Sunday, September 26, 2010

The anointed one, liberal Zionist edition

This week's ubiquitous literary lionization is of David Grossman, an Israeli writer, whose novel To the End of the Land, newly published here in English translation, has been ushered directly, do not stop, do not pass go, into the canon. Why? To boil down the adorations in today's New York Times Book Review and last week's New Yorker: because he is a "leftist"; because he has written in the past about "the situation"; because this novel takes as its background "the situation"; because the book achieves particularly tragic dimension due to its back story, to whit the death of the author's son amid "the situation"; and, most of all, because despite all this purportedly political resonance, Grossman clarifies to everyone's satisfaction that his job as a novelist is to explore interpersonal relationships, not politics.

There's some stunning hypocrisy at play here. Neither today's NYTBR's front-page review nor last week's study of Grossman in the New Yorker shies away from addressing the political context of his work. It's evident, in fact, that a large part of the admiration for his books, above all this novel, is grounded in politics. This is political art, this is a political artist, and these are political literary analyses that place Grossman's fiction in the top rank as much for its politics as for its artistry, if not more. Yet at the same time the analysts, and Grossman himself, deny the essentially political nature of his work. From George Packer's love letter in the New Yorker:
To be an Israeli writer means making peace with the tyranny of ha-mat-sav, "the situation." War, occupation, and political turmoil could easily fill novel after novel, squeezing out the private spaces of domestic life and the individual imagination. Grossman, though he values his journalism, leaves no doubt which is his essential function. "Please remember, I'm a novelist," he told me. "And what interests me most is the nuances of what goes on between two people, or between a person and himself." He didn't want merely to issue statements on the Gaza flotilla or the peace talks.
This in the middle of a lengthy paean to Grossman for issuing statements, holding peace signs and the like. He is everywhere portrayed as a leftist, an anti-war activist, a friend to the Palestinians and so on. He is none of this, based on the evidence in these pieces. Tragically, an actual left hardly exists at all in Israel. Only the smallest proportion of Israelis hold and act on a legitimately left position: anti-Zionist. Against this tiny brave band of Israelis who have broken entirely with the racist project that is Zionism stands the wing of which Grossman is a part: liberal Zionists. He and his cohort support and defend the essence of Zionism, which is the establishment and maintenance of a racist, exclusionist Jewish settler state based on the theft of Palestine and expulsion of its original inhabitants. They wish for the continuance and safety of this criminal entity "Israel" rather than its replacement with a democratic, secular Palestine founded on the right to return of all Palestinians and full equality among all inhabitants.

They back up their support for the Zionist state with their lives, by serving in its armed forces. They wear the IDF uniform and carry the U.S.-supplied weapons. They harass, humiliate and in every possible way make life miserable for Palestinian women, men and children. And they kill them. They do so in occupied Palestine, whether it's inside the 1948 borders or within the only sections that they, the liberal Zionists like Grossman, concede to acknowledge as "the occupation," that is, Gaza and the West Bank. Or they do so as part of one of Israel's many invasions and assaults, particularly on Lebanon. Wherever, whenever, they do so: they obey the law and carry out their military service.

Grossman did, twice, the second time when he was called up as a reservist to take part in the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Remember the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon? It was a wanton, murderous spree that culminated in the massacre of Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, masterminded by Ariel Sharon. Of his part, Grossman says, "I have no hesitation regarding serving in the Army. I know where we are living." He apparently has no reservations about sending his children to do the same Zionist dirty work, although we are meant to sympathize with him for the loss of his son who was an IDF soldier taking part in yet another Israeli invasion of Lebanon, this one in 2006, when he died.

I'm not hard-hearted, far from it. I grieve the loss of those killed serving as cannon fodder for the cause of imperialism, as with U.S. soldiers' deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it's also sad that youths like Grossman's son die serving as cannon fodder for the Israeli settler state, which in essence serves the same cause, that is, the interests of the U.S. oil oligarchs. However, for every U.S. GI who dies in Iraq or Afghanistan, a hundred or more times that many Iraqis and Afghanis have died. For every IDF soldier killed doing the dirty work of the settler state, and, by proxy, of U.S. imperialism, a hundred or more times that many Palestinians die, as well as Lebanese and others. 

They, the Grossmans and their sons and daughters, do not have to do it. They do not have to serve. They could resist. They could refuse. There are those who do. Their numbers are still only in the tens and twenties, but slowly they are growing, the ranks of the refuseniks who go to jail rather than raise a rifle against Palestine. There's also a related phenomenon little noticed or commented on in the bourgeois media: young people leaving Israel. I personally know of three young men who've moved to the U.S. after refusing to serve in the IDF, all of whom are now ardent anti-Zionists.

Not so Grossman. He seeks a kinder, gentler racist settler state. For that he's the literary darling of the moment. Not hereabouts he's not.