If American tax money is to be used to promote five books about the Middle East conflict, what should this recommended reading list look like? Certainly if the books are to be promoted on public radio, it would be expected to adhere to the Public Broadcasting Act‘s requirement for “strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature.”
On June 28, 2007, Public Radio International (PRI) did undertake such a task, encouraging listeners of The World, a program it co-produces with BBC World Service and Boston public radio station WGBH, to read their list of five books that deal with the Middle East conflict. The World’s book critic, Christopher Merrill, selected and discussed the books.
But despite the Public Broadcasting Act’s requirement of “objectivity and balance,” the list was comprised of the following:
• A book by a former PLO representative that, according to a critical review in the New York Sun, is marked by the author’s “inability to rein in his deep anti-Israel prejudice” and, according to a supportive review in the Christian Science Monitor, includes “positions would certainly peg him as a Palestinian.” (Sari Nusseibeh’s Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life)
• A memoir by a Palestinian author about life in Ramallah. The book, described in a sympathetic review as “a chronicle of the human cost of dispossession,” begins with an anecdote about a callous Israeli soldier shouting in the face of a young Palestinian girl. (Ibtisam Barakat’s Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood)
• A book by a controversial pro-Palestinian Israeli revisionist historian that, according to a review in the Washington Post, relies on “rhetorical acrobatics” and “glaring oversights” while “disregarding the Arab dynamic and twisting his text to meet a revisionist agenda” in an attempt to implicate Israel for unnecessarily starting the Six-Day War. (Tom Segev’s 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East)
• A book about Palestinian refugees in Lebanon that, in its first few pages, mirrors the Palestinian narrative by a) overlooking the fact that Arabs started the 1948 war; b) referring to Israel’s establishment as “Al-Nakba, the disaster or calamity of 1948” that, the author argues, signaled a “renewed colonial impulse in the region” at odds with the “decolonization and national independence in other areas”; c) asserting there is an “internationally recognized right of return”; and d) minimizing the Jewish claims on Israel by describing them as “Zionist formulations of a national identity and an elaboration of myths and historic religiously endowed narratives of a Jewish right to the space of Palestine,” a Jewish “settler-colonial project” which stands in contrast with “the legitimacy of an indigenous [Palestinian] claim based on continuous habitation.” And that’s just in the first few pages. (Julia Peteet’s Landscape of Hope and Despair: Palestinian Refugee Camps)
• Doubtlessly the most panned book of the year on the subject of the Middle East conflict, one that former president Bill Clinton described as “not factually accurate and … not fair,” and that various book reviews labeled as “a scathingly anti-Israel polemic,” “largely unsympathetic to Israel,” a “deeply biased commentary on the Arab-Israeli conflict,” “an embarrassment,” “a tendentious, dishonest and stupid book,” and a book that “perpetuates the fictions that have helped create the current state of affairs: demonization of Israel, distortion of history,” and so on. (Jimmy Carter’s Palestine Peace not Apartheid)
(Due to time contraints, only four of the books are discussed on the air. Listeners are referred to The World’s Web site for the complete list of recommendations. To listen to the radio segment, click here.)
These are the books on the Mideast conflict being promoted by PRI with the help of American tax dollars. Clearly, this skewed anti-Israel reading list violates the CPB’s legal mandate to ensure strict adherence to objectivity and balance in all programs or series of programs of a controversial nature.
Yet, when a listener protested the skewed reading list, a producer for The World defended the segment, responding to the complaint with the following note:
Thank you for sharing your concern about the list of books highlighted on our June 28 edition. Our radio feature was not billed as an overview of the Middle East conflict, but a review of recent literature examining life in the Palestinian territories. The five titles were presented to provide background for those who wish to better understand the refugee camp battle in Lebanon and the unfolding internecine crisis in Gaza. …
[On our Web site] you will … find recent titles that examine the Jewish experience in the Middle East including:
A Woman in Jerusalem
Author: A. B. Yehoshua, translated from the Hebrew by Hillel Kalkin
Author: David Grossman
The Nimrod Flipout
Author: Etgar Keret, translated from the Hebrew by Miriam Schlesinger and Sondra Silverston
Witness: One of the Great Correspondents of the Twentieth Century Tells Her Story
Author: Ruth Gruber
The World is a daily program of international news and culture. While a single story or feature may not contain every viewpoint on a controversial subject, over time you will hear a balance of voices. I invite you to learn more about the program, and listen at http://www.theworld.org.
The producer’s suggestion that the feature was merely “a review of recent literature examining life in the Palestinian territories” and therefore must inherently exclude books sympathetic to Israel’s predicament is specious. Peteet’s Landscape of Hope and Despair: Palestinian Refugee Camps is about refugee camps in Lebanon, not the “Palestinian territories”; and Segev’s 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East is about the Six-Day War, and, specific as the title indicates, is not about the Palestinians but rather about Israel. (As Ethan Bronner’s review of the book in the New York Times asserts, “What interests Mr. Segev is Israel: its moods, debates, generation gaps and anxieties. … Missing from the compelling and damning narrative are the Arabs, with their own considerable delusions and failures.”)