Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Darkling Plain

I've been off-air for a while but not dormant (from "dormir" to sleep (French) see also dormitory etc). The title of this post is taken, as many of you will know, from Matthew Arnold's famous poem "Dover Beach" written in 1867. The final stanza is reproduced in the Quotes du Jour alongside.
They are amongst the most intense and moving lines of poetry that I know and perhaps the most painful part is that in considerable measure they are as true today as they were nearly century and a half ago. Of course, they have been widely used by others and readers may find the following Wiki link interesting - click here.
Before I go further click here for a short but excellent summary of some of the implications of the Hamas-Israel truce and related negotiations. At the end of this blog I list further sites where good information and analysis can be found.
Part of the last week I've spent dealing with one of the issues raised by the poem; namely, the relationship between personal and political truth. This question has always resided in my semiconscious and was sparked into activity by the book entitled “The Vocabulary of Peace: Life, Culture and Politics in the Middle East” by Shulamith Hareven written way back in 1995. The author was both a Zionist and a universalist but, above all, a powerful and poetic writer widely recognised in Israel and abroad. She died in 2004 aged 73 years. Her voice is that of the Israeli liberal left but is much more grounded in experienced realities than the more ideological and fanatic members of the Peace Now movement and other similar organisations.

Nevertheless, despite my respect and admiration for her book I felt it failed to recognise the gap between the personal and political and thus failed to do justice to the multi-dimensionality of the Middle East reality. I have written an article entitled "The darkling plain" to explore further my thoughts on these issues and have submitted it to Ferial Haffejee of the Mail and Guardian. Her response has been positive and without an absolute commitment at this stage, the paper is seriously considering publication. I won't post it on this blog before I have a clear answer but in time it will appear.

As an "activist writer" in defense of Israel in the the local media I am the recipient (sought and unsought) of numerous items relating broadly to the Israel-Palestinian conflict and related political questions. I find much - certainly not all - on both sides of the fence to be shrill, selective, and often just banal. Some of it is counterproductive (at least as far as I am concerned). Excessive negative rhetoric prompts me to question the motives and judgement of the writer.

The "big issue" for many supporters of Israel is: how does one retain one's humanity while at the same time acknowledging political realities and remaining commited to a cause? I

I cannot give a formulaic answer to the question but believe that Israel will be better served by honesty and even criticism (especially if informed and thoughtful) than blind idolatry. I would be interested in the views of others.

Nevertheless, we simply cannot turn a blind eye to the hatred that is being disseminated by the Islamist camp - to see a recent article by Matthias Kuntzel on the phenomenon click here. Is this part of Islam in general? I don't know the answer but do accept that elements within Islam can be used by extremist groups to justify hatred. However, I see little to be gained by making the whole of Islam (with its 1.5 billion adherents) our inevitable enemies. Rather focus on the extremists, isolate them from the body of Islam and encourage the religion to move toward greater enlightenment and tolerance.

For the more scholarly readers I recommend the following items

The New Post-Zionist Historians by Yoav Gelber published by the AJC in 2007. It is a substantial (36 pages), critical but scholarly look at the writings and assumptions of a number of post-Zionist (anti-Zionist would be more accurate) historians. Those interested can write to me directly and I will send them the pdf file. I suggest you have broadband.

An interview with RS Wistrich on Antisemitism Embedded in British Culture published by the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs in July 2008. For the internet version click here.

In addition, I strongly recommend the following sites to keep yourself informed on Jewish-Israeli-Palestinian affairs on an on-going basis:

Daily Alert

British Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM)

Jewish Israel News Service (JTA)

In addition to these sites one can directly log into the Israeli media which generally have good on-line publications. I would also draw your attention to a new UK publication with a conservative bent, Standpoint. It would be interesting to compare this with Commentary (USA mainly Jewish in orientation), The New Republic (USA, general) and Prospect (UK, general).

Finally, I would be interested in reviews or suggestions regarding other material (books, articles etc) that move beyond propaganda to deal in a non-academic but intelligent way with Israel and the Middle East. Please send in your contributions.

Mike Berger

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