excellent scholarship has been published on the underside of Israel’s creation, and reputable human rights organizations have documented Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians living under occupation.
American Jews, who are mostly liberal, have consequently grown estranged from Israel. Not a week passes without another Israel stalwart announcing his or her defection from the ranks.
Ever on the lookout for a book that might turn the tide and rekindle love of Israel, the keepers of the Zionist faith are now touting Israeli journalist Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. The usual suspects—David Remnick of the New Yorker, Leon Wieseltier of the New Republic, Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times—have heaped praise on Shavit’s book, which has become a national bestseller.
My Promised Land is not a hoax. It couldn’t be, because the days when Peters’s book passed muster are over. It’s a more sophisticated piece of propaganda, but propaganda it still is.
Crafted in schmaltzy prose, Shavit’s book endeavors to justify Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestine, its stockpiling of nuclear weapons, and an illegal preventive war against Iran. His airbrushed account also omits events such as Israel’s 2008-9 massacre in Gaza, for which he was a prominent cheerleader.
I began by noting that I was approaching a personal milestone. It happens that Palestine is also heading towards a milestone. US Secretary of State John Kerry is attempting to inflict a historic defeat on the Palestinians. It is unclear whether Palestinians can summon sufficient inner reserves to halt the Kerry juggernaut.
As this awful drama plays itself out, the most we can do is to be lucid and vigilant about what’s happening, and to expose the propaganda and lies, such as Shavit’s My Promised Land, as they continue to pour forth.
It is to this goal that I dedicate Old Wine, Broken Bottle, and it is in this spirit that I recommend it.
4 March 2014