A New York Times Book Review Promotes More Anti-Semitic Fiction

Last December, the New York Times came under intense criticism for featuring a recommendation by known anti-Semite Alice Walker of a deranged, anti-Semitic conspiracy theory book. 

In the latest Book Review Section (June 21, 2019), the Times promotes a novel that analogizes Palestinian refugees during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war to Jewish victims of the Nazis in what amounts to “Holocaust Inversion” – an antisemitic, anti-Zionist gimmick that depicts Israelis as the new Nazis and Palestinians as the new Jews.

The novel by Elias Khoury, a Lebanese author and part of what he considers the Palestinian “resistance” to Israel,  is entitled “Children of the Ghetto: My Name is Adam.” Using the ghetto analogy, the novel compares the flight of the Palestinian protagonist from a supposed massacre of Palestinians in Lydda by the Haganah in 1948 to what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust – an inversion of the truth.  Moreover, as historians have noted, the allegation of a massacre in Lydda is a myth.

In 2014, scholar and historian Martin Kramer investigated and debunked this myth, propagated at the time by Ha’aretz columnist Ari Shavit and  New Historian Benny Morris.  According to the evidence gathered by Kramer, what happened in Lydda was “the story not of a vengeful ‘massacre’ committed by ‘Zionism,’ but of collateral damage in a city turned into a battlefield.” (See: “What Happened at Lydda?” and  “Distortion and Defamation”).

The book reviewer, Isabella Hammad, however, accepts the allegation as an incontrovertibly true historical event. She endorses the author’s Holocaust Inversion, referring to a “death march in one of the bloodiest massacres of 1948.” She writes:

Adam Dannoun, the protagonist of Elias Khoury’s powerful new novel, calls himself a child of the ghetto. He does not mean the Warsaw ghetto — although, growing up in the newly established state of Israel, he allows his university colleagues to make that assumption. He means the “ghetto” of the Palestinian town of Lydda, created by Jewish forces who uprooted tens of thousands of Palestinians on a death march in one of the bloodiest massacres of the 1948 Nakba. [emphasis added]

Hammad similarly expounds on the author’s Holocaust analogies:

The language of trauma is especially charged…The muteness of Palestinians after the Nakba is something “imposed by the victor on the vanquished through the power of the language of the Jewish victim.” The very language of trauma is defined by the colonizers: “Ghetto” is a European word.

Hammad’s review is both ingratiating and bombastic – the overwritten prose of a new writer with literary pretensions fawning over the novel but offering little to those who want a better understanding of what it’s about. For example:

Comparisons — between Warsaw and Lydda, between the fall from Eden and the Nakba — lead us not into conclusions, but deliver us from binaries. Events and their shadows arabesque after one another, begging for interpretation and eluding it. To Khoury, signification equals death. Life is the opposite of a story.

The reviewer is a 27-year-old British-Palestinian who recently published her own first novel about Palestinians. Her reinforcement of the Khoury’s theme as truth – and her own pre-existing bias on the topic – is made clear by her conclusion:

…Khoury gives us a vivid glimpse of the unspeakable….the Nakba is “an ongoing process that hasn’t ceased.” Silence has not been defeated. No words can purge the Nakba, because the Nakba is still being lived.

The historical inversion equating Palestinian refugees as a result of a war launched by its leaders to the mass slaughter of Jews living in Europe by the Nazis is a form of anti-Semitism. Holocaust scholar and historian Deborah Lipstadt calls it a new form of Holocaust denial that is more insidious than traditional denial. She explains that it “elevates by a factor of a zillion any wrongdoings Israel might have done, and lessens by a factor of a zillion what the Germans did.”

Anti-Semitism scholar Leslie Klaff has described Holocaust inversion as “an inversion of reality” (the Israelis are cast as the ‘new’ Nazis and the Palestinians as the ‘new’ Jews), and “an inversion of morality” (the Holocaust is presented as a moral lesson for, or even a moral indictment of ‘the Jews’). She notes that it “involves the abuse of the Holocaust memory to issue a moral stricture aimed at Israel and ‘the Jews’, imposing upon them a uniquely onerous moral responsibility and accountability in their treatment of others.”

The widely accepted IHRA Working Definition of Anti-Semitism includes drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis as a manifestation of anti-Semitism.

The New York Times’ choice of Hammad to reinforce a historically inaccurate, anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist narrative provides more evidence of its increasing mainstreaming of anti-Semitism.