Fairness Overdue

In addition to following the Arab-Israeli conflict in television, newspaper, magazine and Internet accounts, millions of Americans also turn to library books.

And like the mass media, libraries make important choices – such as which books to purchase – that either promote accurate, balanced information or trip into the minefield of bias.

Librarians rely in part for title selections on the recommendations of such well-known book reviewers as Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and Library Journal, each of which generates thousands of reviews every year on myriad topics.

A look at Middle East-related commentary produced by Library Journal, however, suggests a striking pattern of laudatory, uncritical endorsement of patently one-sided books written by extreme critics of Israel. Frequently, these come with sweeping recommendations encouraging their acquisition by “all public and academic libraries.” Describing itself as the “oldest independent national library publication,” the Journal claims to be read by “over 100,000 library directors, administrators, and others in public, academic, and special… libraries.” That’s cause for concern.

Here, for example, are a few of the publication’s effusive endorsements. Ilan Pappe, a spokesman for Israel’s Communist Hadash party (and whose writings are discounted by most mainstream academics) won Library Journal’s unalloyed praise for his recent A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples. The review cited the “increasingly harsh conditions imposed by the realities of Israeli policies in the occupied territories” and “highly recommended [the work] for academic and public libraries.”

Reviewing the book for The New Republic, Benny Morris, the most prominent of the so-called “new” Israeli historians, noted Pappe’s fierce anti-Israel agenda, and observed that he is “one of the most outspoken Israeli advocates of a Western boycott of Israel’s universities.” Morris panned the book itself as well, saying “much of what Pappe tries to sell his readers is complete fabrication” tainted by his unabashed injection of politics. Of New Intifada: Resisting Israel’s Apartheid, an essay collection with a Forward by Noam Chomsky, Library Journal wrote: “A balanced and up-to-date picture for today’s world; highly recommended for academic and public libraries.” Among contributors to the volume were such inveterate anti-Israel voices as Edward Said, Sara Roy, Robert Fisk and Azmi Bishara.

In contrast, Publishers Weekly wrote: “The tragedy at the World Trade Center will make most readers shudder at any attempt to justify terrorism, which may cut into the book’s already limited audience of confirmed leftists…” The reviewer noted that the book is “unabashedly pro-Palestinian (and largely anti-Israeli and anti-US)” and “written to increase sympathy for the Palestinians.”

Books by far-left author Baruch Kimmerling assailing Israel are given blanket praise in Library Journal. For instance, its reviewer terms Politicide: Ariel Sharon’s War Against the Palestinians “timely” and “essential for those interested in going beyond the headlines.” Again, Publishers Weekly cautions readers that the “well-known leftist” academic is “polemical,” and “some may wonder why he looks at Sharon with a much more jaundiced eye than at Yasser Arafat.”

Two recent biographies critical of Arafat by mainstream Israelis elicit altogether different treatment from Library Journal. The works by Efraim Karsh and Barry Rubin and Judith Colp Rubin are cast as limited in value, with the observation that “the more complex biography of Arafat has yet to be written.” The reviewer says of Karsh’s Arafat’s War: The Man and His Battle for Israeli Conquest that it is written “from a pro-Israeli perspective” presenting the Palestinian leader’s “purported dream of destroying Israel.” The Karsh and Rubin works get a lukewarm recommendation only “for large public libraries.”

Publishers Weekly offers counterpoint, saying of the Karsh book that it “may be the most comprehensive account yet of certain events,” and that it is “well argued, fast-paced and engaging…” The reviewers term the Rubins’ work a “sober account” offering “strong evidence not only that Arafat has a long history of duplicity, but more interestingly, that he has repeatedly made gross errors of judgment.”

Revisionist historian Avi Shlaim’s The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, denouncing “intransigent” Israeli policy as the primary cause of the ongoing conflict, is praised by Library Journal as “highly original and objective,” and is “highly recommended for academic and public libraries.” On the other hand, Publishers Weekly faults Shlaim’s “double standard” in his one-sided assailing of Israel and exonerating of Arab conduct, and declares: “This is not” a “comprehensive, balanced history.” Kirkus Reviews finds that Shlaim “never solidly establishes his difficult thesis in this lengthy history.”

And so it goes. Unabashedly pro-Palestinian volumes and apologetics for anti-Israel terrorism are cast as non-partisan, balanced, informative and “essential” reading. Amira Hass, Edward Said, Raja Shehada, Rashid Khalidi, Wendy Pearlman, Cheryl Rubenberg and other producers of one-sided and often plainly false depictions of Israel are showered with superlatives, and libraries are “highly” encouraged to stock their writings.

Whether such bias in Library Journal reviews is inadvertent or a conscious policy, the publication is obviously not providing the “expertise” and “intellectual integrity” it claims to offer. For librarians interested in balanced and objective reviews of books on the Arab-Israeli conflict, it is “highly recommended” that they look elsewhere.

Originally published in the Jerusalem Post on July 19, 2004.

Comments are closed.